Stories abound in the mainstream press that the Obama administration is engineering a withdrawal from Afghanistan after more than eleven years of warfare. These claims are dubious at best. Ross Eventon, writing for the Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Center, revealed the content of this claim in clear terms. He reported that 20,000 US forces and 20,000 private contractors (mercenaries) are scheduled to remain in Afghanistan after the official “withdrawal” date. Add to this the fact that the military bases at Bagram and Kandahar are scheduled to be upgraded, a symbol of enduring US presence. In reality the US invaded Afghanistan to monopolize on the region’s energy resources and to install a client regime able to maintain a status quo favorable to US interests. The Karzai government is ideal for the latter objective. In regards to the former objective–the monopolization of the region’s energy resources– there is ample documentation to demonstrate this.
Prior to the 911 attacks, the US government published a report which described the strategic importance of Afghanistan as a key transit route for natural gas and oil. These energy resources would be shipped from central Asia to the Arabian sea in order to undermine what was called “Iran‘s monopoly in central Asia”. Similar motivations drove US policy towards Russia. The rich energy resources in the Caspian sea were also to be extracted according to US interests via a pipeline extending from Azerbaijan to the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. This pipeline–the BTC pipeline–was a direct effort by Washington to weaken Russian control over the natural resources of central Asia. The Bush administration went as far as providing advanced training for military forces in the republic of Georgia to guard the pipeline under the ludicrous pretext of the “war on terror”. This dual policy–the economic offensive against Iran and Russia–are highly relevant to the Obama administration and are undoubtedly influencing current policy decisions. Take for example the current US actions against Iran. The purported goal of US opposition to Iran is its enrichment of low-grade uranium. US critics of Iran argue that this could be converted into a nuclear weapon. The evidence for such a claim is, quite literally, non-existent. The actual goal of US policy toward Iran is to use opposition to its alleged nuclear buildup as a pretext to carry out a political assault against the government and its people. The latest round of sanctions is a graphic example of this goal. It’s also worth examining the diplomatic record. It’s highly instructive. Both the Bush and Obama administrations were presented with opportunities where their proclaimed goal of stopping Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon was nearly achievable. In both cases the US sidelined this possibility in order to intensify the punishment of Iran.
In 2006, well after Iran had made it onto George Bush’s inglorious list of “terrorist states”, Iran was engaged in close negotiations with the P5+1, a group of nuclear powers plus Germany, over the status of their nuclear program. In the summer of that year a temporary deal was reached which was scheduled to be finalized in August. Before Iran was able to finalize the deal, the Bush administration preempted the settlement and imposed UN sanctions on the regime (resolution 1696). Resolution 1696 called for Iran to suspend its enrichment of uranium. The legitimacy of this resolution was laughable as Iran had previously opened up its facilities to IAEA inspection and there was no evidence of fissile material. Iran even consented the Additional Protocols which entailed more rigorous inspection procedures. Nonetheless, the Bush regime declared that the mere possibility of Iranian nuclear weapons was sufficient to warrant sanctions, a notion that makes a mockery of international law. Here the Bush administration was presented with the opportunity for real progress in halting Iran’s alleged nuclear buildup but instead chose to sabotage the process for political gain, bringing into sharp focus the gap between rhetoric and state policy.
The Obama administration widened this gap between rhetoric and policy in 2010 when Iran, after failed talks with the US, entered into an agreement with Turkey and Brazil to share uranium. Like the 2006 talks, this deal was to serve as a demonstration of the fact that Iran was serious about nonproliferation. They would do this by transferring 2500 lbs of low-grade uranium, essential fuel for nuclear facilities and weapons, to another country. Top officials in Washington likely expected these talks to collapse and vindicate them in their pursuit to paint Iran as a recalcitrant actor unable to bring an end to its record of “international defiance”. Much to their dismay, this was not the case. The deal with Turkey and Brazil was a success and Iran agreed to transfer 2500 lbs of low-grade uranium to Ankara. The reaction of Washington was instructive. Immediately after the deal was completed Iran was swiftly denounced by the US , the deal was dismissed as a tactic by Iran to deflect attention away from its nuclear program and a new round of sanctions, the harshest to date (resolution 1929), were imposed. Today resolution 1929 is imposing costs on the civilian population in Iran in violation of international norms which explicitly forbid the carrying out of collective punishment of civilian populations for acts in which they are not “jointly responsible“, a mere footnote for criminal states. Iran, fortunately, does not share this callousness as evidenced by a report published by Press TV which detailed how Iranian drug companies were providing US soldiers in Afghanistan with medicine to cure snake bites, a far cry from vice presidential statements celebrating the “crippling” of an economy and, by association, its people.
Together the actions of Bush and Obama serve as a graphic illustration of the actual goal of the US campaign against Iran, namely to secure US “freedom of action,” in the Persian Gulf by undermining Iran’s “strategy to deter” US force in the region. Iran is seen by establishment circles in Washington as a disturbance intent on spreading its influence to its neighbors, what is sometimes called “meddling” in the “internal affairs” of others or “destablization”. Such actions by Iran are hardly illegal. It would be a useful thought experiment to ask how the US would respond if Iran threatened Washington with bombs, and imposed harsh sanctions on the civilian population unless the Obama administration stopped spreading its influence in the western hemisphere by “meddling” in the internal affairs of Mexico. There’s little chance it will be granted the same level of legitimacy.
Incidentally, the US is incomparably more threatening to the internal security of Mexico than Iran is in relation to Iraq, Afghanistan or adjacent countries. The economic warfare of NAFTA and the “war on drugs” have mutilated Mexico to the point of bare survival (70,000 dead since the onset of the conflict), this is to say nothing of the fact that its entire northern region of Mexico was brutally stolen and occupied to create the southwestern US, a historical crime understood, at least among the properly educated, to be unworthy of reparations or remorse. Or suppose Iran carried out a nuclear test in the same way the US did in the Nevadan desert? Surely it would have received extensive coverage in the New York Times beneath an article about the necessity to “deny [Iran] the sustenance its economy needs,” by “attacking its industrial base, energy infrastructure, and other targets that could cripple the Iranian state.” Mark Gunzinger, a former high-ranking member of US Department of Defense and major architect of the Iraqi “surge”, advocated exactly these measures in the event of Iranian “aggression” in a 2007 study published in the respected Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. It would be healthy to ask if such policies would reach the front pages of US newspapers if they were advocated in Iran. Some of the more disciplined journalists of the free press would likely condemn such policies as a worrying symptom of “Islamic rage,” to borrow Tom Brokaw’s phrase for the new contagion that has already infected an unacceptable number of malcontents across northern Africa.
In its totality, US policy towards Iran is a poorly veiled attempt to reconfigure the region in US interests much in the same way Latin America was colonized by US power during the Reagan administration. Meanwhile, the Obama administration refuses to leave Afghanistan. Instead the US is now relying on paramilitary forces, the CIA, proxy armies and special unit forces to carry out the tasks of imperial domination. Drone warfare is one of the key weapons to consolidate this control and the regular usage of drones has inflamed an understandable level of hatred in the region, mainly in Pakistan.
Reviewing this gruesome record of state terrorism and coercion it’s important that we arrive at the same conclusion that Michael Glennon arrived at writing in the Yale Journal of International Law. Covering the topic of aggression, he noted that the 2001 bombing of Afghanistan violated the bombardment provision of the ICC’s special working group’s definition of the crime of aggression. He said the same about the invasion of Iraq and the bombing of Pakistan. From October 2001 to December 2001 3,400 Afghan civilians were killed in the US occupation, a figure that, as Robert Fisk points out, exceeds the number of deaths on 9/11. War crimes continued throughout the war: the bombing of mosques, religious schools, wedding parties, and civilian structures was frequent in the early years of the occupation only to be surpassed in savagery by the Kandahar Kill Squad which murdered and disfigured Afghan corpses, collecting finger bones as “souvenirs”. One of the more infamous war crimes occurred in June 2002 when US forces bombed a wedding party in Uruzgan, killing 55 people, and afterwards took photographs of the “naked bodies of dead Afghan women”. This atrocity, according to Fisk, quickly “[turned] potential Afghan friends into enemies”.
When this hideous chronology of violence is considered we must concede that any talks between president Obama and the Karzai government are, by mere structure, illegitimate. The US has no legal right to determine the outcome of a post-occupation Afghanistan any more than Saddam’s Iraq had the right to determine the shape of Kuwait after his aggressive war in 1991 or Nazi Germany to determine the post-war shape of eastern Europe. Delivering massive reparations is the only responsibility president Obama and his predecessors should be required to fulfill along with appearing before an international tribunal in the Netherlands.
A peaceful Afghanistan can only begin to take shape with the involvement of the Afghan people and regional actors. China, Russia, Pakistan, Iran, and India all have special interests in Afghanistan. While China and India can benefit largely from Afghanistan’s supply of raw materials, Pakistan has a large stake in Afghan peace as a prerequisite to quelling much of the violence that has overtaken its country. Iran would also benefit from the exit of US forces which present a real threat to regional integration. The International Crisis Group and the International Committee for the Red Cross have published reports forecasting the grim fate that likely awaits Afghanistan after this “withdrawal”, an ugly legacy of US policy in the region. The UN office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs reported “worsening conflict trends over the last five years indicate that civilians will continue to suffer because of armed violence and that the humanitarian situation will deteriorate”. The report also suggests that “delink humanitarian funding from military and political objectives”, a slim possibility given US plans to finance the Afghan army to the tune of 4 billion dollars per year. Yet the US has no intentions to allow such a settlement to happen, plunging the region into what doubtlessly will be more years of misery and danger. The national defense authorization act codified the search and murder of terrorists and “associated forces,” “until the end of hostilities”. This is a formula for permanent war of the worst kind, a war that could terminate any possibility of peace without an organized institutional resistance able to cast light on this horrible record of international lawlessness and duplicity.
The Great War for Civilization by Robert Fisk
The War for Afghanistan by Ross Eventon (Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Center).