Disasters You Can Believe In

Against the Current, No. 142, September/October 2009

David Finkel

THE YEAR 2009 coincidentally marks the 100th anniversary of the United States Marines’ invasion of Nicaragua. They stayed for a quarter century, and after assassinating the country’s resistance leader, Augusto Cesar Sandino, left the place in incomparably worse shape than they found it.

Will the American imperialist intervention in Afghanistan last a longer or shorter time than the Marines’ occupation in Nicaragua?

If we’re dating from 1979-’80, when the Carter Administration began funding and arming tribal insurgents against a Communist-led government — and then the Soviet Union’s invasion — the Afghanistan operation has arguably lasted longer and done more damage.

U.S. policy during the final decade of the Cold War not only destroyed Afghanistan but funded the creation of al-Qaeda,  directly or indirectly, in cooperation with the covert intelligence services of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the Taliban and the world’s largest opium-export industry. Good job.

Alternatively, the direct U.S. invasion of Afghanistan can be dated from late 2001, in the wake of 9/11. Eight years on, under the NATO banner, the invasion faces an indigenous insurgency more deeply rooted and better-equipped than the Taliban regime that collapsed under the initial assault.

While that regime was generally hated by the Afghan population, today’s resistance — led partly by religious-totalitarian fanatics but including ordinary people who hate foreign occupation, the “collateral damage” it inflicts and the corrupt government it props up — seems to grow precisely in lock step with president Obama’s troop “surge.” It has also become interlocked with the insurgency and explosive crisis of the state in Pakistan.

If you take the 25-year occupation of Nicaragua as the “over-under” marker for wagering on the duration of the current U.S. war in Afghanistan, and now Pakistan too, the temptation must be to bet the “over.” There’s certainly no way to know, but this is a war that looks to have no stable or for that matter achievable objective, no ceiling on U.S. commitment, and above all no exit.

Despite all of president Obama’s persuasive powers, in Canada the war’s unpopularity with now over 120 troops dead is sufficient that the hawkish Conservative government is sticking to its 2011 date for withdrawal from the fighting.

The grotesque quality of the “liberation” that imperialism purports to bring to Afghanistan from above and outside is illustrated in Purnima Bose’s article, elsewhere in the issue of Against the Current, on the “Beauty Academy of Kabul.”

But wait, there’s more!

Tel Aviv, Tehran and Terror

The media couldn’t get enough of Sarah Palin’s admittedly bizarre and not too coherent statement of her resignation as Alaska governor, or enough speculation about her political future as a rightwing star, or about what’s happening inside her family (as if that’s anyone else’s business).

That weekend, Vice-President Joe Biden went on the Sunday morning TV circuit — those political talk shows that are as influential as they are unwatchable — and in apparently full control of his faculties, announced to George Stephanopolous (“This Week,” July 5) that Israel is free to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities whenever it feels like it.

Clearly, at that very moment the entire Washington press corps should have stampeded to the White House, demanding an instant answer to the obvious question: Does this lunatic statement reflect the president’s policy, or was this another case where (to paraphrase the great Mose Allison’s classic lyric) Mr. Biden’s mind was on vacation while his mouth was working overtime?

The media haven’t bothered to ask that question yet.

Nothing in Sarah Palin’s string of odd performances threatens to incinerate the Middle East. A green light from the United States of America for an Israeli bombing of Iran does. The entire world sees such an attack as exactly what it would, in fact, be — a joint U.S.-Israeli operation. Its consequences for Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan are so incalculable that the mad-dog Bush regime refused Israeli requests for overflight permission last year.

This brings us to why the crisis of the hijacked Iranian election is genuinely dangerous. The danger is not the foreign policy of the Iranian regime, which (as president Obama noted) isn’t what’s in dispute in the Iranian clerics’ faction fight or the people’s outrage over their votes being stolen. It’s that the imperialist war faction — the neoconservatives, the Israeli government, and the Arab regimes who are all-but-openly collaborating in the preparations for a military strike — sees the greatest opportunity in the existence of an Iranian regime that has no internal or international legitimacy.

Certainly any socialist or supporter of democratic rights supports the Iranian people’s struggle against the gangsters running their country. The would-be warmakers have exactly opposite interests.

The Khamenei-Ahmadinejad-Revolutionary Guards coup, in the guise of an announced “election” result that no one believes, leaves Iran in a much weakened position to appeal to international Muslim or popular solidarity against a military strike. Those who want to bomb Iran certainly don’t want to wait and risk having “regime change” take place through popular resistance that creates a legitimate government.

On the Palestine-Israel front, it’s hard to say whether the Obama administration, including the blowhard Biden and the warmongering “I’d blow Iran away” campaigner Hillary Clinton, are foolish enough to believe that U.S. moves toward Israeli intentions of attacking Iran would induce Israel’s government to make compensatory “concessions” on West Bank settlements. It is absolutely clear that no settlement “freeze” or even slowdown is in the works without an ultimatum to freeze U.S. aid.

What is also clear is that president Obama consciously chose his war cabinet of Clinton-era and Bush holdovers. It is beyond belief that the mass media, fixated on president Obama’s comments on the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, remain virtually oblivious to war clouds gathering on the horizon.

In the July 2009 issue of Harper’s on the blockage of Obama’s domestic reforms (“Barack Hoover Obama: The best and the brightest blow it again”), Kevin Baker writes that this most promising of presidents “is moving prudently, carefully, reasonably toward disaster.” If anything that is even more true in the international arena. Coming soon: disasters you can believe in.

ATC 142, September-October 2009