On Obama's surge in Afghanistan

By Pete Brown  (CV #44, January 2010)
Presentation at the Detroit Workers' Voice Discussion Group on Dec. 13, 2009

On Tuesday, December 1st, President Obama gave a speech outlining his new strategy for Afghanistan. This speech culminated an intense period of deliberations over Afghanistan in the new Obama administration. Over the last few months Obama held a series of top-level meetings with his cabinet and other advisers, meetings which the media hailed as deliberate, thoughtful, and probing into all the assumptions of the Afghanistan campaign begun by former President Bush.

And what was the result? Obama has now taken on the mantle of imperial war president. Despite all his calls for change, Obama is now acting as Bush II. He has taken over the Afghan campaign and made it his own. The policy he's following is simply adopted from Bush: send in more troops, as Bush did with his "surge" in Iraq, and all problems will supposedly be solved.

Obama's speech on Afghanistan was followed a week later by his promotion of war at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, Norway. Obama's acceptance speech was remarkable for promoting imperialist war as the road to peace. In this speech Obama made it clear that Afghanistan is not a mistake, or aberration, of his presidency. He declared his pride in taking on the mantle of U.S. imperialist world policeman and his intention to carry on the aggressive traditions of former presidents like Bush. In a revival of Cold War rhetoric, Obama stood truth on its head by declaring "war is peace."

The "just war" rhetoric

Obama's speech in Oslo was laced with references to the "just wars" which U.S. imperialism has supposedly been carrying on for decades to defend the world's people. And Afghanistan is supposedly another example. Obama's top general in Afghanistan, Gen. McChrystal, likes to portray the war as a campaign to "protect the Afghan people" from the Taliban. But from the beginning the U.S. method of "protecting" the Afghan people was to bomb and destroy their villages, killing thousands of innocent civilians while striking up an alliance with the most bloodthirsty domestic Afghan reactionaries of the "Northern Alliance." The warlords of the Northern Alliance were completely repudiated by the Afghan people after their murderous misrule of the early-to-mid- 1990s. Bush brought them back to power in 2001 by arming, financing and supporting them with a bombing campaign. Since then the warlords have been restored to power in a corrupt puppet regime headed by Hamid Karzai. Obama's continued support for Karzai, his continuation and extension of the bombing campaign, and his decision to send in 30,000 more troops simply continue the cynical imperialist policy the U.S. has been following with respect to Afghanistan for decades. This is not a "just war" to defend the Afghan or any other people; it is simply U.S. imperialism maneuvering for power and influence in Central Asia.

What's new is the scale of the attack. Obama is sending tens of thousands more troops into Afghanistan so that his generals can pursue ground campaigns in southern and eastern Afghanistan, areas where the Taliban are particularly strong. Obama has also greatly expanded the bombing campaign by drone aircraft into Pakistan. This is a sensitive political issue because the Pakistani people deeply resent U.S. imperialist interference in their country, so the Pakistani government publicly opposes the bombing, and both the U.S. and Pakistani governments try to keep it secret. But everyone knows that it's going on, it's getting more intense, and the U.S. is pressuring Pakistan to launch a full-scale ground offensive against the Taliban inside Pakistan. If Pakistan refuses, Obama has made it clear he has plans to send U.S. troops into Pakistan.

The other side the Taliban

On the other side, the Taliban are an alliance of the most backward, medievalist religious fundamentalists who largely grew out of Afghan refugee camps inside Pakistan. There the fundamentalists who were fighting against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan established madrasas religious schools for boys to train a new generation of fanatics. The Pakistani government pushed Afghans into these schools of fanaticism while refusing to provide regular schools for the refugees, and the refugees were not allowed to integrate with the people of Pakistan. When the warlords of the Northern Alliance became thoroughly exposed in the 1990s as corrupt and murderous, the Taliban were able to take power because they seemed to be above corruption. But the hopes of the Afghan people were soon dashed, as the Taliban imposed their harsh medieval ideas on the population. The burden of this fell especially strong on women and girls, who were not allowed to go out in public except behind the burqa and not allowed to attend school. The government of Pakistan was happy with the Taliban regime, however, since it provided them with friendly backdoor support for their rivalry with India and also provided a buffer zone against Iran.

During the anti-Soviet war a regular witches' brew of political forces united to drive the Soviets out. This alliance included the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Pakistan supporting the fundamentalists, the warlords and terrorist adventurers like Osama bin Laden. When the Soviets withdrew, the U.S. lost interest in Afghanistan while the local groups and warlords turned against one another in a struggle for power. Out of this cauldron the Taliban emerged, and bin Laden turned against his former paymasters at the CIA.

In his speech of December 1st Obama tried to draw a distinction between the quagmire of Vietnam and the supposed "just war" the U.S. is carrying out in Afghanistan. And there are differences. On the part of the Vietnamese, the Vietnam war was a struggle for national unity led by an organized, progressive force. Al Qaeda and the Taliban are not comparable forces; they do not have strong ties to the masses and represent nothing progressive. The masses in Afghanistan groaned under their five-year rule and do not want them back.

Nonetheless, Afghanistan is another quagmire for U.S. imperialism. This is because the forces they are backing, the warlords united behind Hamid Karzai, are just as reactionary, or worse, than the Taliban. Obama is relying on the Karzai government to establish a strong, stable government that the U.S. can rely on to finish off the Taliban while the U.S. withdraws its ground troops beginning in July 2011. But the warlords of the Northern Alliance are still competitors for power and money. Military aid supplied by the U.S. will be pilfered and used to build up local power bases. Karzai himself says it will be five years or more before the U.S. can withdraw, and that massive amounts of money for his own military will be needed till at least 2024.

Build an independent movement!

Prospects for the people of Afghanistan do not appear bright at the moment. There is no national, united political force the masses can rally behind. Karzai's rivals in last year's presidential election were former members of his own government and warlords in their own right. The election, monitored by the UN, was a joke, with at least one-third of the ballots directly manufactured by Karzai's supporters. The U.S. and NATO are expanding their war, bombing villages and sweeping up masses of people as suspected terrorists.

Despite the terrorist and imperialist violence raining down on their heads, however, the people of Afghanistan continue trying to build progressive political organizations. We know of progressive women's organizations like the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) that try to build schools and oppose the reactionary fundamentalist rules against women enforced by the warlords and the Taliban. There are also working class organizations that try to organize for the economic and political struggles faced by the masses. This is the crucial work necessary to begin to turn things around in Afghanistan. The masses need to organize in their own right, independent of the imperialists and their local stooges, the warlords, the fundamentalist reactionaries and terrorists.

A similar task faces the American working people and the anti-war movement in this country. The Afghan adventure has been going on for over eight years now. That's longer than the Revolutionary War, longer than American participation in World Wars I and II combined. Despite Obama's denials, the fact is that the U.S. is being dragged deeper and deeper into a quagmire. 2009 saw the highest number of U.S. casualties of any year yet, and October was the highest month so far for U.S. casualties. Obama is relying on the Karzai government to save his bacon, to take over the fight against the Taliban, but Karzai is relying on him to keep afloat, to keep pumping tons of money and arms in. Obama's other main ally, Pakistan, is itself very unstable, and the military there is sympathetic to the Taliban and other fundamentalist forces.

Despite the difficulties, the imperialists feel compelled to stay in Afghanistan to maintain their influence in central Asia. The imperialist political parties are united in this aim. Indeed, Obama's strongest surge of support after his speech of December 1st came from Republicans.

The anti-war movement in this country cannot be based on either of the two major imperialist political parties, Republican or Democrat. They are both united in the aim of plundering the world for the profits of their capitalist paymasters. The movement must be based on the working class and based on principled anti-imperialist politics.

The day of Obama's speech, December 1st, there were numerous demonstrations against his expansion of the war. This is a good sign of activists showing independence and a willingness to act against the Democratic Party leadership. But to build an independent movement, the activists involved must also repudiate opportunist politics, for example the tendency to promote any temporary enemy of the U.S. as supposedly progressive. For example the Workers World Party prettifies the Taliban as a supposedly anti-imperialist resistance force, and they denounce anyone who dares criticize fundamentalist Islamist groups such as Hezbollah and the Iranian Islamic Republic. This is an attitude that can only do harm to the movement. As resistance to Obama's war grows, the working masses will begin to look to leftist groups for guidance, and we should be careful not to drive them back into the arms of the Democrats. []


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