Thursday, July 1, 2010

Is the War in Afghnistan About Protecting Democracy, or Protecting Capital?

A lot of people in the United States may have missed this story, but in May, President Horst Koehler of Germany was forced to resign from his very visible (but largely ceremonial) position in the German Government. Why is this important? Simply because Herr Koehler was quoted as saying that Germany's military deployment in Afghanistan was done "to protect our (German) interests, such as preserving free trade routes or preventing regional instabilities, which are also certain to regularly impact our (German) ability to safeguard trade, jobs, and income."

President Koehler's statement infuriated a German public that had been led to believe that the German military presence in Afghanistan was essentially a "peace keeping" mission - not a resource war. The blunt honesty of these words were troubling to a nation that, while a vital part of the NATO alliance (and the third largest troop contingent in Afghanistan, after the United States and Great Britain), is committed (militarily, at least), to non-aggression. And all of this happened weeks before a huge news story announcing a geological finding of vast strategic mineral deposits in Afghanistan, which may be worth an estimated one to three trillion dollars, at current market prices. One of these minerals, Lithium, is vital in the alternative energy industry, while another, Niobium, is an essential component in the making of cellular phones.

And that is in addition to the vast deposits of Gold, Copper, Cobalt, and Iron!

Germans were troubled that one of their political leaders told them that foreign troops in Afghanistan are there for reasons related to markets, and not saving the country from the Osama Bin-Ladens of the world. But how would the American public react to the same statement if it had been made by President Obama- or General Petraeus?

If you begin to connect the dots, it becomes apparent that the war in Afghanistan is about much more than chasing the Taliban out of the country, or supporting the construction of "Democracy". It is certainly true that marauding bands of anti-modernist religious extremists are not conducive to the evolution of peace and popular rule in that nation. But it's also true that the enormous human and economic cost of the war in Afghanistan is about more than "Democracy" or "Freedom", which, in any case, cannot be imposed on people by outside invaders.

The United States has seemingly recovered from the effects of the recent "regime change" in the U.S. Afghanistan military command, concluding that General Stanley McCrystal deserved to get bounced after publicly dissing the President and virtually the whole U.S. national security team.

McCrystal's departure from the scene, and the entrance of General Petraeus, was a war management change. But there has been no serious national conversation about either morality (as in the killing of untold Afghan civilians), or motive (as in, what economic interests are on the table) as they relate to the mounting U.S. combat death toll or the growing sense that the United States, and its allies, aren't winning the war.

Germany has, admittedly, a smaller stake in this outcome than America: some 5,350 German troops will be in Afghanistan by August, and only 42 of them have died there this far. But the essence of former President Koehler's words are no less true for the United States than they are for the German people.

The political leadership in America doesn't like the terms "capitalism" or "imperialism" when used to define the policies of the nation. But if the Afghanistan deployment project is essentially about extending and protecting business interests and the control of resources, and not about defeating an insurgency. President Obama must explain that to this nation - and especially to the families of the 1,062 U.S. soldiers who were sent to die in Afghanistan because they were told something very different.

Ibrahim Ramey

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