The United States has already lost the war in Afghanistan, just as it has lost the war in Iraq.
President Barack Obama’s vast expansion of the Afghan war announced Dec. 1, and the extension of the violence into neighboring Pakistan, are intended to camouflage the reality of defeat, as was the Bush Administration’s “surge” in Iraq.
The U.S. is the world’s only superpower and history’s unparalleled military colossus. But after six decades of extending its hegemony to the point of virtually dominating the world, Washington recognizes it is declining as a global economic and political power as other countries and blocs gain strength.
Those who rule America understand that the process of decline will accelerate if the Pentagon’s vaunted war machine suffers the worldwide public humiliation of being bested in two wars by small forces of decentralized, irregular combatants with rifles, homemade munitions, and suicide belts.
And bested they have been, though neither Washington nor the corporate mass media will admit this truth after having suffered the setback of disgrace in Vietnam. But how else can America’s present position in Iraq after nearly seven years, and in Afghanistan after over eight years, be explained?
Although its original plans crumbled when it was unable to defeat a small enemy, Washington wants to make sure that when its foreign legions finally come marching home from Afghanistan and Iraq, they will do so to the cadence of martial music proclaiming “Mission accomplished. . . . Best Army in the world. . . . All heroes. . . . Democracy wins!”
Let’s first look at Iraq in terms of the fighting and Washington’s war objectives, followed by Afghanistan and President Obama’s expansion of the war.
The mighty U.S., which invaded Iraq in March 2003, was fought to a standstill from the summer of 2003 to the end of 2006 by up to 25,000 mostly Sunni guerrilla resistance fighters belonging to various small groups, nationalist or mujahedeen. The resistance largely evaporated two years ago because of President Bush’s “surge,” but this had nothing to do with military defeat. The struggle was subverted mainly by three things:
(1) The Shi’ite refusal to take part in the opposition to the Bush Administration’s unjust and illegal invasion and occupation, knowing that when the invaders left they would be in charge, and the Shia government’s antagonism toward the Sunni combatants.
(2) The entry of al-Qaeda, which before the war was never allowed into Iraq, and its indiscriminate war against civilians that undercut the resistance and dismayed Sunni nationalist ranks.
(3) The “surge” that began in 2007, which was principally based on offering large sums of money to Sunni elders and tribal leaders, combined with paying salaries to thousands of jobless fighters, plus offering to protect the Sunnis from possible retaliation by the puppet Shi’ite government.
President George W. Bush’s claimed objective was to eliminate weapons of mass destruction and to punish the Ba’athist government of President Saddam Hussein for conniving with al-Qaeda in the 9/11 attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. When these lies were exposed they were replaced by two new lies: bringing democracy to Iraq, and protecting the Iraqi people from al-Qaeda.
The real neoconservative objective was far more grandiose: the extension of U.S. hegemony throughout the entire Middle East, not just in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and a few lesser satellites as now. After a quick shock-and-awe victory, a puppet government-in-waiting composed of Iraqi exiles loyal to Washington was to run the country on behalf of U.S. political, economic, and military interests.
Thus geographically situated with enormous military power between Iran and Syria, the U.S. was to begin the process of regime change in Damascus and Tehran, providing itself with a spectacular geostrategic prize: absolute control of the Persian Gulf, through which over half the world’s petroleum must be transported. And it was all going to happen cheaply because it would be financed largely by Iraqi oil, and perhaps Iran’s as well.
The plan to control the entire Middle East completely failed, though for the next several years the Iraqi government will not turn against the United States; after that it’s an open question. The cost of the Iraq war, over the years — including long-term interest payments on the war debt — will amount to $3 trillion, enough to end world poverty were it spent for a good cause. Combined with the Pentagon’s inability to militarily sweep away a small number of resistance fighters, the entire fiasco amounts to a serious defeat for the U.S.
Bush managed, with the backing of the mass media, to mitigate the perceived dimensions of the defeat by conflating the resistance with the crimes of al-Qaeda, by defining the surge as a military victory as opposed to a buyout, and by promoting the illusion that Iraq is now a democracy. Lastly, Bush cleverly decided to sign an agreement with the Baghdad government declaring that all U.S. troops were leaving the country by the end of 2011, suggesting “mission accomplished” and an “honorable withdrawal.”
Afghanistan is different but similar. The Bush Administration detected a major geopolitical opportunity in the rubble of Sept. 11, 2001. Instead of massive international police work to apprehend the gang that perpetrated the historic terrorist crime, President Bush launched a “War on Terrorism” to justify new wars of aggression, an idea promoted by his neoconservative handlers.
The first objective of this neocolonial endeavor was to swiftly overthrow the reactionary Taliban government in Afghanistan that harbored a branch of al-Qaeda, and to put authority into the hands of officials totally subordinate to Washington’s diktat, watched over by an army of occupation.
There has not been any proof that the Taliban government participated in the planning or execution the 9/11, or that any Taliban official, including founder/leader Mullah Muhammad Omar, was aware of al-Qaeda plans to seize passenger jets and crash them into symbols of American power. Omar in fact offered to turn over Osama bin-Laden, as the U.S. demanded, if Washington first handed him proof of the al-Qaeda leader’s guilt. Bush refused, and launched a war.
The real purpose of the invasion of Afghanistan had two levels. One was intended to show Bush was a powerful, vengeful leader capable of destroying world “terrorism” by fulfilling his shocking pledge to “export death and violence to the four corners of the Earth in defense of our great nation.”
More to the point was the second level, wherein the U.S. was to ensconce itself in strategic Central Asia for the first time, protected by an American and NATO army of long-term occupation. Geographically, Washington’s military power was now conveniently adjacent to Iran — another neocon target — and in close proximity to the resource-rich former republics of the USSR, prized for their oil and gas deposits. U.S./NATO military bases and airfields were also now in a position to worry if not threaten China and Russia, a big asset during Bush’s several-year revival of the Cold War.
In addition to being unable to defeat a poorly armed guerrilla force of 20,000 or so effectives, the U.S. has been defending a thoroughly corrupt, weak, and ineffective puppet government, and presiding over the growth of illegal drug cartels that rake in several billion dollars a year from poppy production. Despite Washington’s control of the Afghan government, its police and army, the masses of people live unprotected by the central authorities and in extreme poverty. The cultural oppression of Afghan women and girls has improved only very slightly in the cities, and hardly at all in the countryside where the majority of people live.
After eight years, despite the U.S./NATO occupation, the Taliban is now dominant in at least a third of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, and are increasingly active in many others. Afghan Taliban forces based in Pakistan frequently cross the border to reassert control. American forces occupy some big cities but not much territory. Warlords and tribes, some on the U.S. payroll, some backing the resistance, occupy the rest of the country.
Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said this month — nine months after President Obama authorized his first addition of 21,000 more troops — “we are losing.” This was the same message Afghan war commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal has been conveying for months. The generals argued for a wider war to prevent an obvious defeat.
To create the impression that the U.S. is actually winning a war already lost, President Obama is now significantly escalating the conflict, aiming for a military force of 100,000 Americans and 45,000 NATO troops, plus as many “contractors” who often perform military duties. This action will multiply the death and destruction, and cost multi-billions more dollars the U.S. cannot afford.
The main purposes of the new surge are to prevent the Taliban from further expanding its territories; greatly intensify the fighting along and over the border with western Pakistan, including a major increase in drone attacks to kill Afghan Taliban leaders and units with bases in Pakistan; train, equip, and finance a huge puppet Army and police force under U.S. control; delegate more power to the American-subsidized Afghan warlords in various parts of the country; and, in a spectacular irony, to seek a strategic compromise with the Taliban that would allow it a role in provincial governments and eventually in the central government, while paying huge sums to Taliban fighters to stop shooting at U.S. troops.
All this, Obama hopes, will allow him to claim “success,” though hardly “victory,” and eventually extricate U.S. troops “with honor,” possibly before the end of his second term. In matters like this, however, things rarely go as planned. It could blow up in America’s face. Just ask former Commander-in-Chief George Bush, the instigator of two unnecessary, unjust, and utterly failed wars.
The U.S. never should have attacked Afghanistan or Iraq to begin with. Having done so, Washington should have cut its losses and brought the troops home years ago. A substantial portion of the U.S. electorate brought Obama into office under the assumption he would find a way to do so. But here we go again.
Jack A. Smith is a former editor of the (US) Guardian Newsweekly and has edited the Activist Newsletter for the last decade: <activistnewsletter.blogspot.com>. He may be contacted at <email@example.com>.