Obama and the ‘war on terror’

Source: Green Left Weekly

In a speech to military troops at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina on February 27, US President Barack Obama announced that most of the 142,000 US soldiers in Iraq will be withdrawn by August 2010, leaving behind a “residual force” of 50,000 troops.

The remaining troops will be withdrawn by the end of 2011, he said.

Obama supports continuing, and even intensifying, Bush’s phony “war on terror” in Afghanistan, while signalling he wants to wind it back in Iraq.

During the US presidential election campaign he counterposed the “bad” war in Iraq with the “good” war in Afghanistan.

On February 16, US occupation forces in Afghanistan announced that an air strike in Herat province had killed 15 armed followers of a local insurgent warlord.

In fact, Afghan officials revealed the next day, those killed were not insurgents but a group of Kuchi nomads – six women, five men and four children.

That such incidents have become routine in Afghanistan did not stop Obama announcing the deployment of 17,000 more US troops to the conflict on February 18.

While his election reflected a rejection by many US voters of former president George Bush’s open-ended “war on terror”, Obama appears willing to change only the detail, but not the substance, of US foreign policy.

Backing Israel

For all his rhetoric concerning “change”, Obama’s commitment to the “war on terror” was indicated by his very public support for Israel.

Propping up Israel as the US’s hyper-aggressive “enforcer” in the oil-rich Middle East has been a constant in US foreign policy since the Six-Day war in 1967.

Following his inauguration, which took place as Israel wound up its latest killing spree in the Gaza ghetto, Obama dispatched George Mitchell as his “peace negotiator” to find a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Mitchell’s credentials as peacemaker rest on his role in bringing about the 1998 Good Friday agreement in the British-occupied north of Ireland.

Central to that agreement was the British decision to abandon its policy of not talking to the Irish nationalist party, Sinn Fein. In comparison, on his visit to Israel/Palestine, Mitchell made a point of excluding Hamas – the democratically elected Palestinian leadership.

Instead, Mitchell backed the Israeli position that the only Palestinians who can be included in the “peace process” are those collaborating with the Israeli occupation, such as Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas.

There are more promising signals from the Obama administration regarding civil liberties. In particular, the plans to close down the infamous Guantanamo Bay torture camp and the abandonment of the associated military kangaroo courts have received wide publicity.

However, a recurring feature in the accounts of released Guantanamo detainees is that its horrors pale into insignificance compared with those of the US prison at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, where most had been held beforehand, regardless of where they had initially been seized.

The February 21 Mail on Sunday reported that the Obama administration announced it will continue to hold detainees without trial or scrutiny at Bagram and has plans to build a new prison there.

Bush’s war, Obama’s war

Opinion polls have consistently revealed the majority of US citizens oppose the Iraq war. The concocted justifications for the 2003 invasion of Iraq have been widely exposed as false.

With Afghanistan, on the other hand, the warmongers can point to the fact that the Taliban did play host to al-Qaeda.

Moreover, the theocratic Taliban regime’s penchant for brutal public executions, its proudly proclaimed misogyny, its banning of popular music and movies, its persecution of religious minorities and its vandalism of Afghanistan’s archeological heritage, meant that portraying the 2001 invasion as a war of liberation was an easier task for the Bush administration’s spin doctors.

What they covered up was that the Taliban was also a creation of the US and the West.

The US began funnelling arms and training to Islamist tribal warlords following a revolution in April 1978 that brought the secular modernising Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) to power.

The West’s aim was to not simply overthrow the PDPA, but was part of a Machiavellian plot to draw its ally, the neighbouring Soviet Union, into an unwinnable war that would bleed it to death.

Following the Soviet Union’s December 1979 invasion, the CIA began recruiting Islamic extremists throughout the world to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, creating what became known as al-Qaeda.

What was also covered up by the propaganda that accompanied the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan was that the US-led force’s allies were cut from the same cloth as the Taliban.

The West invades

Following the overthrow of the PDPA in 1992, the victorious warlords turned on each other in a devastating civil war.

The Pakistani military and its intelligence wing (the ISI), which had channelled CIA support to al-Qaeda and the Afghan Islamists, created the Taliban to restore some level of stability. When the Taliban took control of most of Afghanistan in 1996, the West quietly acquiesced.

Most of the other feuding warlords, confined to 15% of the country, formed the Northern Alliance.

The 2001 invasion was accomplished by massive aerial bombardment, giving arms to the Northern Alliance and buying, with millions of US dollars, the loyalty of some local warlords who had supported the Taliban. US-based oil and gas executive Hamid Karzai was flown into the capital Kabul, to be appointed president by the occupiers.

The result was not the liberation and democratisation of Afghanistan. Nor has it led to a stable Western occupation. Karzai’s authority has never extended beyond the capital.

Local warlords continue to terrorise the population and fight each other, frequently switching allegiance between the US-led occupation forces and those fighting them.

The illegal narcotics industry, another creation of the West’s covert war against the Soviet Union and PDPA in the 1980s, had been suppressed by the Taliban – perhaps making them the only regime in history to take the US’s “war on drugs” at face value.

Since the invasion it has boomed as never before, with Afghanistan today supplying 90% of the world’s illicit opiates.

Violence against women is practised by all sides in the conflict. The Taliban and their allies express its opposition to female education by bombing schools, assassinating teachers and throwing acid in the faces of schoolgirls.

Occupation force air strikes and ground raids have proved ineffective against the Taliban and its allies but have taken a terrible toll on civilians, a toll that has never been counted.

The failure of the occupation has led to recriminations between Karzai and his Western backers.

Western military and political leaders have pointed out that the corruption and brutality of the pro-Karzai warlords have created recruits for the Taliban. Karzai has condemned the killing of civilians by the occupation forces, pointing out that this has increased support for the Taliban. Both, of course, are correct.


The Afghanistan war has also spilled over into Pakistan, historically the main US proxy state in the region.

During the covert anti-Soviet war of the 1980s, the Pakistani military was closely tied both to the US and to local and foreign Islamist extremists.

Acting on behalf of the CIA, the ISI trained Afghan and al-Qaeda militants to fight the Soviet Union and PDPA while Pakistani Islamists were used to terrorise domestic opposition.

Since 2001, the Islamists and the US have both taken to killing Pakistani civilians as part of their conflict with each other.

Tactics of the Islamists include suicide bombings, assasinations, beheading, hostage taking and, as seen in Afghanistan, attacks on schools for girls.

The new favoured weapons of the US forces are drones – remote-controlled pilotless aircraft that are equipped with Hellfire missiles.

The main victims of the drone aircraft have been desperately poor villagers along the Afghan border, further fuelling the Islamist insurgencies in these areas.

Astoundingly, the Pakistani military and ISI have retained their close relationship with both sides.

The February 23 International Herald Tribune revealed the existence of a US special forces-led Pakistani commando unit fighting the insurgents on the Pakistan/Afghan border.

On February 24, Press TV revealed that the Pakistani government has paid $6 million to the same insurgents as part of a ceasefire deal that will also allow the latter to impose their brutal interpretation of Islamic law in the North West Frontier Province’s Malakand district.

Meanwhile, a slip by Californian Senator Diane Feinstein, at a February 12 US Senate hearing on national security, has revealed that the US drones operate out of a base inside Pakistan with the approval of the Pakistani government and military.

Iraq withdraw?

Obama’s decision to send more troops to Afghanistan reflects a desperate strategy to regain control over Afghanistan and stop Pakistan from disintegrating.

However, it is the presence of US-led occupation forces that is actually destabilising both countries. The same can be said for Iraq.

Since the 2003 Iraq invasion, US strategy has been based on divide and rule. Prior to the invasion, Shi’a Muslims (the largest religious community) had been discriminated against, Sunni and Shi’a Muslims had lived in the same neighbourhoods without discord and levels of intermarriage were high.

Under the occupation, religious sectarian violence has become more prevalent. The occupation forces have purposefully segregated neighbourhoods on religious lines and, in Baghdad, divided them with walls.

While this religious conflict helped the US divide anti-occupation forces, it has itself become a source of instability throughout Iraq – demonstrated by the killing of 47 Shi’a pilgrims in suicide bombings on February 21 and 22.

Misogynist “honour killings” and the terrorising of women have become features of occupied Iraq that were largely absent before the invasion.

The dilemma facing Obama is that he has to deliver change, not merely to fulfill election promises, but because the Bush doctrine of military adventurism – in essence an imperialist bid for world domination – has failed.

However, the Obama administration will be unwilling to be seen as responsible for a US defeat, similar to that suffered in the Vietnam War in 1975, although this time on an even bigger scale.

Obama and the Democratic Party have not abandoned imperialist designs on the wealth and resources of the global South. They just aim to do it better.

Thus, on the one hand Obama has been trying to persuade other Western countries to commit more troops to Afghanistan, while on the other, when this failed he has been careful not to appear to be bullying his allies.

Given the appalling death toll of Iraqi, Afghan and Pakistani civilians (and the casualties of occupation soldiers), the global anti-war movement can capitalise on the failure of Bush’s “war on terror” to push the demand for the withdrawal of all troops from all theatres.