Saturday, 20 August 2011

Another day, Another Attack. Another Attempt to Outrage Rather than Explain.

The cliches of 'war without end' and 'endless war' are staples of populist hacks who want to carve out a living for themselves by exploiting distrust, anger, annoyance, incomphrehension, puzzlement at the British and American involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mehdi Hasan, a leading journalist who writes for The New Statesman and The Guardian writes ( Barack Obama's Wars without End August 19 2011),

Another day, another attack. On Friday, the Taliban celebrated Afghanistan's independence day with an audacious assault on the British Council office in Kabul, which killed nine people. The day before, insurgents killed at least 25 people after a roadside bomb ripped through a minibus in the western province of Herat and a suicide car bomb exploded at a US-run base in the eastern province of Paktia.

A decade on from 9/11, bloodshed and chaos continue to plague Afghanistan and Iraq.
A US state department report published on Thursday revealed that the number of terrorist attacks in Afghanistan had jumped by 55% last year; in Iraq, attacks were up 9%.

The US-led invasions and occupations of both countries have been a dismal failure – thousands of lives lost and trillions of dollars squandered. The presence of western troops in Muslim lands has provoked more terrorism than it has prevented.

Why does an intelligent politician such as Barack Obama have such difficulty understanding this?

Putting more boots on the ground was a gross misjudgment. More US troops have died fighting in Afghanistan during Obama's two and a half years in the White House than in Bush's two terms in office – and, despite the recent decision to start bringing troops home, there will be more US military personnel fighting the Taliban at the end of Obama's first term in office than at the start.

It is clear that the war in Afghanistan is not actually supposed to be a war without end as the US and UK have claimed that troops will be withdrawn by 2014. It seems a war without any conclusive end. But Mehdi does nothing to outline what he thinks the endgame is.

In Afghanistan it is the key remaining war objective to ensure the security environment that will allow the TAPI pipeline to be built. A transit route for gas from Turkmenistan that will give the Western powers a strong stake in the New Great Game for the oil and gas of Central Asia.

The plan is to link Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India together economically in a community of regional interest that will ensure the rival IPI pipeline that would bypass Afghanistan completely does not result in the West failing to have a toehold from which it can determine Central Asian supplies of oil and gas.

The TAPI pipeline is scheduled to be completed by 2014. Curiously this is the date when UK and US troops are timetables to withdraw. The pipeline is an essential part of Western geopolitics and it does journalism a great disservice that this obvious fact is seldom mentioned in discussions of what is at stake in this war.

The strand of anti-war opinion in England often fails to take into account the fact that supplies of oil and gas are diminishing and that both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are resource wars intended to secure the energy future that underpins the material wellbeing of presumably even the less wealthy in Western lands.

The idea that the war in Afghanistan is about corporate profits and the military industrial complex is simply erroneous. "Liberal intervention" is about what is considered "enlightened self interest". Should TAPI become a reality, then Afghanistan will be integrated into the global economy.

This war aim is believed to benefit the Afghan people who will gain from the transit fees and the investment of corporations in exploiting the copious supplies of lithium which are valuable for producing high tech goods. One reason China is negotiated with Karzai's government for acres to these resources.

The problem is that the Taliban know the strategic value of TAPI and that it has to go through Helmland as most of the land to the east is consists of impassable mountain territory. This is why the conflict has yielded so many casualties for Britain in that region.

Generalised commentaries that consist just in mentioning the scale of Afghan deaths from drones, or else maudlin ones that emphasise British soldiers sacrifices only, both fail to actually deal with the most pressing question: what is all this death and destruction supposed to be for ?

Hasan does no more to enlighten the British public in this regard than ITV's increasingly sinister use of it's news channel to amplify official war propaganda that Afghanistan is a sacrifice of the troops for the home country. Obviously the war it has nothing to do with defence from dangerous enemies but with energy security and geopolitics.

Perhaps, it is thought that the British public is too stupid to understand this. More likely, their could be a lot of anger if it was thought that the war was about a pipeline, one that British far right leader Nick Griffin of the BNP has been keen to exploit in his propaganda about "Bringing Our Boys Home".

However, the idea of evil imperial elites and corporations being alone wholly responsible for unleashing carnage for pure profit only lends credence to the idea that to explain the reason for the continuing war in terms of a pipeline is a 'conspiracy theory'.

The idea that Afghanistan is about what Pilger calls, with repetitive insistence, "rapacious power" is as much a tedious and obsolete propaganda trope as the Establishment propaganda about a war to defend our streets from terror.

Exchange the word 'imperial elites' with 'metropolitan liberal-elites' and the idea of sinister profiteers and callous, unresponsive, and malign sysstem and 'regime' can become a form of propaganda that bolsters the far right in Britain, a left wing war for saving Muslims who are bound to detest Britain anyway and which this foreign policy makes worse.

This is the problem when the media buys in to the official PR spin about a 'liberal intervention' or 'humanitarian war' or what Obama and Cameron 'should', 'must' or 'ought' to do in Afghanistan to ensure peace and a workable settlement without understanding what is the reason for being in Afghanistan

And that the auxiliary objectives ( hospitals, clinics, rights for women, education etc ) are secondary in importance to the geopolitical struggle to get the TAPI pipeline constructed. Without even mentioning the reality behind the war strategy, public discussion is stifled into 'what about the benefits to the Afghans? ' or ' it's all one hypocritical sham'.

The stark fact, the few seem to grasp,, is that the legitimacy of governments such as Britain's depends on the ability of the political class to ensure economic growth and rising consumer prosperity. This is as true of ailing democracies as Britain's as it is of one party systems such as energy hungry China.

Face facts: Afghanistan, no less than Iraq, is a war to promote the future supply of fossil fuels that consumers feel they have a right to expect. Party political popularity and legitimacy in a democratic system are upheld by their ability to supply cheap oil and thus diversify supplies.

Some Objections Considered.

"Although you are right to mention the pipeline as key to understanding the mass murder undertaken by Obomber and Co you seem a little confused as to the underlying intentions of the western intervention in Afghanistan. corporations invest to get profits mate. Sorry it's all about greed and good old fashioned colonialism. Your post is confusing and only serves to obfuscate"

No, I said that the war is not crucially about corporate profits as the driving force, though profits are certainly to be made. But billions of dollars spent on Afghanistan have yielded a paltry return so far. So the war effort is hardly "worth it". The question is who is meant to benefit from the war ?

The idea Afghanistan is only about enriching corporations ( note the word "only" ) is facile. It is more complicated than that, something that does not amount to "obfuscation"but more to the fact that global economies depend upon oil and gas to maintain living standards.

That does not mean that it is ethically right. But distinguishing what 'is' the actual case for competition over fossil fuels is different to claiming this 'ought' to be so.

Governments are not merely only the servants of corporations. The US government actually thwarted US corporate oil interests in Iran as it contradicted their policy. Corporations do not determine foreign policy, though they can be influential and certainly seek to profit from it.

In Afghanistan corporations are set to make profits from mining resources. But the main aim is about hegemony in Central Asia and about the construction of the TAPI pipeline for the geopolitical reasons I have outlined. So silly propaganda about selfless humanitarian intervention is designed to obfuscate.

As regards Pilger, he just sees Afghanistan as about sinister elites doing this only for profit and power. Yet as with Iraq, it is easy to claim this and pretend that western consumer prosperity, that is the interests of the vast masses of consumers, is not also tied up with continued access to cheap oil and gas.

Investing in alternatives to fossil fuels is the clear way out of this and not spending money on futile wars. But to pretend that resource wars are simply about profits is, well, just simplistic. My criticism of Pilger is that he trades in propaganda by just inverting official propaganda on it's head.

In other words, Afghanistan is not about a heroic crusade for democracy ( obviously ) nor about pure profit and power. Both views are wrong and evident untruth put forth by the government are not countered by failing to understand the gravity of the crisis caused by over dependence on fossil fuels.

......."there are strategic interests, but I don't buy the argument that Afghanistan is now primarily about securing real estate for a pipeline".

The pipeline is central to US/NATO interests more for geopolitical reasons than profit as it is about uniting the regional powers under the auspices of Western military force and also about containing and encircling Iran from both the west ( Iraq ) and Afghanistan to the east.

By blocking off the IPI alternative, the West will be able to retain a military and diplomatic stake in determining the supply of fossil fuels from Central Asia and the Middle East. Control over energy supplies is precisely power politics and retaining the capacity to remain a regional and global player where it matters.

'An interesting new factor with regard to the US securing all that fossil fuel is that we don't really need to. Turns out the US has vast supplies of natural gas and production is ratcheting up at a furious pace. (I live in Pennsylvania.) New technology gives access to vast oil deposits in Canada. North America has the potential to once again become a major exporter of fossil fuels".

The US has stockpiled vast reserves of oil and gas, of course. But it still will not be enough and the point is that the US and the European states need diversity of supply. In a world of increasing instability, where fossil fuel producing states are riven with ethnic and sectarian divisions, diversification is the goal.

Moreover, Europe has by far not enough oil and gas and more pro-US states such as Poland see diversification as as means of reducing dependence upon Russia which has shown it wants to use the supply of oil and gas as a tool of diplomacy: annoy Russia and expect a slowdown in gas supply.

The TAPI pipeline will primarily and directly benefit the states through which it runs as regards supply of gas. That fact is often used by certain mendacious commentators to claim that the idea that TAPI is about Western economic interests only is a 'conspiracy theory'.

If it was so, it would be a kind of mere 'conspiracy theory'as the reasoning goes that we could have cut a deal with the Taliban just as Blair said he could have cut a deal with Saddam if the war in Iraq was only about taking the oil.

This is, of course, what the governments of Western nations involved in Afghanistan want their publics to believe. When TAPI is reported in the Western media, it is curiously confined to the economic and financial sections of newspapers as if it were somehow wholly unrelated to the political and military news.

Yet the fact remains that NATO's political and military effort is geared towards securing the pipeline route and it is their blood and treasure that is paying towards this geostrategical gambit of putting the West in a strong bargaining position to determine the future of global energy supplies.

I do believe that in the final analysis, it is all about 'profits', be it financial, political and/or strategic profits. With changing geopolitical and economic conditions, a country might well intervene into another country for one or more reasons, then find other reasons for continuing their intervention. is not inconceivable that some dishonest and devious politicians will intervene on a 'leap from' basis, citing one reason for intervening but intending to be able to make a stronger case for wider intervention once the have intervened and 'created facts on the ground.'

Afghanistan was invaded because the Bush administration believed in 2001 that Al Qaida was a hierarchical organisation akin to something like SPECTRE from James Bond with Bin Laden as the evil No 1 and that by getting rid of the Taliban they could defeat Al Qaida.

This also provided a pretext for getting the pipeline constructed as this had been a long term aim of the US as part of it's strategy for Central Asia throughout the 1990s. The Taliban were after 2001 believed to be unreliable as clients given their role in harbouring Al Qaida.

The idea of 'mission creep' is less convinciing in a sense. Regarding the 'war on terror' and 'war on drugs' and other reasons for 'staying the course' are also attempts to rationalise a conflict that the US and NATO blundered into and for which abstract utopian aims were advanced by 'liberal interventionist' crusaders.

One of the problems now for democratic governments is the 'endgame'. As regards Britain, the loss of 379 soldiers and reports of Afghan villagers being blow up, has in some ultimate sense to have been 'worth it'. If not, the whole decade long war would be seen as futile without gaining something.

The construction of the TAPI pipeline remains the one sole aim that it is believed can make the expense and casualties all part of a successful exercise in 'nation building'. No pipeline and Afghanistan will have little worth investing, no New Silk Route as Hilary Clinton terms it will develop and nothing will have been gained.

If the TAPI pipeline is constructed, this gives the pro-Western Afghan elites the chance to use the hefty transit fees to strengthen the power of the state. Though the reality is that it could just lead to more corruption and squabbling. That can even be seen in other pipeline transit states such as Georgia.

Moreover, the Taliban ( and warlords ) financed by opium profits have money to continue insurgent actions. The drugs follow New Silk routes into Europe for recreational consumers no less than the oil and gas that Western states are likewise addicted to.

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