Is the War in Afghanistan “Humanitarian Intervention”?
The fact is, war cannot liberate women. In reality, that was never a real goal of the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. . . . By the same token, democracy cannot be delivered at gunpoint.
By Jess Sundin August 22, 2012
Editor’s Note: This speech is one of several given at forum entitled ” Is U.S. Military Intervention Ever Humanitarian?” held August 22, 2012 at Mayday Books, Minneapolis.
Humanitarians with missiles, bombs and an agenda: Every U.S. military intervention seems to be justified with “humanitarian concerns.” In Afghanistan, the war is said to be about rights of women. There are calls for U.S. intervention in Syria over “human rights.”
• What economic and political issues drive U.S. military interventions?
• Will “humanitarian intervention” be the new justification for waging wars?
• Can the Pentagon play a humanitarian role?
On October 9, 2001, when the US launched the invasion of Afghanistan, it was widely understood as revenge, a kind of pay back, for the attacks of September 11. The Bush Administration’s policy was to treat the nation and government of Afghanistan as equivalent to Al Qaeda, who they held responsible for the attacks. The US claimed its goal was to find Osama bin Laden and other high-ranking al-Qaeda members to be put on trial, to destroy the organization of al-Qaeda, and to remove the Taliban government of Afghanistan.
According to Washington Post-AP 8/21: “The war drags on even though al-Qaida has been largely driven out of Afghanistan and its charismatic leader Osama bin Laden is dead — slain in a U.S. raid on his Pakistani hideout last year….Unlike Iraq, victory in Afghanistan seemed to come quickly. Kabul fell within weeks of the U.S. invasion in October 2001. The hardline Taliban regime was toppled with few U.S. casualties.”
If measured against the stated aims, the war in Afghanistan should have been one of the shortest in US history. Not the longest. Of course, the real measure is not in the stated aims of the initial invasion, but in the real US interests in Afghanistan: Economics and geo-political power.
In the realm of economics, we find that Afghanistan is yet another war for oil. This is documented in the transcript from a February 12, 1998, hearing before the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, of the Committee on International Relations. According to Robert Gee, then Assistant Secretary for Policy, U.S. Department of Energy:
“The U.S. Government’s position is that we support multiple pipelines… The Unocal pipeline is among those pipelines that would receive our support under that policy. I would caution that while we do support the project, the U.S. Government has not at this point recognized any governing regime of the transit country, one of the transit countries, Afghanistan, through which that pipeline would be routed. But we do support the project.”
The occupation government of Hamid Karzai approved the pipeline project in May 2002.
Of course, it is not simply a question of oil today, but also a question of regional power tomorrow. We cannot underestimate the importance of having political allies and US military bases inserted between Iran, the former Soviet republics, Pakistan and India, and nearby China. This is absolutely essential for US power plays not only in the region but on a global level. The Taliban was hostile to US interests, and did not welcome foreign military bases on their land. Today, there are five US military bases in Afghanistan.
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This was highlighted today in a PressTV interview with Pakistani strategic affairs analyst Syed Tariq Pirzadah: “These are the goals but at the same time it seems to be that now that the United States has the clear goal of maintaining its military bases with 20 to 30 thousand troops now staying about as long as [until] 2024 that is 12 years from now. So the goal seems very much expanded, the goal seems to encompass a US interest that would like to see US influence stay in Afghanistan, an influence that can control Pakistan and of course the other areas in the region.”
Considering all of this, it is not surprising that the US conflict with the Afghanistan began long before September 11, 2001. In August 1998, up to 80 cruise missiles were fired by the U.S. at Afghanistan and Sudan. In January 1999, the UN withdrew its international staff from Afghanistan, after one of their staff was killed in the aftermath of a US strike on bin Laden-run camps inside Afghanistan. For years, the US had been fueling Afghanistan’s civil conflicts, attempting to destabilize and defeat the Taliban. The events of September 11 served as a convenient cover for the US to wage all-out war and reshape Afghanistan in their image.
This is how Afghanistan has become the longest war in US history. When the initial shock of 9/11 faded, and the stated goals for the initial invasion were largely accomplished, something more was needed to rally public support for (or numb public opposition to) the war effort.
Last year, Madeleine Bunting wrote in the UK Guardian:
…over the course of a few weeks in 2001, a war of revenge was reframed as a war for human rights in Afghanistan, and in particular the rights of women. It was a narrative to justify war that proved remarkably powerful.
Laura Bush, the then first lady, took over the president’s weekly White House radio talk the week before Thanksgiving in 2001, and banged the drums for war. She conflated the battle for women’s rights and the war on terror: “the brutal oppression of women is the central goal of the terrorists”, she claimed. She said that “civilised people” had an “obligation to speak out” across the world against what was happening to Afghan women and the “world that the terrorists would like to impose on the rest of us.” She concluded with “the fight against terrorism is about the fight for the rights and dignity of women.”
The reality is that the new government in Afghanistan has failed to extend democratic rights to women. Quite the opposite. In April in this year, the new Karzai government approved new legislation that limited guardianship of children to fathers and paternal grandfathers, that a wife could not leave her house without the permission of her husband, that women could only inherit moveable property, and that the wife is “bound to preen for her husband, as and when he desires.” A wife is allowed to work outside the house “unless her work affects the interest of the family in a negative way.”
The fact is, war cannot liberate women. In reality, that was never a real goal of the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan.
By the same token, democracy cannot be delivered at gunpoint. This is highlighted by the corruption and scandal that have plagued the Karzai government from day one. This was highlighted in the 2009 presidential election, with fraud on a scale that makes George W’s election in 2000 look squeaky-clean. Karzai himself said:
“There were irregularities. There must’ve also been fraud committed, no doubt. But the election was good and fair and worthy of praise, not of scorn, which the election received from the international media. That makes me very unhappy. That rather makes me angry…”
No matter how unhappy he claimed to be during that interview on Good Morning America, his regime continues to receive criticism for ongoing corruption. None of this brings our own elected officials to question the so-called democracy manufactured by the Pentagon for the people of Afghanistan. No invading foreign army can deliver a government that will be truly embraced by an occupied people. And this is why the war continues, with an American soldier being killed every day in Afghanistan.
To answer the central question for this forum: Can military intervention ever be humanitarian? No.
I want to conclude my remarks by addressing our tasks, what we in the anti-war movement need to be doing.
First, the war in Afghanistan is far from over, and we must continue building a movement to oppose it. Afghanistan has been in the news this week, and we should seize this as an opportunity to educate people about what’s really going on. Actions like the one planned for October 7, to mark the anniversary of the war, are very important.
Second, we must oppose every proposed intervention, and doubt any claim of humanitarian intentions. That goes not only in Afghanistan, but also Iran, Syria or anywhere.
Finally, the anti-war movement has to hold onto the lessons we learned in Iraq. We learned that intervention is a slippery slope – the first invasion, was followed by more than a decade of deadly sanctions. We learned that sanctions are inhumane – more than a million and a half Iraqis, mostly children, died due to sanctions. And Madeleine Albright, Secretary of State at the time, said that price was worth it. There is nothing humanitarian in that. And we learned that the occupation has failed to provide for even the most basic human needs of Iraqi people. We need to pass on the lesson that every intervention will fail in the same way.
Jess Sundin is a founding member of the Twin Cities-based Anti-War Committee. Most of her recent activism has been in opposition to the wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, but she has also worked to oppose US military aid to the repressive governments of Colombia and Israel.