End the Occupation! Troops Home Now!
Article originally published on socialistalternative.org, website of Socialist Alternative (CWI in the USA)
Just a year after being elected with massive hopes that he would end the wars launched during the Bush era, President Obama announced he is sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, on top of the 21,000 additional soldiers he ordered there earlier this year. This will bring the total number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to nearly 100,000.
As popular filmmaker (and Obama supporter) Michael Moore wrote on his website, “If you… announce that you are increasing, rather than withdrawing, the troops in Afghanistan, you are the new war president. Pure and simple.”
Recent months have seen U.S. casualties in Afghanistan reach their highest point in the entire eight-year war, with the Taliban gaining strength throughout the country. Morale among U.S. soldiers is deteriorating, reflected in what The New York Times labeled a “near epidemic” of suicides among troops, with Army suicides rising by 37% since 2006, including 16 in October.
$232 billion has already been wasted by the U.S. on the war in Afghanistan, and thousands of lives lost in eight-years of war and for what? Afghanistan remains the fourth poorest country in the world – and the second most corrupt (Transparency International, 17 October 2009). After eight years of U.S. occupation, UNICEF says that “Afghanistan today is without a doubt the most dangerous place for a child to be born,” with one-in-four Afghan children dying before the age of five, most of preventable diseases.
Thousands of ordinary Afghans have been killed by U.S. and NATO airstrikes and military operations, generating massive anger among the Afghan population toward the foreign occupiers. The recent elections, which the U.S. hoped would provide a façade of democratic legitimacy to the occupation and its puppet government, were marred by massive fraud. The Karzai government is propped up by corrupt warlords, drug traffickers, and foreign troops rather than any legitimacy among the Afghan people.
Justification for Escalation
The Obama administration claims the war as necessary to prevent the Taliban from returning to power and providing a safe haven for Al Qaeda to operate. Yet his own national security adviser, General James Jones, admitted there are less than 100 Al Qaeda members operating in Afghanistan (AP, 7 October 2009). Further, Al Qaeda’s attacks have been largely planned and coordinated from within Western Europe.
Far from protecting ordinary Americans and others around the world from the threat of terrorism, escalating the war in Afghanistan will only further aggravate the underlying problems at the root of terrorism. These include the anger at the brutality of the U.S. occupation, which has been responsible for numerous bombings of wedding parties and innocent civilians in their homes, as well as disgust with the injustice of the corrupt Karzai regime. This comes on top of enormous outrage among the peoples of the Middle East and South Asia at the invasion of Iraq, the torture of detainees at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, the Pentagon’s unmanned drone attacks in Pakistan that have killed hundreds of civilians, U.S. support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine, etc.
In his escalation speech, Obama also promised to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan in July 2011, presenting the surge as a means toward ending the war faster.
Yet just days later, leading Obama administration officials went on the major Sunday morning talk shows to emphasize that, as defense secretary Robert Gates put it, “only a ‘handful’ of U.S. troops will leave Afghanistan in 2011.” Further, Gen. James Jones told CNN, “We have strategic interests in South Asia that should not be measured in terms of finite times. We’re going to be in the region for a long time” (New York Times, 6 December 2009).
The U.S. “exit strategy” is based on training more Afghan soldiers and police to take over security from U.S. and NATO forces. However, thus far this process has been a near complete disaster, despite the claims of U.S. officials. There are numerous reports that it is common for Afghan soldiers to enlist in basic training multiple times under different names and then leave as soon as they are paid.
The real reason for the continuation of the war is U.S. fear of losing control of Central Asia and the Middle East, especially the oil reserves, which are of vital strategic significance for U.S. imperialism. Already reeling from the catastrophic invasion of Iraq, the U.S. cannot afford to admit defeat simultaneously in Afghanistan. Obama’s decision to escalate in Afghanistan reflects his accommodation to the interests of the U.S. corporate and military elite, despite the hopes of many who voted for him that Obama would be an “antiwar” president.
In addition, Obama and leading Democratic Party strategists fear the electoral consequences of being labeled as “weak on defense” by the Republicans (even though this decision will further the growing disillusionment of the Democratic base). Similar calculations drew the Johnson administration into the quagmire in Vietnam during the 1960s, at immense cost to the Vietnamese people and to social programs in the U.S.
Economic Costs of War
To pay for any escalation, Congress will have to approve supplemental funding, on top of the $65 billion already allotted for the war in Afghanistan for 2010. The Congressional Research Service estimates that every additional U.S. soldier in Afghanistan will cost $1 million a year, potentially doubling the $3.6 billion a month already being spent on the occupation (thehill.com, 10/14/09).
This heightened war spending comes as U.S. workers and families suffer from skyrocketing unemployment, and state and local governments face budget shortfalls forcing cuts in social services, tuition increases, etc. The Obama administration has called for all domestic agencies to prepare to freeze or cut spending by 5% next year (AP, 13 November 2009).
Military spending knows no such limits, however. The Obama administration is “on track to spend more on defense, in real dollars, than any other president has in one term of office since World War II” (Government Executive).
The Republican spin machine is already moving into top speed, calling for postponing health care reform until war funding is approved, and demanding cuts in domestic spending to pay for the war.
Yet as Michael Moore wrote in an open letter to Obama on Afghanistan, “Ask your neighbors in Chicago and the parents of the young men and women doing the fighting and dying if they want more billions and more troops sent to Afghanistan. Do you think they will say, ‘No, we don’t need health care, we don’t need jobs, we don’t need homes. You go on ahead, Mr. President, and send our wealth and our sons and daughters overseas, ‘cause we don’t need them, either’” (MichaelMoore.com, 30 November 2009).
Rebuild the Antiwar Movement
Obama’s troop surge will not provide any solution to the problems in Afghanistan. It will only lead to increased violence and drag the U.S. further into a quagmire, with no end in sight.
The antiwar movement needs to reorganize itself to build the strongest possible movement against this war. The growing opposition to the war among ordinary Americans, not to mention people all over the world, provides a huge opportunity if activists are prepared to seize it. There is already a call put out for national demonstrations on March 20, the seventh anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Ultimately, stopping the war in Afghanistan and the continued crimes of U.S. imperialism is going to require a real challenge to the two-party system. The fact that the Democrats now control the White House and Congress, and yet are still escalating the war, shows the bankruptcy of the two-party system.