The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

U.S. War on Afghanistan:
The U.S. Claims to Fight against Terrorism, but It Is Carrying out Reprisals against People Who Themselves Are Victims

Oct 11, 2001

Bush has said very little about what kind of operation the military campaign against "terrorism" will be. This reticence is most likely not just because of military secrecy. Almost certainly, the people who really decide on U.S. policy behind closed doors are still hesitating, trying to calculate what targets to choose beyond Afghanistan. But the flood of refugees leaving Afghanistan, which started even before the bombardment started, and the famine which is rampant there show to what degree the Afghan people, who are U.S. imperialism’s first target, have already been victimized.

In any case, U.S. leaders are eager to make a spectacular display of military force. An impressive-looking British- U.S. fleet was sent to the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman. Official American communiques stressed that more soldiers were being sent to join those at the numerous American military bases in the region, from Turkey to the United Arabs Emirates to Saudi Arabia. According to the media, American military missions are already present in the region surrounding Afghanistan, in Pakistan and in the former Soviet Republic of Tajikistan. Other news briefings hint that targets like Iraq or Somalia are being considered. Along with all the military moves, there was a great deal of diplomatic activity aimed at securing support for the U.S., or at least the approval, not only from the other imperialist countries, in particular the European ones, but also from Russia and the Central Asian states under the influence of Russia. The U.S. carried on discussions even with states that, like Iran and to a certain extent Syria, were up to now treated as enemies. Even Khadafi’s Libya made a gesture toward the U.S. This is not simply a turn in the policy of the U.S. toward a number of regimes that it had up to now quarantined. It also means that these countries are falling back in line and acknowledging that the U.S. is the chief guardian of the international order.

But neither the military display nor the diplomatic pressures address the political problems raised by the attacks on New York and Washington and the problems that will be fostered by a new U.S.-led military adventure. Bush may try to channel the legitimate shock felt by the U.S. population, which was struck with horror by the suicide attacks against the World Trade Center, into support by the population for a sacred union providing support for whatever war or terrorism the U.S. will now carry out against other people. "America’s new war," "a devastating and prolonged counterattack" these are the expressions which mark Bush’s speeches. But war against whom? A slaughter of the Afghan civilian population which has nothing to do with the attacks on the World Trade center is not only horrible; it may even be ineffective as far as breaking the network of Osama bin Laden; but it will also probably be harmful to the interests of American imperialism, in that it could further destabilize a region of paramount strategic importance. U.S. imperialism is caught up in the trap of its own policy.

Imperialist Rule

The imperialist system protects, fosters and perpetuates inequalities not only between the two basic classes of society, but also between imperialist countries and underdeveloped countries. The military strategy and the diplomacy of the big imperialist powers are ultimately aimed at preserving the economic domination of their big financial interests and industrial concerns who invest over the whole world. In this regard, the difference between American imperialism and the weaker imperialist powers, such as Great Britain or France, is only the bigger economic and military means possessed by the U.S. and its position as guardian of the imperialist order on the world scale.To rule in favor of these imperialist groups which invest over the whole world means to rule against the peoples of the world. The regimes American imperialism leans on in the underdeveloped countries are generally oppressive and hated by their population. The same policy is carried out to a lesser degree by British and French imperialism.

The regimes of the underdeveloped countries which are the most servile toward these imperialist groups and the most faithful allies of the U.S. are precisely those which for lack of support from their own population absolutely need U.S. help. They depend on the U.S. precisely because they cannot survive in a confrontation with their own population without its support.

But it has sometimes happened that regimes which were once dependent on the U.S. or other imperialist powers tried to become more autonomous after they acquired a base of support in their own population. This is precisely why the U.S. hangs on so tightly to its alliance with Israel: it is the only country in the Middle East where the pro- U.S. policy of the leaders is largely approved of by the population. The Zionist policy of Israel’s leaders converges with the reactionary policy of the region’s Arab states to convince the Israeli population that there is no survival for a Jewish state without an alliance with the U.S.

But Zionist policy, with its resort to violence against the Palestinian people, is at the same time a trap for the Israeli people themselves. The policy of repression carried out by the Israeli state against the Palestinian population gave birth to a generation of youths ready to sacrifice themselves in suicide attacks. Those actions are to be condemned because they aim randomly at people, but they are the weapons of the poor and the weak, against which tanks and helicopters can do little. The policy that the Israeli government carries out with the political and material support of the U.S. blocks the future for Israeli youth, just as it already has blocked the future of the Palestinian youth.

Fostering Violence...

U.S. support for the most reactionary regimes and political forces around the world has been a constant feature of its policy.

American policy during the "Cold War" was justified on the grounds that it was necessary to contain Soviet influence. The U.S. launched two wars, in Korea and Viet Nam, to prevent any modification of its zones of influence. At the same time, it set up and supported dictatorships in both countries.

At the time of the Bandung conference, all India had to do was flirt with neutrality in order for the U.S. to increase its support for the successive military dictatorships which ruled India’s traditional rival, Pakistan. Most notably, the U.S. supported the dictatorship of General Zia whose own policy encouraged the growth of Islamic fundamentalism.

For decades, the U.S. justified its unfailing support for the Turkish regime, whatever its dictatorial, military or repressive features, by referring to the necessity to surround the Soviet Union with faithful allies. To solidify this alliance, the U.S. was ready to sacrifice the Kurds’ right to exist as a nationality. It was also ready to sacrifice many other rights and democratic freedoms for the Turkish people.

The U.S. used the same reason for supporting the Shah’s regime in Iran against its own people. Along with the British secret services, the CIA played a major role in the coup which overthrew Prime Minister Mossadegh, who dared nationalize Iranian oil in 1951. Despite the fact that the Shah was protected by the U.S. which turned his army into the main military force in the region, the Shah was nonetheless swept out of power by the revolt that brought the Islamic fundamentalist, Ruholla Khomeini, to power. To oppose Khomeini, the U.S. then supported Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s dictator. During the long deadly war between Iraq and Iran, from 1980 to1988, Saddam Hussein was the stalking horse for the western powers. The war resulted in several hundred thousand deaths. We know what came out of it: Saddam Hussein thought he could go beyond the role granted to him by the main powers. He swallowed up Kuwait, a mini-state that had been artificially detached from bigger states in the region, especially Iraq, to serve the interests of the oil companies. To punish Hussein, the former ally who had turned into an enemy, the Iraqi people were bombed. The Gulf War, along with the decade-long economic blockade, did not overthrow the dictator. But it did kill one and a half million Iraqis through bombs and the resulting hardships.

As for the Taliban, they would never have been able to rule Afghanistan without the support of Pakistan, which provided them with arms and cadres. And Pakistan could never have done this without U.S. approval. The U.S. expected the Taliban to put an end to the armed anarchy which prevailed after the departure of the Soviet troops. It encouraged Islamic fundamentalist Afghans to foster fundamentalist currents inside the central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union.

The people of two other areas, which are important strategically for the U.S., suffered the consequences of this policy: Latin America and the Middle East.

It should not be necessary to recall the long list of military dictators in Latin America that the U.S. supported, the involvement of the CIA in the overthrow of Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954, the military interventions against a popular uprising in Santo Domingo in 1965. The U.S. invaded Grenada in1983 in order to overthrow a government that it considered to be too progressive. The U.S. invaded Panama under the pretext of arresting Noriega, a former CIA agent who had become too involved in narcotics trafficking and moreover was guilty of anti-American demagogy. The U.S. arrested Noriega, but the military intervention resulted in several thousand people being killed. And then there was the massive support the U.S. gave to Pinochet to overthrow Allende in 1973 and carry out the subsequent slaughter of the Chilean population; the support it gave to extreme right-wing para-military groups in El Salvador and Guatemala or to the "contras" who used U.S. arms and money against the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua.

Beyond these strategic zones, there were the occasional interventions in areas of less importance for the U.S.: for example, the bloody military coup in Indonesia in 1965 to overthrow Sukarno, whom the U.S. suspected of being "neutral", and the unbelievable number of victims one million, or maybe more—especially among the poor peasants, whom the U.S. called "reds." This, too, was financed and supported by the U.S.

The U.S. left the former colonial powers, especially France and Great Britain, in charge of maintaining order in Africa. But even Africa today still bears the stigma of the American political game. During Angola’s anti-colonial war, the U.S. financed and armed UNITA, in order to counterpose the influence of the MPLA, suspected of being favorable to the Soviet Union. More than a quarter century after having gotten rid of the Portuguese colonial power, Angola is still torn by a bloody civil war between the central government and the UNITA guerrillas. And although the U.S. army cannot boast about its intervention in Somalia, it did intervene.

The Saudi Pillar

In the Middle East, Israel is the trump card in the American system of alliances. But the U.S. uses other regimes as well. American imperialism has inherited from British and French imperialism a situation wherein Arab peoples were split up into many states which allowed these imperialist powers to play on rivalries and lean on the more reactionary states against those which tended to take some political or economic autonomy.

Saudi Arabia undoubtedly is the most reactionary regime in this region. The Saudi regime acts as the main defender besides Israel of the general interests of the U.S. and of the specific interests of U.S. oil companies.

It is not a paradox that Saudi money played a major role in financing Islamic fundamentalist groups, not only in the region, but far beyond, like the GIA in Algeria or the Abou Sayaf group in the Philippines. Why not? The U.S. and Great Britain both considered Islamic fundamentalist forces as viable alternatives to rising Arab nationalism, embodied by Nasser and then to a certain extent by Syria and Iraq. But one cannot play with reactionary forces without taking the risk that they backfire.

Outside Saudi Arabia and its fundamentalist Wahhabite regime, Islamic fundamentalist forces remained marginal for awhile, limited for the most part to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which is known for having been helped by British agents in Egypt, at least at its beginning. But it is precisely this reactionary trend which, having existed for more than a quarter of a century on the world scale, backfired against American imperialism’s policy. This reactionary trend was used to set back the forces that claimed to be socialist or communist whether rightly or wrongly, that is another question and even the forces claiming to be "nationalist," "progressive," "third world." The outspoken anti-imperialism of these groups was mainly limited to speeches. But let us remember the huge popularity of Nasser when he nationalized the Suez Canal. Nasser and his successor Sadat ended up towing the line. But the causes behind their success have not disappeared. On the contrary. Basically all these forces were fostered by the discontent, anger and frustration of the peoples who were oppressed by imperialism.

The policy of Israel, robbing and suppressing the Palestinian people, has become more and more harsh over time with the systematic policy of Israeli settlements in Palestine, the war carried out by a modern army against the intifadas against the stones, sticks and primitive bombs of a disarmed people. It should be noted in passing that Israel carried out a policy similar to that of the U.S., on its own scale. For a time it believed that it could protect itself from Arafat’s nationalism by having the Israeli secret services support the Islamic fundamentalist group, the Hamas.

But today the pit bulls are turning on their masters. Hamas took advantage of the Palestinian masses’ growing distrust of Arafat. The fundamentalists in Sudan and the Taliban in Afghanistan have turned against their former protectors. In the Arab countries, the setback of "pro-socialist" nationalism left the field open for Islamic fundamentalist political forces to indulge in anti-American demagogy.

Short of other perspectives for the destitute masses of the region, Islamic fundamentalism, including its terrorist branches, has become the channel through which they express their despair and their hatred of the situation which is imposed on them.

Toward What Other Warlike Adventure?

The U.S. knows that bombing Afghanistan presents big problems, not because the U.S. has compassion for the Afghan people, nor because it knows that such bombings are inefficient at stopping fundamentalist terrorism. But this bombing could destabilizing the whole region, in particular two countries which are of paramount importance to it: Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

With U.S. agreement, the ISI, the Pakistani secret services, helped the Taliban to seize power. It may be armed and financed by the U.S., but the Pakistani military regime indulged in Islamic fundamentalist demagogy in order to find some popular support on a reactionary basis, protecting the organizations that embody this demagogy. This is why the U.S. forces the Pakistani military regime to align itself openly and publicly with it today. This obviously places the military regime in a difficult position. Pakistan could be destabilized by a popular uprising more or less controlled by Islamic fundamentalist movements, or by a split in the army itself, with part of the military hierarchy choosing the fundamentalist camp, be it through conviction or through demagogy.

Then there is Saudi Arabia, which, along with Israel, is the keystone of the American system of alliances in the Middle East. Long before the pressure of recent events, this country was crippled with contradictions which, although they were muffled, were nonetheless explosive. In this country, a medieval regime a regime ruled by the sharia and whose brand of fundamentalism is as reactionary as that of the Taliban in Afghanistan is supported by an ultra-modern state apparatus. But Saudi Arabia is not Afghanistan, where the medieval regime reflects to some degree the social backwardness of the country. In Saudi Arabia, as in the Arab Emirates, there are ultra-modern neighborhoods, banks and, for the tiny ruling layer, huge wealth, along with spin-offs for the families of the rich merchants. The bin Laden family follows this pattern: it is linked to the royal family and has gotten enormously wealthy from state building contracts. In this country, the bourgeoisie and even the petty bourgeoisie are rich enough to send their children to study in the U.S., including in the best universities. It is no accident that the Islamic fundamentalist movements found cadres in this country, including bin Laden himself. It is also no accident that in this country terrorist groups have found not only people ready to die in the attacks, but also people skilled enough to be able to prepare those attacks efficiently.

Who knows how much influence Islamic fundamentalism has, including its stance against U.S. policy, in the Saudi army itself? While aligning itself with the U.S., the Saudi regime is reluctant to abandon its main military airport, "Prince Sultan," near Riyadh to the U.S. Air Force because it fears reaction inside the country. The anecdote is significant: the airport was built by the bin Laden family.

If Saudi Arabia were destabilized, the consequences for the U.S. would be dramatic, both because of Saudi Arabia’s geopolitical position and because of its huge oil reserves.

Obviously, in the present situation, the U.S. has the military capability and is trying to gain enough support from its own population to be able to eliminate bin Laden and perhaps his terrorist network. But if all it takes is a few determined people or fanatics to carry out attacks here and there (all the more so if those people benefit from the money and connections of a very wealthy businessman), then it is because terrorism is rooted in a much more general situation. The policy of American imperialism fosters a growing hatred in a great number of oppressed or plundered countries. This hatred is due more generally to imperialist domination over the world. This hate has an anti-American character, precisely because the U.S. plays the main role, although it is by no means alone.

It doesn’t matter what links bin Laden’s group has with the Palestinian movement. Israel, with the support of the U.S. has pushed an entire people into despair; this is why the Israeli state today faces men ready to carry out suicide bombings. For the last year, ever since Sharon deliberately provoked the Palestinians and set off a new intifada by visiting the Aksa Mosque, the U.S. has given the Israeli state a free hand to carry out savage repression. The U.S. let Ariel Sharon, the politician of the extreme right, come to power; it then went along with the policy of maintaining the settlements at all costs, the open refusal to make any concessions to the Palestinians, even those concessions granted in international agreements that on the whole favor Israel. Faced with the Palestinian revolt, Sharon, with the support of the U.S., tried to block any prospect for the Palestinian people. Taking advantage of the sentiments raised by the attacks on New York, Israeli troops gave free reign to violent repression. Moreover, as a deliberate provocation, Sharon identified Arafat with bin Laden.

The U.S. protegé’s attitude ended up disturbing the diplomatic efforts of American leaders who were trying to associate the Arab countries with their campaign against bin Laden. Under U.S. pressure, Sharon finally accepted a meeting between Arafat and Shimon Peres.

News commentators interpreted this as the beginning of a change in U.S. policy toward the Palestinians. But the fact that Arafat and Peres shook hands does not compensate for the brutality of Israeli repression. Nor is it enough to create any illusions among a destitute and humiliated people.

International terrorist groups lean on this accumulated despair and hatred. But they channel it in a direction that is filthy, reactionary and above all sterile. The terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center towers in no way weakened imperialist domination over the world; in fact, they helped U.S. leaders, the ones most responsible for terrorism, weld American public opinion behind themselves at least in the short term. And this doesn’t take into account the fact that the terrorist attacks facilitate the hostile reactions by far-right, racist thugs against Arab people.

Islamic fundamentalist terrorism is not only a consequence of the imperialist domination of the world, it is also a reactionary dead-end, which does not allow people to go forward on the path toward freedom. On the contrary, it delays them.

According to the news media, there were people who rejoiced over the collapse of the World Trade Center towers in Palestine as well as in Pakistan. But those who died in these towers, in the crashed aircraft, and even in the Pentagon are not the people responsible for the policy of American imperialism. Moreover, terrorist revenge will not put an end to the exploitation and the oppression imposed on hundreds of millions of men and women around the world. As regards terrorism, the most savage and best equipped among the terrorist groups will never be able to compete with the state terrorism which the U.S. has carried out, from Hiroshima to Baghdad, from Vietnam to Afghanistan.

Today Bush and other politicians claim they defend freedom, democracy and justice against terrorist barbarism; they claim they protect the "American way of life." It is true that a good proportion, and probably the majority, of the American population enjoys a standard of living and conditions of life which are envied in most of the world. But even in the United States, there is enormous poverty and its attendant degradation; there is the peculiar way the U.S. state interprets justice and freedom when it comes to poor black people or, today, to Arab immigrants.

But, even if it weren’t for that, how could the U.S. be considered a defender of democracy when it protects dictatorships in most of these poor countries, in the Middle East, Asia, Latin America or Africa? How could it be viewed as a promoter of "enduring freedom" or of "infinite justice" by people who still suffer from the trauma of slaughters perpetrated by the U.S. or by the regimes it protects? And what could the "American way of life" possibly mean for hundreds of millions who are condemned to hopeless destitution, if not famine?

For the first time, the hatred fostered by American imperialism has struck in the United States itself. The victims are nonetheless not the ones responsible for what imperialism has done. Thousands of lives have been destroyed in the ruins of the World Trade Center, but American imperialism has not been weakened. This alone is a condemnation of terrorist methods, all the more so when they are implemented to achieve reactionary aims. The U.S. government and the Pentagon have not been weakened by the attacks. On the contrary, they play on the feelings of horror and indignation. They try to make the U.S. population forget the Pentagon’s and government’s own responsibility for what has already been done, in order to gain support for what they will do in the future.

Only time will tell if the U.S. government and the Pentagon will be able to gain enough support from inside this country for their policies, especially as the war continues, or whether resistance will grow. If it was rightly shocked by the random attacks, U.S. public opinion will not necessarily be ready to be pulled along in warlike adventures which are not related to the fight against terrorist groups. It’s even more likely that the U.S. war will not find support in poor countries which are victims of the policy of imperialism in general and of U.S. policy in particular.

An American writer, of Afghan descent, wrote the following conclusion to his article in the French newspaper Le Monde: "If the West ever perpetrates a slaughter in these regions, it will foster one billion individuals who will no longer have anything to lose."

American diplomacy may boast about the support that its "crusade against terrorism" gets from nearly all the current regimes, even if some of them are not so eager and even somewhat reluctant. But the war preparations and the first missiles have already provoked popular reactions not only in Afghanistan and in Pakistan but also in other parts of the Arab world. Random retaliations on people not responsible for the attack of September 11 will inevitably multiply and widen these reactions.

The U.S. warlike actions will not uproot terrorism. On the contrary they may foster new people ready to make the same kind of commitment the suicide bombers have made. Only a rebirth of the revolutionary workers’ movement, only a revival of collective action by the laboring masses to put an end to the rule of the bourgeoisie over the economy and the rule of imperialism over the world will be able to open prospects to the oppressed classes and thus put an end to the temptation of terrorism.