The “Good War” in Afghanistan – the Bush-launched war that Barack Obama tells us we must fight and win – continues to deteriorate before our eyes. Just like every other operation in the so-called “War on Terror” (another Bush-launched campaign that Obama has fully embraced as his own), the Afghan war, now in its seventh year, has proven entirely counter-productive to its stated aims. Instead of stabilizing a volatile region and denying it as a base for violent extremism, it has of course done the opposite. The shock waves of the heavy-handed American-led invasion of Afghanistan – a country that no foreign power has ever conquered and held – have spread across Central Asia, most dangerously into Pakistan.
Afghanistan itself is in a desperate condition, laden with a weak, foreign-installed government dominated by warlords and riddled with corruption. The illegal opium trade, quashed by the Taliban, has now surged to historic levels, and is flooding the streets of Europe and the West with cut-rate heroin – not to mention fuelling an astonishing rise in drug addiction among Afghans, Pakistanis and Iranians. At every turn, the iron hand of American militarism is producing more suffering, more chaos, more corruption, more extremism, more slaughter, both directly and as blowback from people maddened into wanton violence by the relentless stream of atrocities.
And no, to comprehend an origin of violence is not to condone it; but reality compels acknowledgement of the fact that state-terror atrocity breeds “asymmetrical” atrocity in turn. It also teaches by example. The state militarists of empire say: Violence works. Violence is honorable. Violence is the most effective way to accomplish your goals. And you must not blench at killing innocent people in your violent operations. Is it any wonder that others adopt these methods, which are championed and celebrated by our most respected and legitimatized elites? Recall the words of one of America’s own home-grown “asymmetricals,” Timothy McVeigh, who at his sentencing for the Oklahoma City bombing quoted Justice Louis Brandeis: “Our Government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example.”
McVeigh of course was schooled in death and violence as a soldier in the first Iraq War, where he had been appalled to find himself killing people who wished America no harm, and to see the wholesale slaughter of innocent people in a conflict that need never have been fought. A peaceful settlement of the complex financial and territorial dispute between Iraq and Kuwait had been brokered by the Arab League; but although Iraq accepted the deal, at the last minute, the Kuwaiti royals – long-time business partners of then-President George H.W. Bush – reneged and declared, “We will call in the Americans.” Then the regional squabble between Iran and Kuwait was deceitfully turned into a “global threat” by the false claim that Iraq’s invading forces were massing on the borders of Saudi Arabia. Pentagon chief Dick Cheney claimed secret satellite imagery showed vast Iraqi armies preparing to swoop down on the Saudi oilfields, the lifeline of the American economy. Bush Family capo James Baker, then Secretary of State, went before Congress and declared that the imminent war was all about saving American jobs. But commercial imagery obtained by a US newspaper at the time showed there were no Iraqi forces on the Saudi border. It was all a knowing lie – as were the claims paraded before Congress that Iraqi soldiers were flinging infants from their incubators in Kuwaiti hospitals. This bearing of false witness had been arranged by a prominent Bush-connected PR firm. The first Iraq War was just as falsely based and pointless as the second.
Unfortunately for the innocents in Oklahoma City, McVeigh too fully absorbed the lessons of the omnipresent teacher, even as he came to reject the teacher’s authority. But his greatest crime in the imperial system was not that he killed innocent people in furtherance of political aims, but that he did it free-lance, without the “legitimacy” of a militarist government which slaughters innocent people by the hundreds of thousands in furtherance of its political aims.