It seems fitting that I write this on 22 November 2020, the 57th anniversary of the assassination of John F Kennedy in Dallas, Texas. The murder of Kennedy was lied about from day one. That comes as no surprise to those who follow geopolitics. What the JFK assassination tells us, however, is that the powers that be do not hesitate to lie, and keep lying, if it suits their wider geopolitical purpose.
In Kennedy’s case his death warrant was probably signed in June 1963 when he gave a speech to the American University. That speech highlighted the uselessness of America’s Imperial wars. He foreshadowed that one of his first tasks after re-election in 1964 would be the withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam. What happened is well-established history. His successor as President, Lyndon Johnson, increased US troops’ participation in the Vietnam war immensely. It would be a further 12 years and millions of dead Vietnamese before the final, ignominious, United States retreat was forced.
The point of reminding readers of this sorry history is that essentially nothing has changed with regard to United States foreign policy. That is clearly evident in the case of US involvement in Afghanistan. We are currently being reminded, in the light of recent revelations about atrocities committed by Australian special forces in Afghanistan, that the war is now in its 20th year. We are solemnly assured that this is the longest war ever fought by United States (and Australian) troops.
That statement is only partially true. It is what we, the general public, are not told about that particular fiasco that reveals more about the United States’ foreign policy’s real objectives than sudden concern about the bad behaviour of a limited number of troops up to a decade or more ago.
Western journalists accounts repeatedly state that the war began following an al Qaeda attack upon the United States in September 2001. Al Qaeda were said to be sheltering in Afghanistan and the Afghanistan government (a Taliban one in those days) was “refusing to hand them over for American justice.” It is part of the Western way of waging war that actual evidence plays little or no part in justifying their Imperial adventures.
The United States had been in Afghanistan at least since the 1980s when they were arming and otherwise supporting Afghans fighting against the Soviet troops that had entered Afghanistan in 1980. They have been there ever since, and the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 did not alter that.
To understand the attraction of Afghanistan to foreign, mainly western, forces, one needs to go back even further in time. The British invaded Afghanistan three times in the 19th century and the principal motive was always the same: geography. The fact that Afghanistan has for well over 100 years also being the world’s principal source of heroin was an added inducement.
The latter 20th century and 21st century invasions and occupation of Afghanistan by the United States merely changed the colonial master. The United States has used, and continues to use, its vast worldwide network as a vehicle for the widespread distribution of the very profitable heroin trade.
We now have the avowed intention of United States president Donald Trump to remove United States troops from Afghanistan. Again, that tells only part of the story. Whether or not Trump succeeds in actually removing US troops in the now less than two months remaining of his presidency remains to be seen. The incoming president, Joe Biden, has made no such commitment. Trump’s vow will likely be as empty is his predecessor Obama’s pledge that US forces would be out of Afghanistan by 2016.
But United States troops in Afghanistan are only part of the equation. There are actually more US hired mercenary forces in Afghanistan at present than there are regular US military troops. Their fate has been conspicuously absent from all discussions about Trump’s alleged troop withdrawal.
Quite apart from the purported withdrawal of United States military forces from Afghanistan, there is also the question of the thousands of troops from other nations, including Australia, that are there. All of the publicity given to the alleged historical bad behaviour of the Australian Special Forces has singularly failed to address the wider questions: why are they still there, and what are their plans for a withdrawal? On both of these rather fundamental points there is a complete silence.
Instead of these questions being asked, let alone answered, the sense one gets is that the military and political leadership are hoping that the focus on “a few bad apples” will avoid their having to address the more fundamental question of when are they going to leave?
The short answer is that there is no intention of leaving. Trump’s troop withdrawal will have a very short life, not extending beyond Biden assuming power on 20 January 2021. The CIA will continue to run the export of the very lucrative drug trade, and Australian troops will continue to do their part in guarding the crop.
Quite apart from the heroin trade, Afghanistan also enjoys a relatively unique geography. It shares its borders with seven other nations. None of them are on friendly terms with the United States. Several form part of the former Soviet Union, and it was a total lack of surprise that United States secretary of state Mike Pompeo recently paid a visit to the region. Pompeo will go in January, along with Trump, but it would be naïve to expect any lessening of United States interest in the region post 20 January 2021.
That several of those countries also form a common border with China is another reason for United States interest. The big country to Afghanistan’s west, Iran, has long been a target of US interest. Again, the constant hybrid warfare being waged against Iran by the United States and its allies such as Israel is another major factor in Washington’s strategic planning. A Biden presidency may well try to re-join the nuclear agreement that the US abandoned, but it is far from certain that will happen, and it will not be on US dictated terms. The European signatories cannot be trusted, but Iran has the backing of both China and Russia and for present purposes that will suffice.
For these various reasons it would be exceedingly naïve to expect any real departure from Afghanistan of United States interests, military, political and drug related. Afghanistan has the great misfortune, as has long been the case, of simply being too valuable to western interests to expect any real departure any time soon.