Socialist Worker

US establishment is split on war strategy

by Simon Assaf
Issue No. 2111

Many of the world’s leaders are treating Barack Obama as the US “president in waiting”. They are urging him to find a way to stabilise Afghanistan and cool tensions in the Middle East.

This has found an echo among many people who are sickened by seven years of continous war.

Obama’s standing among opponents of the war was boosted after he announced that he wanted a timetable for troop withdrawal from Iraq and direct negotiations with Iran.

This has lead his Republican rival John McCain to paint him as “naive” and “inexperienced”.

But far from wanting an end to war, Obama increasingly represents the section of the US ruling class that fears any military confrontation with Iran would lead to deeper problems for the occupations in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

So the difference is one of emphasis. While Obama considers Afghanistan as the “central battlefield”, McCain wants the pressure to remain on Iran.

This reflects the growing division inside the US about which battlefront is the most important.

George Bush attempted to overcome this problem by begging European countries to send more troops to Afghanistan. But not enough were forthcoming, leaving the US army seriously overstretched.

Now many neocons, such as Condoleezza Rice – one of the architects of the invasion of Iraq and a proponent of an attack on Iran – are demanding that the next stage of the “long war” be shifted back to Afghanistan. For this to work there needs to peace, of sorts, in the Middle East.


Last month the US joint chief of staff Michael Mullen told the Israelis that he had serious doubts about their ability to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Bush then opened direct negotiations with the Iranians and is sending a diplomatic mission to the Iranian capital, effectively reopening the US embassy that has been closed since the 1979 revolution.

With a partial truce in Iraq, and relative quiet on the Iran-Afghanistan border, this “pragmatic” wing of the establishment now wants to pour all available troops into the Afghan-Pakistan battlefield.

Obama has emerged as their chief spokesman and is desperate to show that US imperialism would be safe in his hands.

So he launched his foreign policy campaign last March with a speech to Aipac, the powerful US-Israeli lobby.

Obama told Israel’s supporters that a Democratic Party administration would “preserve our total commitment to our unique defence relationship with Israel”. He has now launched an international tour taking him to Afghanistan, Kuwait, Iraq, Jordan, Israel, Germany, France and Britain.

Obama began his tour in Afghanistan which he declared to be the “central front in our battle against terrorism”.

His emphasis chimes with a section of the US administration that feels he is best suited to get their allies to send more troops.

The fear that the US faces defeat in Afghanistan was brought home when rebels overran a US outpost in the east of the country earlier this month.

Obama’s strategy involves “pressuring” Pakistan to send troops into the troubled border region in order to end incursions by rebels.

This is a continuation of the policy set out by Robert Gates, the US secretary of defence, who wants Pakistan to bail out the US occupation by sending tens of thousands of troops into the troubled border regions.

But the neocons fear that the need to shore up the occupation in Afghanistan could undermine any gains in Iraq.

The problem for the US is that behind the boast that Iraq has been “pacified” is the realisation that while the “surge” of 38,000 US troops was able to stifle the resistance, it has not defeated it.

The Mehdi Army and other Iraqi resistance organisations reacted to the surge by leaving the battlefield. US military commanders are now worried that once the troops are moved to Afghanistan these forces will re-emerge.


This nervousness can be seen in the stalled negotiations over the so-called “status of forces accord”.

Bush hoped that the Iraqi government would accept US demands for a string of permanent bases, the right to launch wars on “third countries” and immunity for Westerners from Iraqi laws.

Instead the massive opposition to the accords has tied the hands of the Iraqi government. Iraq’s prime minister Nuri al-Maliki has succumbed to the pressure by stalling the negotiations and raising demands for a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops.

The presidential campaign is no longer about the rights and wrongs of war – but about which front in the war is the most important.

As Obama prepares to end his tour with a visit to Britain, all the indicators are that the closer he gets to the White House the more he is lining up with those who want a shift in emphasis in the “war on terror” – and not actually any end to the wars, occupations and the misery they have unleashed.

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Article information

Tue 22 Jul 2008, 19:22 BST
Issue No. 2111
Share this article


Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.