By: Brian Becker
Gen. McChrystal, Pentagon scramble to avoid appearance of defeat
The statement below was issued by Brian Becker, National Coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism). The Party for Socialism and Liberation is a member of the Steering Committee of the ANSWER Coalition.
The U.S. public largely opposed the invasion of Iraq while being generally supportive of the invasion of Afghanistan. That is now changing. Majority sentiment has moved, and will continue to move, in opposition to the plans for a protracted war and occupation in Afghanistan.
There is both uncertainty and debate within the Obama administration and among the Pentagon brass about what to do in Afghanistan: continue to send ever more troops; seek a truce with the Taliban and create a government of “national unity” that includes the Taliban and either Hamid Karzai or another U.S. political puppet; or both.
Because of the division within the ruling class on its Afghanistan policy, it is possible that the intervention of a mass grassroots movement opposing the war can become a factor in domestic political calculations. This is precisely what happened during the Vietnam War.
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Reality requires change of Pentagon’s military goals
The primary strategic objectives and goals that originally motivated the U.S. invasion have been significantly modified as a consequence of the unanticipated armed resistance, also known as the insurgency, in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
The political alignments in Iraq bear little or no resemblance to the constellation of political forces in Afghanistan and yet there is an overarching similarity, at least in terms of the evolved objectives of the U.S. invasion and occupation.
Both in Iraq and in Afghanistan, a principal goal of the Pentagon morphed into a much lower baseline objective: to avoid defeat or the appearance of defeat at the hands of an armed insurgency.
Avoiding defeat was the goal Nixon and Kissinger set for themselves when they took office in 1969. They, however, quickly modified the objective: They quickly discovered that defeat was inevitable, so they settled on an even lesser objective: to avoid the appearance of being defeated. Thus was born the fraudulent slogan “Peace with Honor.” For this noble cause, another 30,000 young GIs perished before the inevitable troop pullout from Vietnam in 1973. The number of Vietnamese killed between 1969 and 1973 was greater by many hundreds of thousands.
The initial goal of both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars was far greater. “Avoiding defeat” did not enter into the calculations of Bush, Cheney or Rumsfeld. No, they were sure that they could create in both countries a colonial-type state.
A colonial-type state is distinguished from a classic colonial entity. Classic colonialism features the acquisition by the colonial entity of the formal state power and with it the formal and legal administrative and military obligations that belong to government. The indigenous population provides personnel, administrators, bureaucrats and soldiers under the command of the hierarchal authority of the colonizers.
Classic colonialism also featured the complete control and direction of the indigenous economy by the colonizing entity for the purpose of acquiring natural resources, cheap labor and access to markets for the industrial and commercial capitalist interests of the colonizer. This characteristic is equally present in both classic colonialism and in the modern colonial-type arrangement sought by the United States. In the case of Iraq, its vast nationalized oil fields were to be privatized and controlled by U.S. and British oil interests. Its nationalized banking sector was to be gobbled up by Wall Street.
Kwame Nkrumah, the former president of Ghana and a leader of the Pan-African movement, described the features of what he called neo-colonialism: “The essence of neo-colonialism is that the State which is subject to it is, in theory, independent and has all the outward trappings of international sovereignty. In reality its economic system and thus its political policy is directed from outside.”
Nkrumah prophetically described the many variants of the new colonialism, but placed the primacy of economic penetration as the “normal” and central method whereby the old colonial powers retain control over the former colonies.
“The methods and form of this direction can take various shapes. For example, in an extreme case the troops of the imperial power may garrison the territory of the neo-colonial State and control the government of it. More often, however, neo-colonialist control is exercised through economic or monetary means.” (emphasis added)
In the case of Iraq and Afghanistan, the creation of a colonial-type or neo-colonial state requires the garrisoning of large numbers of U.S. troops on U.S. military bases to dominate the political landscape and protect large numbers of U.S. administrators. Nkrumah called this “an extreme case,” but it is indispensable in both Iraq and Afghanistan, although for widely different reasons. Without vast numbers of foreign forces on its soil, neither Iraq nor Afghanistan can function as colonial-type states. Iraq for instance—with its oil, significant water resources, large and educated population, potential military capability, and political legacy since the triumph of the 1958 anti-colonial revolution—would resume its place as a regional power in the Arab world.
Hopes of new strategic axis shattered
The destruction of the Baathist state by foreign military invasion was supposed to blast open the possibility of large, multiple U.S. military bases that would remain forever in Iraq. U.S. rulers understood that, without foreign troops and permanent military bases on its soil providing protection for legions of U.S. administrators and technocrats, Iraq would resume its position of independence, notwithstanding its economic decline from years of war and sanctions.
The Bush administration and the Pentagon initially envisioned laying the foundation for a new strategic axis for the Middle East. It would be the Washington-Baghdad-Tel Aviv partnership that would police the oil-rich Middle East on behalf of U.S. interests. That would require turning Iraq into a colonial-type state.
It was a policy that had some historical resonance. It was a throwback to the golden days of a Washington-Tel Aviv-Tehran axis policing the oil-rich Gulf. The Shah of Iran was a loyal puppet, and the Israelis functioned as a dependent garrison state striking out at any expression of Arab nationalism that threatened U.S. domination strategies.
But the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld strategy was a fantasy that has been shattered by subsequent events. Starting in 2007, the Pentagon adjusted its approach. The 2007 so-called surge of troops in Iraq was basically propaganda masking the actual new strategy, which was to pay the insurgents to stop shooting at U.S. troops and blowing them up with IEDs. This would allow the eventual withdrawal of U.S. forces in an orderly way thus avoiding the appearance that the empire had been defeated or had been unable to succeed in Iraq.
The humongous U.S. Embassy in Baghdad was conceived as the directing body of the new colonial-type state in Iraq. It is the largest in the world. Conceived for more than 1,000 U.S. personnel to function as behind-the-scenes administrators, the embassy would serve as the management arm of the new colonial-type state.
This, too, will turn out to be unviable. Iraq has been economically devastated, but the aspirations for a colonial-type state administered by the U.S. Embassy in downtown Baghdad are incompatible with the reality of Iraq. The Iraqi people are imbued with anti-colonial consciousness directly resulting from 90 years of struggle—dating back to at least the 1920 national rebellion that defeated British colonial forces.
Iraqi reporter Muntadhar al-Zaidi became a national hero when he risked death and endured terrible torture for hurling his shoes at Bush. His words on Sept. 15 upon his release and the depth of the support he continues to receive from throughout Iraq speak volumes about the political intensity of Iraqi anti-colonial sentiment:
“They [U.S. officials] will boast about the deceit and the means they used in order to gain their objective. It is not strange, not much different from what happened to the Native Americans at the hands of colonialists. Here I say to them (the occupiers) and to all who follow their steps, and all those who support them and spoke up for their cause: Never. Because we are a people who would rather die than face humiliation.”
Afghanistan: perception and reality
In the United States, a large sector of the population recognized that the Iraq invasion was a war of aggression, pure and simple.
It was different with Afghanistan. Public opinion was largely supportive of the invasion, because the Bush administration and all Democratic Party leaders promoted the idea that Afghanistan was the source of the Sept. 11 attacks. After all, Osama Bin Laden was a “guest” of the Taliban government in Kabul at the time of the attack.
The cold fact is that there were no Iraqis or Afghans on the planes that were hijacked on Sept. 11, yet hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans are dead because of the U.S. invasion. Millions more live as refugees.
Afghanistan, according to the Bush administration and the Pentagon, was to serve as the military pivot for policing U.S. interests. Huge forward bases for the Pentagon throughout the country would change the relationship of forces in Central Asia.
Afghanistan shares extensive borders with Iran to the west and a long border with Pakistan to the south and east. It borders China to the northeast and the former Soviet republics of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to the north.
As with Iraq, the Bush and Pentagon military strategy in Afghanistan—now officially the policy of the Obama administration—has morphed, as the goals of the occupation have had to be scaled back. When asked to explain what a victory in Afghanistan would mean, U.S. government and Pentagon officials can only dish out vagaries. They cannot actually tell the truth because then more soldiers and marines and their families would hesitate to continue to act as bait and cannon fodder.
Stirring up the anti-war movement
The real and rarely mentioned goal is now to avoid defeat. Or, and this is important, to avoid the perception of defeat. Thus, tens of thousands more troops are being rushed into the country because the Pentagon cannot figure out what else to do.
General David Petraeus became a hero in the imperialist establishment because he was the architect of the so-called surge followed by the announced intention to withdraw from Iraq. In short, glory and reverential honor befalls the great general, not because he put U.S. forces on track to victory but because his policy may permit the withdrawal of military forces on conditions far less humiliating than the Pentagon’s rushed exit from Vietnam in the 1970s.
The people of the United States need to rise up and go into the streets demanding the immediate and full withdrawal from Afghanistan. The vast majority of the people of Afghanistan, including large numbers of those who despise the odious policies of the Taliban, revile the colonial character of the occupation. As the bodies of civilians pile up in an escalating conflict, the hatred for the U.S./NATO occupiers will only grow. The mission is doomed.