By Kenneth J. Theisen
President Barack Obama continued with his latest escalation of the war in Afghanistan by announcing his plans to send an additional 4,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan to train Afghan government puppet forces. He also announced plans to send hundreds of diplomats and civilian officials to the country, in what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called an “integrated military-civilian strategy”. Like his predecessor George W. Bush, Obama raised the specter of “terrorism” to justify his actions.
Obama stated that, "If the Afghanistan government falls to the Taliban or allows al-Qaida to go unchallenged, that country will again be a base for terrorists." Obama warned that the al-Qaida “terrorists” were actively planning further attacks on the U.S. from havens in Pakistan. He stated, “So I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaida in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future." He went on to claim, "That is the goal that must be achieved. That is a cause that could not be more just. And to the terrorists who oppose us, my message is the same: we will defeat you." Does this sound a little too much like Bush’s excuse for the initial invasion in 2001? I was waiting to hear Obama say, “bring ‘em on.”
This latest escalation builds on Obama’s previously announced plan to send 17,000 troops to that war-torn country. President George W. Bush had also ordered additional troop commitments for 2009 before leaving office. Counting these forces, more than 30,000 U.S. troops will be deployed to Afghanistan this year. All the extra troops are expected to be deployed no later than the fall, bringing total U.S. forces there to more than 60,000. Army General David McKiernan, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has said these forces will likely be needed for at least three years. He also stated that as many as 10,000 more troops may be required later. How long will it be before Obama announces even more U.S. troops for the war there?
People who said electing Obama would result in change were obviously right. Obama is getting away with acts that if they were done under Bush, would have caused an outrage among many Americans that opposed the Bush regime wars. Could Bush have escalated this war with so little opposition? Is this the “change” that people wanted? Is an escalation of the war in Afghanistan and its spread to Pakistan more acceptable because it is being done under Obama, instead of the Bush regime?
Congressional Support for War Escalation, Expansion
If Bush had come out with this latest plan he would have at least encountered additional political “criticism” in Congress. But Obama is largely receiving acceptance of his plan. Obama’s administration has been briefing the so-called new strategy to members of Congress. Obama needs Congress to go along with him on this latest escalation and it undoubtedly will.
House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Murtha was briefed by War Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen. After the meeting Murtha reported how the additional troops will be used. He said, “They are going to stress training the Afghans.” What a great idea! The Afghan people can look forward to being killed by puppet troops, instead of directly by U.S. troops. Another change delivered courtesy of the Obama administration!
Obama’s plans are getting support in the Senate as well. Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar have been major supporters of increased “aid with strings” to Pakistan. Their proposed legislation is being supported by Obama. The Obama administration has said it will work with Congress to attach conditions to U.S. aid to Pakistan.
Kerry stated that some parts of the Obama plan “are very constructive and positive,” especially sending more trainers for the Afghan puppet forces. But Kerry also advocates that more be done to eliminate “terrorist bases” in Pakistan. Apparently Obama agrees that more must be done in Pakistan.
In his escalation announcement Obama alluded to past U.S. attacks on “terrorists” based in Pakistan. He said, "We will insist that action be taken one way or another when we have intelligence about high-level terrorist targets.” During his presidential campaign he openly advocated attacks on Pakistan. Shortly after he became president, he ordered missile strikes into Pakistan. U.S. missile strikes over the border have become increasingly frequent, and the casualties have included scores of innocent Pakistanis.
In his announcement on March 27th, Obama referred to the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan as "the most dangerous place in the world…This is not simply an American problem – far from it. It is, instead, an international security challenge of the highest order. Terrorist attacks in London and Bali were tied to al-Qaida and its allies in Pakistan, as were attacks in North Africa and the Middle East, in Islamabad and Kabul. If there is a major attack on an Asian, European, or African city, it, too, is likely to have ties to al-Qaida’s leadership in Pakistan. The safety of people around the world is at stake."
This is clearly a threat by Obama against Pakistan. He is intent on enlarging the war and spreading it into Pakistan. Is he contemplating even more missile strikes in the country? What exactly is he demanding of Pakistan’s military forces? He did not say in his announcement, but we should expect more pressure to be put on Pakistan to become more militarily active along the border with Afghanistan. And what about the innocent Pakistanis who will be killed in the undeclared war? Will they have the comfort of knowing that they were killed under the administration of a Democratic president and Congress instead of a Republican one? Is their safety less important than that of Americans?
As part of his new plan Obama supports boosting development efforts in Afghanistan to prop up the U.S.-backed Karzai government. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin stated that, “The economic-development piece is a big part of it.” Levin also emphasized the role of NATO countries. He stated, Obama “hopefully will put pressure on NATO allies to come through with what they have already committed – money and trainers.” What Levin did not say is that billions in aid have already been provided to Afghanistan over the last eight years and that most of this money has been used by the various war lords, drug lords, and feudal tribal leaders that make up the Afghan government, to support themselves and other corrupt allies. This aid does not help the average Afghan, and it will not do so now. It only strengthens the reactionary forces that assist the U.S. occupation. Afghans will continue to be among the poorest and most oppressed people on earth.
Stepped up Diplomacy to Advance the Empire
Remember when Obama promised more diplomacy and less unilateral action in international affairs when he was running for office? Well, he is delivering on that promise as well. Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, and Secretary of War Gates have all been applying a full-court diplomatic press to allies to try to get them to give greater aid to U.S. imperialism in the Afghan arena. It is apparently working, at least with the British. The London Times reports that in addition to the U.S. troop increase, the Obama administration has convinced its British ally to send a further 2,000 troops to the country too. This will bring the total British commitment to about 10,000 troops.
Obama will also use diplomacy and bribery with Pakistan. He will support legislation to triple aid to Pakistan to about $1.5 billion annually for the next five years. But this “aid” will come with strings. The Obama administration will require Pakistan to increase its military activities against the Taliban and other Islamic fundamentalists hiding out along the Pakistan/Afghanistan border. Since becoming president in January, Obama has escalated the war both along that border and into Pakistan with frequent missile attacks inside Pakistan by U.S. forces. (The spreading of the war into Pakistan has played a destabilizing role in that country. Instead of decreasing the role of fundamentalist Islamic forces there, this escalation has seemed to actually increase their role. In part of the country, the Pakistan government has recently agreed to apply “Islamic” law.)
Next week, Obama will also be discussing the latest Afghanistan strategy and escalation with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) leaders at a NATO summit meeting on April 3rd and 4th. NATO countries presently have several thousand troops aiding the U.S. war in Afghanistan and Obama will try to convince these NATO countries to increase not only troops, but economic contributions to the prosecution of the war. On March 25th, Obama met with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at the White House. After the meeting, Obama stressed his goal for the NATO summit was to leave the summit with the U.S. and NATO being “even more effective in coordinating our efforts in Afghanistan.” De Hoop Scheffer seemed to agree when he said Afghanistan is NATO’s “most important operational priority.”
U.S. officials on Thursday told the media that they expect additional troop commitments from other countries to be announced at next week’s NATO summit. France is expected to increase its commitment, possibly agreeing to send more forces to train the Afghan police forces, which play a paramilitary role in that country. Are these the results progressives expected from additional diplomacy under the Obama administration? People should remember that diplomacy is just an additional weapon to be wielded by the U.S. imperialists in its war for empire. Obama is well aware of this, even if his supporters choose to look the other way as he uses diplomacy to advance the goals of the imperialists.
It appears that the Obama administration will use its diplomatic efforts to try to get Iran’s assistance in Afghanistan. On March 26th Secretary of State Hillary Clinton applauded Iran’s coming participation in next week’s United Nations’ conference on Afghanistan. She stated that Iran “has a role to play in the region, and we hope it will be a constructive role.” While the Obama administration has done nothing to change the official U.S. policy of seeking “regime change” in Iran, it is willing to deal with the devil if Iran can assist the U.S. in achieving its goals in Afghanistan.
The administration will also keep the pressure on with the Afghan puppet government and Pakistan. Obama’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, will continue to have joint meetings with Afghans and the Pakistanis every six to eight weeks, according to U.S. officials who briefed the media before Obama’s latest announcement. Before presenting his new strategy to the public, Obama made calls to Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to brief them. U.S. officials briefing the press also said the administration intends to reach out to all parties with a stake in Afghanistan including China, India, Russia, Saudi Arabia and other allies in the Middle East.
The Interests of Empire are Not the Interests of the People
The Obama administration is attempting to mobilize public support for “victory” in Afghanistan. Today Obama used the old excuse that Americans and the rest of the world are in grave peril unless the U.S. defeats “terrorists” based in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is calling on the American people and the people of the world to unite with the imperialists to achieve this “goal.” But the Obama administration’s real goal is no different that that of the Bush regime – the safety and expansion of its empire. The invasion in 2001 was not undertaken because “we” were attacked on 9/11.
It was a war for empire then and remains so now. The nature of the war did not change with the change of administrations. The additional 30,000 troops that will be sent in 2009 to this war-torn region will not make us “safer.” But it will result in the deaths of more Afghans and Pakistanis. It could also lead to a major expansion of the war into Pakistan with unforeseen disastrous consequences.
Our interest and the interests of the vast majority of the people of the world do not coincide with the interests of the ruling elite of this U.S. Empire. We must demand the withdrawal of all U.S. and allied troops from the region. Afghanistan and Pakistan belong to the people of those countries, not to the U.S. Empire.