Why are we in Afghanistan?

William Pfaff, who’s been writing from Paris roughly since the German army left, has a piece in the International Herald Tribune (alias European edition of the NYT) “Presidents Need a War to Call Their Own — Now Obama Has His” .

Pfaff is an ex-CIA employee and a long-time member of the Hudson Institute, which is described by US foreign policy scholars John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt as “closely associated with neoconservatives”.

In this article he avers,

“I think the American government now has become institutionally a war government, which finds its purpose in waging war against small and troublesome countries and peoples, in the generalized pursuit of running the world for the world’s own good. In this effort, one war is pretty much like another, and every president, to be re-elected, needs one…”

The article nods towards how domestic constituencies — governmental and corporate — want aggressive war by the US, and on how the US has substituted physical force for its relatively declining economic power over the past 50 years. But it’s wrong to suggest that it makes no difference where US presidents wage war. (Clinton invaded Serbia, not Rwanda.)

It’s simply false to say, as Pfaff does, “On Afghanistan, there seems to be no coherent reason or vision as to why we are there.” The “reason or vision” is obvious, it’s been the same for most of that 50 years, but the Obama administration (which knows it perfectly well) can’t admit it, for fear of domestic (and foreign) opposition. It needs the cover story of “stopping terrorism.” That’s also the only legal basis it has for killing people in AfPak — the Congress’ AUMF of 2001.

During World War II the US State Department described the Mideast is the “most strategically important area of the world,” and the area’s vast energy resources – oil and natural gas – as “a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history.” In the years since then, oil companies and their associates have reaped colossal profits; but, even more importantly to the US, control over two-thirds of the world’s estimated hydrocarbon reserves – uniquely cheap and easy to exploit – provides what Obama’s foreign policy adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski called “critical leverage” over European and Asian rivals, what the State Department many years earlier had called “veto power” over them.

Pfaff’s airy dismissal of Afghanistan’s role in that policy is nonsense:

“Once, before all this started, [Afghanistan’s] geographical location interested U.S. oil interests as providing a route for a pipeline to carry Central Asian oil to the sea. But today there are cheaper ways for moving oil than by a pipeline across a country at war.”

But it’s a “country at war” only because the US wants it to be. The war would end with US withdrawal, tho’ the US puppet government probably wouldn’t be the victor…

Afghanistan’s “geographical location” continues to interest the US — enough to spend billions of dollars there. Afghanistan is the keystone in the arch of US colonial control of the Mideast, from the Mediterranean to Pakistan, from the Caspian Sea to the Horn of Africa (note the US killings in Somalia this week) — what the US calls “The Area of Responsibility of Central Command” — presided over by US proconsul (and presidential hopeful) Gen. David Petraeus. (And see Pepe Escobar’s articles on “Pipelinistan.”)

Even sillier, Pfaff repeats the assertion that Obama is “caught” in a war he supported “to defend against Republican accusations of weakness.” It’s far more disrespectful to Obama than saying “You lie” to say that he would lie about his willingness to commit mass murder for a rhetorical advantage over the Republicans. But in fact he wasn’t lying. He was down with the program that the US has followed in the Middle East for decades (“Minion of the Long War,” ).

The US is concerned that the real opposition to US control of the region is coming/will come from Pakistan, a country with 2/3 the population of the US — and a larger army. The war in AfPak is primarily to keep the -Pak part in line. (There are parallels with the wars in Vietnam and Korea, which the US wanted largely to keep dangerous neighbors — N. Korea & N. Vietnam — in check.)

Some US planners (Stephen Biddle, David Kilcullen) even admit that we’re killing people in Afghanistan primarily to keep Pakistan from crabbing our generations-long act in the Middle East.

It’s a propaganda move to invent ever new reasons why Obama’s “caught” into killing people half way around the world. If we’re going to oppose that effectively, we have to give an accurate account of why it’s going on.

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“Either you repeat the same conventional doctrines everybody is saying, or else you say something true, and it will sound like it’s from Neptune.” –Noam Chomsky