Blundering Forward in the Graveyard of Empires
Recently by Eric Margolis: Will Uncle Sam Go Postal in SouthAsia?
Washington's national security establishment — what used in Britain to be called "imperialists" — is in a growing panic over the war in Afghanistan which, in spite of America's vast military and economic power, and cornucopia of high tech wizardry, is being slowly beaten by a bunch of lightly-armed but very fierce Pashtun mountain tribesman.
The renowned military strategist, Maj. Gen. J.F.C Fuller, defined war's true objective as achieving desired political results, not killing enemies.
Operation Enduring Freedom — the dreadfully misnamed ten-year US occupation of Afghanistan — has turned into Operation Enduring Misery.
After ten years of military and civil operations costing at least $450 billion, over 1,600 dead and 15,000 seriously wounded soldiers, the US has achieved none of its strategic or political goals. As for Afghanistan, it has suffered untold civilian casualties, villages shattered by US bombing, night raids by death squads, over two million refugees and a 30-year civil war.
At a time when 44 million Americans subsist on government food stamps and lack the kind of medical care common to other developed nations, each US soldier in Afghanistan costs $1 million per annum. CIA employs 80,000 mercenaries there, cost unknown. The Pentagon spends a staggering $20.2 billion annually air conditioning troop quarters in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The most damning assessment comes from the US-installed Afghan leader, Hamid Karzai: America's war has been "ineffective, apart from causing civilian casualties."
Washington's imperial goal was a favorable political settlement that would produce a pacified Afghan state run by a regime totally responsive to US political, economic and strategic interests; a native sepoy army led by American officers in the manner of the British Indian Raj; and US bases that threaten Iran, watch China, and dominate the energy-rich Caspian Basin.
All the claims made about fighting "terrorism and al-Qaida," liberating Afghan women and bringing democracy are pro-war window dressing. CIA chief Leon Panetta admitted there were no more than 25-50 al-Qaida members in Afghanistan. Why are there 150,000 US and NATO troops there, supposedly chasing al-Qaida?
In fact, as this writer saw himself in the early 1990's, there were never more than a small number of al-Qaida militants in Afghanistan or Pakistan. Their primary mission was fighting the Afghan Communists and overthrowing the post-Soviet Communist regimes of Central Asia.
Washington's real objective in South Asia was clearly defined in 2007 by US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher: to "stabilize Afghanistan so it can become a conduit and hub between South and Central Asia — so energy can flow south."
The Turkmenistan-Afghan-Pakistan TAPI gas pipeline that the US has sought since 1998 is finally nearing completion. But whether it can operate in the face of sabotage remains to be seen. CIA is reportedly creating an 8,000-man mercenary force to protect the pipeline which runs smack across Pashtun tribal territory.
Meanwhile, Washington has been unable to fashion a stable government in Kabul. The primary reason: murderous ethnic politics. Over half the population is Pashtun (or Pathan), from whose ranks come Taliban. Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara minorities fiercely oppose the Pashtun. All three minority groups collaborated with the Soviet occupation from 1979-1989; today they collaborate with the US and NATO occupation.
Most of the Afghan army and police, on which the US spends $6 billion annually, are Tajiks and Uzbek, many members of the old Afghan Communist Party. The brutal Afghan national security service is populated by former members of the notorious, Soviet KGB-created Communist KHAD secret police. Taliban suspects captured by US and Canadian forces are routinely turned over to the Afghan secret police for torture.
To Pashtun, Tajiks and Uzbek are bitter enemies. In Afghanistan, the US has built its political house on ethnic quicksand.
Worse, US-run Afghanistan now produces 93% of the world's most dangerous narcotic, heroin. Under Taliban, drug production virtually ended, according to the UN. Today, the Afghan drug business is booming. The US tries to blame Taliban; but the real culprits are high government officials in Kabul and US-backed non-Pashtun warlords.
A senior UN drug official recently asserted that Afghan heroin killed 10,000 people in NATO countries last year. And this does not include Russia, a primary destination for Afghan heroin.
So the United States is now the proud owner of the world's leading narco-state and deeply involved with the Afghan Tajik drug mafia. No one in Washington wants to talk about this shameful misalliance. One day this scandal will burst into the open, as did US secret dealings with drug barons in Laos and Central America.
The US is bleeding billions in Afghanistan. Forty-four cents of every dollar spent by Washington is borrowed from China and Japan. While the US has wasted $1.283 trillion on the so-called "war on terror," China has been busy buying up resources and making new friends and markets. The ghost of Osama bin Laden must be smiling.
The US can't afford this endless war against the fierce Pashtun people, renowned for making Afghanistan "the Graveyard of Empires."
But the imperial establishment in Washington wants to hold on to strategic Afghanistan, particularly the ex-Soviet air bases at Bagram, Kandahar and Shindand.
The US is building its biggest embassy in the world in Kabul, an $800 million fortress with 1,000 personnel, protected by a small army of mercenary gunmen. So much for withdrawal plans. Another such monster embassy, or "Crusader castle," as bin Laden called it, is a building in Islamabad.
The stumbling, confused US war in Afghanistan has now lasted longer than the two world wars. The former US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McCrystal, just said Washington's view of that nation is "frighteningly simplistic." That's an understatement.
Facing the possibility of stalemate or even defeat in Afghanistan, Washington is trying to push India deeper into the conflict. This desperate ploy, and nurturing ethnic conflict, will ensure another decade of misery for Afghanistan and more dangerous instability for the entire region.
Washington would do well to recall the sage words of founding father, Ben Franklin: "there is no such thing as a bad peace, or a good war."
Eric Margolis [send him mail] is the author of War at the Top of the World and the new book, American Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the West and the Muslim World. See his website.