Why is the USA in Afghanistan?
Engdahl: Key objective is a permanent military presence in Asia
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay, in Washington, DC. And joining us now from Frankfurt, Germany, is William Engdahl. William is the author of the book Full Spectrum Dominance: Totalitarian Democracy in the New World Order. Thanks for joining us, William.
WILLIAM ENGDAHL, ECONOMIST AND AUTHOR: Thank you, Paul.
JAY: So President Obama spoke to the world, to the Americans and to the world, and talked about his plans for expansion into Afghanistan. And while he focused on al-Qaeda as the problem—clearly, from most analysts, al-Qaeda itself may be one of many, many issues facing Obama in terms of his thinking of the region. But Pakistan’s an issue. Of course, the alliance with India is an issue. The issue of China and Russia is an issue. The issue, clearly, in terms of when he says "al-Qaeda," US seems more interested in the dismemberment or disarray in Pakistan, but they don’t seem to want to talk about. Many, many factors obviously included energy. So what’s your take in terms of this jigsaw puzzle he’s dealing with? What are the tipping points that made his decision?
ENGDAHL: Paul, I think the important point is to focus on what’s missing here in this whole Afghanistan debate in Washington, and that is the utter lack of transparency on the part of President Obama, on the part of the Joints Chief of Staff, the Pentagon establishment, on the part of Congress, and so forth. The real question is: why is the United States, in the year 2009 going into 2010, in Afghanistan at all? And why is the United States now gearing up with at least 30,000 additional troops? Lord knows how many mercenaries from private, for-hire firms and subcontractors are going to be added to that.
JAY: So what do you think? When Obama sits around the table with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, what are they really talking about in terms of why they’re making this commitment?
ENGDAHL: Well, I think the best way is to pull out a map of Eurasia and Central Asia and look where Afghanistan sits, look where Pakistan sits. And the only US presence of substantial military importance is the nascent relationship, defense relationship with India that began under Rumsfeld. But the key point that the Pentagon and the full-spectrum-dominance agenda is positioning for in Central Asia is what Zbigniew Brzezinski back then, 12 years ago, talked about: to be able to prevent a cooperation process between China, the largest economic power on the Asian landmass, together with Russia, the largest military power still intact and with the largest natural resources. So I think this is a long-term basing strategy for a permanent military presence in Central Asia, right at the—can strike right at China from the back, and also to Russia.
JAY: So this is about long-term bases, what they had hoped to have in Iraq and seems like there’s not going to be able to.
ENGDAHL: Oh, I think they have it in Iraq already. They’re not giving up the bases. They have that, as far as I understand.
JAY: They say they are. I mean, under the SOFA agreement with the Iraqi government, they clearly are supposed to give up the bases. And the indication, the scuttle that you pick up around Washington, around the Pentagon, and others here is that they are going to follow through on this. We’ll see if they do. But the plan certainly is to give up the bases.
ENGDAHL: I’m skeptical.
JAY: But the bases in Afghanistan, you think, are in fact the objective.
ENGDAHL: Well, there’s something like nine Air Force bases that were built after the invasion in 2001-2002. The national security advisor of President Obama said two weeks ago, before his announcement of the 30,000 increase strategy, that there were less than 100 al-Qaeda in all Afghanistan by the estimates of the National Security Council, and that they posed no military threat, neither to Afghanistan’s government or, certainly, to the United States, and that the al-Qaeda is de facto a dead letter. It’s not an issue. So in his speech, the president used al-Qaeda as a major justification. It was a piece of rhetorical deception. It’s a very regrettable deception, because there’s no transparency about what this military mission is all about.
JAY: The two things may not be contradictory, in the sense that they may have his long-term strategic objective vis-à-vis Russia and China, but in terms of short-term dealing with the Taliban, with al-Qaeda, which apparently is still very much in Pakistan, their counterargument to what you said was: but if the Taliban retook the Afghan state, then al-Qaeda in theory could come back into Afghanistan the way they were before.
ENGDAHL: Okay. I’m aware of that. But, first of all, Taliban today in Afghanistan—and this comes from various sources, both from outside and from inside Afghanistan over the last months—this is a name given by the Pentagon to almost every grouping inside the country that wants to get these occupiers out of their country after 30 years of war occupation and devastation. And if they get guns, they’re going to start shooting at anyone wearing an American or NATO uniform. And many people can understand that. So I think to give that the name Taliban does not necessarily mean you’re dealing with a centralized force structure. It’s like giving every petty crook in the United States the name Mafia or Cosa Nostra.
JAY: But I think a lot of people think—when they hear Obama talk about al-Qaeda, they don’t think that’s what it really means. And I take what your point about lack of transparency, but that there’s a certain thinking that he can’t say what it really is, ’cause what it really is is about the disarray in Pakistan, and given the US-Indian alliance, Obama can’t talk about what the real concern is, which is Pakistan, Pakistan nuclear weapons, and this alliance with India and their concerns about Afghanistan falling back into the Pakistani sphere of influence.
ENGDAHL: The Pentagon said at the time that the alliance was announced by Rumsfeld, about three or four years ago, the purpose of this strategic military relationship with India is to get a base, a foothold on the Asian subcontinent aimed at China. And that’s a future-oriented deployment. So the Pakistan [inaudible] Pakistan is an historical ally of China, one of what China called "our special friends in Asia" and has been going back decades. So the idea of militarizing the war in Afghanistan over the border into Pakistan, I think, has, like I’m saying about Afghanistan, very much to do with the future emergence of China as an economic power that’s going to act more and more independent of United States foreign policy desires.
JAY: So the ability to pressure Pakistan, both—they have economic leverage with Pakistan now. Long-term bases in Afghanistan would give them an additional leverage on Pakistan. But on the other hand, you don’t see much opposition to this increase of troops coming from Pakistan itself. Musharraf was on CNN a few weeks ago and was asked what he thought of McChrystal’s proposal for 40,000 more troops, and Musharraf supported it. He thought McChrystal was completely correct, and was helping persuade Americans to send 40,000 more soldiers to Afghanistan.
ENGDAHL: Well, I think Musharraf got his job through The New York Times, as the expression goes. In 2001 he cut a deal with the Pentagon to stay in power, and that’s who he owes his future to. So I’m not surprised that he would say that. Dick Cheney was a very, very strong supporter of Musharraf, as is well known. So I think he just hopes the more escalation from the Pentagon side, the more his faction inside the Pakistani military has a chance to come back into power.
JAY: So let’s say the American position, the real reason for going over there are various levels of geopolitical objectives, Russia-China one.
ENGDAHL: Yeah, there has to be, because there’s no military threat conceivable in the mind of man in Afghanistan that could possibly threaten anything about the United States’ national security. There is not a threat in terms of energy supply lines to the United States. Just look at the geometry of the whole thing and it’s clear this is aimed at what I say in the book Full Spectrum Dominance: this is aimed at controlling the Eurasian subcontinent to prevent any emergence of a rival economic challenge to United States hegemony, full stop. Let’s be transparent about that in Washington. Let’s have an open and honest debate so that the population, when they’re being asked to go over there and die for this cause, know what they’re dying for and can weigh in on the thing. That’s my point.
JAY: How does having bases in Afghanistan prevent this Shanghai agreement from developing a Russia-China alliance?
ENGDAHL: Oh, you bomb the pipelines. You threaten to bomb the pipelines. You know, it’s—right in the heart of Central Asia you have this huge military positioning. You combine that with the positioning in the Gulf. Iran is a strategic long-term ally of the Shanghai Cooperation countries, which include Russia, China, but all of the key former Soviet countries in the middle, from Kazakstan to Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan. So if you look at the map, you have this contiguous land area, and you’re building pipelines, energy pipelines—there’s all sorts of economic things going on in that area. So if the United States has this massive military presence smack dab in the middle of that, they’re in a tremendous position, as they see it, to say "No, no, no, no. We don’t want this. You do business our way, or you don’t do business."
JAY: And for Obama to depart from this, then essentially he has to depart from the idea that US has to be dominant.
ENGDAHL: Yeah. Yeah. Well, that gets into a question of the personal thinking of the president, and I have my thoughts on that, but I don’t think that’s the main point here. You have vested interests, and those vested interests—the military-industrial complex, big oil, Wall Street finance—those vested interests are what define US foreign policy and have defined it since the end of 1945. And that combination—there are faction fights within those vested interests, and the dominant faction won out, and that—they’re calling for this troop buildup in Afghanistan. And what the president thinks or doesn’t think about that, sadly to say, I don’t think he has the majority vote on the board of directors. He’s kind of a figurehead in the way recent American history has been running.
JAY: Can the plan work? Can the strategy of the Pentagon here work for them?
ENGDAHL: Quite bluntly, no. It’s a catastrophically flawed plan. The idea that one nation can dominate—. Full-spectrum dominance is very simple. US Pentagon military power will dominate the oceans, the land areas of this Earth, space, outer space, cyberspace, through militarization of everything everywhere. And that’s a megalomaniacal agenda. It’s just absurd. And, first of all, the Iraq War showed that the US military is not equipped to even handle Iraq in terms of morale, in terms of logistics, and everything else, let alone another war in Afghanistan, a place where the Soviet Union really was—that was the end of the Soviet Union, the failure in Afghanistan. And what can make the Pentagon think that they can succeed with—. No matter how many drones they shoot in there, they’re not going to succeed, except in eliminating the population in that part of Central Asia (perhaps that’s a goal) and turn it into a concrete military basing for attacks on China and Russia. But other than that, there is no agenda for rebuilding Afghanistan as a functioning, viable economy. It’s a military agenda, and that’s the flaw. That’s where the transparency is needed, I think.
JAY: You don’t hear objections coming from Russia or China about any of this.
ENGDAHL: Well, there are ways to object and there are ways to object. I mean, what is Russia going to do? I think what Russia is doing is a certain kind of diplomacy that says, "Okay," that "we know the Pentagon agenda. That’s transparent. They’ve elaborated enough that we finally figured it out, when they sponsored the Orange Revolution in 2004 in Ukraine to put a pro-NATO government, Yushchenko, in power, and same thing in Georgia with Saakashvili. So we know what the Pentagon agenda is: missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic. They’re out to encircle us." The operations vis-à-vis Iran are really aimed, also, at Russia. So, you know, they’re quite clear on this. It makes no sense for Putin or Medvedev to react against the fact of a 30,000 troop increase. They probably think this is fine and good, because they’re going into the briar patch with Br’er Rabbit, they’re going to go in and sink into the quicksand of Afghanistan, like the US did in Vietnam. They may be right.
JAY: Thanks, William. And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network. And don’t forget about the Donate button.