As Americans were celebrating the Fourth of July by going to the beach, charring hot dogs and hamburgers and knocking back a cold beverage or two, General David Petraeus was saying Salaam Aleikum or “peace be upon you” in a speech at a ceremony in Kabul where he took command of coalition forces in the war in Afghanistan. Everyone who heard him knows the chances of peace being upon the people of Afghanistan while our troops are there are slim and none. Petraeus, as usual, said all the right things but his speech never addressed a pesky question that refuses to go away; what are we doing there?
Our troops have been playing a deadly game of cat and mouse on that miserable patch of ground for nine years. Nine Years! As the New York Times reported in a Fourth of July dispatch from Afghanistan, “almost every phase of the war is going badly.”
So why are we Afghanistan? No one can offer a plausible answer. “Fighting for freedom” doesn’t cut it. We put combat boots in this morass while chasing Osama bin Laden after 9/11. By mid-December, 2001, we had him cornered in a complex of caves at Tora Bora, but the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld brain trust refused to send a few hundred paratroopers to block bin Laden’s escape through the mountain passes to Pakistan. That would have avenged the 9/11 attack too quickly. It would have been too easy. It would have looked like a police action, which critics contend is the real way to look at the “war” on terrorism. We needed a war by golly. So we got one.
The other often-overlooked reason behind our military presence in Afghanistan is the financial incentive. It’s frequently the real reason behind wars.
After the CIA secretly equipped the Taliban to help them defeat the Soviets, as chronicled in the movie “Charlie Wilson’s War,” covert U.S. operatives stayed in Afghanistan trying to persuade the locals that life would be swell if they would just cooperate with Big Oil in building a pipeline through Afghanistan. Unocal lead an effort to construct a pipeline to pump vast deposits of gas and oil from the Caspian Sea to the Arabian Sea. The Associated Press reported that Enron was in on the pipeline sweepstakes, too, and paid millions of dollars in bribes to Taliban leaders in the late 90s in another futile effort to get a pipeline built.
Lest there be any doubt about the link between oil profits and sending our troops in harm’s way you need only explore a little history. Here’s what former Vice President Dick Cheney had to say about the pot of black gold beneath the Caspian Sea, in a speech in June, 1998 when he was still the head of Halliburton, the oil giant:
“It is a region rich in oil and gas. Unfortunately, Iran is sitting right in the middle of the area and the United States has declared unilateral economic sanctions against that country. As a result, American firms are prohibited from dealing with Iran and find themselves cut out of the action, both in terms of opportunities that develop with respect to Iran itself, and also with respect to our ability to gain access to Caspian resources.”
Earlier that year, John J. Maresca, a Cheney fellow-traveler in Big Oil as vice president of international relations at Unocal testified before a House subcommittee (Pg. 30 of the record) about the importance of pipelines from the Caspian Sea by way of Afghanistan.
“One obvious route south would cross Iran, but this is foreclosed for American companies because of U.S. sanctions legislation. The only other possible route is across Afghanistan, which has of course, its own unique challenges. The country has been involved in bitter warfare for almost two decades, and is still divided by civil war. From the outset we have made it clear that construction of the pipeline we have proposed across Afghanistan could not begin until a recognized government is in place that has the confidence of governments, lenders, and our company,” Unocal’s Maresca testified.
Fast forward to the Fourth of July, 2010. There’s still no pipeline from the Caspian Sea through Turkmenistan and Afghanistan and on to petroleum terminals in Pakistan or India operated by Big Oil. Militarily we’ve been treading water in Afghanistan for nine years. We have the best-equipped, most powerful military on earth yet we can’t mop up a few hundred rag-tag third-world radicals after near a decade of trying. What’s wrong with this picture?
In his Kabul speech General Petraeus said, ”To our diplomatic and international civilian partners here today: We are all – civilian and military, Afghan and international – part of one team with one mission.”
Oh? And what mission is that?
The polls show most Americans oppose the war. Think about potential oil profits when you ask yourself: why are we there?