Volatility

September 14, 2009

Afghanistan

Filed under: Afghanistan, Global War On Terror, Globalization, Mainstream Media, Peak Oil — Tags: — Russ @ 11:37 am
In the evolutions of the Global War on Terror, which is itself the evolution of the corporatist imperial war of the globalist/Peak Oil age, Afghanistan once again comes to the fore, while Iraq wanes in our consciousness.
 
Evolution, here as always, is not a moral term. Nothing gets better, nothing reaches a “higher” plane, there is no “progress” in the grandiloquent sense. Nor is there simple progress toward a goal. War has long been considered a permanent state of affairs by the elite. It’s an assumed element of the notorious Washington Consensus. The only thing 9/11 changed was how it provided the new scenic overlook where the public could be shown the vista of endless war but convinced that it was practically necessary for the national interest, as well as morally justified.
 
In fact neither of these is true. The Iraq war, which is the real core of the campaign (Afghanistan started out as a politically convenient sideshow), was planned long ago in the neocon think tanks, and advocated for years during the Clinton administration. The most specific objective was the oil, as insiders like Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney have long been aware of looming Peak Oil and concerned themselves with ensuring America’s supply for as long as possible through force. The broader objective was extending America’s corporatist reach, turning Iraq into a free-fire zone for free-market weaponry, using it as the base for further economic and military aggression.
 
In both these ways it’s a typical and key piece in the neolib/neocon process of resource, wealth, and power accumulation, meant to feed the ravening debt bubble economy back in the Western homeland. It’s a classical totalitarian process in that (1) each step is meant to accumulate as much loot as possible even as it prepares the next step, so (2) no step represents “the” goal, (3) there is no end goal, (4) short of world domination.
 
So Iraq, far from being a sincere but misguided response to 9/11 (as the idiot MSM still believes to this day), was a longstanding, carefully premeditated, cold-blooded plan of imperialism. Indeed it wasn’t easy to fit it into the “war on terror” narrative. WMDs of dubious existence and threat, which somehow never mattered much back when we knew Saddam had them and was in fact using them, now the suddenly critical casus belli?
 
That America fell for something so flimsy is a (dis)tribute to the gullibility of the populace (granted, still shaken up over 9/11), the abdication of the media, and the cowardice of the alleged “opposition” party.
 
Well, we all know how things went in Iraq. Bush incompetence and unexpectedly fierce resistance combined to scotch the master plan, and now they’re bumming around trying to decide how to “withdraw” even as they don’t really withdraw, but stick around to maybe launch further attacks later when the situation improves, while minimizing casualties during the downtime.
 
Now the spotlight turns to Afghanistan. Here, at least, we can’t accuse Obama of selling us out. The one truth he did tell during the campaign was how he’d escalate this theater.
 
What happened in Afghanistan? On the merits, the Afghan campaign should have been one big, conclusive raid to temporarily knock the Taliban out of power, obliterate Al-Queda, put some warlord in charge and get out. Then, if he couldn’t maintain power against Taliban resurgence, it would be his problem. As angry as America was at the Taliban for harboring Al-Queda, they were not intrinsically the problem. Al-Queda was the problem, and if we had made them the Taliban’s problem as well, this could have achieved the desired result. Compare how in 1970 Jordan kicked out the PLO once they drew enough heat to become a problem for Jordan itself. These host governments may sympathize with foreign extremists and be willing to harbor them, but their first priority is their own survival in power.
 
If counter-terrorism was ever the real goal, this never required permanent destruction of the Taliban. That America, at first implicitly and later explicitly, claimed the mission of “nation-building” puts the war into the imperialist framework. Therefore we know counter-terrorism, although something they did want to achieve, was still the pretext, not the real objective.
 
At first they were complacent and haphazard about it. Just as they later would in Iraq, so first in Afghanistan the Americans thought toppling the existing regime would in itself create an open political space where the will to Western democracy and capitalism would spontaneously generate. (Then, as in the homeland, corporatism, plutocracy, and pseudo-democracy would be imposed from above, while the veneer of democracy would be used to prettify it.)
 
America invaded, drove out the Taliban and cornered Al-Queda at Tora Bora, where they let them escape. Already they thought it was in the bag, were losing interest, were looking ahead to Iraq. In April 2002 Bush proclaimed his “Marshall Plan” for Afghanistan, but as with every other nation-building proclamation it was big on words, short on follow-through in terms of staff and money. As I said, they were expecting this Western-style paradise to mostly build itself.
 
In 2002 there were 8000 American troops deployed, on terrorist-hunting duty. Barely anyone was even going through the motions of nation-building. There really wasn’t much for anyone to do. While the fugitive AQ and Taliban caught their breath in Pakistan, America sat around in Afghanistan wasting time.
 
In late 2002 there began a massive resource shift to Iraq. All the best intelligence cadres and elite military teams were transferred. Pretty much all resources coming from overseas were now earmarked for the Iraq buildup. The Afghan theater languished, but remained quiet through 2003.  At the same time as Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” announcement, Rumsfeld made a similar announcement in Kabul.
 
In late 2003 there was a belated “surge” of nation-building interest. Incoming ambassador Khalilzad brought some money and some civilian cadres, with promises of more to come. In 2004 America was able to cobble together enough Afghans from enough groups to broker a new constitution, and this in turn led to the election in November making Karzai official president. On the surface, the mission was looking more accomplished all the time. All this time, in spite of the urgings of some experts and officials, the administration put little pressure on its ally Musharraf to move against the Taliban and AQ strongholds.
 
As the Taliban regrouped in Pakistan, America and NATO spent 2005 preparing for the transfer of full authority to NATO. Taliban infiltration and activity steadily increased until they launched an offensive in the spring of 06, carrying out hundreds of attacks. While not quite Tet, it was still a surprise to the Americans. Now Bush finally started pressuring Islamabad for some action vs. the sanctuaries.
 
In July 2006 NATO took formal responsibility for Afghanistan’s security. Over 2006-08 the Pakistani government gradually stepped up its actions against Taliban strongholds, even as the Taliban gradually seeped back into Afghanistan. America came to rely more and more on “smart” Predator strikes which are just as likely to massacre civilians as carry out successful assassinations.
 
For all the bluster, all the blood, the Bush administration threw away the opportunities, if any ever really existed, to remake Afghanistan. Bush bet the war’s momentum on Iraq, and by screwing that up, he screwed up the whole momentum.
 
Obama evidently never questioned permanent imperial war in principle. Nor did he look at what a mess Bush had made of it and decide to abort the whole project. Instead, as we’ve seen, he decided to take personal possession of the whole thing, even campaigned on this (while focusing on the quasi-withdrawal from Iraq, of course, and not bringing up how the resources withdrawn from there would merely be shifted to the Afghan escalation).
 
Since taking office Obama has installed a new commander with a reputation for aggressiveness, General McChrystal. He set in motion a troop escalation which will bring levels to 68000 by December. (Meanwhile since spring of 2008 polls have shown increasing public tiredness of the wars. In August 09 we reached a milestone: a majority now considers the Afghan war not to be worthwhile.)
 
What are the possible courses of action from here? The power structure and the MSM completely rule out ending the war. That’s not even part of the discussion among Decent Serious People.
 
Also not available is full escalation and really fighting the war America’s leaders claim they’re fighting. In its decadence America, even if it were physically and economically capable, which by now is questionable, is simply not morally or spiritually capable of using the level of force commensurate with its imperial ambitions.
 
It is malicious in intent but weak and craven in the execution.
 
So instead we have a selection of middling possibilities. We could continue to muddle through as we have been. We could largely withdraw ground forces and try to turn it into a true video-game war deploying mostly drones and other hi-tech. Or we could, wonder of wonders, try diplomacy; recognize that the Taliban is (1) not a jihadist monolith, but an aggregation of fighters with many different motivations, most of which motivations are generated by America’s presence and aggression themselves, and (2) it’s possible to co-exist on this Earth with the Taliban, without thereby empowering the real jihadists.
 
Those who say in principle they are not willing to co-exist, or that this is impossible, are nevertheless those who have long since conceded that they’re not willing to bring to bear the force necessary to utterly destroy this enemy. So their position, if really motivated by counter-terrorism, is incoherent. That’s part of how we know they’re really motivated by imperialism. 
 
There have been to date five “assessments” of the war this year (usually a symptom of the Peter Principle). McChrystal is currently halfway finished with presenting his theory on how the war should continue. (He was told to present basic policy suggestions first without any troop requests. The idea is that if the policy concept is widely considered reasonable, which it seems to have been, you then say OK, here’s the number of additional troops we need to carry that out. Those who already agreed in principle would then find it hard to backpedal when hit with the troop demand.)
 
McC’s prescription is the following: draw back the military from chasing around the countryside and focus on securing populated areas (that is, finally focus on classical counterinsurgency); step up the training of Afghan government forces (here too no numbers have been given); bring in many more civilian cadres – civil engineers, all sorts of trainers, most of all agricultural experts; and the ever-popular “streamline the military bureaucracy”. (This last one is especially favored by civilian and military leaders agreed upon a policy which is not universally popular in the upper military echelons.)
 
So to put it in Vietnam terms: switch from search-and-destroy to pacification; Vietnamization.
 
As for the upcoming troop request, it’s expected that McC will present a range of options, perhaps from 8000-45000 more troops depending upon how serious and sure people want to be, which will have been calculated to allow Defense Secretary Gates to recommend the “Goldilocks” option, twenty-something thousand.
 
(That Gates is a holdover from the Bush admin is also supposed to help provide Obama with political cover from attacks by Republican hawks wanting the high-end escalation. This guy just will not learn, will he?)
 
So Obama stands ready to take his first big step into what he thinks will be the glory of war. So we see the falsehood of the notion of “learning from history”. Intimates assure us that Obama is painfully aware of the double warning from history: that Afghanistan is the “Graveyard of Empires”, and of course the Vietnam lesson.
 
Obama is therefore giving us a twofer. He “understands” both, but finds a way to discount both so he can walk clear-eyed off the cliff.
 
I’ll close with this quote from the great 19th century historian Leopold Ranke, a quote often adduced in the 20th century, and it seems we’ll have lots more work for it in the 21st:
 
Neither blindness nor ignorance corrupts people and governments. They soon realize where the path they have taken is leading them. But there’s an impulse within them, favored by their natures and reinforced by their habits, which they do not resist. It continues to propel them forward as long as they have a remnant of strength. He who overcomes himself is divine. Most see their ruin before their eyes; but they go on into it.
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6 Comments

  1. barring girls from going to school and throwing acid in their faces is done simply as a reaction to the U.S. Invasion?

    Sources so that you don’t think I’m a right wing reactionary:

    http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/asiapcf/11/25/afghan.acid.attack/

    http://www.indianexpress.com/news/taliban-torched-200-swat-schools/465260/

    Granted, they re-opened the schools, but c’mon.

    Even Afghanistan activists against the war admit they won’t do good, take for instance,

    Malalai Joyla and RAWA: http://www.johannhari.com/archive/article.php?id=1547

    http://www.rawa.org/events/sevenyear_e.htm

    I understand that the reason the taliban are becoming popular again, but just because the current government is awful doesn’t mean a taliban government would be idealistic either.

    Comment by Jenny — September 14, 2009 @ 10:35 pm

    • Jenny,

      I don’t think you’re a reactionary, and I don’t like the Muslim Taliban any more than the American Christian Taliban (who would absolutely do all the same things if they could – it seems to me that these wars only politically empower those in America who would impose Taliban-type restrictions on women here).

      I’m not aware of anyone who idealizes the Taliban. We all know they’re yahoo thugs. But that doesn’t mean they’re going to be the source of more 9/11s either.

      The world is a pretty hideous place, but America’s profit-seeking adventures do little good and far more harm.

      More importantly, they make things worse and worse in this country. They lead America to break laws and torture, which systematic criminality and sadism then become engrained in the culture and the character.

      They militarize domestic life, media, discourse, which leads in turn to the demonization of dissent, the assault on civil liberties and the rising confidence of proto-fascist thugs.

      And of course overlaying all of it is the ever more tight stranglehold of corporate power, as the military-industrial and security-industrial complexes, and the international contractor state, become ever more aggrandized.

      So it’s an unfortunate fact that the structural evils of this imperial war far outweigh any beneficial side effects.

      Even if it acted in good faith, America simply does not have the resources to save the world. Even acting in good faith all it would manage to do is screw things up worse and destroy itself, as it’s currently doing acting in bad faith.

      Comment by Russ — September 15, 2009 @ 6:05 am

  2. I think you have the wrong idea about Iraq. The idea was to eliminate potential short-term oil oversupply which might have undermined the price and could have bankrupted all the banks holding huge energy industry loans. Bush’s war solved that problem in forty days; Iraqi oil has been safely in the ground ever since, and the price has escalated from $20 to a high of $148 and even in today’s depression it hovers at $70.

    Comment by jake chase — September 15, 2009 @ 9:03 am

  3. I don’t think I’ve come across that particular version before. It would require that they anticipated the insurgency, and that Big Oil somehow profited more from not only keeping the oil in the ground but not even adding it to their proven reserves (since it’s supposedly the insurgency which prevented the country and its oilfields being flung wide open to Western oil companies.)

    Even OPEC hasn’t usually seemed to see any wisdom in the former, while oil companies are so ardent to buffer their reserve figures that Royal Dutch Shell got caught some years back cooking the books.

    I haven’t heard of this critical bank exposure to energy industry loans going bad, nor why the loans would be going bad if everyone’s expectations were based on the oil price “great moderation” which had prevailed for years. Can you provide a link? The official story was low oil prices forever.

    Indeed, that’s what the neocons publicly argued in the 90s in favor of their pet Iraq project – it would help keep oil prices down.

    (Not that I “believe” official stories, of course, but I do think Occam’s razor is usually right, and in this case that the idea was to keep the oil flowing at a lower price as Peak Oil’s bumpy plateau set in, which it did starting in 2005.

    It’s more profitable and politically less risky to milk the cash cow for as long as possible at a more rational pace than to slaughter it and devour the meat all at once.

    Granted, that’s not the way the banks were thinking as the decade wore on. No rationality there.)

    I suppose lots of demented, contradictory ideas regarding the details ran through the heads of these cadres as they invaded Iraq.

    But I think the basics are clear – they wanted proximately to grab and control the oil and set up a military base holding interior lines vis the Mideast and Central Asia, and generally to widen the invasion plain for neoliberal predation.

    Comment by Russ — September 15, 2009 @ 10:23 am

    • I haven’t seen this idea elsewhere either, but think about Saddam as a threat to the PRICE of oil and everything begins to make sense. Why did he invade Kuwait? Because he wanted to become Saudi Arabia or because he needed more cash to beef up his own military security? It is easy to underestimate the intelligence of the Bush gang, but when you see their objective as money (a tradition going back to Eastman Dillon and banking Nazis and continuing with the GB marriage to Saudi Arabia and the Hurly Burly windfall in Iraq) they become no longer ignorant and misguided but simply predatory.

      Comment by jake chase — September 17, 2009 @ 6:00 am

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