Afghanistan: who bears the costs?

17 Aug

I have at times spoken, here for instance, of America’s military-industrial complex as – inter alia – a way of transferring wealth within the USA from the many to the few. In the context of US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Caitlin Johnstone, quoted in my post of two days ago, made the same point in her inimitable way:

If western mass media were anything remotely resembling what they purport to be, they would be making sure the public understands how badly their government just fucked them. Instead it’s “Oh no, those poor Afghan women”.

If the US had a free press and was anything like a democracy, the government wouldn’t be getting away with squandering thousands of lives and trillions of dollars on a twenty-year war which accomplished literally nothing besides making assholes obscenely wealthy.

Says American historian and political scientist Michael Parenti:

Some say empires are ‘economically irrational’ because they cost more than they bring in. The British spent more in India than they were able to extract, and they extracted quite a bit. So too with the Americans in the Philippines and in Central America.

But the people who pay the costs of empire are not the same as those who reap its rewards. As Thorstein Veblen pointed out in 1904, the gains of empire flow into the hands of the privileged business class, the large overseas investors, while the costs are extracted from the general treasury, that is, from ‘the industry of the rest of the people.’

The same has been true in regard to Iraq [and Afghanistan]: US taxpayers have carried the costs and are paying the debt that the war brought, while Halliburton, Blackwater, and a hundred other corporations reap the fat no-bid contracts and corrupt dealings, almost all of it not audited …

… Along with immensely profitable war contracts comes increased income inequality and the defunding of public services. The impoverishment of public services is not only one of the costs of empire; it is one of the goals. The imperial rulers wage war not only against people in foreign lands but against their own populace as well, diminishing their demands, expectations, and sense of entitlement.

Parenti, M. The Face of Imperialism

In a FB comment yesterday, my virtual friend John-Mark Consadine draws it all together:

Do not delude yourselves into thinking this two decade war of occupation and genocide was a reckless folly or a short-sighted investment with no payout. The occupation and pacification project was defeated but it paid dividends to the profiteers in Washington and Wall Street. Some $1 trillion 1 in taxpayer funds spent; hundreds of thousands of innocent civilian lives destroyed in Afghanistan alone, not to mention the broader “War on Terror” of the last 20 years. These moral debts do not factor into the ledgers kept by the imperialists who are even now sitting pretty tracking oil futures, signing “defense” contracts, and depositing national security think tank grants. 2  They might lament the loss of further plunder and pride in Afghanistan but they do not regret the last two decades in the war room.

I’ve been saying it a lot of late. I’ll say it again now. Behind a facade of democracy, the West is ruled by gangsters.

* * *

  1. Mr Consadine puts the cost of occupying Afghanistan at $1tn. Other sources, like the Hindustan Times, double this figure or, in the case of the highly respected economist and debt specialist Michael Hudson, triple it.
  2. Consadine’s “think tank grants” are not a minor issue. Caitlin Johnstone dedicated a recent piece, hosted here, to how these government and arms-sector funded assets feed the journalists (naive and lazy at best) of systemically corrupt media to give the illusion of impartial experts assessing the ‘threat’ from whatever hindrance to Wall Street the Empire wants to take out next or – if too nuclear-powerful for the Iraq-Libya treatment – encircle. Again at taxpayer expense in the name of “defence”.

9 Replies to “Afghanistan: who bears the costs?

  1. After years of slumber and wool pulled over my eyes, starting to wake up to the real nature of those who rule the roost, and I have to agree entirely with your assessment !

  2. It’s all about the narratives and right now those narratives are collapsing like dominoes as they inevitably fail to survive any encounter with reality.

    Chalk up another s ore for the reality based community.

    Here’s Escobar once again in fine form in the Asia Times:

    On the Atlanticist front, the spectacle of non-stop self-recrimination will consume the Beltway for ages. Two decades, $2 trillion, a forever war debacle of chaos, death and destruction, a still shattered Afghanistan, an exit literally in the dead of night – for what? The only “winners” have been the Lords of the Weapons Racket.

    Yet every American plotline needs a fall guy. NATO has just been cosmically humiliated in the graveyard of empires by a bunch of goat herders – and not by close encounters with Mr Khinzal. What’s left? Propaganda.

    So meet the new fall guy: the New Axis of Evil. The axis is Taliban-Pakistan-China. The New Great Game in Eurasia has just been reloaded.”

    Scott Ritter’s contributions on the RT platform also provide interesting and illuminating insights.

  3. It’s nice to see a reference to Thorstein Veblen. From what I understand he didn’t take the hard economic analysis that Marx did but was nevertheless a very astute observer of the kind of mentality that fuelled the upper reaches i.e. that frame of mind whose only interest lay in maintaining a privileged position and who would prefer to be lord in a slum than to live in a luxuriant society where everyone shared equally. There is also somewhere in Veblen, the observation that, for this ruling minority, any amount of further misery for the masses was justified by even the slightest further elevation of the rulers.

    • I confess I hadn’t heard of Thorstein Veblen until Michael Parenti, whose observations do from time to time make it into steel city scribbling fame, wheeled him out. In fact I almost took the scissors to the former in the interests of a shorter passage from the latter.

      I gather he is well thought of: as much if not more as a sociologist than economist, and as the man who coined the term, ‘conspicuous consumption’.

      Your final sentence encapsulates a major strand of what I in my miniscule way am trying to convey in these scribblings.

      • Veblen is a truly unique writer whose work is almost indescribable – apparently impossibly dry and tortuously convoluted but then veering off into caustic observations with mordant wit. Thus, in amongst the aforementioned aridity, it is an exhilarating shock to read the following:

        “A better illustration [of conspicuous leisure], or at least a more unmistakable one, is afforded by a certain king of France who was said to have lost his life in the observance of good form. In the absence of the functionary whose office it was to shift his master’s seat, the king sat uncomplaining before the fire and suffered his royal person to be toasted beyond recovery. But in so doing he saved his Most Christian Majesty from menial contamination.”

  4. Propaganda now in high drive.

    I read today about some terrible gaffe committed by Labour MP Richard Burgon who “urges UK to pay ‘reparations’ to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan”. (This from The Express) But it seems that that wasn’t his greatest transgression:

    “Richard Burgon’s outrageous statement came as he claimed there can be “no military solution” to bringing peace to the war-torn nation. His tweet emerged as the country’s humanitarian crisis threatens to spiral out of control after the Taliban seized control of vast parts of it – including the capital Kabul – in recent days.”

    I read this on the Express website and became aware of a little window that had opened up with no summoning from myself. There was this blond woman who appeared to be having a nervous breakdown. I tried to resist but dammit! I clicked on the sound icon. And:

    “I am pleading with the Americans and the Europeans – do not make the mistake again! Do not give any power to the Taliban!” etc.

    Then I noticed the title: “Afghan reporter breaks down during NATO press conference”. I had a flashback to the infamous Nayirah Testimony.

    And I earlier heard this curious article on the BBC News where there was an anguished Afghan voice with an English translation in maudlin voiceover. It went something like this (slight exaggeration but not much):

    “We were between the Americans and the Taliban. The Americans were really nice and friendly. The Taliban just mocked us saying, You will never have freedom here! That is because we are evil bastards!”

    My wife exploded with “Evil bastards!” and then asked me who funds the Taliban.

    I said, “The Americans”.

    She said “But I mean now!”

    I said “The Americans”.

    She said “But not since 9/11!”

    And then right on cue, the TV switches to 9/11 and the terrible tragedy and how those evil Taliban bastards etc.

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