Shooting at shadows, and the occasional tribesman, blowing up mounds of dirt and displaying “captured” arms for the media, all have been part of the Marines’ humiliating role in Afghanistan – a role foisted upon them by the Blair government, whose deference to and collusion with the Bush gang has become a parody of the imperial courtier.
Gang is not an exaggeration. The word, in my dictionary, means “a group of people working together for criminal, disreputable ends”. That describes accurately George W Bush and those who write his speeches and make his decisions and who, since their rise to power, have undermined the very basis of international law.
In Afghanistan, their record is beyond question. The killing on Monday of some 40 guests at a wedding was not a “blunder” but the direct result of a policy of shoot and bomb first and find out later, as announced by George W Bush in the weeks following September 11.
The capacity of the American military machine to smash impoverished countries was never in dispute – conditional, that is, on the absence of American ground troops and their substitution by “allied” forces, like the Royal Marines. (During the heyday of the British Empire, Indian and other colonial troops were used in a similar role, although the British, unlike the Americans, were also prepared to sacrifice their own soldiers).
Since last October, Afghan leaders have reported American aircraft destroying villages “too small to be marked on any map” with “more than 300 people killed” in one night. In a family of 40, only a small boy and his grandmother survived, reported Richard Lloyd Parry of the Independent.
Out of sight of the television cameras “at least 3,767 civilians were killed by US bombs between October 7 and December 10…an average of 62 innocent deaths a day”, according to a study carried out at the University of New Hampshire in the US. This is now estimated to have passed 5,000 civilian deaths: almost double the number killed on September 11.
There is no evidence that a single leader of al-Qaeda has been captured or, to anyone’s knowledge, killed. Neither has the leader of the Taliban. The change in Afghanistan is minimal compared with the murderous feudalism that ruled during the 1990s, and before the Taliban came to power.
FOR all the cosmetic changes in Kabul, the capital, women still dare not go unveiled. “The Taliban used to hang the victim’s body in public for four days,” quipped the new American-installed regime’s Minister of Justice. “We will only hang the body for a short time, say fifteen minutes, after a public execution.”
Describing this as a “triumph of good over evil”, as Bush has said, with an echo from Blair, is like lauding the superiority of the German war machine in 1940 as a vindication of Nazism.
Not only the Marines but the British public ought to feel duped. Both Washington and Whitehall knew long ago al-Qaeda was finished in Afghanistan. Apart from the element of revenge, for home gratification, the Americans have set out to reassert the control of their favourite warlords: people responsible for thousands of deaths in their stricken country.
In October, the US planned to install a regime dominated by members of the Pashtun tribe, who, they predicted, would desert the Taliban. But the split in the Taliban never happened and the Americans have since changed tack and tried to put together a “coalition” of Tajik and Uzbek warlords. The current “interim president”, Hamid Karzai, although a Pashtun, has neither a tribal nor military powerbase. He is simply America’s man.
The presence of the Royal Marines, leading the so-called “International Security Assistance Force”, is for reasons straight out of the nineteenth century. At the Americans’ bidding, the Marines were meant to keep the favoured warlords from each other’s throats until the region could be “stabilised” for American oil and other strategic interests.
Potential vast energy sources in Central Asia have become critical for the deeply troubled US economy, and for the Bush administration, which is dominated by oil industry interests, notably the Bush family itself. An investigation by the Hong Kong-based Asia Times in January found that the US was frantically developing “a network of multiple Caspian pipelines”.
THE disgraced Enron Corporation, one of Bush’s biggest campaign backers, conducted a feasibility study for a $2.5billion oil pipeline being built across the Caspian Sea. Top current and former American officials, including Vice President Cheney, “have all closed major deals directly and indirectly on behalf of the oil companies”, says the Asia Times.
If there was a map of American military bases established in the region to fight “the war on terrorism” what would be immediately striking is that it would follow almost exactly the route of the projected oil pipeline to the Indian Ocean.
Blair and the voluble Geoffrey Hoon have, of course, offered none of this vital information to the British people, let alone to the British soldiers sent to play America’s imperial game. Fortunately, the troops suffered only gastric flu. The Afghan people have not been as lucky.
Any doubt about the systematic murderous way the US military has operated in Afghanistan is dispelled by a report in the American press in May of children gunned down in wheat fields and as they slept. For four hours, American helicopter gunships saturated the fields and a village with bullets and rockets before landing to disgorge US troops who shot survivors and detained other “suspects”.
In fact, the area was renowned for its opposition to the Taliban and the governor of Oruzgan province confirmed that those murdered “were ordinary people. There were no al-Qaeda or Taliban here.”
In recent months, the American rogue state has torn up the Kyoto treaty, which would decrease global warming and the probability of environmental disaster. It has threatened to use nuclear weapons in “pre-emptive strikes” (a threat echoed by Hoon). It has tried to sabotage the setting up of an international criminal court, understandably, because its generals and leading politicians might be summoned as defendants.
It has further undermined the authority of the United Nations by allowing Israel to block a UN committee’s investigation of the Israeli assault on the Palestinian refugee camp at Jenin; and it has ordered the Palestinians to get rid of their elected leader in favour of an American stooge.
It ignored the World Food Summit in Italy; and at summit conferences in Canada and Indonesia it has blocked genuine aid, such as clean water and electricity, to the most deprived people on earth. Proposals to increase American food subsidies by 80 per cent are designed to secure American domination of the world foodgrains market.
(“When we get up from the breakfast table every morning,” said the chief executive of the Cargill corporation, the world’s biggest food company, “much of what we have eaten – cereals, bread, coffee, sugar and so on – has passed through the lands of my company.” Cargill’s goal is to double in size every five to seven years).
There is a desperate edge to most of America’s rogue actions. The Christian “free market” fundamentalists running Washington are worried. The US current account deficit is running at a record $34billion. Foreign purchases of the huge US debt are falling rapidly. The US stockmarket is heavily over-valued, and the dollar is uncertain.
As one commentator has put it, the “Bush doctrine” looks like “one last attempt to order the world entirely around the requirements of US monopoly capital, before it can long hope to do so”.
IN other words this may well be the last throw of the dice before the US economy goes into serious decline – as yesterday’s dramatic fall in the stock markets indicated.
This means controlling the oil and fossil fuel riches in Central Asia. It means attacking Iraq, installing a replacement Saddam Hussein and taking over the world’s second-largest source of oil. It means surrounding a new economic challenger, China, with bases, and intimidating the leaders of its principal economic rival, Europe, by undermining NATO, and setting off a trade war.
I have just visited the United States, and it is clear many people there are worried. And many dare not say so. Their views are seldom reported in the American mainstream media, which is self-censored and controlled, perhaps as never before.
Instead, the air is thick with the views of the likes of Charles Krauthammer, of the Washington Post. “Unilateralism is the key to our success,” he wrote, in describing the world of the next fifty years: a world without protection from nuclear attack or environmental damage for the citizens of any country except the United States; a world where “democracy” means nothing if its benefits are at odds with American “interests”; a world in which to express dissent against these “interests” brands one a terrorist and justifies surveillance and repression.
There is only one way such rogue power can be resisted. It is by speaking out and urgently. If our government won’t, we must.
*John Pilger’s new book, The New Rulers of the World, is published by Verso.