By Dr. Renee Levant
Is Obama setting a new course for U.S. foreign policy in Iraq and Afghanistan?
In May alone we have seen three million people forced from their homes and land on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, on a scale and at a speed not witnessed in human history since the European sponsored genocide in Rwanda in 1994.
Also in May we watched 200,000 more people in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region who could not escape the U.S.-sponsored invasion and bombardment and were left without medical care, basic utilities or food. We saw the U.S. massacre of over 140 civilians, 95 of them children, in Farah, Afghanistan, and have witnessed the murder of over 1,200 people in Pakistan.
It is clear that the Obama administration is strongly escalating its attack on the region, as Obama promised during his campaign. Last month Obama requested and received $83 billion in supplemental funding for this brutal war of occupation. Since day-one of his administration Obama has spent millions of dollars on unmanned Predator and Reaper drones, which kill several hundred civilians each year.
Obama’s war government is preparing to send 17,000 more troops into Afghanistan, a number likely to increase. Obama recently reassigned Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal—head of the Joint Special Operations Command, a unit believed to be responsible for assassinations, torture, and prisoner abuse in Iraq—from Iraq to Afghanistan. This use of covert action is not surprising at a time when we are seeing growing militancy and resistance against the U.S. occupations in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Pakistan.
History of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan
To understand more about the current U.S. attack on the region we should look at what the U.S. was doing in the region in the 1960s and 70s, when revolution was the main trend throughout the world. The crisis of imperialism was profound in that period because former colonized peoples were rising up in anti-colonial movements everywhere on the planet.
In the 60s and 70 Arab revolutionary movements were strong throughout the region, working in alliance with the African Revolution and other anti-colonialist movements around the world.
Attack on African and Arab Revolutionary Alliance
Throughout the revolutionary 1960’s and 70’s, the primary opposition to U.S. colonialist power in the Middle East was not Islamic fundamentalism but Arab Socialism.
In the early 1950s and 60’s Arab Nationalist and Socialist governments came to power in a variety of countries, among them Algeria, Egypt, Southern Yemen, Syria and Iraq. These anti-colonial movements in the Middle East and around the world seriously damaged U.S. power and its ability to control resources of working and oppressed peoples.
U.S. and imperialist powers met this resistance with violent repression and counterinsurgency programs aimed at anti-colonial movements around the world and inside the U.S.
In the United States these attacks focused on assassinations of leaders such as Malcolm X and Fred Hampton, and the fostering of division within the African Liberation Movement. In Africa in places like the Congo the U.S. government used former colonial powers and African petty bourgeois forces to foster contradictions and support its assassination of Patrice Lumumba.
In Arab nations this counterinsurgency took the form of fostering divisions between U.S.-backed, Saudi-grown reactionary radical Islam and the nationalist and socialist aspirations of Arab people.
A U.S. and Saudi-sponsored alliance of reactionary Islam and the U.S.-backed International Monetary Fund (IMF) gave this counterinsurgency its start and its power.
Reactionary Radical Islam: Created in USA and Saudi Arabia
The spread of radical Islam can be traced to deliberate efforts to create a reactionary Islamic organization that could win the Arab and Asian people away from their support for the socialist and anti-colonial struggle. One way to trace this development is to look at the creation of the World Muslim League (WML) by Saudi Prince Faysal in 1962.
Said Aburish explains:
“The league’s conservative membership included the anti-Nasser Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and its first proclamation left no doubt as to its purpose: Those who disavow Islam and distort its call under the guise of nationalism are actually the most bitter enemies of the Arabs, whose glories are entwined with the glories of Islam. At long last the riches of Saudi Arabia allowed it to draw a wedge between Arabism and Islam” The Rise, Corruption and Coming Fall of The House of Saud (Palgrave Macmillan, 1996)
The United States gave full financial, tactical and political support to this project which had the potential not only to stem the rising tide of Arab nationalism and socialism but also to appeal to over 40 million Muslims in the Soviet Union. The league also sent missionaries to foster counter-revolution in Africa. It created tensions between Arab and African revolutionaries and implemented counterinsurgency against revolutionary African regimes.
Indeed the purpose of this alliance was to work together to gain support for its opposition to the nationalist and socialist movements and instead direct people’s attention toward a fundamentalist and anti-revolutionary version of radical Islam.
The IMF steals indigenous wealth
One of the main institutions deployed against people’s movements in the 1970’s was the International Money Fund (IMF).
The Fund provided monies to developing nations at tremendous cost. Like the usurious fees inflicted on African homeowners today, these loans to developing nations were provided at rates that guaranteed continued indebtedness and fostered absolute dependency, and exploited these nations’ natural resources for the benefit of the U.S. and its allies. Instead of using the land to grow food for their people, the IMF required borrowers to use their rich agricultural resources to provide cheap food to U.S. and European consumers. As if this was not enough, the IMF also demanded that borrower nations privatize education and public services and open them to foreign ownership and foreign profit.
CIA/IMF and Reactionary Radical Islam Join Together
Meanwhile the CIA encouraged fundamentalist groups such as the World Muslim League to fill in the gap left by this privatization; without public education it was easy to establish reactionary Islamic schools for the children of the poor and working class in many nations. Indeed, the U.S. and its allies learned from the African Revolution the power of dual and contending institutions of power among ordinary people. With this knowledge, the CIA trained the WML in counterinsurgency to attempt to destabilize those nations, mostly socialist, that resisted the push of imperialist privatization.
This combined effort by the CIA and IMF made possible deep cultural shifts in these regions. These shifts were designed to strengthen neocolonial power controlled by imperialist forces.
Afghanistan Revolution: Torn Apart by U.S.Imperialism
Afghanistan is a perfect example of such global U.S. efforts. In July 1978, socialists gained power in Afghanistan. Considered the most progressive regime in the Middle East at the time, the People’s Democratic Republic of Afghanistan took dramatic steps to ensure the well being of Afghan peasants and the rights of women. They immediately cancelled all debts held by peasants and attempted to transform feudal lands toward serving peoples needs. They also began massive programs educating and empowering women. However, these noble ideals were poorly implemented.
The socialists were primarily urban petty bourgeois intellectuals and idealists with little understanding of the key role of a revolutionary movement led by a party of the working class. This made it very easy for US-sponsored counterinsurgency to foster divisions and resentment of the revolution in the countryside and eventually to destroy the fledgling socialist government of Afghanistan.
The CIA – with the assistance of the reactionary Islamic military dictatorship in Pakistan, Israel, and the reactionary Arab states of Egypt and Saudi Arabia – funded, trained and armed the Afghan Islamic extremists in war and psych ops against the socialist government of Afghanistan.
Counter Revolution in Afghanistan; the U.S. Plan for Unilateral Power
The greatest impediment to U.S. domination of the region’s wealth and resources was the Soviet Union, Afghanistan’s neighbor to the north. U.S. geopolitical interest in the region was not merely control of the land but total control of the wealth, including the oil wealth, of the Middle East and South Asia. Fostering uprisings in the Afghan countryside was not enough to achieve this goal.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, who is today a key advisor to Obama, was at the time the National Security Advisor to President Carter. Brzezinski came up with a deadly plan for killing two birds with one stone: winning Afghanistan and overturning the Soviet Union. Brzezinski explains:
“Indeed, it was July 3, 1979, that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention… We didn’t push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would… That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter, in substance: We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War. Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.” Le Nouvel Observateur, Jan 15-21, 1998, p. 76.
At the same time the United States launched a well-funded media public relations campaign in North America to be sure news presented the insurgents as “freedom fighters” fighting against communist oppression. This helped to cover up U.S. involvement and encourage anti-socialist and anti-Soviet sentiment among North Americans.
As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explained to Congress last month, this policy was created and intensified under Ronald Reagan, who increased the role of Pakistan in this project:
“It was President Reagan in partnership with Congress led by Democrats who said you know what, it sounds like a pretty good idea. Let’s deal with the ISI and the Pakistani military, and let’s go recruit these mujahidin. And great, let’s get some to come from Saudi Arabia and other places, importing their Wahhabi brand of Islam, so that we can go beat the Soviet Union. And guess what? They retreated. They lost billions of dollars, and it led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. There is a very strong argument, which is: It wasn’t a bad investment to end the Soviet Union, but let’s be careful what we sow, because we will harvest.”
Of course, this was not to the benefit of Pakistani people either. Clinton continues:
“So we then left Pakistan. We said, okay, fine, you deal with the Stingers that we’ve left all over your country. You deal with the mines that are along the border. And by the way, we don’t want to have anything to do with you.”
Parasitic Capitalism Needs Arab and Southern Asian Oil
Ten years after the Soviet Union engaged in defense of the U.s. assault on Afghanistan in 1979 its government was overturned. With the demise of the Soviet Union the United States became the “world’s sole superpower.” However, despite great losses and setbacks, the movements of national liberation did not end.
As we enter the current period of profound crisis for imperialism, the United States has become desperate for the oil and other resources of the Arab world and Southern Asia. U.S. control over these resources is essential if the United States is to maintain power over the rising nations of China, Russia and Japan and control over the actions of its sometimes unruly European allies. Simply put, controlling the resources of the Middle East, combined with superior military force, would give the U.S. unrivaled power to advance the interests of parasitic capitalism.
Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Capitalist Crisis
Despite the success of this plan, it had an unintended consequence: the counter-revolutionary Islamic forces created by the U.S. gained a sense of themselves as freedom fighters against imperialist aggression who itself was seen as another “infidel.”
Now the United States faces an anti-imperialist enemy of its own creation: reactionary radical Islam. In Afghanistan before the U.S. counterinsurgency, these forces were no threat to anyone. Many would be fine with secular and socialist governments and/or secular capitalist governments as long as they were free to live their more conservative Islamic lifestyle.
The United States has now united these scattered groups into an anti-imperialist front whose primary enemy is now understood to be United States of America. While this movement is far from a revolutionary movement, it is part of the historic trajectory of struggle led by colonial peoples against their oppressors. As such, radical Islamic fundamentalism is part of the profound crisis that U.S. imperialism is facing today.
It is clear that the U.S. geopolitical strategy for the Middle East under Obama is proving to be far more aggressive than under Bush, as the crisis of imperialism deepens daily. The change of style and tactics ushered in by the Obama administration was forced upon the United States by changes on the world stage. Not the least among these changed conditions was the fierce resistance of the Iraqi people to Bush’s invasion and occupation and the resulting economic crisis of capitalism. At this time the resistance in these areas lacks a unified strategy beyond that of opposition to colonial domination. As a whole it lacks the awareness of how reactionary radical Islam was built, funded and developed to serve White Power and Imperialist interests.
Today the U.S. ship of state is more vulnerable than ever as heads full speed into the invisible iceberg called Afghanistan, just as the U.S. lured the Soviets to do thirty years ago, ending up in the collapse of the USSR. The U.S. sounds a lot like the Titanic which was responding to conditions and warnings through a slight alteration of its direction. When it finally tried to reverse course, it was too late.
It is in the interests of working or oppressed peoples of the world to do everything possible to deepen this crisis and bring that ship down.
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