Sacrificed on the altar of imperialism
It is more dangerous, but at the end of the day ... the sure way to
work against the enemy is to put people on the ground, General Tommy Franks,
the commander of Washington's war in Afghanistan, told the March 5 Washington
Franks was defending the US military offensive that has so far cost
the lives of eight US soldiers, seven Afghan allies and hundreds of their
al Qaeda and Taliban opponents.
As information about the bloody operation in the rugged mountains of
eastern Afghanistan, which began on March 2, has filtered out, it has become
glaringly apparent that Washington's main target was not a few hundred
al Qaeda and Taliban hold-outs.
Washington's real target is the Vietnam syndrome. Its goal is political,
not military: to win renewed public acceptance for the large-scale deployment
of US ground soldiers in battle.
The Vietnam syndrome refers to the reluctance by the big majority of
Americans to support military operations abroad if there is a risk of significant
For more than 25 years, the Vietnam syndrome prevented Washington from
deploying large numbers of ground troops in hot wars. The mightiest military
power on Earth had to be content with arming and funding puppet regimes
around the world, or launching short, sharp aerial bombardments in collaboration
with proxy forces on the ground, like the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan,
to win its fights against movements and regimes its dislikes.
The September 11 attacks and the subsequent US war on terrorism presented
US ruling-class war-mongers with their greatest opportunity yet to cure
the Vietnam syndrome. The debate within US ruling circles over when Iraq
should become a target is fundamentally an argument about how far the Vietnam
syndrome had been, or could be, undermined.
Military experts estimate that the US would need, at a minimum, a military
force of 50,000 combat troops to invade and defeat Iraq's armed forces
and overthrow Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The now-dominant hawks
in the US administration, who champion such a settling of unfinished business,
also know that thousands of US soldiers will inevitably have to die to
The US ruling class must prepare the American people to sacrifice their
sons and daughters for US imperialism. This explains why, as the Afghan
war seemed to be all but over, Washington departed from its usual reliance
on air power and Afghan proxy fighters on the ground and deployed up to
1000 US and other Western ground troops (including Australian SAS soldiers),
supported by 1500 Afghan militia, for a frontal assault on well-armed al
Qaeda fighters entrenched in some of the most difficult terrain in Afghanistan.
The small, isolated al Qaeda force posed no real threat to US supremacy
in Afghanistan let alone the US mainland as President George Bush has
The big capitalist US newspapers were not slow to recognise the true
goal and importance of the battle for Shah-i-Kot valley. Thomas Ricks,
writing in the March 5 Washington Post, observed that the US military
seems bent on not only crushing a pocket of al Qaeda fighters but also
on sending a broader message: that it is willing to put troops in harm's
way as it prosecutes the war on terrorism.
An editorial in the same edition of the Washington Post warned
that the US commanders and the American public cannot allow the casualties
of recent days, or the prospect that more may come, to weaken their willingness
to see the battle through. When American troops last suffered such heavy
losses in the Mogadishu firefight depicted in the movie Black Hawk
Down the reaction of a panicky Clinton administration was to yank
US troops from Somalia. That event deeply impressed al Qaeda leader Osama
bin Laden, who hoped that by inflicting similar casualties in Afghanistan
he could stop the war against his terrorism. He must be proven wrong.
Future history books will record that the young Americans and Afghans
that died in Shah-i-Kot were deliberately and cynically sacrificed by the
capitalist politicians and generals in Washington to enable US imperialism
to seriously go to war across the planet.
From Green Left Weekly, March 13, 2002.
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