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Bin Laden killing signals US military intentions / FRFI 221 June/July 2011

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 221 June/July 2011

As the crisis of capitalism deepens, the US must become ever more determined in defence of its global hegemony. The killing of Osama Bin Laden on 2 May 2011 was a calculated act to demonstrate that the US will use its military power wherever and whenever necessary, regardless of international law and national sovereignty. As President Obama boasted in his ‘victory’ speech, ‘Tonight, we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to. That is the story of our history.’ Jim Craven reports.

Since Obama took office, air attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan launched against the (professed) wishes of their governments, and certainly against the wishes of the people, have increased dramatically. According to the Brookings Institute, ten civilians have been killed for every militant victim. In the past two years special forces operations have multiplied six-fold and now average 20 attacks every night. Their rules of engagement allow soldiers to kill ‘enemy combatants’ even if they are unarmed and present no visible threat. Hundreds of innocent men, women and children have been slaughtered.

Gary Leupp, of Tufts University, has written about what he calls the Israelification of US policy, ‘Present yourself as the victim of the world – never ask why you’re hated or what you’ve done to deserve such loathing – and wrap yourself in self-righteousness. Assert your right to lash out at any foes regardless of international law. Engage in pre-emptive strikes. Send attack squads to foreign countries to assassinate your enemies.’ He might have added ‘detain without trial and torture those who get in your way and prepare a police state to control protest at home’. Leupp, though, has inverted the process. US policy is not the outcome of a degenerate morality. It is determined by the political necessities of exploiting the whole world in order to sustain capital accumulation. The subjective justification follows from this.

US Attorney General Eric Holder described the shooting of unarmed Bin Laden in the head and chest as ‘an act of national self-defence’ and, though Bin Laden offered no resistance, said ‘his killing was appropriate’ because ‘there was no indication that he wanted to [surrender]’. Leon Panetta, head of the CIA, agreed with US journalists that torture (what Panetta described as ‘enhanced interrogation methods’) had facilitated the discovery and killing of Bin Laden.

Pakistan in dispute

For some time, the US has been frustrated by Pakistan’s refusal to launch further attacks against Afghan Taliban bases in North Waziristan. The US knew of Bin Laden’s whereabouts since at least August 2010. One of the reasons they chose to attack the compound when they did was to demonstrate to Pakistan their willingness to act unilaterally within the country. A US administration official boasted, ‘I think we showed them the other options. You can no longer hold us out. This isn’t simply firing drones into the hills of Waziristan – we’re going after the snakes in the grass.’

Throughout April, relations between the two countries had deteriorated rapidly. Pakistan demanded that the CIA curtail drone attacks, cease using the Shamsi base in Baluchistan and withdraw CIA contractors. US chair of Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen accused the Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of links with the Haqqani militant network. Talks between ISI chief General Shuja Pasha and Leon Panetta broke up prematurely. General Kayani, head of the Pakistan military, suggested relations were at breaking point. Most galling to the US was a meeting held by Kayani, Shuja Pasha and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Gilani with Afghanistan’s President Karzai at which they suggested Afghanistan should have a long-term strategic relationship with Pakistan and China, not the US. Gilani told Karzai, ‘The Americans have failed us both... Forget about allowing a long-term US presence in your country.’ Later, in mid-May, Pakistan’s President Zardari made a three day official visit to Russia to discuss trade and security and Gilani visited China. Both Russia and China also want Pakistan to have full membership of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation, which was created to counter US influence in the region.

The rhetoric of Pakistan’s leaders cannot be taken at face value. Much of it is aimed at subduing hostility among the Pakistani people, a large majority of whom oppose the US ‘war on terror’. Even as the Pakistan government and military were expressing their outrage at the US operation to kill Bin Laden, Gilani was reassuring them that, ‘We have a strategic partnership that we believe is in our mutual interest.’ Last year the Pakistani ruling class benefitted from over $4 billion in US military and economic aid. Its chief concern is that its interests are being disregarded by the US, which has shown preferential treatment to rival India and has so far refused to engage in meaningful peace talks with the Taliban. Many of the Pakistani elite regard Afghanistan as a strategic rearguard in any dispute with India, and the Afghan Taliban as a conduit for pursuing their interests.

Afghanistan ‘surge’ in retreat

Most of the countries in the coalition occupying Afghanistan want early peace talks. A Wikileaks document reported EU President Herman Van Rompuy saying last year, ‘No-one believes in Afghanistan any more. We will give it 2010 to see results.’ Britain is to pull out 400 troops by February 2012, against the advice of military chiefs.

Plans for Afghanistan’s own army and police to take over responsibility for security from occupying forces by 2014 were shaken by another series of incidents in April when security was easily breached by anti-occupation forces. Several US/NATO and Afghan personnel were killed, including Haji Khan Mojayed, the Kandahar police chief. These incidents were followed by the escape of nearly 500 anti-occupation fighters from the supposedly high-security Sarpoza prison. Such was the confusion following the escape that a US soldier told Time magazine, ‘Basically, there’s an order out to arrest anyone walking around barefoot.’ Local resident Islamullah Bashir, commented, ‘How can we trust or rely on a government that can’t protect the police chief inside his headquarters and can’t keep prisoners in the prison?’

In 2008, a US State Department cable now released by Wikileaks, hoped for ‘a rising tide of chaos and violence, caused by increase in NATO operations’ that would increase civilian casualties and turn the Afghan people against the anti-occupation fighters. Civilian casualties did indeed rise by 15% in the following two years but they served only to harden the opposition of the Afghan people. A survey by the International Council on Security and Development found almost 90% opposed US operations and more than 50% said their attitudes had become more negative in the past year. In May, up to 15,000 people chanting ‘Death to America’ attacked the NATO Reconstruction Team base at Taloqan with grenades, Molotov cocktails and rocks following another special forces raid in which civilians were killed. Security forces killed at least 12 of the demonstrators in what was previously considered one of the most stable parts of the country.

The imperialists are again expecting a bloody summer. However, there are signs that the US administration may be putting more emphasis on negotiations for a settlement. General Petraeus, Admiral Mullen and Defence Secretary Robert Gates are all moving post, leaving only Hilary Clinton from the main group that favoured an intensified military surge. At the same time, President Obama wants to cut $400 billion from the defence budget over the next 12 years. The war in Afghanistan is costing $100 billion a year. He may sketch out a revised strategy in July and Taliban representatives may be invited to a conference in Germany planned for December.

None of this means the imperialists have any intention of giving up on Afghanistan. President Karzai wants a strategic agreement with the US to retain between two and six military bases in the country after 2014. The US will stay. As former US Secretary of State Zbigniew Brzezinski once wrote, ‘Eurasia is the chessboard for global supremacy...[the US must] prevent the emergence of a dominant antagonistic Eurasian power.’

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