The overt war in Afghanistan
The invasion of Afghanistan by US and UK armed forces in the aftermath of the events of September 11, 2001, was initially justified as a policing action and no more. It was Osama Bin Laden, the alleged mastermind of the attacks on New York and Washington, they were after. It soon became clear that there was no truth in this claim, and that the declared War on Terror was a sham.
For a start, the Afghan government had agreed to hand him over to the Americans if they would produce the evidence against him. This reasonable demand that there be a disclosure of evidence before a suspect was detained – was completely ignored, disproving the policing theory of invasion. And after the invasion
The political line then changed to one of women’s liberation and humanitarian intervention. As the extent of the ‘collateral damage’ to civilians was revealed, the wives of Bush and Blair were pressed into publicly defending the invasion on feminist grounds. That the imperialist powers were now in favour of women’s liberation in Afghanistan seemed odd to those who remembered which side the US was on in the 1980s and the close relationship the US and UK governments have with Saudi Arabia…
The Afghan invasion was now about bombing people into freedom – no matter that the US had supported the Taliban government and even done business with them – the Anglo-American invasion was going to undo the damage of the misogynistic Islamic fundamentalists they had supported in the 1980s by installing Hamid Karzai, a former consultant for Unocal, an American oil and gas company, as the head of the transitional government. We are not supposed to make too much of the fact Afghanistan is strategically important for America and that Unocal had been negotiating a deal with the Taliban to build a pipeline through the country transporting gas and oil from Turkmenistan and Pakistan to the Arabian Sea.
There has never been a thorough investigation into the terrorist atrocities that took place on 9/11, merely a whitewash – and even this did not come without pressure being applied on the US government by the victims’ families and survivors of the attacks. Interestingly, no police investigation was launched in the immediate aftermath – it was probably not high on the US government’s list of priorities. And there has yet to be an investigation into the terrorist atrocities carried out by the Anglo-American coalition in Afghanistan, crimes which have been largely ignored by Western media outlets.
Pretext and subtext
We now know, from Richard Clarke and others, that the neo-conservative circle around the US President was keen to use the events as a pretext for war in Iraq and the adoption of a more interventionist foreign policy. They were keen to use a newly declared War on Terrorism to secure the position of the United States as the main imperialist power and legitimise its right to carry out open intervention in the affairs of other sovereign nations. The war in Afghanistan was to be a stepping-stone to Iraq, and a host of other regime change activities were to be carried out at the same time through the more traditional means of subversion (‘people power’ protests, pro-democracy movements, and so on).
The neoconservatives were brought to power by the 2000 presidential coup in which George W. Bush selected over the elected Al Gore in the most farcical election ever to take place. They cloaked their pro-imperialist agenda in libertarian and democratic rhetoric, and some of them had served in the Reagan administration in the 1980s, a few had been around since the 70s. Many were signatories to the Project for a New American Century, a document addressed to President Clinton in 1998, urging him invade and occupy Iraq, for starters. The problem with direct intervention was the lack of public support for such a policy. Quick wars that could be fought in a blaze of media glory were not enough. The neoconservatives, as an ideological current in the American ruling class, saw that unless the US pursued an aggressive policy of permanent and overt war it would lose its status in the world to emerging economic powers such as India and China, and rival yet allied imperia in Europe.
American policy documents had long advocated the mad man approach: act crazy to confuse your enemies. Now it was being put into practice, with the high-stakes invasion of Iraq.
The war against Iraq goes overt, too
The years of sanctions had weakened Iraq and led to millions of deaths as the healthcare system struggled to cope without access to medicines and equipment.
The US and UK coalition had invaded Iraq before, but the mission was not accomplished. Iraq had been contained, but it was necessary to show what happens if you don’t follow orders. The Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had been supported by Britain and America in the 1970s and 1980s, both in taking power and in going to war with Iran. The history of British involvement in both Iran and Iraq is too length to delineate here. It is enough to say that the reasons for the second war with Iraq had nothing to do with terrorism, human rights, or weapons of mass destruction.
Anglo-American imperialism had backed the Islamists in Afghanistan and the Ba’ath Party in Iraq as part of the Cold War. Now, former friends were enemies. The US government attempted to link Iraq to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the supposed global Al-Qaeda network of Islamist militants, but the Ba’ath Party was secular and there were no Islamist militants active in Iraq until the 2003 invasion.
The proxy war in Afghanistan
In the case of Afghanistan, the US/UK governments had supported the Mujahedin, the various pro-capitalist Islamic fundamentalist groups, both financially and ideologically in their fight against the progressive government of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan and the presence of the Red Army.
The PDPA which had taken power in April, 1978 and had subsequently invited the Soviet army into the country in December, 1979 was attempting to implement a programme of land reform, end the oppression of women, and institute education and healthcare provision. The Mujahedin, who opposed these reforms, were lauded as freedom fighters and their acts of terrorism were trained and funded by the CIA through bases in Pakistan.
Instead of spending billions of dollars to assist the building of schools and hospitals, the American government was giving spending the money on terrorist groups to blow them up. The US government saw the opportunity to weaken the Soviet Union by fighting a proxy war in Afghanistan. If this meant acts of terrorism against the civilian population, it was a price worth paying in the same way as the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children caused by the sanctions regime were worth it.
As for the policies of the PDPA, the US supports democratic revolutions just as long as they keep the existing economic order intact.
The old empire and its old colony
The British Prime Minister Tony Blair was keen to remain loyal to America for similar reasons. He stated on many occasions the need for a diminishing power like Britain to ally with the stronger military power to guarantee the country’s place in the world economy. The danger for Britain is that it cannot guarantee militarily the unequal trade relation it has with ‘the developing world’ now that it no longer has an empire in the colonial sense. Blair was not doing anything new: he was following the official policy of the UK government since the Second World War.
The difference was that the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan were massively unpopular to begin with, with the largest ever demonstration held in London on the eve of the Iraq war. The occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan and the support given to the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population of Palestine by the Israeli state led to terrorist attacks and attempted attacks in the UK.
The reaction to the United Kingdom’s tailing of the US and its disastrous consequences may yet lead to the break-up of the country, with increased support for Scottish independence and the victory of the Scottish Nationalist Party in the 2007 elections to the Scottish Parliament partly a result of the widespread disgust at British imperialism in action and the death and suffering it has caused for members of the armed forces and their families.
Blair’s previous wars did not result in large-scale protests and hostile public opinion. The necessity for the imperialist powers to intervene to secure their interests is clear, but war heightens class divisions as public finances shift from welfare to warfare. The seemingly unlimited funds for war and decreasing public spending on health and education have an impact on public opinion and the depth of revolutionary consciousness. In the UK, this has meant that the support given to British imperialism by much of the labour bureaucracy has come into question. The pressure from below, linking the war with racism and cuts in social spending, has led union leaders to be more vocal in opposing privatisation and military aggression.
The impact of spinning a war
The torrent of lies and misinformation directed at the public for the purposes of manufacturing consent for the invasion of Iraq have had unintended consequences for the ruling class.
The general public is now more sensitive to government propaganda on foreign affairs, and it can no longer be taken for granted that there will be an unquestioning acceptance of the government’s line on defence, even if there is acceptance in state and corporate media.
The labour movement is more conscious of imperialism, and Britain’s role as an imperialist power: further attempts to involve UK forces in acts of imperialist aggression could well result in strike action being called in protest. The Labour Party has been totally discredited amongst its traditional electoral base through its inability to resist the neo-liberal and imperialist agenda of the Blair-Brown leadership; it has lost a generation of class-conscious workers who see no reason for voting for the party, let alone funding it through the trade unions.
British armed forces have been overstretched, underpaid, and uncared for after they return home. Recruitment levels and the rate of retention have been lowered by the prospects and effects of active service in military occupations. Thousands of service personnel have been left physically and mentally scarred by the wars. Military families who might otherwise remain silent have spoken out against the occupation. Within the military there has been a radicalisation of opinion: there have been calls for some form of trade union for the armed forces, and a union has been formed by soldiers from the Commonwealth to combat racism.
While they were occupied with the occupation…
The US has been unable to react to the election of progressive governments in Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua, and the re-election of the revolutionary government of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. In Mexico, the Oaxaca Commune – named APPO – took power for two months and mass protests took place against the rigged presidential election which denied the leftist candidate victory.
That there could be such a breakthrough in America’s back yard was unthinkable before 2001: the Zapatista uprising against the Free Trade Agreement in Mexico in 1994 was unable to take state power and has been limited to the state of Chiapas. Now, Venezuela is in the midst of a socialist revolution, with the working class set to take power through communal and workers’ councils. Cuba, isolated by the blockade and a lack of allies, has regional trading partners and the Sandinistas are back in power in Nicaragua.
The ability for oppressed countries to take an independent course has been demonstrated and has no doubt inspired the movements in Lebanon, Nepal, Palestine, and elsewhere, that have been struggling against imperialism and neo-colonialism.
It is worth noting that the counterrevolutions in the socialist countries which led to the dismantling of the Soviet Union and the restoration of capitalism left America without an enemy. The Cold War had allowed imperialist powers to justify supporting and funding repressive regimes on grounds of anti-communism. That the Soviet Union was not going out of its way to fund a world revolution was not important – the big lie had some credibility. The Soviet Union existed; it did not have to be discovered like so many alleged terror plots.
The covert wars will continue – destabilisation, economic sanctions, and the propaganda war. The ability to directly intervene to ensure neo-colonial relations has been impaired by the occupation of Iraq. Who knows if the Americans could have finessed the propaganda campaign any better if Gore had been president instead of Bush. I have to say, I doubt it. Perhaps Gore would’ve been able to contain the Bolivarian movement in Latin America. Again, I think not. No doubt the alternative histories will preoccupy the bourgeoisie and its ideologues, but the material contradictions would not have differed.
From the monitoring of anti-war groups, the no-fly list, and unconstitutional wiretapping to the extraordinary rendition of suspects, the network of secret prisons in Eastern Europe, the unlawful prison in Guantánamo Bay, the torture of prisoners at Abu Grahib in Iraq and Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan, the use of chemical-biological weapons in Fallujah and the support for the Israeli war against Lebanon…
The occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan may end in coming months. Certainly, there is no great support amongst the civilian populations of the occupied countries, nor in Britain and America. Majority opinion is for a withdrawal of armed forces. The mid-term elections in the US were on the issue of the war. The verdict was clear: get out of Iraq and we’re not keen on Afghanistan either. That President Bush did not accept the verdict, and the opposition have been either unwilling or unable to make him order the withdrawal of US forces, demonstrates the truth of democratic participation under capitalism.
If the US accepts defeat in Iraq, it accepts the defeat of its overt interventionist policy. At this point in time, with rival imperialist powers and a growing number of anti-imperialist countries, it cannot afford to be defeated. The contradiction will have to be resolved somehow. American capitalism cannot afford an indefinite war in Iraq. The rival powers are not willing to prop up the occupation – NATO member states are reluctant to risk mass protests by deploying troops to Iraq, and find it just as hard to support the occupation of Afghanistan.
There are suspicions that the sectarian conflict taking place in Iraq has been nurtured by the US in order to justify further presence in the country by hampering the development of the Iraqi state. They would not have been able to pacify the resistance any other way. A Marshal Plan for Iraq and Afghanistan is not the easy option – aid given to European countries by America at the end of World War Two was given to prevent socialist forces taking power and initiating friendly relations with the Soviet Union. There is no power comparable to the Soviet Union today; China is a rival and an ally at the same time.
Perhaps the only way the US can get out of Iraq is by invading Iran. The recent hostage crisis has shown the proximity of a war against Iran. Everyone knows that any war would be about that commodity of commodities, oil, rather than Iran’s alleged involvement in supporting the Iraq resistance. Such a war would be catastrophic, yet it is supported by political figures from both parties in America. It is a last resort, but it will happen unless the war with Iraq can be defeated at home.
It was recently revealed by the Hilary Benn, the international development secretary, that the terms ‘war on terrorism’ and ‘global war on terror’ will no longer be used by either the British or American governments to describe their interventionist foreign policy. It is a widespread belief amongst Muslims in the UK and in the Middle East that the ‘war on terror’ is in fact a war against Muslims, an unsurprising response given the racism and Islamophobia utilised in support of the imperialist aggression. It has come to something when they don’t even have a grand narrative, let alone an Evil Empire. Perhaps there will be some honesty from the politicians and presstitutes when it comes to the true aims of the wars, like the candour of Admiral Cebrowski:
‘[T]he dangers against which US forces must be arrayed derive precisely from countries and regions that are “disconnected” from the prevailing trends of globalisation.’
Anglo-American imperialism does not seek colonies; the direct presence in Iraq and Afghanistan is of necessity. The need is for countries to remain subaltern in their relations with the imperialist powers through the world market. Neo-colonialism, or a proxy occupier, is preferable to the nakedness of the current occupations. The oppression of the Palestinians, which has occurred since the founding of the state of Israel, would not be ongoing if it was the US armed forces carrying out the occupation instead of the IDF. If Australia had carried out the occupation of East Timor, instead of Indonesia, would it have lasted twenty years?
The ability of mass protest in the oppressor countries to affect the way that wars are fought is significant, and the solidarity campaigns with oppressed countries are of much value. The way forward, however, is not more of the same. The politics of the anti-war movement are severely limited, both by factors of organisation and the development of political consciousness.
A withdrawal of British forces from the Middle East will not end the wars, but they will leave the US looking and feeling isolated, boosting the anti-war movement in the states. The way forward may involve the break-up of the United Kingdom, which might not have been in the best interest of the working class ten years ago, but if the only way to defeat British imperialism is the creation of a capitalist state in Scotland, as it appears today, it must be supported by all anti-imperialists – it might even be easier for the working class to overthrow capitalism in an independent Scotland.
What is needed in the UK is a unified workers’ party, which will include all socialist tendencies, to build on the work of the anti-war movement and provide a link between workplace and community struggles. This will not be for the purposes building an electoral party to replace Labour, but to build working class power and solidarity for the purposes of overthrowing capitalism.