One of the few promises of the Obama campaign which the man of “change” has kept has been the escalation of military operations in Afghanistan. Iraq, we are told, is a lost cause; an irredemable quagmire from which we must extricate ourselves as soon as possible, while Afghanistan, on the other hand, is a worthy cause, and one worth fighting. After all, we’ve been reassured that the region is a hotbed of terrorist recruitment and training, and the evildoers must be flushed out – eradicated – before they plan and carry out another attack on our soil. We may not have found the elusive, possibly deceased bin Laden, but we can damn well prevent another fanatic taking his place. Or so the propaganda goes. And once again, the US and NATO just can’t accomplish this mission without an injection of more troops.
Much of the mainstream media supported the Afghanistan invasion from the start. The Independent stuck out like a sore, infected thumb, with its slew of mealy-mouthed editorials extolling the necessity to take military action against this impoverished, tribal landscape. The BBC’s coverage is almost entirely Pravdaesque in the heights of fervent patriotism it reaches, all talk of “our boys” doing the right thing, bringing peace and democracy to the foreign peasants – Tolstoy’s “lying patriotic press” writ large. Rarely, if ever, do news outlets inform their customers as to the real, geostrategic reasons for the invasion and occupation, or discuss the heavy cost in human lives the daily bombing campaigns and troop incursions wreak. For these deaths are of what historian Mark Curtis called “unpeople” – not significant enough a loss for our government or press to count. The deaths of two British troops might make it onto the nightly news, but dozens of women and children killed when a funeral gets bombed barely scrapes through as a two paragraph Associated Press bulletin.
Afghanistan has long been prized by Empires yet never conquered – the British failed to pacify and control the region over a century ago, and the Russians too failed in more recent years. Both British and Russian involvement in Afghanistan ostensibly stems from Russian expansion into Central Asia in the early 19th century, when the British feared that Afghanistan would become a staging post for a Russian invasion of India. As part of what became known as “The Great Game”, a term describing Anglo-Russian rivalry for control of Central Asia, Britain attempted to create a puppet regime in the country, but the British presence was resisted and attempts to make a buffer state failed. Now, NATO forces face a similiar intractable situation – it is for good reason that the country is known as the graveyard of Empires.
Some commentators have framed the current conflicts in the region as “The New Great Game”, a game with more players and a wider range of objectives, not least the acquisition of energy resources and supply routes. This is hardly an outlandish position to adopt: much of political thinking in the West concerning the Middle East is focused on acquisition of resources – particularly gas and oil – and this has come to dominate global political thinking since the fall of the Soviet Union. After the Russians withdrew from Afghanistan having suffered a military defeat at the hands of the CIA-backed mujahadeen, large corporations began moving towards the construction of the Trans-Afghan pipeline, a project spearheaded by Unocal. They entered into negotiations with the Taliban, but by the late 1990s the talks started to fall apart, as the Taliban began demanding money for infrastructure projects and talked of reviving the Afghan National Oil Company. By 1998, in a congressional hearing before the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, Unocal’s Vice President of International Relations, John J Maresca, was advising that “CentGas can not begin construction until an internationally recognized Afghanistan Government is in place” and going on to say, “The U.S. Government should use its influence to help find solutions to all of the region’s conflicts.”
Around the same time as Unocal was meeting with Congress, a group of hawkish neoconservatives had formed the Project for the New American Century (PNAC). Headed by William Kristol and Robert Kagan, releasing a statement of principles in 1997 steeped in militaristic ideals and calls for an assertive military standing on the part of the US, in which regime change was to be a fundamental tool. By September 2000, PNAC had released “Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategies, Forces, and Resources For a New Century.” This document again reiterated the need for regime change, in addition to discussing at length the need for American supremacy around the world, particularly in the Middle East, along with America’s ability to “fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous major theater wars.” Needless to say, it was shortly after the publication of this document, when close associates and colleagues of the PNAC neoconservatives took control of the White House, that the “catastrophic and catalyzing event––like a new Pearl Harbor” they needed to put this militaristic, expansionist plan into action took place in the shape of the 9/11 attacks. Indeed, planning for an attack on Afghanistan was well under way prior to 9/11…
Afghanistan is key to this policy of militaristic expansion – as with Iraq, numerous large scale military bases have been constructed in the country, the pretext of hunting down Al Qaeda masking from the public the real motive: a network of permanent military airbases and strike forces from which they can strike at other countries in the region. Ultimately, given the new emerging financial markets which look set to overtake the US as the dominant global power, this means positioning for a potential confrontation with Russia and China, who strengthened their ties back in 2001 with the creation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
So far, then, two credible alternatives to the “catching bin Laden” justification for the invasion of Afghanistan are apparent. In addition to creating a buffer state/military launch pad for future conflicts and running pipelines through the region to bring in Caspian reserves to the European market, it is also said to be about drugs. Under the Taliban, opium production was all but eradicated, but since the NATO-led occupation began in 2001, production has skyrocketed, now making up over 90% of the world’s total heroin. Numerous sources, including the US government, the International Monetary Fund, Le Monde and the US Senate, have evidence that hundreds of billions of dollars in drug money flows into Wall Street and US banks. The suggestion here, clearly, is that not only may energy corporations have had a vested interest in invading Afghanistan, but also the banking community in protecting the narco trafficking on which they made huge profits. And indeed, Wall Street has a long running association with drug money laundering, in a decades-long relationship which ties to the CIA and some of the world’s biggest drug producers.
These points are rarely discussed in the mainstream media, which continues to view and present the invasion and occupation as “the right thing to do”; a “humanitarian intervention” with “moral clarity” from which we simply cannot back out. Criticism – if there is any – is framed in terms of good intentions not being performed right, or questions of the legitimacy of Hamid Karzai’s puppet goverment or the Afghan warlords on NATOs payroll. The fundamental purpose of the invasion is never questioned – there’s no room for geopolitics and global military strategy, even less for contextual background or a wider picture of US/NATO activities elsewhere in the region (the courting of dictators in countries such as Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan being two examples of “pipe politics” the media ignores completely).
So as rumours emerge that the US may be sending additional troops to Afghanistan – possibly as many as 45,000 – we can expect the media to respond in traditional fashion, filling our screens and pages with military strategists and experts asking “will this be enough?”, chastising Gordon Brown for his inability to furnish British troops with the relevant equipment, and ignoring the human cost to the “others”; the 338,000 infants who, according to the UN, are dying; the war crimes and slaughters; the flow of narcotics into European cities. For it wouldn’t do to mention these things. After all, invading was “the right thing to do” and we should support “our boys” as they protect elite interests in another foreign land. Complicating matters with accusations of duplicity and skullduggery just wouldn’t be, well, patriotic.
The New American Century