Steve McCurry’s spellbinding image: eyes of piercing blue, windows on a rich and complex history
The services performed for empire narratives by identity politics and political correctness are not to be underestimated. In liberal circles, to defend Julian Assange against those who would silence him was to defend rape. To make the case, in the face of a propaganda blitz on behalf of Western investors cheated of the spoils of post USSR privatisation,1 that Mr Putin serves his country rather well, all things considered, is to defend homophobia and worse.
To defend Palestinians against Israeli apartheid has been successfully – ask Jeremy Corbyn – tarred as antisemitism. And to stand by Arab countries in the face of oil grab, pipeline spoiler, privatisation of state run economies and forceful reorientation towards Washington? Well that would be to support Saddam, Gaddafi & Assad style torture and repression – as opposed to the wholesome rendition and waterboard brands on offer at Guantanamo and black sites in those parts of the planet (most of it) where the Will of Washington is ignored at their people’s peril.
Recent FB exchange with a former US Marine
Similarly, to argue that the USA and its junior partners in empire have no progressive role in Afghanistan, and their high-minded reasons for being there (as China rolls out its Belt & Road Project to link Shanghai to the Black Sea and beyond) are bogus, is painted as defending the stoners and hand-choppers of a mercilessly misogynist Taliban.
(An equation dependent on induced amnesia/memory-holed ignorance of a century of Western realpolitik from Lawrence of Arabia, through Mossad backing of Hamas against Fatah, to NATO use of your taxes and mine to fund those elusive ‘moderate Islamists’ in Syria’s ‘civil war’.2
Belt & Road plan (Africa and Western Europe nodes not shown). China’s challenge to US hegemony is clear, and a US or proxy presence in Afghanistan and Syria well placed to disrupt those parts its overwhelming naval power can’t reach. This is but one aspect of what ‘extremists’ like me mean when we go on about western imperialism, far from ending with colonialism, having assumed new forms.
There are other aspects of the reactionary and power-serving ends to which identity politics can be applied. (One being the attempted reversal, by a tiny faction punching eyebrow-raisingly above its weight, of a gain feminists fought decades to achieve: the disentangling of sex from gender.) I’m simply flagging a few of those most germane to Caitlin Johnstone’s post today:
US Intelligence Warns Withdrawal Could Lead To Afghanistan Being Controlled By Afghans
US intelligence agencies have warned the Biden administration that if the United States withdraws its military presence from Afghanistan under current circumstances, the nation would be at severe risk of falling under the control of the people who live there.
A New York Times article titled “Officials Try to Sway Biden Using Intelligence on Potential for Taliban Takeover of Afghanistan” warns that an intelligence assessment has predicted that if “U.S. troops leave before any deal between the Taliban and the Afghan government, the militant group will take over much of the country.”
“The intelligence estimate predicted that the Taliban would relatively swiftly expand their control over Afghanistan, suggesting that the Afghan security forces remain fragile despite years of training by the American military and billions of dollars in U.S. funding,” NYT reports.
The New York Times, which has consistently supported all US wars including the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, informs us the Taliban has been “stalling” to avoid signing a power-sharing deal with the existing government in Afghanistan.
“The Biden administration is making a final effort before May 1 to show progress in slow-moving negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government in Doha, Qatar,” NYT reports. “The Taliban, according to American officials, are stalling.”
And, I mean, why wouldn’t they? As Defense Priorities policy director Ben Friedman puts it, “If this assessment is right, and the Taliban could take most of Afghanistan if US forces left, and they want that, why sign a deal limiting themselves to less? Or why not sign to get the US out and renege? Keeping US forces there is just a delaying tactic.”
If the most powerful faction in Afghanistan wants power and has the ability to simply take it, they stand nothing to gain by signing a power-sharing agreement with a faction that is incapable of holding power. The New York Times and the US intelligence cartel (if one can even categorize these as separate entities at this point) are trying to spin the ongoing military presence in Afghanistan as a temporary situation awaiting conditions which will be arriving shortly, and that’s simply false. The Taliban will not voluntarily choose to make itself less powerful.
And, after the Afghanistan Papers exposed the fact that the US war machine has been lying left and right to justify the continuation of the occupation of Afghanistan, you would have to be out of your mind to believe that’s not intentional. The US military is in Afghanistan not to protect women’s rights from control by the illiberal Taliban forces, but because it’s a crucial geostrategic region the US stands much to gain by controlling. This is why the Afghanistan Papers were quickly memory-holed by the mass media as soon as they came out, and why now all we hear about is more made-up reasons why leaving would be disastrous.
When the US-centralized power alliance babbles about “conditions” which need to be met before there can be a full military withdrawal from Afghanistan, the conditions they are really referring to are a puppet regime in Tehran, in Moscow, and in Beijing. As long as Iran, Russia and China successfully resist absorption into the empire-like blob of US client states, the military presence will remain and narratives will be manufactured to justify it.
The Taliban is an entirely regional power with entirely regional goals; there is no defense-based argument for using military force to keep them out of power in a nation on the other side of the planet. Arguments that they must be kept out of power by military force to protect Afghan women from their regressive ideology is nonsensical unless you also say the US military must be used to forcibly end all illiberal cultural norms everywhere in the world, which would also be absurd.
All the US empire and its narrative managers are really saying when they claim the Taliban will take power if the US leaves is that without the US in Afghanistan, the US won’t be controlling Afghanistan anymore. And, like, duh. Of course it won’t. The people who live there will be determining the fate of their own nation, by violence if they so choose. Giving a nation back its sovereignty necessarily means letting them control their own fate, per definition. Using that self-evident fact to argue against the cessation of military force is just admitting you don’t believe other nations should be self-sovereign.
Saying there might be violence and oppression without an oppressive force of violent thugs controlling things is silly in a couple of different ways. It is a known fact that Australian forces occupying Afghanistan have already committed horrific war crimes there, and if the US government stopped stopped obstructing the International Criminal Court from investigating potential war crimes of American forces it would certainly find a lot there too.
The US is at this point making the argument, “If we don’t keep killing the Afghans, they might kill each other.” The Taliban has warned that if the United States remains in Afghanistan after the May 1st deadline established in a previous peace deal they will begin attacking occupying forces, so pretending the US empire is maintaining the peace by continuing the occupation is entirely baseless. They’re not there to maintain peace, they’re there to maintain control.
Should the US military permanently occupy foreign countries to control what happens there? That’s really the argument on the table right now. Ignore all the narrative distortion and focus there.
* * *
- Try chapters 10-11 of Naomi Klein’s copiously documented Shock Doctrine for how the privatised asset stripping of the Soviet Union went wrong for Washington, Wall Street and their junior partners.
- Lawrence of Arabia to Syria’s ‘moderate Islamists’ … This sprint through a century of imperialist connivance with armed jihadis can also take in Iran 1953. All we need do is tweak our definition of Islamism to include the reactionary Shia clerics who helped Winston Churchill and Kermit Roosevelt take out Mohammad Mossadegh, elected on a ticket of nationalising Anglo Persian Oil (now BP). A lucid and highly entertaining account of this and other asset snatches across the middle east is given by comedian Rob Newman in his magnificent History of Oil.
You’ve got hand it to the reactionary right. Getting the “left” to provide fireproof cover for rampant imperialism abroad and repression of progressive politics at home via injecting the reactionary and regressive ideology of self-identity politics into the “left” agenda and discourse provides a massive wedge which could prove fatal.
On the home as opposed to away games I might have added the Alex Salmond affair. In less obviously politicised arenas I was dismayed when progressives for whom Sir Cliff was the last word in uncool (no quarrel there) damned him on the basis of unforgivable paedophile smears. Folk who can and do lecture undergrads on critical thinking, who wrote doctoral theses on media malfeasance and/or can give you chapter and verse on the finer points of the Grundrisse have in these murky waters proved no less susceptible to confirmation bias than the next guy.
Another example on the away front is Evo Morales, target of accusations of statutory rape. The record of the USA, and of Latin America’s compradors, is – sarcasm alert – so squeaky clean as to render all talk of a motive, in the form of Bolivia holding in state hands the world’s second largest deposits of lithium, too daft for words. FP says so.
Like a million Iraqi dead had nothing to do with oil.
More generally, it seems that the huge slice of the Right which makes no bones about despising theory is freed up to study, unencumbered, what makes folk tick. While the likes of us labour to find out What Is True, and shout out the interim results of that never ending inquiry, the Right’s cannier operators ask What Works.
They sure struck gold with identity politics.
I remember reading from a very reliable source, how the Taliban were trying to recruit favour with the people by offering to get them good grain prices and affordable seed, which were underpriced/overpriced respectively, by the western nations(or the corrupt Afghanistan Govt. which was pro US), in exchange for support. They sent many speakers out to talk to farmers and whole communities and they received widespread support. Unfortunately, the US kept bombing the farmers fields of grain products until it was only profitable to grow opium(not the other way round as the western corrupt press would have us believe). The CIA is likely still using opium as a currency in their illegal operations, a fact borne out when the bombing of opium fields was reduced by some 80%. My own opinion s that the Taliban used the opium as currency as well and probably bought much of their weaponry from the black market which the CIA/Washington have been proven to support. If it was good enough for Washington and the CIA, why then not the Taliban.
Another example of do as I say and not as I do.
As for the Taliban being totally intolerant of women, why is it acceptable for other countries like the KSA, Bahrain et al to wallow in their ugly(to us)customs of contempt for women(a KSA scientific forum concluded that women should have the rights of animals, the ruling clerics went ballistic as they do not afford women any rights)yet do not come under fire for their fundamental right to self determination?(Paris Treaty?)
I haven’t been able to work out who is Left or Right when it comes to pontificating about the rules on what is right when it comes to making judgements on other nations and their customs or when US/UK Imperialism is definitely promoting certain well crafted ideals as being the leading argument.
When people on the left are parroting unevidenced claims of “monstrous Assad poisoning his own people” and it is left to Peter Hitchens to point out the obvious contradiction in said claims, it really is hard to know what actually constitutes Left and Right.
CIA involvement in narcotics on at least two continents and probably three, is now beyond dispute. Much has been written on this.
Your point about double standards re KSA, Bahrain etc is why the term ‘whataboutery‘ – up there with ‘conspiracy theory’ and ‘mansplaining’ in its usefulness to a rotten status quo – has become so popular!
I agree with your penultimate paragraph: it can be very hard to use Left versus Right as a compass, especially in matters of imperial interests.
“. My own opinion s that the Taliban used the opium as currency as well and probably bought much of their weaponry from the black market which the CIA/Washington have been proven to support. If it was good enough for Washington and the CIA, why then not the Taliban…”
My recollection is that The Taliban almost eradicated opium production during their period in power. Presumably they did so in order to increase domestic food production and thereby free themselves from the need to supply the population from the international market. It is not irrelevant in discussing either Afghanistan or the Empire to recall that the East India Company set the example the CIA follows by forcing Indian farmers to grow opium to sell in China. I believe that Russia suffers greatly from heroin addiction based on Afghan production. This is one of many aspects of the situation in Afghanistan that are traceable to the celebrated US intervention to ‘free’ Afghans from the tyranny of socialism.
Exactly right Bevin. The Taliban had indeed discouraged the poppy growing in favour of the people being self reliant ith regard food and for the reason you gave. You are also on point with the East India Company’s activities which were extensive in undermining the progress of the people and were hell bent on promoting extreme capitalism and they were vicious in doing so, not to mention the profits they garnered from their repugnant plundering. Russia was, in those days a very different culture from what it is today, but no less guilty of self indulgence even if it was not intended as a resource grab, that seems like a lifetime ago now but worth bearing in mind. Russia is not blameless and I have never suggested it was but I will not jump on any bandwagon comparing what Russia did as a comparative with US invasion – they are worlds apart.
Hi bevin and Susan. You may already have read it. If not, I can’t recommend Sea of Poppies by Amritav Ghost too highly. As literature and historical account of the opium trade in both India and China – and chocka with convincing and fascinating characters from many walks of life – it’s a tour de force. Shortlisted for the Booker in 2008, I’ve read worse novels that won it.
I agree that “whataboutery” is no way to make a a sensible argument, it is a cop out. My point was meant as an example of how certain countries can act as they please but others are torn to shreds with lies and deceptions. If the hand wringing concern was genuine then it should be applied across the board in order to redress the real problem. There are legal and diplomatic forums for finding remedies to controversial “customs” and “traditions” which are not the same as Human Rights Violations, which is what China and Afghan are currently being smeared with. Pakistan, currently not friends with the US, has the same traditions as are other countries in Africa, South America and Near and Far East, but where is the outcry for justice where Imperialist policies are going well? Where is the condemnation of puppet tyrants installed by the US who commit human rights abuses, especially of women, where the US and it’s fawning allies have knowingly turned a blind eye to the atrocities as long as their interests are being served? In this context, “whataboutery” is not totally redundant – in my view, it serves as an example of the false “deep concerns” being flung about by those who couldn’t really give a toss whether women or any other human being is suffering abuse.
I did not mean to reduce the discussion at hand to sad excuses in place of sound debate, merely making points regarding the hypocrisy surrounding the tawdry attempts by self serving exploitative imperialists hell bent on serving their own agenda at the expense of all those who also suffer but are not under consideration.
Please forgive, I did say that my writings were a bit “unwieldy” and they probably are.
Absolutely nothing to forgive. I got your point about hypocrisy and double standards, agreed with it, and grabbed the chance to ride one of my current hobby-horses; that the rise in use of “whataboutery” as a put-down is a kneejerk response by half-woke liberals to the pointing out of precisely such double standards.
(I put it in the same family as “conspiracy theory” and – sometimes – “mansplaining”. Of course, all three have valid uses but that’s not what I’m talking about here.)
We’re on the same page.