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Serious Stuff

The Real Significance of Afghanistan

by Somebody Else
December 1, 2009

This evening President Obama addressed the nation and gave his reasons for sending an additional 30,000, or possibly more, troops to Afghanistan. The rhetoric was entirely predictable, and represented nothing more than a continuation of the official line espoused by the government and media with regard to the ongoing military occupation of that country. It is an official line that has been relentlessly projected onto our consciousness over the last eight years. Here is a brief review of what that has entailed:

On September 11, 2001, a group of terrorists acting under the direction and leadership of Osama bin Laden, a wealthy Saudi Arabian son of a billionaire businessman, carried out a deadly attack on New York City. Bin Laden's radical Islamist organization, al-Qaeda, had set up operations in Afghanistan with the explicit approval and support of the Taliban, that nation's fundamentalist and dictatorial de-facto Islamist government.

Thus, by association, the 9/11 attack upon New York City was considered in effect to be an act of war perpetrated upon the United States by the Taliban government.

Consequently, the United States invaded Afghanistan, not only as a just and understandable response to a devastating strike from a foreign power, but also for the purpose of defending the American homeland. To that end, the occupation of Afghanistan was meant to eliminate Osama bin Laden, the mastermind and chief author of the conflict, and more generally, to destroy the al-Qaeda organization in the nation where it had chosen to base its principal operations. Likewise, the Taliban, as chief supporter of al-Qaeda, was to be removed from power and destroyed as a viable political entity. The reasoning was that once bin Laden, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban were no more, the United States would be that much more secure from terrorist attack upon its own soil.

However, after several years of pursuing this policy, neither bin Laden nor al-Qaeda nor the Taliban have been eliminated. At first, they were driven to the wilder and more isolated regions of the country, and also took shelter across its border in neighboring Pakistan, but as of late they have regrouped and are now aggressively advancing upon an imperfect, yet nonetheless democratically-elected government that is supported by the United States, and are inflicting ever-increasing casualties and deaths upon American troops stationed there.

The advance of this insurgency once again threatens the security of the American people. For this reason, President Obama has recently authorized the deployment of several thousand more troops to Afghanistan. It is hoped that this increase in troop strength will reverse the advances of the enemy, and as a consequence make the United States safer from terrorist attack.

Access to non-renewable resources, such as petroleum and natural gas, is rarely if ever mentioned in context with the scenario I have just described, and when it is mentioned, it is presented as nothing more than a corollary fact, that is, as an incidental factor pertaining to the region where the United States military has been actively engaged for the last several years in a stated effort to supposedly safeguard the American homeland.

However, as will be demonstrated in this article, petroleum and natural gas are not mere happenstance in this scenario. Rather, they are the principal motivating factor and the chief cause of the conflict, invasion, and occupation. The implied threat of terrorist attacks upon the American homeland is in very large part an outcome of the pressing issue of access to Middle Eastern petroleum and natural gas. At stake in this terrible war is much more than safety from terrorist attack -- in play is the economic basis of our American way of life, which is tightly bound to the largely imported non-renewable Middle Eastern resources that make that very way of life possible.

One expected comeback to this statement is that Afghanistan itself does not have significant petroleum or natural gas reserves, and that therefore access to non-renewable resources cannot be a significant factor in the military occupation of that country. Thus, combating the threat of terrorism is the only real reason for being there, or so the standard argument might go.

However, let us take a look at Afghanistan's geographical position. It is a necessary gateway to valuable petroleum and natural gas reserves in the Caspian Sea region. That is, in order to run petroleum or natural gas pipelines from the Caspian Sea region to the Indian Ocean, you must pass through Afghanistan. It borders a hostile Iran to the east and an unstable and unreliable Pakistan to the west. Again, with regard to Iran, the United States, by having a large military presence in both Iraq -- which is on Iran's western border -- and Afghanistan, has effectively sandwiched that nation on both sides.

Certainly, the oppressive, fanatical, corrupt, and ruthless theocratic Iranian regime represents a threat to humanist values everywhere. However, in the world of global power politics, Iran chiefly stands out as a dangerous challenge to American hegemony in the Middle East, and such hegemony is based upon the critical need for ready and affordable access to the non-renewable resources of that region. To a significant extent, maintaining strong military presences in both Iraq and Afghanistan amounts to a process of Iranian containment, and is therefore one important means of maintaining American dominance in the region.

Primarily for the reasons stated, the military occupation of both Iraq and Afghanistan will be, for all intents and purposes, indefinite, or will last at least until a radical and lasting pro-American regime change takes place in Iran. However, even if the Iranian government were to become a staunch and stable ally to the United States, our increasingly desperate need to exercise aggressive control over the region would make the withdrawal of our military forces highly unlikely for the foreseeable future.

Taking a wider look at the United States' relationship to the Middle East, it is clearly evident that our association with that region is chiefly defined by our overwhelming need to import massive quantities of the petroleum produced there. For the purpose of facilitating and safeguarding quick and cheap access to those resources, our government is prepared to sacrifice thousands upon thousands of lives, whether those of American military personnel or, to a much greater extent, the lives of countless Middle Eastern people caught up, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, in the maelstrom of war. To this end, our government is prepared to completely misrepresent its true aims in the region, to concoct an elaborate system of propaganda consisting of falsehoods, half-truths, and misleading information designed to play upon fear and jingoistic passions, basically, to do whatever it takes to gain sufficient public support for a geopolitical strategy designed to meet the critical non-renewable-energy-based needs of the American economic system.

The historically recent upsurge of terroristic Islamist activity directed at the United States and its allies is largely conditioned upon an unstable power dynamic. Certainly, nationalistic feeling and fanatically and tragically misguided religious belief play a principal role in Islamist terrorism, but these fires have themselves been stoked by the ever more aggressive and destabilizing military presence of the West in the Islamic world.

The United States needs Middle Eastern resources to remain economically and militarily powerful, and the Middle Eastern nations that sell these resources to the United States need a reliable purchaser, since the sale of these resources forms the basis of economic activity in those countries. Basically, American military power derives from American economic strength, which is itself built upon a petroleum-based economy, which in turn depends upon ready and affordable access to Middle Eastern oil. Thus, the military subjugation and containment of so much of the Middle East ultimately derives from the sale of that region's natural resources to the United States. Likewise, the apparent willingness of several Middle Eastern governments to ostensibly tolerate -- some to an apparently greater and others to an apparently lesser degree -- the dominant military presence of the United States in that region, stems from a need to continue benefitting economically from selling oil to the West, as well as from a desire to avoid direct diplomatic or military confrontation with the United States and its allies.

What makes this dynamic inherently unstable is not terrorist activity per se, but rather the discomfiting fact that the United States' need for importing Middle Eastern resources will soon be eclipsed by the skyrocketing demand for imported oil generated by China's explosive economic development, as well as by the rapidly expanding economies of India and Southeast Asia. Of course, Russia and Europe still remain as serious competitors for favored access to Middle Eastern oil reserves.

The balance of power is thus shifting more to the Middle East itself as the rest of the world finds itself increasingly desperate to secure the non-renewable resources produced there. They are selling, and we must compete amongst ourselves in order to buy and import resources whose worldwide production has reached a peak and is beginning a long and steady decline, while our demand for those same resources is on a steep upward curve.

Terrorist groups may not have the kind of financial resources and arms that Western armies possess, but on the other hand it is naive to imagine that they have just sprung up from the bare ground without any support from the wealthy and powerful, that is, from those who control the destinies of Middle Eastern nations. As the son of a billionaire and prominent business leader within Saudi Arabian society, Osama bin Laden himself is testimony to that fact. Middle Eastern insurgencies and terrorism have been and continue to be financed and supported by certain Middle Eastern political and business leaders that publicly profess friendship with the United States but clandestinely strive to subvert United States dominance in their region.

Also, lest we forget, Osama bin Laden was once an operative for the CIA during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Perhaps he has severed all ties with the CIA, but perhaps not. I find it rather curious that he has escaped capture, while Saddam Hussein, who in the 1980s similarly served the interests of the United States government in its efforts to use Iraq as a containment barrier against Iran, was hung from a rope after being put on trial in a United-States-supported kangaroo court. Sure, Hussein was guilty of the crimes of which he was accused, but we must not overlook the fact that we considered him to be an ally at the moment he was committing those same atrocities, and that there is little reason to believe that we did not have full knowledge of what he was doing at the time.

The international track record of the United States demonstrates that our nation has consistently prioritized economic and military concerns over humanitarian ones. Time and again, we have supported inhumane, undemocratic, and tyrannical dictators -- such as Augusto Pinochet of Chile, who was responsible for the massacre of thousands of Chilean citizens and not a few Americans residing in Chile -- when we felt that by doing so we would best be defending and advancing our economic and military interests in a given region.

Is the real difference between Hussein and bin Laden the latter's supposedly greater cunning and skill in eluding capture, or is something more sinister and perhaps less obvious involved? Is there some unstated yet compelling reason for the United States to allow bin Laden to remain at large?

Were the events of September 11, 2001 facilitated by the CIA? Has the CIA been collaborating with terrorist elements? The mind and heart recoil at such thoughts. They are repulsive, unacceptable, and ghastly. They imply a cynicism and callousness that defies the imagination of a rational, civilized, and humane spirit. It is difficult to accept that the government responsible for and supposedly accountable to the people of the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, could somehow be associated with such a despicable and heinous attack upon innocent and unsuspecting American civilians, and that this might have been done for the unacknowledged purpose of providing a convenient pretext for establishing long-term military occupations in distant foreign lands.

Still, let us recall the highly suspicious Gulf of Tonkin incident that led to the escalation of the war in Vietnam. Let us not forget the still inadequately explained destruction of the battleship Maine which so conveniently gave the United States the pretext it needed to declare war on Spain and assume control of Cuba. Finally, we should not allow apologist historians to sweep under the rug the questionable actions of United States intelligence services -- and the relationship of those actions to the presidential authority of FDR -- leading up to the supposed surprise attack upon Pearl Harbor, which provided the necessary set of conditions for the country to enter into full participation in the second world war.

The cold, hard truth is that our government is, and has always been, fully prepared to do and say whatever is necessary to obtain public support for advancing its geopolitical agenda. Since time immemorial, this has been the way of powerful nations upon the world stage. Are we really so different? Have the ways of men really changed so much over the centuries?

One key to effectively ending the threat of terrorist attack is the development of a new economy based upon renewable resources, such as geothermal, wind, and solar. Another key is to promote honest and straightforward government in the United States, that is, government that is unafraid to confront the American people with the hard facts about the urgent need to transition to an economy no longer based upon non-renewable resources, and that is prepared to fully confront the greed and intransigence of certain powerful corporate entities that are heavily invested in maintaining the status quo, and that ultimately do not act in the best interests of the people. The final key is to fully and humbly acknowledge that the United States is not the greatest nation on the planet. Rather, the United States is just another country where humans live.

However, that said, the complete potential of our national greatness will be realized when we fully devote ourselves to serving all peoples and all nations without excessive regard for our own short-sighted selfish interests and agenda. Such measures will do infinitely more to put an end to terrorist activity than all the guns, bombs, tanks, planes, and soldiers in the world can ever do.

"Won't you tell me where my country lies?" said the unifaun to his true love's eyes...