From 2001 archives: What's lurking behind the war in Afghanistan?

This article was first published Nov. 17, 2001. As the war in Afghanistan garners more attention with calls for more troops, we rerun this here as a contribution to the discussion.

There is little wonder that the Bush administration – with its vast ties to ultra-right ideologues, oil, finance, military industries and intelligence agencies – seized upon an incredible human tragedy to push their own agenda. After the devastating and unforgivable attacks of Sept. 11 there had to be a response. The Bush administration chose war.

The Bush administration is a who’s who in the energy and military world. Vice President Dick Cheney was the CEO of Halliburton, a corporation intimately tied to both the oil and military industries. Air Force head James Roche was a Northrop Grumman vice president, Navy Secretary Gordon England was General Dynamics vice president and Secretary of the Army Thomas White was a vice chairman of Enron.

The current target of U.S. “war on terrorism,” Afghanistan sits in the center of a region full of oil and natural gas riches and has the markets to utilize them. It is bordered by Pakistan, Iran, China and the former Soviet Republics of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. Afghanistan has always been a crossroads of business and trade, dating back to European-Asian silk trade.

For many centuries wars have been fought for control of this Central Asian area. Control of oil and gas resources and their distribution are paramount to any world military, economic and political control. Afghanistan is seen as the door to corporate control of this area.

The terrorist attacks gave U.S. corporate and ultraright-driven foreign policy a new lease on life. Bush has a rationale to carry out the master plan: to control what CPUSA Chairman Sam Webb referred to as “an arc reaching from West Africa to Southeast Asia, areas rich with natural resources and human labor.” It’s a system of economic, political and military control. Lenin called it imperialism: the highest stage of capitalism.

U.S. foreign policy, driven by corporate interests, has a long history of consorting with terrorists and criminals. It is widely recognized that the U.S., during WW II and the liberation of Italy from fascists, worked with and eventually propped up the criminal elements in Italy, popularly known as the Mafia, rather than working with the underground partisan movement that included communists.

It is also widely known that the U.S. funded and trained the Mujahideen, which included Saudi-born millionaire Osama bin Laden, in their war against the left Afghan government and the Soviet Union. The U.S. involvement to contain the USSR’s influence in Afghanistan also led to the training and unleashing of fanatical Islamic forces like the Afghan Taliban, who are guided by 14th century ideology.

The CIA’s involvement in Central Asia is widely documented. The Washington Post reported that in 1984 CIA director William Casey took a trip to Pakistan and visited secret training camps near the Afghan border, where he watched Mujahideen rebels fire heavy weapons and learn to make bombs with CIA-supplied plastic explosives and detonators.

Casey proposed taking the Afghan war into the Soviet Union itself. He wanted to ship subversive propaganda through Afghanistan to the Soviet Union’s predominantly Muslim southern republics. The rebels agreed, and the CIA soon supplied thousands of Korans, books on supposed Soviet atrocities in Uzbekistan and tracts on historical heroes of Uzbek nationalism.

Similarly, corporations have a long history of working with U.S.-proclaimed “terrorists.” For example, between 1987 and 1989, Halliburton sold six pulse neutron generators, which are used in nuclear reactors, to Libya. They were fined a civil penalty of $2.61 million for export violations, on top of a criminal penalty of $1.2 million for three violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. Orders signed by then-President Ronald Reagan prohibited such trade with Libya, which was seen as a “terrorist state” and was one of the main countries targeted by the United States as a danger to national and world interests. Halliburton also opened an office in Tehran, Iran, in possible violation of sanctions, while Cheney was at the company’s helm.

So why is a corporation such as Halliburton doing business with a “terrorist state” and violating sanctions? The answer may come in one word: oil.

Libya and Iran, together with Iraq, account for nearly 10 percent of world oil production. Sanctions against Libya and Iran have been opposed by U.S. oil corporations – including Cheney when he was Halliburton’s CEO – not because of their negative impact on the people of those countries or in any attempt to have democratic and equal international relations, but because of oil profits.

Certainly oil is also a major motivating factor in the current “war on terrorism.” Who controls the production and distribution of the earth’s “black gold” – the number one wealth-maker in the world – is a key component to the current geopolitical situation. As a result, Big Oil is intertwined with U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and Central Asia, as well as worldwide diplomacy.

In a race to be dominant in oil- and gas-rich Central Asia, the U.S. has to increase its influence over its biggest rival – Russia.

In 1999, Barnett R. Rubin of the Council of Foreign Relations said that the international community – the U.S. in particular – was engaged in Central Asia looking for oil and gas, planning pipeline routes, pressuring governments on their economic policies, trying to establish a security structure, trying to cooperate with or displace Russia in many fields, including the military, and so on. Rubin said that the region could become “a zone of perpetual violence and conflict.”

Although Halliburton was convicted of violating U.S. law, their subsidiary, Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR) was recently awarded part of a $5 billion Pentagon contract to reduce the threat of weapons of mass destruction, not among U.S. weaponry, but among Russia’s. On the surface, it seems like a positive step, less weapons of mass destruction will make the world a safer place. Yet this contract is part of guaranteeing total U.S. military control in favor of U.S. corporate interests, making the world a more dangerous place.

As part of this contract, KBR recently dismantled Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles in Kazakhstan, which has the lion’s share of the Caspian Sea’s oil. The Azerbaijani journal Caspian Energy reported that a Sept. 26 telephone conversation between Bush and Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev focused mainly on cooperation in production and transportation of Caspian mineral resources. Although Bush claims to be conducting his “war against terrorism” for U.S. interests and the survival of civilization, there are class aims at work behind the speeches.

The Caspian Sea is bordered by Russia and the former Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan on the east, Iran to the south and former Soviet Republics Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan to the west and north. It has long been seen as an under-utilized area, rivaling the Persian Gulf states. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates the Caspian basin holds 110 billion barrels of oil – about triple the United States’ own reserves.

The U.S., Russia and Pakistan are all vying for control of Turkmenistan’s natural gas supplies. Currently, Russian-owned pipelines transport the Turkmenistan riches. But California-based Unocal, along with Pakistan’s President Musharraf, want to “revive the long-stalled $8 billion Centagas project to build a natural gas pipeline across Afghanistan.”

When the Taliban captured Kabul in 1995, Unocal Vice President Christopher Taggart was quoted as saying, “We regard it as very positive.” Unocal had hoped the Taliban government would support their plans for a pipeline in Afghanistan, but the pipeline ended up going to an Argentine oil company. The current war, though, has rekindled Unocal’s hopes for a piece of the action in a pipeline that would carry Turkmenistan’s natural gas supplies across Afghanistan to Pakistan.

The presence of the U.S. military is needed to back up plans to be an unrivaled world superpower in this era of corporate-controlled economic globalization. The U.S. bombing of Afghanistan, the use of U.S. ground forces and the setting up of bases inside Afghanistan, as well as the unprecedented move to use bases in neighboring Uzbekistan, are the beginnings of a permanent U.S. military presence in the region.

This will not be the first time the U.S. military acts like a guest who came to dinner but never left. After the 1991 Gulf War, the Pentagon did not fully withdraw the troops stationed in the oil-rich kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This U.S. military presence, which many claim is there in case of an antiroyalist coup, is one of the rationales given by the fanatical Osama bin Laden for attacking Americans.

Since the days of famed slogan, “What’s good for GM is good for America,” U.S. corporations have worked overtime to convince the public of that. Yet monopoly corporations have no patriotic allegiance, nor do they really care about the public’s well-being. The Bush administration is the political representative of oil and the military-industrial complex. No matter how sincere the sound bite, nor how “down-home” the speech, there are motivations other than the well-being of the public for Bush’s war on terrorism.



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If not war, then what?



Safety and security from terrorism is a real issue and concern shared by Americans and others around the world. Still, war will not end terrorism, so what will? While there are no clear solutions, there is a broad international consensus that the Bush “war on terrorism” will not lead to those ends.

Some answers can be found among the trade unions from around the world. Their beautiful words of sympathy, condolences and solidarity with the American people were surely moving. Many offered working-class responses to the atrocities. War was not among them.

“The response to international terrorism and criminality must include support for the rule of law and international solidarity, rights and democracy,” said Bill Jordan, General Secretary of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.

Among the messages to the American Federation of Teachers came these:

“There are no words to express the shock, grief and devastation with which we are all overwhelmed. The combat against terrorism and the fundamentalism that breeds it requires intensified international cooperation and solidarity.” (Education International)

“We all condemn this terrorism. Let us hope the values of tolerance, diversity and dialogue will prevail and for an end to any terrorism and its sources.” (Sudan’s Scientific Association for Women’s Studies)

“Nothing will ever be as it was before, but we believe that it is up to us to raise the banner of peace and the defense of human rights and democracy.” (Portugal)

“Along with all other teachers’ associations around the world, we are left speechless and paralyzed by the overwhelming shock, grief and devastation we feel over such an unprecedented act of barbarity. Education unions have a special role to play in promoting and protecting democratic values.” (Norway)

Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers of America, called for action against the guilty without any more bloodshed, “Our union demands justice for the victims, their families and humanity, and strongly urges that all available resources be used to track down and punish those individuals and organizations responsible for this cowardly act.

“However,” he continued, “care must be taken not to repeat this most recent tragedy by harming innocent men, women and children who, because of geography, find themselves in harms way. Through our actions, let us reaffirm that terrorism has no place in our civilization and reassert our commitment to combat the poverty and injustice that all too often provide unwitting recruits for the armies of the intolerant.”

United Farmworkers President Arturo Rodriguez offered words of restraint. “This is also a time for our country’s political leaders to exercise wisdom and courage to take the right course of action as America responds to these national tragedies. Neither our government nor our people can surrender to hysteria directed against Arab or Muslim Americans or any immigrant group. We cannot blame or indict an entire people because of the senseless acts of a small villainous band,” he said.

All of these ideas need to be engendered, including a classic Marxist approach as offered in his essay “Capitalist Economy and Terrorism” by Richard D. Wolff, professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts and an editor of Rethinking Marxism, “Capitalism as a system has not just outlived its usefulness. It has become a danger to us all. The world needs a different economic system – one that gives everyone socially valuable labor to perform and distributes to everyone the decent standard of living made possible by full and ecologically sustainable employment. The world needs trade unions, political parties, religious organizations, students and teachers of all kinds to spread this message and thereby to realize such an expanded agenda.”