March 10, 2002
The Toronto Sun

The Lust for Blood and Oil

by Eric Margolis

I enlisted in the US Army during the Vietnam conflict because I believed the war was just, and because it was the duty of male citizens of democracies to perform military service in wartime.

Thirty -five years later, White House tape recordings revealed that by 1967, President Lyndon Johnson knew the war was lost, yet kept sending tens of thousands of American soldiers to their deaths because he had no better plan and feared the domestic political consequences of a pullout. Johnson and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara persistently lied to and deceived Americans.

This bitter experience, and two decades as a journalist, left me with deep cynicism and a profound distrust of most politicians. The current war in Afghanistan fills me with unease. Once again, the White House is not telling the full truth to its citizens, and is risking the lives of soldiers in a war whose aims are constantly shifting, nebulous, and overreaching. What began as a limited operation to kill the elusive Osama bin Laden has ballooned into a campaign to invade Iraq and dominate South/Central Asia. The former King of Afghanistan, Zahir Shah, whom Washington is about to put on the throne in Kabul, aptly summed up America's military intervention in his nation as `stupid and useless.'

Afghanistan, as last week's bloody fighting above Gardez showed, was not the cakewalk predicted by hawks and instant experts. Far from `mopping up isolated al-Qaida remenants,' US forces and their auxiliaries battled heavily-armed forces that included hundreds of new Afghan volunteers. The remarkable resistance at Gardez of Taliban and Qaida forces against the full might of American military power will likely be greeted across the Muslim World as an important and dramatic victory.

The Pentagon and unquestioning US media always refers to Afghans fighting on the US side as `anti-Taliban Afghan forces.' In fact, almost all are US-paid mercenaries. Their lack of martial ardor is why US troops were used in last week's attacks. The going price for an Pushtun warlord is $250,000 a month.

President Bush's claims the US invaded Afghanistan to `defend democracy' and/or `stamp out terrorism' is certainly not the whole story. The Pentagon had drawn up plans to invade Afghanistan, and US Special Forces were operating in Kyrgystan, well before 9/11. Over the past five months, the US has established permanent military bases in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kyrgystan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and facilities in Kazakstan. In short, a constellation of air and army bases designed for long-term strategic control of the region, under the command of the US 3rd Army, whose headquarters was recently moved from the southern USA to Kuwait.

The so-called `war on terrorism' is being used to mask a far grander imperial design: the overthrow of Saddam Hussein that will allow the US to a. gain control of Iraq's huge oil reserves, which are second only to Saudi Arabia's, and b. secure American control of the giant Caspian Oil Basin. The new US bases just happen to follow the route of the planned American pipelines that will bring Central Asia's oil and gas riches - the `new Silk Road' - south through Pakistan. Each day, the US is plunging deeper and deeper into South and Central Asia. American soldiers could end up fighting there fifty years hence. In fact, the Bush Administration seems to be emulating the old British Empire.

What was known in Vietnam as `mission creep' is already at work. A brief US incursion into Afghanistan is now growing into permanent commitment and the very `nation-building' that Bush vowed to avoid. The client regime of US-appointed Afghan leader, Hamid Karzai, is kept in power in Kabul by British and US bayonets - just as former Afghan communist regimes were maintained by the Soviet Red Army. The affable Karzai has become the darling of the US media, which gushes over him and his green cloak with the same misplaced rapture it showed for another CIA `asset,' Egypt's late leader, Anwar Sadat, who was adored in New York but hated in Cairo.

The US relied on the Russian-controlled Northern Alliance, run by the reinvigorated Afghan Communist Party, to overthrow Taliban. Russia sent $4 billion worth of arms to the Alliance, the real power behind Karzai's let's pretend regime. The Alliance is bankrolled by the drug trade, which it restored after Taliban was overthrown. Because Pushtun mercenaries hired by the US are unreliable, the US now plans to build an 80,000-man Afghan national army, trained by American `advisors.' (shades of Vietnam). The Soviets did exactly the same thing after they invaded Afghanistan in 1979. The Afghan communist Army proved as poor and often disloyal as most of South Vietnam's Army.

Old Afghan hands have repeatedly warned the US not to get involved in Afghan tribal and ethnic politics, not to set up permanent bases, not to drive north into Central Asia, and not to force Pakistan into becoming another obedient US client state, like Egypt or Turkey. But Bush Administration crusaders, gripped by lust for blood and oil, are charging forward. In a truly shameful act, the Administration is even sending troops to Georgia to battle Chechen independence fighters in the Caucasus mountains.

America has been scourged by terrorist attacks because of its often heavy-handed interventions abroad, not because Muslims hate democracy or McDonalds. The Saudis who stage kamikaze attacks on the US did so because of the agony of Palestine and Iraq, and American domination of Saudi Arabia. Deeper US involvement in Asia will likely mean more, not less, risk of terrorist attacks.


[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster, and author of War at the Top of the World - The Struggle for Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Tibet which was reviewed in The Economist, May 13, 2000]

Eric Margolis, "Intrigue in the Caucusus," December 1, 2003

Gary Leupp, "The Fall of Shevardnadze: The Implications for 'Democracy in the Middle East'," December 4, 2003

Gareth Porter, "What Ken Burns Left Out of the Vietnam Story," April 6, 2018

Copyright © 2002 Eric Margolis - All Rights Reserved
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