Thought Experiments on Empire and War

Revolutionary Worker #1135, January 10, 2002, posted at

Some ears bristle at hearing the word "empire" to describe the motives of the United States in the war on Afghanistan and the so-called 'war against terrorism.' After all, the official story is: a powerful country suffered an "unprovoked attack," and is now marshalling its forces and allies in justified self-defense.

But what power relations are being defended and imposed in this war?

U.S. War Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the aggressive U.S. actions would continue until "our way of life" can go on without threat. President Bush said this next year would be a "war year." Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz gave more specifics on January 7, where he explained the U.S. would wage war next in the countries of Somalia, Yemen, Indonesia and the Philippines--and that the U.S. government would be considering, later in the year, when and how to move on Iraq. Three days later, Bush threatened Iran to back off from attempting to influence events in neighboring Afghanistan, stating that the U.S. "will uphold the doctrine of either you're with us or against us."

All this raises the question of what exactly is the "way of life" which is to be defended through an open-ended period of war throughout the world.


Consider this: The new White House special envoy just arrived in Afghanistan. He is Zalmay Khalilzad, an expert on extracting oil and natural gas from Central Asia. Mr. Khalilzad worked during the 1990s as a high-level adviser to the Unocal oil company and wrote their "risk assessment" for a billion-dollar natural gas pipeline across Afghanistan--connecting the former Soviet republic of Turkmenistan with Pakistan and India. He worked out the deal for this pipeline in negotiations with the Taliban and lobbied, hard, in Washington for more U.S. government "engagement" in Afghanistan--especially even closer support for the Taliban.

Question: Why is such a man now the U.S. envoy to Afghanistan? One journalist wrote: "Even now, his oil contacts are bound to raise suspicions about both his priorities and those of the Bush administration."


Consider this: The U.S. news mentions Diego Garcia often, but briefly. This is the small island where the Pentagon maintains a massive military base in the Indian Ocean--where bombers leave to bomb deep into Asia, where tank brigades for the Persian Gulf are stored, where huge naval fleets dock waiting for their next deployment.

But where would we learn what happened to the 1,500 inhabitants of Diego Garcia and its neighboring islands during the '60s when this base was set up? The islands had been "owned" by Britain (which is itself a story of empire) who offered them to the U.S. When the U.S. said it did not want a "population problem" near its new base, the British government organized (what was called) "the complete sterilization of the archipelago"--by stopping provision ships from landing and starving the people out. In exchange, the British government received millions of dollars and a U.S. Polaris nuclear weapons system. The islanders got exile in the slums of Mauritius, more than 1,300 miles away. And U.S. B-52 bombers were now free to bomb Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, threaten revolutionary China during the Cultural Revolution, pound the Persian Gulf during the 1990s and now Afghanistan. And what's next? Sudan? Somalia? Iraq again? And where else?

Diego Garcia is only one tiny brutality in a world story of brutality. The U.S. uses hundreds of places around the world as its strongpoints. U.S. and Allied troops have been gathering and training for Bush's war--in Egypt's special military zone, in Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Germany, Italy, Turkey, and more. Hooded, drugged Arab prisoners are now being flown to Guantánamo--which was carved out of the island of Cuba and only remains a U.S. base by naked force. U.S. commandos are now fighting, semi-secretly, in both Indonesia and the Philippines. New U.S. bases are being set up in Uzbekistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere.

With each place comes a story of global capitalist interests--the defense of oil extraction, sweatshops, propping up local reactionary governments, defense of corporations and their deals, rivalries and alliances with other big powers for dividing up the wealth of a planet.

Question: Is Diego Garcia a "fortress for freedom" or a bitter symbol of empire?


Consider this: The New York Times wrote a front page article (Nov. 19) discussing how the Pentagon has divided up the world into five military regions, and how the commanders of U.S. forces in those regions exercise power: "The regional commanders in chief, known as Cincs, who are responsible for Europe, the Pacific, Latin America, the Middle East and South Asia, have over the years accumulated such broad military and diplomatic powers in their slices of the globe that some in Washington now call them modern proconsuls, after the ancient Roman military officials who exercised great autonomy from the central government."

Cincs directly order about (and replace) local governments, forge regional policies, and wage local wars (with various justifications-du-jour: war on drugs, war on guerrillas, war on terrorism etc.) They often command armies and intelligence services of foreign countries--barely even pretending to respect independence and national sovereignty.

Question: When this global "war on terrorism" seeks to intensify all this, is it an act of American "self-defense" or imperialism?


But then we are told that all these resources of a superpower are being mobilized to increase "security"--not for profit, or self-interest, or a grab for world power.

Consider this: Professor Marc W. Herold, who has carefully gathered and evaluated information of the so-called "collateral damage" in Afghanistan, said: "What causes the documented high level of civilian casualties--3,767 civilian deaths in eight and a half weeks [thru December 6, 2001]--in the U.S. air war upon Afghanistan? The explanation is the apparent willingness of U.S. military strategists to fire missiles into and drop bombs upon, heavily populated areas of Afghanistan." Relief workers from many agencies estimate that millions of people in Afghanistan and the surrounding refugee camps now face starvation this winter, as the war has bombed their ability to harvest crops or distribute donated food. And now, this shattered country is saddled with new legions of puppet officials, local warlords and foreign occupation troops.

Question: Let's roll, we are told, over who? At what cost? For whose gain?


Consider this: The U.S. attack on Afghanistan emboldened India to crank up the threat of war with Pakistan. The brutal ruling class in India is seeking to cement its unjust domination of the Kashmir region, where Pakistan's government has been backing anti-people fundamentalist forces for years.

The border between India and Pakistan runs through a region considered the breadbasket of South Asia. Now, thanks to the "war on terrorism," the Indian army is carving out a vast minefield up to three miles deep, all along this whole 1,800-mile border. In a country famous for semi-feudal poverty and massive hunger--the military is planting hundreds of thousands of explosives, instead of crops, in this precious farmland. Pakistan is also thought to be laying minefields on its side of the border.

Thousands of poor farmers are being evicted at gunpoint. In one day alone, 11 people were killed by the mines in the Punjab region of India.

This will now be the longest fully fortified border--dwarfing the Western front of the first world war. A spokesman for the notoriously expansionist India announced that these measures were taken "reluctantly" in "self-defense" in a "war on terrorism."

India's mines are of course only one part of this war story. Both Pakistan and India have nuclear weapons.

On January 11, India's army chief, General Padmanabhan, said, "If we have to go to war, jolly good." He went on to describe how his army intended to bomb Pakistan so severely in any nuclear exchange that "their continuation thereafter in any form of fray will be doubtful."

Question: If the U.S. war on Afghanistan means that hundreds of millions of people go to sleep every night in South Asia thinking they might be vaporized in a nuclear exchange--then how does any of this reduce "fear" on our planet? If this global crusade raises the risk that a major city--Bombay or Delhi or Islamabad--may be flattened, then whose "security" has it served?


Consider this: Israeli armed forces claim to have stopped a rusty ship carrying 50 tons of weapons through the Red Sea--including small Katyusha rockets, hundreds of hand grenades, small missiles capable of damaging tanks, and a few tons of C-4 explosives. Israel charged that these weapons were heading to Palestinian-controlled areas--and loudly claimed this is proof of criminal terrorist activity. In the U.S., these charges are treated as true, and the Palestinians are accused of injecting into the region weapons that would shatter hopes for peace.

At the same time, Israel receives billions of dollars in weapons annually from the U.S.--openly landing by ship and air. They receive state-of-the-art war planes, tanks, grenades, shells, the Patriot anti-missile system, and helicopters. While Palestinian youth defend their villages with rocks, the Israeli military has been invading Palestinian areas with tanks and assassinating Palestinian leaders with helicopter-launched missiles.

The Palestinians are accused of "terrorism" for supposedly seeking to acquire hand grenades and raw explosives. The Israeli military describes itself as a victim and an "anti-terrorist force"--while it threatens the whole region with its nuclear weaponry and its so-called "Sampson Scenario" of massive destruction.

Question: What does this Red Sea weapons-shipping incident show about what the U.S. labels "terrorism" and what it considers justified violence?

The Chinese people have an old saying: The Emperor is allowed to burn down villages, and the peasants are forbidden to even light a candle.

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