In the late summer of 2008, as the American political parties convene to produce a new president, it seems clear that Americans will continue to kill and die — and suffer and inflict terrible injuries — in the U.S. war in the Middle East, regardless of who is elected president, well into the next administration and beyond.
The war is not limited to Iraq. The Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq, in March of 2003, was preceded by their invasion of Afghanistan, in October of 2001. In the spring and summer of 2008, more Americans have been killed each month in Afghanistan than in the on-going war in Iraq.
Furthermore, there are undoubtedly members of the current administration — centered in the office of the vice president — who wish to attack Iran, and the military and the CIA are already conducting “special operations” there. But the foreign policy establishment in Washington — which cuts across party lines — believes, in the words of Democratic party deep thinker Richard Holbrooke, that “AfPak” [Afghanistan and Pakistan] is “even more important to our national security than Iraq.”
What he means is that that is where the most serious resistance to the U.S. attempt to dominate the region militarily is coming from. And therefore the Pentagon will send 12,000 to 15,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, as soon as the end of this year, with planning underway for a further force buildup in 2009.
Democracy Now! reported this week that “senior Pentagon officials are debating whether the US military should expand the Afghan war by carrying out military attacks against Islamic militants operating in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal areas. The move would be in defiance of Pakistan’s civilian government, which recently refused to accept a U.S. military training mission for the Pakistani army … The prominent military analyst Anthony Cordesman said the US should treat Pakistani territory as a combat zone if Pakistan does not act. Cordesman’s comment came in a new report in which he declared the US is now losing the war against the Taliban. Cordesman writes, “Pakistan may officially be an ally, but much of its conduct has effectively made it a major threat to U.S. strategic interests.'”
Both potential presidents approve. McCain and Obama try to outdo one another on how war-like they will be in AfPak: after Obama said he would send two more brigades to Afghanistan, McCain said he would send three; in his major speech in Berlin, Obama’s only specific exhortation to the Germans was, “The Afghan people need our troops and your troops … We have too much at stake to turn back now.”
What in fact do we have at stake? Recently an Afghan government newspaper loosed the proverbial cat when it asserted that the U.S. wants to keep Afghanistan unstable in order to justify the presence of the American military, given Afghanistan’s geographical location bordering Iran and central Asia’s rich oil- and gas-producing nations.
That’s not far wrong. It has been a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy since the Second World War that the U.S. must control the energy resources of the Middle East. Not because we need them here at home — the U.S. obtains the bulk of the oil used domestically from the Western hemisphere — but because control of energy gives the U.S. a strangle-hold on our corporations’ major economic competitors, the European Union and northeast Asia (Japan, China and South Korea).
Whether we call them al-Qaida, Taliban, insurgents, terrorists or militants, the people whom we’re trying to kill in the Middle East are those who want us out of their countries and off of their resources. In order to convince Americans to kill and die and suffer in this cause, the Bush administration has vastly misrepresented the situation, from trumpeting the non-existent “weapons of mass destruction” to, apparently, forging incriminating letters.
But even though a majority of Americans are now against the war in Iraq, many still think that the Bush administration was justified in invading Afghanistan, because it “harbored” Osama bin Laden. They forget that the government of Afghanistan tried to discuss the surrender of Osama bin Laden for trial, but the U.S. government refused to negotiate. It preferred a war that supported general U.S. policy in the region.
On the basis of the principles on which the U.S. and its allied governments hanged German leaders after the Second World War, the Bush administration has committed what the Nuremberg Tribunal called “the supreme international crime [i.e., worse than terrorism] differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole” — and they’ve done it twice, both in Iraq and in Afghanistan.
More than a generation ago, the U.S. war against South Vietnam came to an end — after horrible suffering and millions dead — because of the conjunction of three factors: (1) the resistance of the Vietnamese people against foreign occupation; (2) the effective revolt of the American military in Vietnam, largely a conscript army; and (3) the opposition of the American people, seventy per cent of whom came to believe by the late 1960s that the U.S. war was “fundamentally wrong and immoral,” not a mistake.
As a character in Shakespeare’s Tempest says, “…what’s past is prologue, what to come / In yours and my discharge.”
C. G. ESTABROOK is a retired visiting professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the host of “News from Neptune, the TV Edition,” on Urbana Public Television and on the website newsfromneptune.com; he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org