Socialist Worker

After the fall of Kandahar: Hawks get the taste of blood

Issue No. 1779

The Taliban surrender of the last city they controlled last week was, according to Tony Blair, a 'total vindication' of the two-month US-led war in Afghanistan. But it is not any justification for George Bush and Tony Blair's claims to be leading the world to greater liberty and prosperity.

The B-52 bombing raids have shown only that the most destructive military machine the world has ever known has the capacity, and its leaders the ruthlessness, to shatter one of the poorest countries on earth. There was little doubt about that outcome. Those who questioned the US's military strategy, but not the war were mainly US generals who argued for alternative methods to bring devastation to Afghanistan.

The architect of the slaughter, US secretary of state for defence Donald Rumsfeld, has won that argument over the broken bodies of countless Afghan civilians. No one knows how many have been killed in the bombing, but it runs into thousands.

Even the security chief of the pro-US Northern Alliance in Jalalabad says 58 civilians were killed in US bombing raids there between Sunday of last week and the following Thursday. That is one city in just four days in an area that the Taliban had already surrendered.

Many, many more will die in the weeks and months to come. Some will starve. The Sunday Telegraph's Christina Lamb described her visit to the Maslakh refugee camp near Herat, western Afghanistan. Some 800,000 people are suffering there:

'Every night, as the temperature dips well below zero, as many as 40 people die from cold and starvation. Hands grabbed at me, women thrust small babies at me, sobbing. Not one had any food.' The word 'maslakh' means a slaughterhouse.

Others will die as the rival forces the US has promoted struggle with one another to carve out areas of Afghanistan. There are deep divisions in the Afghan government which was cobbled together in talks in Germany. There have already been threats of renewed civil war from General Dostum, the most powerful warlord in the north of the country, and from some of the half dozen forces vying for control of Kandahar in the south.

Khalid Pashtoon, spokesman for the former governor of Kandahar, Gul Agha Sherzai, said last week:

'Now the city is in chaos. There is street by street fighting. Looting is going on. Everything has been caused by this gentleman, the new prime minister.' There were reports that Gul Agha is in satellite phone contact with Dostum, planning a common front against the new government. 'It is amazing how quickly the country seems to be falling back to warlordism,' says an expert from the Qaid-I-Azam University in Pakistan.

Even right wing commentators admit Afghanistan is no better off now than it was three months ago. Tensions between the local powers in the region-above all nuclear armed India and Pakistan-have escalated.

The Taliban bought the allegiance of most armed groups by offering stability through repression and bribery. That is why the mass of ordinary Afghans would not fight for them. But the fall of the Taliban leaves repression and bribery intact-now with the fragmentation of the country into fiefdoms.

All this is a far cry from Tony Blair's claim at the start of the war that it was about saving 'the starving, the wretched, the dispossessed, the ignorant, those living in want and squalor'. The US military success has whetted the bloodlust of the most aggressive warmongers in the White House and their lackeys.

US foreign policy commentator Charles Krauthammer writes, 'The elementary truth that seems to elude the experts again and again-Gulf War, Afghan War, next war-is that power is its own reward. 'Victory changes everything, psychology above all. The psychology of the region is now one of fear and deep respect for American power. Now is the time to use it.'

Donald Rumsfeld, his deputy Paul Wolfowitz, and George Bush plan to do exactly that. Bush promised last week to widen his 'war on terrorism'. He said, 'We're in a fight for civilisation itself. And now is the calling.' US planes are flying over Somalia in East Africa, a country which has already suffered devastation.

Wild allegations of 'Al Qaida terrorist activity' in Somalia are pouring out of the White House. US battleships are situated off the coast of Somalia. US spies are ashore.

A Pentagon source revealed the true motivation for any attack on the country. It would be 'to exorcise the ghost' of the forced US retreat from Somalia seven years ago after 44 US army personnel were killed there. Vengeance, overcoming the Vietnam syndrome (reluctance to deploy troops abroad) and asserting US global dominance are what have driven this war. That is why the US state is not even feigning interest in the future of Afghanistan.

It is concerned only with more aerial assaults on new targets and sponsoring murderous forces such as the Northern Alliance. Aceh in Indonesia is one target the Pentagon is considering. The people there face repression by the Indonesian state.

Muslim rebels in the Philippines are another target. They resisted the US seizure of the country a century ago and the pro-Western dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the 1980s. They are still fighting a pro-American Filipino government. Then there is Yemen. Its crime? The fact that the US was humiliated there when its warship the USS Cole was blown up in Aden harbour.

The hawks in Washington are talking of action in Latin America, in an area where Brazil meets Paraguay, close to oil-rich Venezuela, and even in Bosnia, a UN protectorate.

Then there is Iraq, a country devastated by war and economic blockade. Rumsfeld and Co believe it was a mistake not to dismember it at the end of the Gulf War in 1991.

Even before the US state directly widens the war it is turning the screw on the world's poor. It feels more confident to refuse serious cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, even though the chaos they are bringing to the climate will lead to yet more terrible floods in the Third World.

Its ability to force debt repayments through the IMF and World Bank has been strengthened. It wrecked an international treaty on biological weapons last week because US negotiators feared that any agreement will get in the way of sending the B-52s to bomb at will.

The sheer arrogance of the US state is generating enormous resentment. So too is the behaviour of its allies-such as Israel, which says its own war against the impoverished Palestinians is part of the struggle of 'civilisation against terror'.

One Western intelligence source told the Observer: 'We can destroy Bin Laden with smart missiles and special forces toys for the boys, but destroying the things that brought him all the recruits is well beyond any military operation.'

Yet further military action, and resulting deeper hatred of the US, is all that Bush has to offer. It can be effective (at the cost of untold dead) in breaking a force such as the Taliban that lacks mass support.

But in striving for 'full spectrum dominance' the US state is heading for confrontations with popular resistance movements, in parts of Latin America for example. Opposition here to US imperialism and craven support for it from Blair is more vital than ever.

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What We Think
Sat 15 Dec 2001, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1779
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