Reprinted from Kasama.
I think what is posed in Medea Benjamin’s interview is a rather simple and important question: Can U.S. imperialism and its troops play a positive role in some circumstances?
The U.S. invades the remote and impoverished Afghanistan in 2001, topples the fragile regime of Taliban theocrats (which never consolidated countrywide power in the civil war). And now it is argued that the U.S. invaders “can’t” leave in an “irresponsible” way because the survival of a number of people (including women’s activists) would be in danger and because their withdrawal would most likely mean a return of the Taliban.
Should we carefully evaluate U.S. aggressions on a case-by-case basis? Is this U.S. military base good, and that one bad? Is this U.S. bombing helpful, and that one excessive? Is this U.S. nuclear threat helpful, and that one unfair? Is this U.S. drone doing good work, and that one intruding dangerously? Is this U.S. occupation shielding and promoting positive forces — while that U.S. occupation cultivates more negative puppets? Do we support U.S. domination until someone better comes along (who we approve of) to take their place?
Or does the U.S. military (globally and everywhere) represent a coherent means of imposing and enforcing a particular global order on humanity generally — an order that is rooted in horrific oppression and exploitation (including the widespread commodification of women as both workers and sexual slaves, and the traditional domestic servitude of literally billions of women and girls)
What we need is a clear uncompromising unapologetic position:
We must demand that U.S. imperialism leave Afghanistan immediately and unconditionally — without finding ways to prop up residual collaborators and puppet forces, without continuing to “provide air cover” for continuing war crimes.
The Afghanistan people need to be left to resolve their political affairs (and develop their own very difficult struggle for liberation) without U.S. domination and violence.
And because this is apparently quite controversial (even on the left): We should deepen our own understanding that these armed forces cannot and will not help the people in any part of the world.
Are there other reactionary forces in the world? Taliban? Al Qaida? Saddam Hussein? Islamic theocrats in Iran? Somali warlords? French colonial troops? Genocidal Israeli settlers and commanders? Turkish military commandos? Russian death squads in Chechnia? Catholic priests and bishops doing their secret crimes against humanity? And so on. Of course.
There are many other reactionary forces in the world. Some of them are U.S. allies. Some of them have sharp contradictions with U.S. imperialism. Some of them flip back and forth.
But U.S. occupation of Afghanistan (or Iraq) is itself a means of strengthening the world’s most odious and oppressive force. And the impact of a successful pro-U.S. pacification of Afghanistan cannot just be measured in terms of how it impacts people or sections of the people in Afghanistan. A victory for the U.S. in Afghanistan or stabilization of pro-U.S. arrangements in Afghanistan will be a major negative influence on the dynamics of the world as a whole.
This is true, objectively. And pointing out this truth is especially important within the U.S. itself — where illusions about the U.S. role in the world are especially strong (even on the left). Far too many people delude themselves that there can be a “more democratic U.S. foreign policy” that “helps” people. No, we have a special responsibility to fight the criminal actions of “our” government — and to expose its nature.
Our goal is not to “more effectively” serve “U.S. national interests.”
We do not seek to “improve the U.S. image around the world.”
We are not worried that “the wrong policies will get even more people to oppose U.S. initiatives.”
We do not want to “preserve and promote the American way of life.”
We don’t want to figure out some “people’s foreign policy” or some way for the fucking Marines to “play a good role.”
We don’t want a “more accountable CIA.”
No. We want to bring down U.S. imperialism from without and from within.
Not only must we demand that the U.S. withdraw immediately and without delay from its many overt and covert wars — but we must put forward a larger vision that the dismantling of all the vicious U.S. armed instruments of power is in the historic interests of humanity. That means the systematic and unilateral destruction of its nuclear arsenals, the disbanding of its armed forces, the abolition of its CIA, the public revelation of its crimes, the dismantling of its global military bases, listening posts and secret torture prisons, the destruction of its schools for coups and torture like the SOA, the scuttling of its imperial fleet and more.)
We should proclaim this publicly — knowing full well that these are not demands that the U.S. government would ever agree to, but they are a much needed program that only the people can carry out through historic actions.
The U.S. government, its military and spy forces, are a central prop of global capitalism at this stage in world history. And any confusion about this, any daydreaming that “maybe they can do some good,” needs to be explored and engaged.
Let’s deal with particulars:
1) Politics and social life in Afghanistan are rather awful.
That country is not a coherent nation-state and never has been. It is scattered and fragmented because of the feudal and tribal-patriarchal character of its social system, and that backward social character is reinforced by the impoverished, remote and mountainous nature of the countryside. Afghanistan has, historically, has one of the most extreme and oppressive traditional treatment of women. It was even mentioned by Marco Polo as he passed through centuries ago, and predates the rise of Islam.
As a result, the Afghani countryside is not ruled by the governments in Kabul, and never have been. The forces that the U.S. media calls “warlords” are (in effect) the modern feudal and tribal lords that rule various patches of land — greatly corrupted and empowered by the repeated arming and financing by imperialist powers.
In short, Afghanistan needs a very radical revolutionary movement — and the existing social conditions (of poverty, male supremacy, feudal agriculture, etc.) are intolerable.
But liberation will not come from the victory of one or another imperialist power.
2) There is a long and sad history of attempting to “bring” changes to Afghanistan by riding on the coattails of some invader. Yes there are some women’s activists in a few urban areas who have emerged from the shadows and operated with some protection from U.S. imperialism. And there were (in the 1980s) similar forces who staked their hopes on the Soviet imperialist invasion. And yes, such forces fear the withdrawal of the U.S. and its allies. And yes some of them may be forced into exile if the u.s. leaves.
But the point to draw from this is that liberation in Afghanistan has to come from a process that is anti-imperialist, and that engages the masses of people in their own liberation.
The theory that “modernity” (including women’s equality) can come from a U.S. imperialist occupation is (to put it mildly) a false theory. U.S. occupation will (at best) bring the “equality” of the Philippines sex trade and the Bangladeshi sweatshop.
And (in case anyone didn’t notice) the U.S. has been straining to cement alliances with “sections of the warlords and Taliban” (which means gathering an indigenous feudal base of support for a reliable puppet government). And (in case anyone didn’t notice) that has included the passage of a theocratic constitution and laws justifying marital rape, and more in areas of U.S. control. It is the U.S. (and its CIA) that empowered, armed, financed and unleashed the ugly theocratic forces in Afghanistan during the 1980s. And it is extremely naive (and tortured) to imagine scenarios where (somehow, somehow) a continued U.S. presence (or a slowed timetable of U.S. withdrawal) will somehow protect or help women.
3) There is a long history of sincere confusion whenever it is hard to find “good guys” opposing U.S. imperialism. We need to speak about this openly, and engage it clearly.
If the opponents of the U.S. seem to be “ugly” (by the standards of people watching from the U.S.) there is a clear tendency (including on the left) to be soft on the U.S. intervention.
“Perhaps the U.S. can do some good in Somalia.”
“Perhaps the U.S. can help drive Serb death squads out of Kosovo.”
“Perhaps U.S. threats against Iran can create openings for more progressive politics.”
“Perhaps delaying U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan will give progressive forces time to regroup and create an alternative to both Karzai and the Taliban.”
“…we also heard a lot of people say they didn’t want more troops to be sent in and they wanted the U.S. to have a responsible exit strategy that included the training of Afghan troops, included being part of promoting a real reconciliation process and included economic development; that the United States shouldn’t be allowed to just walk away from the problem. So that’s really our position.”
No. We must DEMAND that the U.S. “walk away” — and we must be clear that the U.S. imperialism is a huge part of “the problem” and is NOT part of the solution. What kind of troops is the U.S. training? What kind of “reconciliation” process would the imperialists “promote”?
At the risk of being harsh, such views are not new.
In the time of Kipling and the global British empire, it was called “White Man’s Burden.” In the late 19th century, socialists (of a particularly patriotic kind) imagined that French or British or German or American colonialism would bring “progress” to the “savages” of the Third World — and that the arrival of capitalism would be an “advance” over their existing state. And the logic of this led straight into supporting “their” particular imperialists into the horrific trenches of World War 1.
4) People say “well if the U.S. doesn’t confront these awful forces, who will?” (Or “if the U.S. doesn’t promote “real reconciliation” who will?”)
And the answer is that in the absence of revolutionary forces there will often be NO ONE confronting awful forces or solving the horrific suffering of the people. There will not BE “reconciliation” in Afghanistan — and if one happened under U.S. promotion it would be to establish a terrible new order.
Here is a difficult truth of our time: Many many desperate problems of the people will not be solved under capitalism…. that is (in fact) one of the reasons that radical change is urgently needed.
5) Even if there are no visible “good guys” fighting the U.S. in Iraq or Afghanistan or wherever…. it is still wrong (very wrong) to support continued U.S. occupation.
If we mean by “good guys” (a term sarcastically lifted from the know-nothing vocab of rightwing idiots and cops) progressive, secular, radical forces. How do such progressive forces emerge? It is through struggle against oppression. They will not emerge as a byproduct of joining the U.S. sphere of influence. They will not emerge as junior partners of this vicious occupier. They certainly will not gain popular support by acting as collaborators with the American and European invaders.
New radical secular pro-socialist forces can only arise, gain popular traction, and make strategic progress only through consistent oppositionto U.S. imperialism, and cannot conceivably emerge under its wing and protection. And we can’t be confused by the pleas of political forces who (however critically or uneasily) serve in the puppet government of Afghanistan or work for NGO’s in the penumbra of U.S. occupation. These forces (however liberal and forward-looking they may seem in comparison to the masses of pepole) are pursuing their own strategies, class interests and not-so-radical view of what progress means.
It strikes me as problematic to wish for a prolonged U.S. presences in order to buy time for people who have rushed to conduct their politics in the protective shadow of U.S. forces. Many are (frankly) collaborators who are helping to prettify the U.S. occupation inside Afghanistan and out, and they will be judged by the people (as well as pursued by the Taliban, which is not the same thing).
6) It is a very tortured argument to say “I am against the war, I was against its initiation, I am against its further escalation by adding new troops, I am against U.S. troops engaging or bombing in the villages in the future, BUT I am now for a slow responsible timetable of U.S. withdrawal.”
Let’s be clear: Obama’s possible plan for Afghanistan may (precisely) be to oppose any major new escalation, and to focus on commando actions aimed at specific “targets.”
In other words, the tortured proposal (raised by Media Benjamin) may oppose Bush’s policies or General McChrystal’s proposals — but it is exactly support for one of Obama’s most likely guises of continuing an increasingly unpopular and militarily-frustrated episode of U.S. aggression.
We need an uncompromising antiwar movement. And we need to build a conscious and determined new revolutionary movement.