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War on Terror Masks Bush's Grand Strategy
10 March 2002
I enlisted in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam conflict because I believed the war was just and it was the duty of male citizens of democracies to perform military service in wartime.
Thirty-five years later, White House tape recordings revealed that by 1967 Democratic president Lyndon Johnson knew the war was lost, yet kept sending tens of thousands of American soldiers to their deaths because he had no better plan and feared the domestic political consequences of a pullout. Johnson and Robert McNamara, his secretary of defence, persistently lied to and deceived Americans.
This bitter experience, and two decades as a journalist, left me with deep cynicism and a profound distrust of most politicians. The present war in Afghanistan fills me with unease. Once again, the White House is not telling the full truth to its citizens, and is risking the lives of soldiers in a war whose aims are constantly shifting, nebulous and overreaching. What began as a limited operation to kill the elusive Osama bin Laden has ballooned into a campaign to invade Iraq and dominate South/Central Asia.
Afghanistan, as last week's bloody fighting showed, was not the cakewalk predicted by hawks and instant experts. Far from "mopping up isolated al-Qaida remnants," U.S. forces and their auxiliaries battled heavily armed forces that included hundreds of new volunteers.
The Pentagon and unquestioning U.S. media always refer to Afghans fighting on the U.S. side as "anti-Taliban Afghan forces." In fact, almost all are U.S.-paid mercenaries. Their lack of martial ardour is why U.S. troops were used in last week's attacks.
President George Bush's claim the U.S. invaded Afghanistan to "defend democracy" and/or "stamp out terrorism" is certainly not the whole story. The Pentagon had drawn up plans to invade Afghanistan, and U.S. Special Forces were operating in Kyrgyzstan, well before 9/11. Over the past five months, the U.S. has established permanent military bases in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and facilities in Kazakstan. In short, a constellation of air and army bases designed for long-term strategic control of the region, under the command of the newly activated U.S. 3rd Army, whose HQ was recently moved from the Southern U.S. to Kuwait.
The so-called "war on terrorism" is being used to mask a far grander imperial design: the overthrow of Saddam Hussein that will allow the U.S. to gain control of Iraq's huge oil reserves, which are second only to Saudi Arabia's, and secure American control of the giant Caspian Oil Basin. The new U.S. bases just happen to follow the route of the planned American pipelines that will bring Central Asia's oil and gas riches - the "new Silk Road" - south through Pakistan. Each day, the U.S. is plunging deeper and deeper into South and Central Asia - which I call the Mideast East. American soldiers could end up fighting there 50 years hence. In fact, the Bush administration seems to be emulating the old British Empire.
What was known in Vietnam as "mission creep" is already at work. A brief U.S. incursion into Afghanistan is now growing into permanent commitment and the very "nation-building" that Bush vowed to avoid. The client regime of U.S.-appointed Afghan leader, Hamid Karzai, is kept in power in Kabul by British and U.S. bayonets - just as former Afghan communist regimes were maintained by the Soviet Red Army. The affable Karzai has become the darling of the U.S. media, which gushes over him and his green cloak with the same misplaced rapture it showed for another CIA "asset," Egypt's late leader, Anwar Sadat, who was adored in New York but hated in Cairo.
The U.S. relied on the Russian-controlled Northern Alliance, run by the reinvigorated Afghan Communist party, to overthrow the Taliban. Russia sent $4 billion worth of arms to the Alliance, the real power behind Karzai's let's pretend regime. The Alliance is bankrolled by the drug trade, which it restored after the Taliban was overthrown. Because Pashtun mercenaries hired by the U.S. are unreliable, the U.S. now plans to build an 80,000-man Afghan national army, trained by American "advisers" (shades of Vietnam). The Soviets did exactly the same thing after they invaded Afghanistan in 1979. The Afghan communist Army proved as poor and disloyal as most of South Vietnam's Army.
Old Afghan hands, this writer included, have repeatedly warned the U.S. not to get involved in Afghan tribal and ethnic politics, not to set up permanent bases, not to drive north into Central Asia, and not to force Pakistan into becoming another obedient U.S. client state, like Egypt or Turkey. To get in and then out of Afghanistan as fast as possible. But Bush administration crusaders, gripped by a lust for blood and oil, are charging forward. In a truly shameful act, the administration is even sending troops to Georgia to battle Chechen independence fighters in the Caucasus mountains.
America has been scourged by terrorist attacks because of its often heavy-handed interventions abroad, not because Muslims hate democracy or McDonald's. The Saudis who staged kamikaze attacks on the U.S. did so because of the agony of Palestine and Iraq, and American domination of Saudi Arabia. Deeper U.S. involvement in Asia will likely mean more, not less, risk of terrorist attacks.