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Grand Strategy

Whenever I hear George Bush claim the current situation in Afghanistan as a “victory” or a “success” for his regime, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. The American invasion of a decayed State has led to the formation of a non-State; a loose confederation of warlords’ territories, with Karzai as US-puppet warlord of an attenuated Kabul region.

The elections that were supposed to have been the public façade behind which the continuing deadly civil war could be disguised from the tax-paying American public, has had to be postponed because the warlords cannot agree on the end result. The position of women -- a terrible position under the Taliban regime as the Bush propaganda machine never failed to report -- has not improved at all. They are still third-class chattels even in areas heavily patrolled by US troops. As Meena Nanji reports:

"For most women, life has not changed much since the ousting of the Taliban. While ostensibly there are increased opportunities: women can go to school, receive health care and gain employment, in reality few women can take advantage of these possibilities and they are largely restricted to Kabul. According to the many aid workers and Afghan women that I spoke to, women continue to be very fearful of the armed US-backed mujahideen who exert control over much of the country. Most women, even in Kabul, still wear the burqa (the head to toe garment that covers the whole body) as a protective measure against public humiliation and physical attack. The U.N and international human rights groups recently released reports detailing increased incidents of beatings, kidnappings and rape by U.S-funded regional warlords and their militia, stating: "local militia commanders…violate women's rights and commit sexual abuse with impunity".
There is no sign at all that the insurgency (or resistance movement) is being contained; a hot war is being fought in many areas and US and other casualties continue to mount on a daily basis. The aid community cowers in fear. By any reasonable measure, Afghanistan is a mess. However, while Iraq gets all the headlines these days, the American military occupation of Afghanistan is far more important, with much larger implications strategically.

As reported at the time at my old Central Asia blog site, the attack on Afghanistan allowed the US to take advantage of a weakened Russia and a distracted China to plant huge permanent military garrisons throughout the heart of Central Asia. These bases ensure American complicity with some of the most repressive regimes in the world. They move American power from the strategic bases along the Pacific rim of Asia to the tactical heartland of the continent, and thuas form a major linchpin in the design of the strategic realignment currently being undertaken by the forces of America Inc. In Chalmers Johnson's excellent essay "America's Empire of Bases", he attempts to describe the immense imperial infrastructure currently in place.

"Once upon a time, you could trace the spread of imperialism by counting up colonies. America's version of the colony is the military base ... Official records on these subjects are misleading, although instructive. According to the Defense Department's annual "Base Structure Report" for fiscal year 2003, which itemizes foreign and domestic U.S. military real estate, the Pentagon currently owns or rents 702 overseas bases in about 130 countries and HAS another 6,000 bases in the United States and its territories ... BritonsLondon_5The military high command deploys to our overseas bases some 253,288 uniformed personnel, plus an equal number of dependents and Department of Defense civilian officials, and employs an additional 44,446 locally hired foreigners. The Pentagon claims that these bases contain 44,870 barracks, hangars, hospitals, and other buildings, which it owns, and that it leases 4,844 more.

These numbers, although staggeringly large, do not begin to cover all the actual bases we occupy globally. The 2003 Base Status Report fails to mention, for instance, any garrisons in Kosovo -- even though it is the site of the huge Camp Bondsteel, built in 1999 and maintained ever since by Kellogg, Brown & Root. The Report similarly omits bases in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar, and Uzbekistan, although the U.S. military has established colossal base structures throughout the so-called arc of instability in the two-and-a-half years since 9/11 ... The Pentagon similarly fails to note all of the $5-billion-worth of military and espionage installations in Britain, which have long been conveniently disguised as Royal Air Force bases. If there were an honest count, the actual size of our military empire would probably top 1,000 different bases in other people's countries, but no one -- possibly not even the Pentagon -- knows the exact number for sure, although it has been distinctly on the rise in recent years."

And the purpose of all this? Power and control. The neocon imperial planners have identified an
"arc of instability," which is said to run from the Andean region of South America (read: Colombia) through North Africa and then sweeps across the Middle East to the Philippines and Indonesia. This is, of course, more or less identical with what used to be called the Third World -- and perhaps no less crucially it covers the world's key oil reserves."
It is also plain that the Asian portions of this "arc" cut directly though lands where Islam is the dominant cultural force. The Bush regime has not handled this aspect well. With the instincts of backwoods Know Nothings, they have demonized Muslims as a propaganda tool. This has brought its own set of complications. As Peter Singer puts it in his very useful "The War on Terrorism: The Big Picture":
dieragheaddie"Relations between the world’s dominant state power and the world’s community of over 1.4 billion Muslim believers stand at question, with potential terrible consequences. More than some lost popularity contest, the deepening divide between the United States and the world’s Muslim states and communities is a critical impediment to success on a breadth of vital issues, ranging from running down terrorist groups, their leaders, and supporters, to the expansion of human development and freedom, whose absence steers the next generation of recruits to radicalism."
Late in the game, maybe too late, the Powers of Central Asia have awakened to the danger. Russia is firmly opposed to American moves into places like Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. They have made moves to strengthen their own military position in Kyrgyzstan, and late last year, the dictator of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, declared that he would not allow the US base there to become permanent. Chinese analysts suspect that the unannounced intention behind the new U.S. positions, particularly when coupled with Washington's newly intensified military cooperation with India, is the containment of China. They are reorganizing their own forces accordingly.

No matter the resistance, the imperial forces of America Inc will stay in place. As Walter Russel Mead boasts in his "Power, Terror, Peace and War: America's Grand Strategy In A World At Risk," "Those who cannot stand us must learn at least to fear us." Putting aside the jingoism, for American capitalism there is hardly any choice. This empire is now a vital part of the sovietized American economy, an economy that would implode without the hundreds of billions of taxpayers' dollars poured into imperial procurements. Chalmers Johnson once again:

"Fully one third of the funds recently appropriated for the war in Iraq (about $30 billion), for instance, are going into private American hands for" services to the imperial military machine.
In some ways, the continuing chaos in Afghanistan is a boon to the Bush regime. It grants a kind of justification for the continued presence of American forces throughout the region. However, it is a two-edged sword, because Bush has to disguise the truth as best he can, in order to keep telling the American public that Afghanistan is a success. As usual, the mainstream media are helping him out. The networks and cable shows concentrate their cameras on the continuing -- and far more colourful -- disaster in Baghdad, all but ignoring the dusty and complicated and crucial mess further east.

July 10, 2004 in Afghanistan, America Inc, Central Asia | Permalink

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Comments

From the standpoint of establishing a stable democracy, you are absolutely right. Bush's policy has been an utter failure. However, isn't Afghanistan one state that is closer to Anarchy than any other? Shouldn't that be a good thing by your lights?

Posted by: Chris | Jul 11, 2004 7:11:25 AM

Chris: the destruction of the nation state into its component parts (as a step towards disengagement at the individual level) is of course to be encouraged and applauded. However, as each region is now controlled by a reactionary dictator with repressive ideas and armed militiamen eager to impose the repression, the facts on the ground as faced by individuals are as far from anarchism as one can get.

Posted by: Jak King | Jul 11, 2004 9:07:36 AM

Like Jak I'm shocked at Bush's neglect of Afghanistan. However, when I consider how badly the Bush team has botched the occupation of Iraq, I wonder if it's better that Afghanistan is receiving Bush's neglect rather than his attention.

Posted by: Peter Caress | Jul 14, 2004 2:36:46 AM