By James Petras
If we multiply the sites where the White House claims sightings of Al Qaeda terrorists, at least two dozen, we can understand why the budget deficit has grown astronomically to over $1.6 trillion for the current fiscal year.
During Obama’s Presidency, social security cost of living raises have been frozen, resulting in a net reduction of over 8 percent, exactly the amount spent on chasing 5 dozen Al Qaeda terrorists in the mountains bordering Pakistan.
It is absurd to believe that the Pentagon and White House are spending $10 billion a month to hunt down a handful of terrorists. So what is the war in Afghanistan about? The answer one most frequently reads and hears is that the war is against the Taliban, a mass Islamic nationalist guerrilla movement with tens of thousands of activists. They have never engaged in any terrorist act against the territorial United States or its overseas presence. The Taliban has always fought for the expulsion of foreign forces occupying Afghanistan. Hence it is not part of any “international terrorist network”. If the US war in Afghanistan is not about defeating terrorism, then why the massive expenditure of funds and manpower for over a decade?
Several hypotheses come to mind.
The first is the geopolitics of Afghanistan. The US is establishing foward military bases, surrounding and in the closest proximity to China.
Secondly, US bases in Afghanistan serve as launching pads for fomenting “dissident” armed ethnic conflicts and applying separatist ‘divide and conquer’ tactics against Iran, China, Russia and Central Asian republics.
Thirdly, Washington’s launch of the Afghan war (2001) and easy initial conquest encouraged the Pentagon to believe that a low cost, easy military victory was at hand, one that could enhance the image of the US as an invincible power, capable of imposing its rule anywhere in the world, unlike the disastrous experience of the USSR.
Fourthly, the initial success of the Afghan war was seen as a prelude to a sequence of successful wars, to be followed by Iraq, Iran, Syria and beyond, which would serve the triple purpose of enhancing Israeli power,controlling strategic oil resources and enlarging the arc of US military bases from South and Central Asia, through the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean.
The strategic policies formulated by the militarists and zionists in the Bush and Obama Administrations, assumed that guns, money, force and bribes could build stable satellite states firmly within the orbit of the post-Soviet, US empire. Afghanistan was seen as an easy first conquest, to sequential wars. Each victory, it was assumed would undermine domestic and allied (European) opposition. The initial costs of imperial war would be paid for by tribute extracted from the conquered countries, especially in the oil producing region.
The rapid US defeat of the Taliban government confirmed the belief of the military strategists that “backward”, lightly armed, Islamic peoples were no match up for the US powerhouse and its astute leaders.
Wrong Assumptions, Mistaken Strategies: The Trillion Dollar Disaster
Every assumption which informed the civilian strategists and their military counterparts has been demonstrated to be wrong. Al Qaeda was and is a marginal adversary; the real force capable and wiling to sustain a prolonged peoples wars, inflicting heavy casualties, undermining any local puppet regime and accumulating mass support is the Taliban and related nationalist resistance movements. Israeli influenced think tanks, experts and advisers who have painted a picture of inept, ineffective and cowardly Arab-Islamic adversaries totally misread the Afghan resistance; blinded by ideological antipathy these high powered strategic advisers and White House/Pentagon civilian office holders failed to recognize the tactical and strategic political and military acumen of the primary and secondary Islamic leadership and their tremendous reserve of support in neighboring Pakistan and beyond.
The White House, heavily dependent on Islamophobic pro-Israel experts, furthered the isolation of US troops and alienated the Afghan population by increasing the number of troops threefold during Obama’s time in office, further establishing the credentials of the Taliban as the authentic alternative to a foreign occupation.
As far as neo-conservative pipe dreams, of successful sequential wars, cooked up by Wolfowitz, Feith, Abrams, Libby et al to eliminate Israeli adversaries and turn the Persian Gulf into a Hebrew lake, the prolonged wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan has resulted in the rise of Iranian influence, turned the mass of Pakistani’s against the US and strengthened the mass movements against US clients throughout the Middle East. “Sequential imperial defeats” has resulted in a vast bleeding of the US treasury, rather than the “extraction” of oil wealth from tributary clients. According to a recent scholarly study, the military costs of the Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan wars have exceeded $3.2 trillion dollars (“The Costs of War Since 2001” Eisenhower Study Group, June 2011) and is growing at over ten billion a month. Meanwhile the Taliban “tightens (its) psychological grip” on Afghanistan (FT 6/30/2011, p. 8). According to the latest reports even the most protected 5 star hotels (the Intercontinental) in the center of Kabul is vulnerable to assault and occupation, because the “high security forces” are infiltrated and the Taliban operate everywhere and have established “shadow” governments in most cities, towns and villages (FT 6/30/11 p.8).
Imperial Decline, Empty Treasury and the Specter of a Smash-Up
The crumbling empire has depleted the US treasury. As the Congress and White House fight over raising the debt limit, the cost of war aggressively erodes the possibilities of sustaining living standards for the middle and working classes and heightens the growing inequalities between the super-rich 1% and the rest of the American people. Imperial wars are based on the pillage of the US treasury.The imperial state has, via extraordinary tax exemptions, concentrated wealth in the hands of the super-rich while the middle and working class has been pushed downward, as the lowest paid jobs proliferate. In 1974 the top1% of US individuals accounted for 8% of total income but rocketed to 18% in 2008. The biggest share accruing to that 1% went to the top 1% of those super-super rich (or .1% of the population) (FT 6/28/11, p. 4 and 6/30/11, p. 6). While the super rich plunder the treasury and intensify exploitation of labor, the percentage of middle income jobs is plunging: between 1993 – 2006 over 7% of middle income jobs disappeared (FT 6/30/11, p. 4). While inequalities are rising throughout the world, the US has the greatest inequalities of all the leading capitalist countries. The burden of sustaining a declining empire through the monstrous growth of military spending has fallen disproportionately on middle and working class taxpayers and wage earners. The military and financial elites’ combined pillage of the economy and treasury has set in motion a steep decline in living standards, income and occupational opportunities.Between 1970 -2009, while gross domestic product more than doubled, US median pay stagnated in real terms (FT 7/28/11, p. 4). If we factor in the added fixed costs of pensions, health and education, real income for wage and salaried workers especially since the 1990’s is declining precipitously. Even greater blows are forthcoming in 2011 – as the Obama White House expands imperial interventions(Pakistan,Libya,Yemen)and increases military and police state spending ,the White House reaches budgetary agreements with the far right Republicans to savage federal medical(Medicare,Medicaid)and retirement programs(social security). Protracted multiple wars have pushed the budget to the breaking point, while the deficit devastates any capacity to revive an economy heading toward a ‘repeat recession’.
The entire political establishment is oblivious to the fact that the utterly bizarre hundred billion dollar pursuit of the phantom 75 Al Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan is hastening the disappearance of middle income occupations in the US.
The entire political spectrum has turned decisively to the Right and the far Right. The debate between Democrats and Republicans is over whether to slash one trillion or four trillion from the last remnants of social programs.
The Democrats and the far Right are in full agreement on pursuing multiple wars and both are currying favor and funds from the 1% super rich, financial and real estate moguls who are concentrating wealth.
But there is deep unease within the leading circles of the Obama regime: the “wise guys” among top officials are jumping ship before the coming deluge. Summers, Emmanuel,Levey, Orzag, Gates, Geithner and others responsible for the disastrous wars, economic catastrophe, the concentration of wealth and savaging of living standards, have walked out leaving it to the con-men Obama, Biden and their ‘last loyalists’ to take the hit when the economy takes the Big Plunge and social programs are wiped out. How else can we explain their hasty departures in the face of a deepening crisis? The flight of top officials is to avoid political responsibility, to avoid a historical indictment for the impending economic debacle and the future judgment over who and what led to the destruction of the American middle and working class, its jobs, its pensions, its social security and its place in the world.