March 26, 2009

Is Afghanistan Strategic?

One of the first points in the fine new Freedom Road statement released on the occasion of the 6th anniversary of the occupation of Iraq is the interesting assertion that Afghanistan is less about the strategic interests of US imperialism than about bourgeois politics here at home:

The war in Afghanistan is not mainly about oil or gas pipelines nor, at this point, is it principally about al Qaeda. If the war there were central to US ruling class interests, the George Bush administration would not have low-balled it for eight years. If Afghanistan were a central strategic focus, the Bush 41 and Clinton administrations wouldn’t have completely ignored it from the Soviet defeat there in 1989 right through to 9/11/01.

Afghanistan is a pawn in the game of US domestic politics. Obama ran on Bush’s failure to keep his promise to capture Bin Laden, and in his statements during the campaign and since has repeatedly made his own pledge―Victory in Afghanistan. Yet no one in the administration can say what that would look like and it is acknowledged that so far there exists neither an overall strategic plan, clear goals nor an exit strategy.
I just ran across an interesting confirmation of that assertion, in an Agence France-Presse article tellingly entitled "West lowers sights in Afghanistan":
"We are lowering our ambitions," a senior French official admitted to AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity. "The Americans are now looking for a way out, they no longer regard Afghanistan as strategic. It'll take two to five years, but we're in a logic of disengagement."
They want out because they are losing (as the FRSO/OSCL statement points out) and there's no way to "win" by practically any definition of the word, and because the real strategic problems for the US in the region remain Iraq, Iran and Pakistan.

I won't insult FotM readers by explaining why this does not mean that anti-war activists can breathe a sigh of relief and turn our attention to other issues. Let us rather take up the call made in the recent--and eloquent--open letter of IVAW, MFSO and VFP to the peace movement (available here):
We ask all those who have stood with us in the past to stay faithful to the cause.


Anonymous said...

The statement says that the Afghanistan war "is less about the strategic interests of US imperialism than about bourgeois politics here at home."

I don't agree with this and would like to hear more from defenders of this view about why they think this is true.

The statement gives a couple arguments about why it is not about U.S. strategic interests:

The war in Afghanistan is not mainly about oil or gas pipelines nor, at this point, is it principally about al Qaeda

At no point was the war ever "principally" about Al Qaeda, Bin Laden, etc. Large scale military occupation is the least suitable method for attacking al Qaeda. I would argue that the war is "mainly about oil [and] gas pipelines", for the reasons stated in this article:

If the war there were central to US ruling class interests, the George Bush administration would not have low-balled it for eight years.

I guess a lot hangs on what is meant by the term "low-balled". Lack of commitment with resources and troops? Or lack of interest to develop better strategy and tactics? In any case, the war in Iraq tied down the U.S. such that Afghanistan could only be on the back burner until recently. Waging war against the Iraqi resistance (the most important factor in the Iraq war, which the statement doesn't address in a meaningful way) was the key task facing U.S. imperialism in 2003-2008.

If Afghanistan were a central strategic focus, the Bush 41 and Clinton administrations wouldn’t have completely ignored it from the Soviet defeat there in 1989 right through to 9/11/01.

As I understand it, U.S. assistance to anti-government forces continued past the Soviet withdrawal and up until the People's Democratic Party government collapsed three years later. Clinton certainly didn't ignore it as the U.S. government helped get the Unocal (U.S. corporation) pipeline deal signed with the Taliban in 1998.

Afghanistan is a pawn in the game of US domestic politics.

Where is the evidence for this? The statement doesn't really say anything about it, aside from mentioning Obama's campaign promises.


Imperialist wars are never principally about domestic politics. It's about securing resources, markets, raw materials (in particular natural gas and oil), "dividing up the world", etc. These are real needs of monopoly capitalists. At the same time, U.S. presence in Afghanistan allows them to counter Russia's influence in the region and squeeze Iran. That's why the U.S. is in Afghanistan and it is why they will do anything they can to stay.

Those are my observations. I am interested to hear more i defense of the thesis put forward in this statement, since I don't think it is explained clearly in the statement.

Eve Chayes Lyman said...

So sick of this traditional left view. Please read The gamble about petreus and the surge, an amazing book that taught this anti-war activist (me) a thing or two about commitment, responsibility to a country that we invaded and ruined. Read comprehensive plan for Afghanistan on, if you are interested in hearing what someone who has been living there since the fall of the Taliban has to say...or, just continue talking to yourself!

Jimmy Higgins said...

An answer to Kosta:

My goodness, a polemic. Right here on FotM! It's been a long time, but the old instincts are still in effect. The trumpet sounds; the aging warhorse paws the ground and his nostrils flare.

But, actually I don't like this sort of thing too much these days. Plus which, Kosta, you reference the FRSO/OSCL statement far more than my minor comments on it. While it's hardly a secret that I am a member of Freedom Road, I am not in any leadership position in the org, and will have to speak for myself here. I do so not so much in the hope of winning you over, as to persuade you that there are other and perhaps even more dialectical ways of thinking about matters like this.

The Pipeline

You are hardly alone in arguing that the US has an overwhelming strategic interest in forming a stable Afghan government in order to run an oil pipeline through there and Pakistan to the Indian Ocean. Michael Moore has been perhaps the best known advocate of this position.

Rather than challenge the Lalkar article you cite point by point, since most of its points don't deal with the particular anyhow, let me start with one general observation before moving to the specific. it's about about the nature of oil (and natural gas). Oil is fungible. Once it's pumped, unless it's stored (and that can get expensive fast, especially with natural gas), it sells into the world capitalist market at whatever price the world market is paying. (As Marx teaches us, for any commodity that is naturally limited in its supply, like non-renewable resources, the price is set not by the average cost of production but by the cost of the least efficient producer.)

Then it goes wherever the market directs it, by pipeline, train, truck, ship, whatever it takes. The US rulers may hate Hugo Chavez, but they know boycotting Venezuelan oil, or Citgo, won't hurt Venezuela, which will just sell its crude somewhere else, but will lengthen supply lines and costs for US refineries.

That is why Iraq was, is, and will continue to be of far greater strategic importance to the US than Afghanistan. Controlling or having substantial influence in a country with huge oil reserves, a place where the oil actually gets pumped out of the ground, is of vastly greater importance than controlling a country it travels through--or in this case, might someday travel through. Maybe.

Now as to the ballyhooed Afghan pipeline--it was proposed in the mid-'90s as a natural gas pipeline. Of the world's 20 largest oil companies, one is US-owned, Exxon, # 17 on the list. Relatively minor even then, Unocal no longer exists, having been gobbled up in 2005 by the notably larger Chevron. And among the 8 partners in the proposed natural gas pipeline project not one other was a US firm--only Saudis, Indonesians, Japanese, Koreans and others. Among them was RAO Gazprom--#11 and owned by the very Russians offered by Lalkar and others as the big reason the US ruling class simply has to have a pipeline through Afghanistan.

The US bourgeoisie has long since decided on and built its favored route for oil and gas from the Caspian to outflank Russia and Iran--it runs through Azerbaijan and Georgia. Millions of barrels flow through it every year.

To be sure, an alternate route might be desirable,if not a burning necessity. And the invasion and occupation of Iraq, which was being planned before 2001 was over, promised exactly that. Look at a map. If you control Iraq, why, exactly, would you ship oil or natural gas from states bordering the Caspian through volatile countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan?

Al Qaeda

I don't share your confidence that the war was not ever, as you italicize, principally about Al Qaeda. The initial attack on Afghanistan, the so-called "Operation Enduring Freedom" happened less than a month after 9/11 which was, you will recall (if you were not rather young then) a traumatic shock to the people of the US and to the bourgeoisie of this country. (I trust you don't share the conspiracy theories about the attacks being planned and executed by Bush & Co. or the Mossad. If you do, we have little to discuss after all.)

You offer the choice of bad strategy and tactics to pursue the goal of destroying al Qaeda as proof that it wasn't their goal. The enemy frequently makes such choices in pursuit of very real goals. History is chock full of examples. We should be thankful that the future will be as well.


Ya ask me, Kosta, you have nailed the meaning of "low-balled" exactly.

The FRSO/OSCL statement points out that the US ruling class has almost never treated Afghanistan as a strategic priority of the top order. Such formulations as "completely ignored" may well be one-sided but capture the essence of US policy. Career military types like retired generals Robert Gard and John Johns are still livid that Iraq preparations left the Pentagon with too few troops to pin down Osama bin Laden at the Battle of Tora Bora. US officers and diplomats in Afghanistan have been pleading--loudly--for more troops, more civilian aides, more attention, more money, ever since.

And I agree with you that Iraq drew all those things. That's because Iraq was and is a top strategic priority for US imperialism. It has the second or third largest oil reserves in the world. And it was indeed the varied forces comprising the Iraqi armed resistance that tied the US in knots there.

I also wish the Freedom Road statement could have said more about those forces. Because by your own timeline, they evidently ceased to play that role as of 2008. I am sure we agree that it's not because "The Surge (tm) succeeded" or the resistance gave up. The Road's statement suggests that it's because "

Jimmy Higgins said...

An answer to Kosta (ctd.):

"The situation in Iraq remains static, which is because the various Iraqi factions--military, political, commercial, religious and tribal--are in a standoff. All are waiting for total or even significant US withdrawal to break the stasis and permit the redistribution of territory and power."

If you have a different or deeper analysis, please, holler!


If I may offer a bit of painfully hard-earned advice, it is seldom wise to make sweeping generalizations like "Imperialist wars are never principally about domestic policy." There was not too damn much Mussolini or the Italian bourgeoisie needed in Ethiopia in 1935, for instance--it was simply the only African country available for conquest and incorporation into Mussolini's New Roman Empire without fighting a pre-existing imperialist master.

Wars are about a number of things, but the idea that monopoly capitalists don't have domestic needs--legitimation and political hegemony, particularly in times of changes in the system of accumulation--that get played out on the field of foreign policy strikes me as rather narrow. First, an easy-to-understand example. US policy towards Israel is strongly conditioned by the powerful domestic Israel lobby, to the point where the very oil companies which you paint as the determining factor in Afghanistan are perpetually trying to push for a more "even-handed" approach toward the Arab world, with very limited success.

Next, a particular example, having to do with war (and Israel as it happens). in 1982 under Reagan the US sent an expeditionary force to Lebanon to back Israel and its Lebanese allies. In a daring truck bomb attack organized by Palestinian fighters, 241 US troops were blown up on October 23. Within weeks US troops were redeployed on offshore naval vessels and by February of 1983 sailed for home.

In a godsend for the administration, just then a split in the leftist New Jewel Movement which ruled the small Caribbean nation of Grenada broke into violent civil strife when Prime Minister Maurice Bishop refused to accept NJM central committee decisions. Better still, there was an offshore diploma mill there with about 800 US students who couldn't get into US medical schools. ON October 25, the US launched its first major military offensive since the near-collapse of the US Army during the closing stages of its defeat in Vietnam.

Judge how strategically crucial this tiny island with a population of 100,000 was by the fact that the first wave of Special Forces who went in by 'copter were didn't even have real maps, only photocopies of paper placemats used at Grenadan tourist hotels! But folks in Sioux Falls weren't getting pissed about the Lebanon bombing any longer, they were talking about the "rescued" medical students kissing the tarmac on t.v. news when they landed in the US.

Domestic Politics

I wrote a longer thing here with quotes from the NY Times, the campaign website and all, but ditched it. The argument pretty much makes itself.

1. Obama was objectively "the peace candidate"--strongly anti-war voters readily chose him over Clinton and McCain.

2. He did not run as "the peace candidate" and used Afghanistan to demonstrate his imperial macho to big money donors and jingoist voters.

3. He has committed himself to wind Iraq down and win in Afghanistan.

4. He will have to do things that look like both of those promises, especially if he plans to run in 2012.

5. Or he will have to take steps that show why its not necessary that those promises be kept.

Last Word

Kosta, I trust you won't find any of this stuff hostile or patronizing. I am trying to clarify the points you challenged and not to let my old ncm polemicist training dominate my response.

I think the thing that bothers me most about your whole piece is that it has a flavor of point-scoring. Folks who aren't in the hard left tradition we seem to share are likely to say "So what?"

Do you disagree with the conclusions the Freedom Road Socialist Organization draws about what the tasks of progressives, revolutionaries and socialists are at this difficult juncture?

Do you think the analysis that you criticize will tend to cause activists to be too optimistic about the possibility of ending the occupation of Afghanistan? Or do you think that saying it's not mainly about oil and gas pipelines will somehow take a further toll on the exhausted forces of the anti-war movement?

esekaese said...


NobodyToToyWith said...

Longer comments than even I could come up with. I'm not sure I could break all these down point by point, or go back to their references and do the same. I dunno, it makes me think back to the first days and weeks of the invasion of Iraq, when my first thought was "Wow, these people just don't know what they are doing." Then I thought, well, they must know more than me, they are professional war-mongers after all, it's just that I don't understand. But then, in the end, I think they really hadn't thought things out well. So that's the problem to me, disputing things in this way has the hidden assumption that a)there is a unified American ruling class that sits down at meetings and agrees on what they are going to do; and b)they have the knowledge and ability to act in a unified manner on the decisions they make, which of course are based on logic and reason.

I had an economics professor once who assigned us a bunch of readings of various economic theorists, some of which drove me crazy because they were so difficult to understand. I went to his office, very upset because I just couldn't understand them. "Jeri," he said. "Sometimes when you don't understand things it's because they don't make any sense." That was the biggest lesson I ever learned from him or from anyone. I had assumed since the words I was reading were written by famous economists and published in a book and given me to read as an assignment that they made sense.

I am not trying to make light of this discussion, which certainly has its purposes, but it does seem to me to assume that there is a well-thought out logic to the policies and decisions. Is there anything about how things are run in this country that leads you to believe that? It's good to come up with theories and explanations about why people do things, but a bad idea to forget that you are thinking of unpredictable human beings making these decisions and plans.

That said, I have to agree with the Freedom Road statement on Afghanistan. It's about politics, and I have not seen anything to make me think otherwise. One of the reasons I say this is my own too deep involvement in the democratic process i.e., electoral politics and campaigns, which are very sleezy and illogical, and there are few deep philosophical discussions, except maybe when people are drunk in the wee hours of the morning. Obama took all these polls, or rather, his political consultants took all these polls, and used the results to help shape his policy decisions. Maybe people think this is democracy at work, I think it is a very bad way to make decisions especially when WMDs are involved. But Obama is gambling that he has been able to come up with what will sell to the American public, and he's selling it. People continue to believe that it is somehow "irresponsible" to just pull out of either war, that it is either dangerous to the U.S. That's what the polls reflect.

Afghanistan? Have you ever looked at Afghanistan on Google Earth? Not a lot there. A lot of mountains, empty. I don't know, maybe this is a matter of taking narcotics from one part of the empire and moving them to another...reminds me of something.

This is how I think it worked in Iraq, and I know it's flippant and simplistic, but it is how I really look at it, and how I think capitalism really works when it comes right down to it. George Bush and company gave their friends a bunch of sacks, and told them, I don't know how long this is going to last, so you better get in there and fill them up as fast as you can. It's how all the wealthy people in this country and around the world gained wealth and power, and gained access to the protection of WMDs to do so. And these same people make money from Afghanistan too. As long as US forces are somewhere, money is flowing into pockets. That is the first thing Cody told me on a non-military phone after he left Iraq, that the soldiers were there to support the contractors, that people with contracts were making money supplying the soldiers, and others with contracts could not make money without the soldiers there to protect them. This is not something that can be left out of a discussion of the "strategic" importance of Afghanistan. The US economy was built by war and is based on war.

esekaese said...

But a word of advice:

When blogging, be shorter, and this is a problem of all left blogs...

All of you should be sent to Camp Twitter, to get re-educated in communicating politics on the tubes.

Hear is Jimmy Higgins' answer for my generation and younger. 140 chars or less:

"Imperialism also domestic side, Obama has to Talib & or GTFO. Pipeline is a pipedream. No dis meant, but grasshoppa needs to lurk moar."

I agree with the conclusion, but for me the argument is different.

Afghanistan is a vengeance war. This is the war the USA will fight, cost what it will, and will spend blood and treasure until the collective cleansing happens. No national politician can afford to not understand this. Its not about campaign strategy, its about Little Eichmanns trying to show they will not tolerate their phallic symbols being attacked. A big dick fest of one thousand of them for each one of us, etc.

It is not coincidence that the first robots to be used in warfare were used in Afghanistan, not Iraq: if the USA can be permanently at war in Afghanistan with little risk to humans, they will do it. They will literally bomb the place back to Homo habilis.

Its not empire, it is the last desperate grasp of impotency as the paper tiger crumbles. The difference is academic to Afghan and Pakistani "tribals", but the left needs to update their language. After all, the USA is now a neo-colony of China...

Carl Davidson said...

I think if bin Laden and crew got out of there and went off, say, to the Sudan, the US and NATO would pull out lickety-split.

Of course it's about the Salaffists. no one with any sense believes in playing the wide 'Great Game' with military forces since the Russians got their butts kicked with quadruple the forces NATO and Obama are thinking about.

Jimmy Higgins said...

This one is for my friend Eve, who did so much to get the Iraq Moratorium off the ground two years ago. She deserves at least as detailed a reply to her heartfelt challenge as Kosta got to his polemic, and she is not alone in her concern that something must be done to mitigate the suffering of the people of Afghanistan.

And a bit more background for others reading this. Eve is neither a bleeding heart nor a naif. She has been to Afghanistan and knows Hamid Karzai and other Afghan figures. Her sister, Sarah Chayes, has been one of the only Americans doing real on-the-ground reporting from Afghanistan from the start. Sarah also works in a small soapmaking cooperative in Kandahar that she helped local people start.

Oh, and Eve, I'll try and read The Gamble, though I have followed Petraeus' career (and PR) and am unimpressed. Of course I track Sarah's stuff online, if not as rigorously as I should.

1. "Sick of this traditional left view"? I am sorry that you are frustrated, but let's talk about the US anti-war movement, which has done so much to turn public opinion in the US irretrievably against the occupation of Iraq. It is no exaggeration to say that the anti-war movement enabled the election (until recently unimaginable) of the first black president in the US. McCain's offer of a 100 year occupation of Iraq pretty much decided the outcome even before it became clear that the economy was gong pear-shaped.

Incidentally, a lot of the left is pacifist. You and I may not be, but we should respect the views of those, including many veterans shaped by their personal experience, who oppose all wars, and who were at the forefront of those who stood up against the cries for vengeance in the grim and frightening days after September 11. They were right, when many, even many who counted themselves on the left, couldn't find their bearings.

I also urge you to read the commentary about Afghanistan that the group I am in, Freedom Road, posted on its website less than two months ago, accompanying a statement by RAWA. I personally have some differences with it, but I hardly think it can be called a "traditional left view."

2. Do the US owe the people of Iraq and Afghanistan for the damage we have done them. Beyond any doubt! There should be massive reparations in money and material. There should be war crimes trials of those responsible.

3. Will the US repay those debts? I am sorry to say there is no chance until such time as there is a revolution here.

Take the case of Vietnam, which made the mistake of decisively defeating the US (at a cost of perhaps 2.5 million dead and economic and ecological devastation which continue to this day). In the Paris Peace talks in 1973, the US promised $3.5 billion in aid to rebuild the shattered country. Not one thin dime was ever delivered.

Or take a small instance I cited in an comment above. The tiny island nation of Grenada which the Reagan administration invaded to "rescue" it from civil strife in 1982, is today one of the poorest countries in the world, still having difficulty rebuilding from Hurricane Ivan in 2004. The money it would take to diversify Grenadan nutmeg monoculture, develop tourism, strengthen the economy and make the island a showplace for US benevolence wouldn't even rate a footnote in the US budget. It hasn't happened, it isn't happening, it won't happen.

I can predict who will work to repay the enormous moral and ethical debt a string of US administrations has incurred in Iraq and Afghanistan. Everyday people from this country, like your sister, and people from the anti-war movement in particular. Since the Vietnam war ended, US veterans of that conflict, many in Veterans For Peace and VVAW, have fought for diplomatic recognition and for justice for Vietnamese victims of dioxin poisoning from Agent Orange. In Vietnam they staff medical clinics, a Friendship Village and other people-to-people aid projects. VFP already has a water purification project underway in Iraq!

4. Why do you think the US will have any better luck at shaping the kind of society you would like to see there than the Soviets did? Their Afghan allies, who ran the country before Soviet intervention, were one of the largest political parties in the country and had a far broader following than the Karzai government. They promoted and funded programs which were notably more progressive than anything implemented under US occupation in terms of women, human rights, economic modernization, education, social welfare, etc, programs which enjoyed real popularity in Kabul and the country's few other cities.

Plus which, the Soviets were willing to back the PDPA government with training, modern military hardware and hundreds of thousands of troops for a decade.

They got their asses kicked. People do not like having their countries occupied by foreign invaders. Certainly Afghans don't, as 2500 years of history amply demonstrate.

Obama has already dumped nation-building, civil society, women and all that other good stuff the US was supposed to be doing. In his March 25 policy speech, he even brushed past the fact that Afghanistan's economy is now based on heroin, of which it is the world's main source. Why not underline this?

Because the US is not going to deliver the kind of massive aid that would be needed to bring into being improvements in Afghan agriculture and animal husbandry based on the traditional practices and experiences of the people there. And that's what it would take to wean some of the poorest, most isolated peasants in the world from the poppy windfall. In fact, his speech made it clear that far more money will be flowing to Pakistan than Afghanistan.

He stated very clearly that the US is there "to disrupt, dismantle and defeat" al Qaeda and go home. Me, I doubt can be done, but I figure there's a decent chance that by 2012 he will claim that it's been accomplished, and start downsizing the occupation. In the meantime, his chosen imperial overseer, Richard Holbrooke, has been leaking (then publicly denying) plans to undercut Karzai by installing a Prime Minister, even though there's no such post in the constitution.

5. How many Afghans are you willing to see killed to buy the time it will take to make something good happen? So far, the majority of civilian deaths (estimated at 7,500-11,000), many of them women and children, have been attributed to "Coalition" forces in UN reports, although the Taliban and its allies seem to be catching up.

The US war in Afghanistan, as esekaese notes above, is particularly technical. The mujahadin fighters are derided by US military spokesmen as "cowards" who "hide behind women and children"--ie. live with their families. But fighters and civilians alike are killed by Hellfire missiles fired from drone aircraft--the targeting and triggering done by presumably "courageous" US troops sitting at VDTs on aircraft carriers in the Indian ocean or even at Nellis Air Force Base outside of Las Vegas.

More troops means more fighting, more fighting means more death. The 17,000...ooops,, wait, add 2000 British reinforcements now on their way to Afghanistan...are just a downpayment on a larger occupation.

6. Finally, Eve, I want to ask what it is that you would like to see the left doing. The tasks listed in the FRSO/OSCL statement will do to represent my views for the moment, with a special emphasis on emphasizing the sordid history of US involvement in Afghanistan

Should we echo the inside-the-beltway liberals and Obamasessives who loudly hail the sending of more troops? Should we ignore the military families, serving troops and veterans who have spoken out so powerfully against wading deeper into the Big Muddy? Should we ignore the polls that show that the people of this country are increasingly of the opinion that we never should have invaded Afghanistan in the first place, and tell them instead to demand that more troops and aid be sent?

Here's what it comes down to, I guess: Should we believe, against all common sense and all of history, that the people who rule this country have the interests of the Afghan people at heart and will, maybe with a little pressure, to do what it takes to protect and advance those interests? Or should we recognize that the damage already done in Afghanistan is a pale foreshadowing of what will happen as Obama's escalation continues?

Jimmy Higgins said...

Shorter answer to Eve (for esekaese):

Pottery Barn r00lzs?? NAO!!!! US=Bull in china shop! So Job #1=Get bull out!!!!!!

kosta said...

Hello Mr. Higgins,

I appreciate the response. Perhaps it didn't come across in what I wrote, but I was genuinely interested to understand the views put forward in the statement. The statement didn't really explain the premises; what you wrote helped explain where you are coming from.

I didn't write to "score points" or criticize just for the hell of it. That would be a waste of everyone's time, and a disrespect to the people who are being killed by US occupation every day.

I think the antiwar movement needs sound analysis and theory to guide its work. The fact that so little educational work was/is done internal to the antiwar movement (even among the most active elements in it) - and I'm not excluding myself - is one of the main reasons the movement has run itself into the ground. External factors aside, the internal weaknesses of the movement played a big role in bringing us to the point of less than 10,000 people anywhere protesting the occupations on March 21.

It seems to me like you are counter-posing this discussion about analyzing the origins of the war and the objectives of US imperialism with the tasks of the movement. Basically to say, "Well we can disagree on the analysis, but we can agree on the tasks". Maybe I am misunderstanding you on this.

I think that if we don't understand why the US went into Afghanistan, what its strategic objectives are there and regionally, then we can't formulate correct tactics or demands for our movement. You only need to look at the comments on this blog to see that there is a wide variety of views on that. Not that there's anything wrong with discussion, but how can the antiwar movement have unity in action when folks disagree as to what constitutes "commitment [and] responsibility to a country that we invaded and ruined" - is it grassroots solidarity like you indicated, or the solidarity of NGO's, bombs and missiles, and "reconstruction" to make the Afghan economy dependent on the US?

Strategic interests, oil, and pipelines

This deserves a longer response than a comment here, so I plan on writing something and we can talk about it more then. Otherwise it is hard to have substantive discussion about it. A few thoughts quickly: I think your points on the question of the pipeline and Central Asian gas assume that Iraq is basically stabilized and is a guaranteed source of energy for the US. I think Iraq is a lot more unstable than Afghanistan, despite appearances. Which places greater emphasis on the US maintaining a permanent presence in Afghanistan. One of the comments on this blog was "there's nothing in Afghanistan". That's not really true, but the bigger point is: look who and what is *around* Afghanistan. You wrote that Pakistan is a bigger problem and the US presence in Afghanistan is certainly being maintained with an eye towards that.

Finally, on the Al Qaeda/9/11 question. Of course there was a lot of hysteria and anger in the months following, which gave Bush the green light to go ahead with what he wanted to do. But I don't think there would have been an invasion and occupation if it didn't fit the strategic interests of the US. What is the connection between the imperialist politics and the imperialist economics with regards to Afghanistan?


This point also deserves a longer response so I'm not going to get into it here, other than to say that I think winning over the advanced to a US Out Now line is the key to unfolding everything else. And again on the importance of analysis: if people think we are there to "help out" or "fight terrorism" then the movement will get nowhere.

Thanks again for the discussion.

Unknown said...

On September 11, 2001 the Twin Towers and the Pentagon were attacked, allegedly, by Al-Qaeda. It was the first major foreign(?) terrorist attack in US history. The empire had to respond in the manner empires respond. It had to "get" the "bad guys", and crush them in order to set an example. It presented no evidence to the public regarding it's conviction that Al-Qaeda was the culprit. It simply established this as the narrative with the complicity of the corporate media. The Taliban weren't really important. In fact, the Taliban offered to turn over Osama to a neutral party but the empire deemed this unacceptable. What kind of example would that have set?

The empire failed(?) to catch the "bad guy" so it altered the narrative to democracy, women's liberation, drug eradication and nation-building. Now the empire doesn't know exactly why it's there or what it's doing.

Domestically, the empire was able to use 9/11 to suppress dissent and to, generally, intimidate the population. 9/11 justified the increase in surveillance and detentions of immigrants that followed. The John Yoo memos seem to confirm that the Bush administration was attempting a major realignment of power into the executive branch: "If the President does it it's not illegal". Is this what's really behind 9/11? I don't know but I have a lot of questions. In any case, ultimately, they were unsuccessful. At least, for now.

The responsible thing to do now is to help Afghanistan rebuild and leave as soon as possible. That won't happen because Obama promised to get Osama. He felt he needed to say that in order to win the election, and now that he's won he's stuck. It was stupid from the beginning but maybe he's not as bright as everyone says. So... based on chronology of events the FRSO line appears to be, basically, correct. Of course, only time will tell. Maybe someone will leak a document that indicates something different.

Carl Davidson said...

Bush blew it on 9/12 when he declared 'war on terror' to deal with the criminal Salaffists, handing them the political victory of 'holy warrior.'

What followed is the US military as Keystone Kops making matters worse.

But even as we demand 'Out Now,' it doesn't follow that we should hand the Salaffists a 'get out of jail free' card or put 'alleged' in front of crimes they've accepted responsibility for. It only makes you look foolish in the eyes of their victims, which are spread in many countries across the globe.

True, we have our 'own' criminals to deal with, but in due time, these will be brought to justice as well.

Unknown said...

It's not a matter of letting anyone off the hook. Immediately after 9/11 Al-Qaeda failed to take responsibility for what would be considered a direct and devastating blow against their greatest enemy. A great victory. Why? The fact is there are many unanswered questions. Why should we accept the official ruling class story? It would be "foolish" to do so, never mind appearances.

Carl Davidson said...

If you really believe it probable that bin Laden and crew didn't do this, there's nothing I really have to say to you and those who think like you. We're not in the same social reality, and despite phraseology, we have no common universe of discourse. It's sad that you put the name of Marxism on your beliefs, but there's not much I can do about that.

esekaese said...

@kosta's new comment: lurk moar - we know you legit, but new commie is new.

@jimmyhiggins: teh wins! Mathematical formula is mathematical!

@Carl Davidson - Wahhabists, not Salafists. They are related, but not the same. Al-Qaeda is Wahhabi, not Salafist. Salafists are insulted if you call them Wahhabi. The main difference between the two is acceptance or not of Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab as having begun a distinct school of thought. BTW, Wahhabis prefer the term "Muwahiddun" (roughly "unitarians"). Also, Salafists tend to be more North African, while the Wahhabis are "internationalists". There is some cooperation and overlap, but there is really not much love amongst them. Kinda like Baptists and Southern Baptists.

Also, I hate to be ultra-dogmatic read "Afghanistan" by Federick Engels.

152 years and still relevant. Shit. For fucken materialists, these two dead Germans had some crystal balls.

@Ajagbe - GTFO. However I despise the politics behind the 911 attacks, they are the finest example of assymetrical warfare in the post-Cold war period, and denying that they were planned by a bunch of ex-mujahedin from caves in Afghanistan and executed by middle-class Saudis, without any help or intereference of the USA is borderline racist at best, completely racist at worse. Besides, after obvious blunders like the Venezuelan "coup d'retard", I highly question the ability of the USA's intelligence community to pull a self-coup. Its about competency and ability, not the USA's moral qualms. It is the difference between being subjectively capable, and being objectively capable. The USA couldn't have pulled off 9/11 even if it tried, and all 911 truthers, conspiranoiacs, and other such fauna seriously needs to re-check the facts. There is something called the KISS principle. I subscribe to it, as it is the finest example of dialectical materialism around. I highly recommend the application of said KISS principle to 911.

esekaese said...

@kosta's new comment, part deux:

Someone already said it, but bears repeating: if Bin Laden moved somewhere else, the USA would leave Afghanistan.

That is how worthless the piece of land is to current US geo-politics. The pipeline is a pipedream.

In fact, the current focus on Pakistan is telling: there is increasing evidence that Bin Laden is no longer in Afghanistan, but in Pakistan. So, the focus moves over.

One has to learn to decouple the interests of a certain sector of the ruling class in the USA, from the interests of the USA's ruling class as a whole. Also, understand that actions become more and more irrational as you become less and less relevant.

Carl Davidson said...

My understanding is that all Saudis are Wahhabs, a fundamentalist variant within the Sunni, but most of these still oppose Osama bin Laden. Raised as a Wahhab, he was further 'radicalized' by the Egyptian-based Salafists. But yes, they overlap, and they don't like each other. I don't pretend to be an expert on Islamic trends, schools, cults and sub-cults, so correct me where I'm wrong.

esekaese said...

@Carl Davidson

Its a bit more complex. Wahhabism is the official state doctrine in Saudi Arabia.

This, in particular, means they are the keepers of Mecca and Medina. It also means that all the excess that comes with being super rich absolute monarchs enters in contradiction with the pro-poor and pious spirit of Islam and Wahhabist doctrine.

Usama bin Laden is a "pure" or "revivalist" Wahhabist, deeply influenced by Sayyid Qutb's writing, as are contemporary Salafists, in particular Egyptian and North African Salafists. However, both Wahhabism and Salafism pre-date Qutbism by centuries.

Basically, describing bin Laden as a "Salafist" is part of a mediatic offensive of the Royal Saudi family, internally to activate anti-Qutbism, externally to defend Official Wahhabism from association with "extremism".

Many conservatives in the USA do this, and talk of the "myth" of bin Laden's Wahhabism. But the truth is that almost all of the 911 hijackers were well-to-do middle-class, college educated, Wahhabi Saudis, not Salafists from Cairo's slums.

Of course, Al-Qaeda has attracted Salafists, but this is like flies to honey, not really a reflection on bin Laden's or even core Al-Qaeda values. The Taliban, for examples, are Deobandi Sunnis, which while revivalist, is much more synchretic and interpretative, something anathema to Salafism.

Unknown said...

esekaese and Carl:
Any of these ring a bell? Mossadegh? Arbenz? Allende?

esekaese said...

@Ajagbe: CONSPIRANOIA FAIL. These are apples and oranges.

1) Mossadegh - Fazlollah Zahedi certainly needed the British and American money and weapons - in particular to keep the USSR at bay, but Operation Ajax is overrated. Besides, the USA has not denied it existence, even in the midst of it... and the three-letter acronym that really mattered was the BBC not the CIA. FAIL.

2) Arbenz - Here the influence is more direct, nevertheless an entirely different puppy from 911. First, Operation PBFORTUNE was discovered two years before the coup, so it was no secret something was going on. Second, once the shit hit the fan. Operation PBSUCCESS, the actual coup, was so weak compared to the initial plans of the CIA, that Arbenz resigned faced by the cowardice (not even ideological opposition!) of the Guatemalan Army. Most of the key left survived to found one of the longest running and successful guerilla movements in Central America, which in turn became the training grounds for a generation that went on to create the FMLN, the FSLN, and even the EZLN. FAIL.

3) Allende - To blame the CIA for it is a sport of the left. But this I have resisted always: the fascist clique led by Gen. Pinochet didn't need the CIA. In fact, most of the killings were performed by the independently operating "Caravan of Death", not on CIA orders, but under the murderous aegis of Chilean fascism - a political tradition traced back directly to the 1930s. In fact, the CIA had one of its most clear moments, when it denied support to Operation CONDOR, fearing (correctly), the backslash to such a ferocious attack would result in the left gaining support in South America. Dude, these generals are the same stock that in Argentina went to war against the British Empire - say what you will, but they were true ultra-nationalists, preoccupied more with grandiose fascistic national projects than the geopolitical games of the USA. FAIL.

Yes, US imperialism is fucked up, but it usually admits its fucked up shit. I mean, we found out about Iran-Contra almost as soon as the scheme started. In fact, the only conspiracy I can think of that the USA was able to pull in the 20th century was hiding the fact that FDR was wheelchair bound. The rest? FAIL.

Shit, I have gone TL;DR. However, it is a topic of great hurt: the denial of the responsibility of the comprador bourgeois, and the total claim of CIA responsibility, always served a convenient cold-war excuse to recruit for the KGB its "patriotic" element. But to herald such exculpation today, after the history is know to all, is a little disingenuous.

Nao, I would mention, for your perusal, some more relevant examples: Korean War (FAIL), Bay of Pigs invasion (FAIL), Vietnam War (FAIL), Operation Eagle Claw (Iran hostage crisis; FAIL), Iran-Contra (FAIL), etc etc etc.

This reminds me of the old leftists who blame the collapse of the 1970s left entirely on COINTELPRO. Yeah, it had a role, but the failure was ours, and ours alone, and COINTELPRO is a convenient excuse to not examine some uncomfortable realities.

The reality is that US imperialism held its own via nuclear deterrence, proving pretty incompetent in intelligence and actual wars, except when dealing with low lying fruit, like Grenada or Panama.

After all, it is almost 50 years ago that Mao Zedong declared imperialism a paper tiger. And history has proved him correct.

Unknown said...

You admit the CIA played a role in Mossadegh, Arbenz, and Allende. You don't admit you don't know who was behind 9/11. None of what you've said changes that simple fact. You FAIL.

Jimmy Higgins said...

First, thanks to everybody who has helped made this the longest FotM comment thread I can remember. Big fun!

Now some short specifics:

@Carl. Jeez, just saying "all Saudis are Wahhabs" shows that some brush-up on current events is needed. Among Sa'udi Sunni there is a noteworthy Sufi revival going on. Very different from Wahhabism. More importantly there is a substantial Shi'ite presence, especially in the Eastern Province, where Shi'a may constitute a third or more of the citizenry. This is especially concerning to the Sa'ud royal family because few of the super-exploited guest workers who do the country's dirty work are Wahhabi and some are Shi'a. See, for instance, this recent report from the Beeb.

@NobodytoToyWith. I agree with you overall, and especially want to highlight your point about not overlooking the role of the corporations involved in what has been called the 'permanent war economy."

@Kosta. I look forward to your further comments. Note please, however, that I was not arguing that Iraq was a stable alternative for a pipeline. A major point in the Freedom Road statement I cited is that the situation there today is one of stasis, which is bound to break, probably as a result of lower US troop presence. I was just trying to underline the point that oil and natural gas will find a route to market. I will add that I doubt that many in the US ruling class think that somehow a pipeline running through Afghanistan and Pakistan is gonna be a real good bet at any time in the near future, stability-wise.

@Eve. Where are you, kid?

@Ajagbe. I was all ready to jump to your defense via-a-vis Carl and esekaese, until your last post. Look, it is certainly possible that some figures in the government and intelligence community had advance notice that some kind of major attack on the US mainland was in the offing and turned a blind eye, not out of incompetence, but in hopes of a casus belli for attacking Iraq or Iraq. A possibility is not a fact, however.

Who did it? The CIA who (to add to esekaese's list) tried without notable success to put depilatory cream in Castro's shaving soap so his beard would fall out and ruin his charisma(!)? Not too likely.

Bear in mind that tapes of Osama bin Laden kvelling about the attack in an internal get-together were circulating in Afghan and Pakistani souks within a short time after 9/11, and that after initial formal denials, he has taken full credit on behalf of al Qa'eda in public statements since 2004. It's remotely possible that they are all forgeries or opportunist bragging, but again, a possibility is not a fact.

I agree with esekaese that there is a certain great nation chauvinism present in the idea that those attacks couldn't have been carried out by a bunch of Third World terrorists acting largely on their own.

NobodyToToyWith said...

Just another note about the politics involved, to be more specific one needs to look at the Center for American Progress, and pay attention to them. This think tank/conduit of funds has not only been the vehicle of coming up with a line on Afghanistan that will sell to the American public--they have been active in helping shape the opinion of the American public in the first place. Through various campaigns (Iraq Summer for example)and front organizations, CAP has been successful in reaching out to some of the most successful activists and drawing them under their influence--Democratic Party activists. As far as I'm concerned, and this is particularly true in states like Oklahoma, these activists are far more effective in the way that they reach out to the larger population, as opposed to the often isolated leftist or morally religious peace organizations. I will not ever become part of the alleged movement to change the Democratic Party from the inside, by lining up with CAP and its front organizations that are far more concerned with making sure the votes come in than anything else. But I also feel strangled by the attachment to isolated groups who have failed to reach out to larger numbers of people, and often contain at least elements that drive people away. No answers here, a very unpopular view perhaps, but coming up with the right line, the right analysis, on Afghanistan, however detailed and scholarly it may appear, is just not enough. Meaningless perhaps unless it is useful for some reason other than sharing it with the same people over and over.

esekaese said...

@Ajagbe - whattevah, here have a tin foil hat on the haus.

Unknown said...

@esekaese - You're a jackass.

Jimmy Higgins said...

@esekaese, @Ajagbe, dammit, I know both of you and furthermore I know how old you both are. So act your damn ages, both of yez, and stop trying to turn my lovely and interesting thread into a flame-fest, please!

What's more, you both live in NYC and, someday I'll connect you with each other ftf, so you can feel really bad about blindly slinging mud in my sandbox here.

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