|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
The new war president
JUST A year after being elected with massive hopes that he would end the wars launched during the Bush era, president Barak Obama announced he is sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, on top of the 21,000 additional soldiers he ordered there earlier in 2009. This will bring the total number of US troops in Afghanistan to nearly 100,000. As popular filmmaker (and Obama supporter) Michael Moore wrote on his website, "If you… announce that you are increasing, rather than withdrawing, the troops in Afghanistan, you are the new war president. Pure and simple".
Recent months have seen US casualties in Afghanistan reach their highest point in the eight-year war, with the Taliban gaining strength throughout the country. Morale among US soldiers is deteriorating, reflected in what The New York Times labelled a "near epidemic" of suicides among troops, with Army suicides rising by 37% since 2006, including 16 in October.
The US has already wasted $232 billion on the war, and thousands of lives have been lost in eight-years. And for what? Afghanistan remains the fourth poorest country in the world – and the second most corrupt (Transparency International, 17 October 2009). UNICEF says: "Afghanistan today is without a doubt the most dangerous place for a child to be born", with one-in-four Afghan children dying before the age of five, most of preventable diseases.
Thousands of ordinary Afghans have been killed by US and NATO airstrikes and military operations, generating massive anger among the Afghan population toward the foreign occupiers. The recent elections, which the US hoped would provide a façade of democratic legitimacy to the occupation and its puppet government, were marred by massive fraud. The government of Hamid Karzai is propped up by corrupt warlords, drug traffickers, and foreign troops rather than any legitimacy among the Afghan people.
The Obama administration claims the war is necessary to prevent the Taliban from returning to power and providing a safe haven for Al Qaeda to operate. Yet his own national security adviser, General James Jones, admitted there are less than 100 Al Qaeda members operating in Afghanistan, and that Al Qaeda’s attacks have been largely planned and coordinated from within Western Europe (Associated Press, 7 October 2009).
Far from protecting ordinary Americans and others around the world from the threat of terrorism, escalating the war in Afghanistan will only further aggravate the underlying problems at the root of terrorism. These include the anger at the brutality of the US occupation, which has been responsible for numerous bombings of wedding parties and innocent civilians in their homes, as well as disgust with the injustice of the corrupt regime. This comes on top of enormous outrage among the peoples of the Middle East and South Asia at the invasion of Iraq, the torture of detainees at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, the Pentagon’s unmanned drone attacks in Pakistan that have killed hundreds of civilians, US support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine, etc.
In his escalation speech, Obama also promised to begin withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan in July 2011, presenting the surge as a means toward ending the war faster. Yet days later, leading Obama administration officials went on the major Sunday morning talk shows to emphasise that, as defence secretary Robert Gates put it, "only a ‘handful’ of US troops will leave Afghanistan in 2011". Jones told CNN: "We have strategic interests in South Asia that should not be measured in terms of finite times. We’re going to be in the region for a long time". (New York Times, 6 December 2009)
The US ‘exit strategy’ is based on training more Afghan soldiers and police to take over security from US and NATO forces. However, thus far, this process has been a near complete disaster, despite the claims of US officials. There are numerous reports that it is common for Afghan soldiers to enlist in basic training multiple times under different names and then leave as soon as they are paid.
The real reason for the continuation of the war is US fear of losing control of Central Asia and the Middle East, especially the oil reserves, which are of vital strategic significance for US imperialism. Already reeling from the catastrophic invasion of Iraq, the US cannot afford to admit defeat in Afghanistan. Obama’s decision to escalate in Afghanistan reflects his accommodation to the interests of the US corporate and military elite, despite the hopes of many who voted for him that he would be an ‘antiwar’ president.
In addition, Obama and leading Democratic Party strategists fear the electoral consequences of being labelled as ‘weak on defence’ by the Republicans – even though this decision will further the growing disillusionment of the Democratic base. Similar calculations drew Lyndon B Johnson’s administration into the quagmire in Vietnam during the 1960s, at immense cost to the Vietnamese people and to social programmes in the US.
To pay for any escalation, Congress will have to approve supplemental funding, on top of the $65 billion already allotted for the war in Afghanistan for 2010. The Congressional Research Service estimates that every additional US soldier in Afghanistan will cost $1 million a year, potentially doubling the $3.6 billion a month already being spent on the occupation (thehill.com, 14 October 2009).
This heightened war spending comes as US workers and families suffer from skyrocketing unemployment, and state and local governments face budget shortfalls, forcing cuts in social services, tuition increases, etc. The Obama administration has called for all domestic agencies to prepare to freeze or cut spending by 5% next year (AP, 13 November 2009). Military spending knows no such limits, however. The Obama administration is "on track to spend more on defence, in real dollars, than any other president has in one term of office since World War II". (Government Executive)
The Republican spin machine is already moving into top speed, calling for postponing health care reform until war funding is approved, and demanding cuts in domestic spending to pay for the war.
Yet, as Moore wrote in an open letter to Obama: "Ask your neighbours in Chicago and the parents of the young men and women doing the fighting and dying if they want more billions and more troops sent to Afghanistan. Do you think they will say, ‘No, we don’t need health care, we don’t need jobs, we don’t need homes. You go on ahead, Mr President, and send our wealth and our sons and daughters overseas, ‘cause we don’t need them, either’." (MichaelMoore.com, 30 November 2009)
Obama’s troop surge will not provide any solution to the problems in Afghanistan. It will only lead to increased violence and drag the US further into a quagmire, with no end in sight. The antiwar movement needs to reorganise itself to build the strongest possible movement against this war. The growing opposition to the war among ordinary Americans, not to mention people all over the world, provides a huge opportunity if activists are prepared to seize it. There is a call for national demonstrations on 20 March, the seventh anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq. Ultimately, stopping the war in Afghanistan and the continued crimes of US imperialism is going to require a real challenge to the two-party system. The fact that the Democrats now control the White House and Congress and yet are still escalating the war, shows the bankruptcy of the two-party system.
Socialist Alternative (CWI in the USA)