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US Imperialism's Confused "War Aims"
"WE DO deserts, we don't do mountains." In this way Colin Powell, Bush's Secretary of State, defined the limits of US capacity to intervene internationally in the mid-1990s. Ground troops could be successfully used in the Gulf War but would not work in the case of Serbia.
Yet, this central plank of the "Powell doctrine" seemed to be swept away in the rage following the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on 11 September.
Bush threatened the massive use of troops to crush not only al-Qaeda but implied that the Taliban regime in Afghanistan would also be overthrown. His call for Osama bin Laden to be taken "dead or alive" was interpreted to mean "dead, dead". A $25 million ransom was put on bin Laden's head and a massive military force assembled to intervene in the region.
However, in the last week a more cautious definition of US imperialism's "war aims" emerged. Powell declared that there will not be a "Desert Storm" type assault - "It isn't going to happen". Even the right-wing bellicose Defence Secretary Rumsfeld also stated that this would be a "war without a D-Day".
Right-wing Republicans, such as Richard Perle, are still demanding that the Bush administration not only crush the Taliban and al-Qa'ida but also follow through with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, Syria and Libya, allegedly 'terrorist states'.
This is dismissed, however, by the more realistic wing of the American ruling class. Paradoxically, this now consists of those from a military background like Powell and the top generals, rather than politicians. The generals understand that the massive military might of US imperialism has its limits in Afghanistan's uninviting mountainous terrain.
Yet such is the rage in the US that they have no choice but to use this power, probably as we go to print.
Even then, it will not be with the immediate deployment of massive numbers of ground troops. Bombing and 'special troops' will be deployed first. But it has also dawned on them the consequences that will follow.
THE TALIBAN regime is massively unpopular, its writ shrinking to its 'core bases' around Kandahar and Kabul.
Moreover, there is a history of Afghan warlords switching sides, especially when tempted by massive financial bribes. Soldiers, officials, even senior people, are abandoning the cities and the Taliban for the countryside.
The overthrow of the Taliban is likely but US imperialism and its allies in the region, such as Pakistan, confront the same dilemma as at the end of the Gulf War: what to put in its place. The US did not follow through with the overthrow of Saddam because of the fear of what would follow his removal: a Shi'a regime which would link up with Iran.
The overthrow of the Taliban regime could also produce a 'power vacuum' which would destabilise the whole region and worsen the position of imperialism in the area.
Pakistan could either face a new government in Afghanistan hostile to it or the country could be plunged once more into civil war and chaos, with millions more refugees flooding over the border. This could lead to the downfall of the Musharraf government and its replacement by a fundamentalist regime.
At the same time, the neighbouring powers, with knives and forks prepared, are ready to grab a piece of the Afghan pie. Iran, for instance, which has backed the Shi'a based mujahidin groups, has designs of its own of carving out a greater sphere of influence within Afghanistan.
The wider ramifications of military action in Afghanistan by the US will also be felt within the Middle East and particularly in Saudi Arabia. It originally backed and financed the bin Laden group, but now faces a fundamentalist threat of its own.
It therefore publicly states that the US cannot use Saudi Arabia as a base for military operations in Afghanistan but in effect allows this to happen: "Don't ask and we won't tell".
This duplicity will not work in the long run and the medium term result of US military action in Afghanistan could be to provoke the overthrow of the Saudi regime, as well as the Pakistani regime of Musharraf, and their replacement with hostile Islamic fundamentalist regimes.
THE SAME outcome is likely in the long term for the "front-line states", Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Nominally independent, they are in effect under the control of the Russian capitalist Putin regime. US imperialism has hypocritically called its campaign "Enduring Freedom". Yet, all these regimes are authoritarian in character.
The Northern Alliance, which has been glorified by the press in the West and is looked to as an ally against the Taliban, was part of the reactionary mujahidin which suppressed democratic rights, including the rights of women, in the 1980s and 1990s.
Moreover, it cannot succeed in overthrowing the Taliban without help because it is based almost entirely on the Tajiks, who are in a minority. The Pushto-speaking people constitute the largest ethnic group, 38% of the population of Afghanistan.
US imperialism is manoeuvring to install an alternative ramshackle coalition to the Taliban, around the ex-king and the Northern Alliance, but this will be inherently unstable.
The Central Asian republics of the former USSR may be used as bases in this war but at the cost of stimulating the incipient fundamentalist movements which exist in all these states.
Realising that the argument that this is a war for "freedom and democracy" is threadbare, a new doctrine of "failed states" has been enunciated by US spokespersons.
By what criteria are states characterised as "failed"? By the yardstick of whether they fall into line with the interests of the US ruling class and their allies.
ONE THING is certain: it will not be the mass of the population of this region, largely poverty stricken farmers and peasants, who will be advanced by this war. Nor will the working class of the industrialised world benefit.
The causes of terrorism lie in the massive gulf between rich and poor in the neo-colonial world, in the denial of religious, national and ethnic rights by capitalism and imperialism.
Only by changing society and changing the world will the barbarism of New York and Washington, as well as perhaps even greater barbarism to come, be eradicated forever.
In The Socialist 5 October 2001: