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Why Afghanistan?


What are we doing in Afghanistan? According to U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, the Administration together with the Congress are working to complete our “mission”. This is good news for enthusiasts of American imperialism who naturally take to national, militaristic, rallying calls. Mission is a carefully chosen word. Used in this sense by propagandists, it connotes purpose, goodness, unity, and suggestively…Stop! Because once you accept the premise that we have a mission in Afghanistan, you are sufficiently indoctrinated.

With this level of indoctrination, attention can be safely turned away from the mission itself onto its details, things like strategy, tactics, timing, resources, and flexibility. Schumer assures us that, in this debate over details, all the president’s advisers are getting their say.

He calls the War in Afghanistan a “complex issue” to which there are no easy answers. There are easy answers, but Washington doesn’t like them. And what makes the issue complex is the circular way Washington must represent the situation in order to keep the public in line with the program. Foremost in this regard is to frighten, therefore the inevitable scare talk about protecting our country from terrorists (in lieu of a truly formidable enemy) and, in general, cultivating enemies (Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela), the one thing that is indispensable to the Pentagon.

The thinking person must examine the concept of terrorism and the government’s repeated reference to it. If one accepts the State Department’s definition limiting it to non-state actors, the U.S. is conveniently exempt. This certainly answers the question of why no government officials will be considered terrorists, but it is hardly because of the popularly accepted notion of innocence. State terrorism is violence on a scale (for example, “Shock and Awe” in Iraq) that is not approachable by non-state actors.

We talk about “defeating” al Qaeda. What can that possibly mean when their methods are those of the already defeated? It is the method of those that lack – no size, no resources, no army, navy, or air force – possessing a very finite ability and number that cannot be reduced to zero. Indeed, all indications are that our military aggression (with even mere military presence constituting low-grade aggression) in Muslim lands will move the number, predictably, in the opposite direction of zero.

The point is not that small scale terrorism has a place because large scale terrorism exists. That is simply a fact. The point is to oppose all forms of terrorism, wherever it emanates from. The citizen is in no position to affect foreign terrorism, but has a natural and proper role to address the terrorism carried out by our own government. Understanding why it is that our government exploits small scale terrorism to advance its own agenda is a step in this direction.

Which brings us to the real mission, actually obliquely referred to here by Schumer:

“We can achieve victory in Afghanistan when we have an environment that is conducive to economic development and most importantly when the Afghans have a security infrastructure that permits them to independently fight off and neutralize the Taliban insurgency in that country.”

Putting aside what he relegates most importance to, the two operative words are “economic development”, and it is not theirs that we are interested in. If we are not interested in helping Cuba’s economic development, 90 miles from our shore, why would we care about Afghanistan, halfway around the world.

All the troops, all the missiles, all the Predator drones are there to bring Afghanistan under American dependence, consolidating U.S. presence in the oil and gas rich Caspian Basin with its geopolitical significance toward potential enemies Russia and China, and encircling Iran. We’re fighting them “over there” not so we don’t have to fight them “over here”, but because that’s where the oil and gas are. Try telling that to the American public and see if it turns up a few less patriots.

The vaunted “stability” that Washington yearns for in foreign countries has nothing to do with stability. What country has been more stable than Cuba for the past 50 years? Stability in the State Department sense means compliance with U.S. instructions, access for U.S. investment, access to the country’s raw materials, and the necessary military basing these entail. The cheapest asset of U.S. multinationals is the U.S. military, serving to protect foreign investment with costs of blood and limb, paid for in full by the commons.

Collateral to this use of the military, some GIs in Afghanistan are now said to be under Army investigation for allegedly killing three Afghan civilians in Kandahar earlier this year, as well they should be. But notice the distinction between this, an instance of military justice, and the enforcement work known as domestic justice. Domestically, at least sometimes, we use the weak to get the strong. There is a compelling logic to this because the weak only do what the boss allows. Besides, there is much in this for the prosecutor in the way of making a reputation, and what it says for career advancement.

In the military, the strong are used to get the weak. Careers are advanced by sealing off potential damage from above, for example, then Major Colin Powell in Vietnam, the subject being possible U.S. atrocities. If all the truth were known, the responsibility in Afghanistan rests with those who give orders, ultimately, Washington.

JAMES ROTHENBERG can be reached at:



James Rothenberg can be reached at:

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