The Washington Post has recently published a series of articles detailing its long battle to obtain United States government documents relating to the decision to invade Afghanistan in 2001. The Washington Post story has been picked up by a number of news organisations around the world. Insofar as these revelations confirm what has long been known or suspected, that the United States invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 was based on faulty or non-existent intelligence, that confirmation is welcome.
The publicity given to the Washington Post revelations while welcome, continues to ignore several major points about that conflict. It is hardly a shattering revelation that the United States government lies. Nor is it a revelation that their various schemes to invade or attack foreign governments are often ill-conceived, badly executed, and lack a “what comes next” strategy.
Putting a stop to these endless invasions, occupations and destructive policies will not come about by ignoring their essential character, which is the furtherance of the economic and geopolitical interests, not only of the United States government, but the powerful forces and individuals that are the true determiners of United States foreign policy.
The Washington Post’s quazi revelations perfectly illustrates the point, not least by ignoring the fundamental facts that preceded the invasion of Afghanistan and the present day provide insights into the real reasons, plural, for the invasion, and why the United States will not voluntarily leave the country, Trump’s alleged wishes or policies notwithstanding.
The first basic fact to grasp, and one that all the commentary on the Washington Post revelations studiously ignore, is that the decision to invade Afghanistan was made in mid 2001, long before the alleged excuse of the events of 11 September 2001 (“9/11”).
A major factor influencing the American decision to invade Afghanistan was the decision by the then Taleban government to award the contract for the transport of oil and gas from the Caspian Basin nations via Afghanistan to the Argentinian company, Bridas Corporation.
One of the first acts of the US after the Afghanistan invasion was to cancel the Bridas contract. That company later successfully sued the United States government for the breach of its contract, a fact that for obvious reasons went almost completely unreported in the western mainstream media.
A second factor, again ignored by the Washington Post, is geography. Look at a map and the motives for the American action immediately become apparent. Afghanistan shares a border with multiple countries, including the United States’ long-term adversaries such as Iran and China. Some of the “Stans” that formed part of the former Soviet Union are now central to major non-United States projects such as the Belt and Road Initiative and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. United States (and Australian) antipathy to these projects is well documented. Even India’s North South Transportation Corridor, extending to Russia and Europe via Iran and Azerbaijan and involving other regional countries in the foreseeable future (including Afghanistan) is another motive for United States involvement in the region. It would be a gross misunderstanding to assume that involvement is benign, and the Washington Post does its readers no favours by ignoring the geopolitical realities.
It is for example long-standing United States policy to prevent the rise of any serious challenge to its previous status as the world’s number one hegemon. The initial challenge to that status came from the Soviet Union, which abated during the disastrous Yeltsin years. As Russia has been transformed under the Putin years, and most significantly in this context developed a weapons system that outclasses by a significant margin anything in the American arsenal, American attention focused more on the rapidly rising power of China.
This is not to suggest that the United States anti-Russian hysteria has abated. In fact it has measurably increased, reaching manifestly absurd levels.
Not the least of the United States motives for remaining in Afghanistan is to maintain a military threat, literally on the Chinese border. This has been accompanied by a whole range of related American manoeuvres, including but not limited to, sponsoring unrest in Hong Kong, increasing its military and other provocations in the South China Sea, and actions proximate to the Taiwanese border, and in other ways progressively undermining official United States policy towards the status of Taiwan that has been in place for several decades.
The other factor that the Washington Post articles studiously ignores is the role of Afghanistan as the supplier of more than 90% of the world’s heroin. That industry was devastated in the period of Taliban rule, but was immediately resurrected following the United States invasion of Afghanistan. United States planes are used to fly in the chemicals needed to refine opium into heroin, and United States planes are used to fly out the refined product for worldwide distribution.
Again, the facts are well documented, but the Washington Post, along with most of the western media, while noting Afghanistan’s central role in the world heroin supplies, studiously ignored inconvenient facts such as the above distribution network, or the active role of United States troops, and those of their allies in protecting opium production.
None of this should be a surprise as the basic facts have been well documented in official United Nations reports for many years. When such an obvious fact is ignored, it immediately calls into question the validity and the motives of the original article. On the pretext of criticising official government secrecy, which is a legitimate criticism, the Washington Post effectively provides cover for deeper US government motives.
For these various reasons it would be naïve to anticipate an early negotiated United States withdrawal from Afghanistan. Their motives for remaining as long as possible vastly outweigh any political or economic cost of remaining. It is a point the Washington Post studiously ignores. While a critique of cultural insensitivity and poorly motivated troops is justified, it is essentially a minor element in the wider
geopolitical objectives of the United States government.
While the Washington Post is to be commended for providing some much-needed documentary evidence as to the United States’ Afghanistan decision making process, it would be naïve to assume that this is remotely near the whole story. As is so often the case, it is what one is not told that is frequently more important than the limited information that is provided.
For the same reasons the 19th century British made multiple invasions of Afghanistan, the combined lure of geography providing proximity to countries with whom the United States is either actively opposing or is seeking to influence their internal processes, and the enormously lucrative drug industry, ensures that the United States will not voluntarily depart from Afghanistan in the near future.
James O’Neill, an Australian-based Barrister at Law, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.