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Issue #1511      27 July 2011

Culture & Life

Obama’s “withdrawal” all smoke and mirrors

US President Barack Obama, in announcing that 10,000 US troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of this year and a further 23,000 by the end of the [northern] summer of 2012, strove carefully to give the impression that this was “the beginning of the end” for US involvement there.

Getting the US out of the deadly Afghan quagmire was a campaign pledge that helped get Obama elected to the White House, and it is not without significance that under the timetable Obama recently announced the largest number of US troops would be withdrawn on the eve of the next US Presidential election.

But would this really mean the end of US military involvement in Afghanistan? Not at all.

As President, Obama increased the number of US troops in the country and now he is going to remove those extra troops. There were over 70,000 US soldiers serving in Afghanistan when Obama took office and when his much-vaunted “withdrawal” is finished there will still be more than 70,000 US soldiers there.

As a “withdrawal” it is really a form of sleight of hand, a magician’s trick in which smoke and mirrors are used to convince people to believe the magician’s patter and to think that something has happened when in reality it has not.

Cuban journalist Eduardo José González posed the question on Radio Havana of whether the US-led invasion of Afghanistan had improved global security? His answer: “Not at all.

“On the contrary, conflicts and terrorist acts, international tensions and fear have multiplied over this past decade. No one today can say that this planet is a quieter and safer place because of the invasion of Afghanistan.”

He also commented that the invasion had certainly not improved the quality of life for the Afghan people either, noting that last year alone 2,770 Afghan civilians were killed, more than the occupation forces lost in the whole decade. “In total, this war has cost nearly ten thousand innocent lives.”

And for what? As González says, “this war is militarily, economically and politically unsustainable”. But the stated aims of the US and NATO in Afghanistan – to combat terrorism and to bring democracy to the Afghan people – are not their real aims, anymore than they were the real aims of the invasion of Iraq.

González notes the irony that “the only thing that has improved [in Afghanistan following the US invasion] is the production of opium. When the Taliban ruled, this crop was about to be eradicated, but it has now increased by more than 1400 percent.”

Eradication of opium production of course was not a state of affairs that the US intelligence community and its big business allies could easily tolerate. The drug trade is a major source of funds for both “black” intelligence operations and illicit commercial activities.

Even bigger money is tied up in dominating and controlling the potential energy corridor from the oil and gas fields of Central Asia to India and China and, the other direction, to Turkey and Europe. An aggressor in control of Afghanistan is uniquely strategically placed to dominate and control energy supplies to and from Iran and China.

US client Pakistan, a nuclear power hostile to China, adjoins Afghanistan and has supported anti-progressive forces there in the past. Imperialism will also be keeping an eye on neighbouring Uzbekistan, which exports uranium to the United States.

With its all too evident disdain for legality in international affairs, the US can pretty well be relied on in the future to engage in some dangerous adventures in such a strategically significant area.

Another war the US is waging and losing is the so-called “war on drugs”. It is a war, however, that some US companies would be very unhappy to see come to an end. Which companies? Those in the arms trade.

At a meeting on June 11 with members of the Mexican community living in California, Mexican President Felipe Calderón reiterated that the US weapons industry bears responsibility for “the deaths of thousands of people” that are occurring in Mexico because of violence related to drug trafficking.

(If you think that figure must be exaggerated consider this: “Organised crime [in Mexico] left more than 10,000 people dead in 2010, according to an article in the Reforma newspaper.)

A June 13 report from the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) acknowledged that 70 percent of weapons seized by the Mexican authorities from drug dealers are of US origin.

The US regularly decries the activities of “Mexican drug cartels”, but President Calderón noted that Mexico is located next to the largest consumer of drugs on the planet, another great incentive for the development of organised crime.

It is ironic, is it not, that the USA, the country most affected by the consumption of narcotics is also the principal supplier of weapons to the drug dealers? It is also ironic that the only public strategy that the US authorities will recognise or accept for dealing with the drug problem is the one that failed so spectacularly in the USA itself in the 1920s and ’30s: prohibition.

Prohibition in the US produced an exponential increase in the wealth and influence of organised crime, in gang violence, and in the spread of corruption among politicians and the police. It has had exactly the same effect in other countries where it has been imposed as the solution to a social problem.

There are plenty of people in the US who, like their counterparts in Mexico, believe the policy of waging war in the streets will not overcome the drug problem, whether the drug is alcohol, ecstasy, heroin, cocaine or something else.

But there is big money to be made from the drug trade, not only from the sale of drugs but also – as we have seen – from supplying the weapons for waging the “war on drugs”.

So long as politicians continue to treat the drugs question as a crime problem and not a socio-medical problem, so long will we see no improvement.  

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