US President Barack Obama has just fired the US general in charge of the war in Afghanistan – General Stanley McChrystal. The last time this happened was a half-century ago, when then-President Truman fired General Douglas Macarthur, who was in charge of the US troops in the war in Korea.
When finance capital (and other wings of the US capitalist class) put Barack Obama into the White House, they were seeking a national leader who was more strategic, who considered different aspects of a problem, including the longer term implications of any action. They were seeking a president who understood that simple, brute military superiority does not resolve all problems.
They got such a leader, and now the problems of these qualities or, better said, of this approach, are revealing themselves. For the president, himself, the problem is revealed in a declining confidence in his ability to make decisions. From a year ago, the per cent of Americans who believe that Obama is “firm and decisive in his decision-making” has dropped from 57% to 44%.
Rolling Stone Magazine Article
Thus it was that when Rolling Stone magazine published an article on US General Stanley McChrystal, head of US forces in Afghanistan, Obama took advantage of an opportunity to reverse that perception. He fired McChrystal within 24 hours. McChrystal’s sin was appearing critical to the point of contemptuous of leaders in the Obama administration, including Obama himself. In the scheme of things for the US government, the military must always be subservient to the president. (It was for a similar sin that Truman fired MacArthur.)
This is the second time McChrystal has publicly embarrassed Obama. Previously, while in London, he publicly called for an increase in US troops in Afghanistan, an increase he ultimately received, although he was dressed down by Obama for his public display. McChrystal’s independence is not merely a personal quality; it represents a tendency towards increased influence and control by the military wing of the US government, especially over foreign policy.
The increased power of the military is seen particularly acutely in Afghanistan, where McChrystal had taken overall control over the implementation of US policy. He, rather than US ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eichenberry, was the chief contact with Afghan President Karzai. Equally important, it has been McChrystal who has been the one chiefly responsible for developing and implementing a supposedly new US military strategy – Counter Insurgency (known as COIN in military-speak), vs. the older “counter terrorism” policy.
“Counter Insurgency” vs. “Counter Terrorism”
McChrystal had been head of “black operations” in Iraq. As such, his teams were the ones who carried out murders, etc. He was also involved in widespread torture of prisoners in Iraq. Behind these measures was a strategy of outright victory over such forces as al Qaeda, the outright domination of US capitalism in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. As the Rolling Stone article explains, “COIN calls for sending huge numbers of ground troops to not only destroy the enemy, but to live among the civilian population and slowly rebuild, or build from scratch, another nation’s government – a process that even its staunchest advocates admit requires years, if not decades, to achieve… The (COIN) theory essentially rebrands the military, expanding its authority (and its funding) to encompass the diplomatic and political sides of warfare: Think the Green Berets as an armed Peace Corps.” COIN further expands the role of the military wing of the government, a role that is already immense as indicated by its bloated $600 billion annual budget (vs. the $50 billion annual budget of the State Department).This contrasts with the more limited “counter terrorist” goal of simply establishing enough of a presence to prevent al Qaeda or other similar groups from attacking US interests abroad or carrying out attacks on US soil.
As the one responsible for implementing this approach, it was inevitable that McChrystal would get too big for his boots. But it was not just him personally; his entire team was openly contemptuous of the civilian wing of the government. The Rolling Stone article described them as “a handpicked collection of killers, spies, geniuses, patriots, political operators and outright maniacs.” They had to be put in their place. They were put in their place. Even the Wall St. Journal, normally so critical of any Democrat and normally so supportive of the most aggressive foreign policy conceivable, more or less supported Obama’s firing of McChrystal.
“Winning the Hearts and Minds”
Part of McChrystal’s strategy was to build local militias loyal to the Karzai regime and to its master – the US military. There were several programs carried out along these lines, the most recent of which was called the Local Defense Initiatives (LDI). These programs, however, actually helped undermine the central government as the local militias competed with the national military and police forces. McChrystal’s plan to introduce local government from outside the region - a “government in a box” he called it - into Marjah met with similar failure. Loyal to the Kabul regime, these local administrators had no local roots. They weren’t connected to the local web of mullahs, drug lords and feudal chiefs, nor with the local peasants and workers (of course), so their only base was the US military. It is no wonder they failed so miserably, and McChrystal himself has referred to Marjah as a “bleeding ulcer” now.
US capitalism is throwing of massive amounts of aid money at Afghanistan in an attempt to “win the hearts and minds” of the Afghan people. This attempt was a dismal failure in Vietnam and is meeting with no greater success in Afghanistan. That is because the money must be channeled through the local, regional and national representatives of the corrupt ruling class of the country. As the Rolling Stone article reports, “A new report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies estimates that up to 40% of all foreign aid “goes to corruption, security and overhead.”‘
The removal of McChrystal does nothing to resolve the conflict that exists within the Obama administration nor the problem US capitalism faces in Afghanistan. One side is evidently led by Secretary of “Defense” Robert Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration. These are the “COIN” advocates, who pushed for the increased troops in Afghanistan. The other wing is apparently led by Vice President Joe Biden – the “counter terrorism” advocates - who more or less opposed the increase. In the end, Obama constructed something of a compromise when he sent the troops, in that at the same time he pledged a complete withdrawal within a relatively short time (starting in 2011). This compromise was based on the fact that both wings are correct in their criticisms of the other side, and mistaken in their own approach.
This is connected to the fact that the Kabul regime can never play an independent role; it will always be dependent on different imperialist forces and buffeted this way and that by those forces. On the one hand, Indian capitalism is seeking to play a role in Afghanistan. That capitalist class’s bitter rival – Pakistani imperialism – is of course concerned and is trying to work out a peace deal of their own within Afghanistan – one that excludes the influence of their rival. Thus it is that al Jazeera recently reported a rumor that a top leader of the armed resistance to the regime – Sirajuddin Haqqani – met recently with Karzai. Haqqani, based in northern Pakistan, commands a force that is somewhat independent although closer to al Qaeda than the Taliban and is supposedly responsible for some of the most sophisticated and devastating attacks in Afghanistan. He was reportedly accompanied by Pakistan’s head of the army and the head of the ISI (Pakistan’s intelligence agency) in his meeting in Kabul with Karzai.
Whether this rumor is true or not is almost irrelevant. Clearly, Karzai is desperate to work out his own peace deal with the various regional forces so that he doesn’t lose his head whenever the US forces leave. As for US capitalism, it is locked into a battle it cannot win but in which it cannot afford to admit defeat. To do so would enormously encourage the nationalist capitalist forces in the Islamic world.
Crisis of US Capitalism & the Working Class’s Power
Bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, beset with an economic crisis whose end is no more in sight than are these military adventures, US capitalism is in ever greater crisis. However, far from a toothless tiger, it is even more dangerous in this crisis. In fact, as this is being written there are reports that US capitalism is moving naval ships towards the coast of Iran. (It should be noted that the recently derived Obama nuclear policy was worked out to exclude Iran - among a few others - from a pledge on the part of the US not to use nuclear weapons first.)
As for Afghanistan, Robert Grenier, former head of the US’s CIA in that country and former head of the CIA’s counter-terrorism unit, commented that “it seems that Afghanistan is condemned, when all is said and done, to an open-ended civil war.” Grenier, of course, is oblivious to the potential of the world’s working class to play an independent role in history. Even by regional standards, Afghanistan is extremely underdeveloped and its working class is extremely small. However, any move by the working class of Pakistan, India or that giant to the north – the Chinese working class – will have the potential to upset all the plans of the world’s capitalist classes, be they from the US, India, China or the Islamic world.
Note: Since this was written, it has been revealed by the Wall St.
Journal (6-28/10) that an estimated $3 billion plus per year in cash
is being shipped out of Afghanistan, whose annual GDP is under $14
billion. Much of this is money embezzled from US (and other)
international aid programs. This shows that such aid programs are
little but a cash cow for the corrupt capitalist and feudal rulers of
the country and that they do little or nothing for the peasants and
workers of the country. It shows that all the COIN and other such
strategies are doomed to failure.