In his speech to the nation on August 16, President Joe Biden lied. He said, “I’ve argued for many years that our mission should be narrowly focused on counterterrorism — not counterinsurgency or nation building.” The United States does not fight wars for counterterrorism, nation building, or human rights. The purpose of the United States government is and has always been to defend the capitalist system, whether through legislation or military action. The endless wars fought by the US are capitalist wars. Afghanistan is no different and a withdrawal from Afghanistan does not indicate a fundamental change in US foreign policy.
A common defense of the Afghanistan war is painted around women’s rights. After the collapse of the Afghanistan puppet government, CNN reported, “It took days for the Taliban to seize Afghanistan and potentially erase 20 years of gains for Afghan women.” The Atlantic published an article entitled “The Taliban’s Return is Catastrophic for Women.” NBC news wrote, “The Taliban has taken control of Afghanistan, plunging the nation into a humanitarian crisis that is particularly dangerous for the country’s 14 million women and girls.” These stories push a narrative that does not tell the full story and defend the brutal imperialism of the United States as if it were a crusade for women’s rights. These same outlets have been largely silent on the US — backed war Saudi Arabia is waging in Yemen, which the UN considers the largest humanitarian crisis on the planet.
In November 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell said, “The rights of the women in Afghanistan will not be negotiable.” Like so many of Colin Powell’s statements, this was a lie. It was entirely fitting that after lying to the UN, Colin Powell spoke at the Democratic National Convention in support of his fellow prevaricator, Joe Biden. The US invasion was never about restoring the rights of women. From the start, women’s rights in Afghanistan have meant nothing to the US military machine. In reality, the US invasion and installation of a puppet government that immediately collapsed without US military support was never about women’s rights.
The Afghanistan constitution of January 2004 was written to give equal rights to women. Much like the Democratic Party Platform, this was simply a change on paper that was not adhered to. Abbubaker Saddique wrote for EurasiaNet in 2004:
Yet for many ordinary Afghan women, such rights mean little for everyday life. According to a recent report by Radio Free Europe, there have been hundreds of cases of self-immolation by women since the Taliban’s ouster, most noticeably in the western region of Herat. Afghanistan has one of the world’s lowest female literacy levels and one of its highest maternal mortality rates. Forced marriages are common and poverty and domestic violence widespread.
This was backed up by a similar statement from Amnesty International:
Two years after the ending of the Taliban regime, the international community and the Afghan transitional administration, led by President Hamid Karzai, have proved unable to protect women. The risk of rape and sexual violence by members of armed factions and former combatants is still high. Forced marriage, particularly of girl children, and violence against women in the family are widespread in many areas of the country.
The same article reports: “During the Taliban era, if a woman went to market and showed an inch of flesh she would have been flogged; now she’s raped.”
There was little or no improvement as the occupation continued. In 2011, Afghanistan was ranked as the worst place in the world to be a woman. It was not always this way. In the 1970s, the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan rose to power, eventually taking control of the government in 1978. This socialist party began a period of social reforms including a literacy program for both men and women. As Huma Ahmed-Ghosh describes in the Journal of International Women’s Studies, “During this era women were employed in significant numbers in universities, private corporations, the airlines and as doctors and nurses.” Before these reforms could be fully established, the United States intervened, as it so often does when socialist parties come to power.
Zbigniew Kazimierz Brzezinski, National Security Advisor to President Carter, has said that it was on “July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that, in my opinion, this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.” When the Soviets did intervene, the US aid kept coming to the religious fundamentalist fighters known as the Mujahideen. The Mujahideen eventually won and took control of the government in 1992. Dr Huma Ahmed-Ghosh describes this time for women, “The period from 1992-1996 saw unprecedented barbarism by the Mujahideen where stories of killings, rapes, amputations and other forms of violence were told daily. To avoid rape and forced marriages, young women were resorting to suicide.” Score another victory for United States foreign policy – the socialists had been defeated and women’s rights were thrown out. In 1996, the Mujahideen government was replaced when the Taliban captured Kabul. Then, in 2001, the United States invaded and threw the Taliban out to be replaced by the Northern Alliance, which were composed of many former Mujahideen. When it came to women’s rights, all this regime change was simply replacing one oppressive regime with another.
Following the successful installation of their puppet government after the 2001 invasion, the United States not only ignored women’s rights, they also turned a blind eye to rampant child sexual abuse and human trafficking. A report compiled in 2017 by the Department of Defense reported:
DOS and UN reports also identify “bacha bazi” as one form of child sexual abuse in Afghanistan, and they describe it as a practice in which powerful or wealthy local figures and businessmen sexually abuse young boys who are trained to dance in female clothes. These reports also allege that local authorities, including police, were involved in the practice. The Department of Labor 2015 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor also stated “Reports indicate that some government officials, including members of the Afghan National Police, Afghan Local Police, and the Afghan Border Police, have boys for bacha bazi and also have them work as tea servers or cooks in police camps.”
These local police were part of the defense forces being trained by the United States and private contractors. The practice of “bacha bazi” had been banned under the rule of the Taliban and only re-emerged following the US invasion. This Department of Defense report only came out after the New York Times had exposed the abuse in an article entitled U.S. Soldiers Told to Ignore Sexual Abuse of Boys by Afghan Allies released in September, 2015. According to the Department of Defense, “Prior to the September 2015 command guidance, there was no policy that identified child sexual abuse as a human rights violation that should be reported.” The DoD report and this command did little to improve the situation. In 2019, it was reported by The Guardian that “A paedophile ring involved in the abuse of at least 546 boys from six schools has been discovered in Afghanistan’s Logar province.” It is clear that child sexual abuse and human trafficking remained rampant throughout the US occupation.
The United States only uses human rights as an excuse when it suits furthering the interests of the ruling class. They are allied with the oppressive Saudi regime whose treatment of women is similar to that of the Taliban and Mujahideen. In Colombia, at least 54 children were sexually abused by US military men and contractors between 2003 and 2007. This report was largely ignored by US news. It has been reported that US troops were also involved in rape and murder of teenage girls in Afghanistan, as reported by PressTV in 2011:
US forces aboard five Toyota Hiace vans transferred the teenage girl along with several other Afghan women and girls to a military base in the province. They then sexually assaulted them, Afghan sources, who requested anonymity, told Iran Newspaper on Network on Wednesday.
From Colin Powell in 2001 to New York Representative Carolyn Maloney wearing a burkha to congress in 2017, to the Kente clothes in 2020, the ruling class loves their virtue-signaling. However, when it comes to actual results, human rights never take precedence over capitalist profits. Both President Trump and President Biden have credible allegations of sexual assault and rape. President Biden’s Department of Justice is defending Trump in one rape-related case. To say that the United States cares about women’s rights is to ignore history both at home and abroad.
The oppression of women, sexual assault, rape, and child abuse are not all that the US is guilty of in Afghanistan. The US invasion and following occupation were a hurricane of violence and death. Estimates are varied, but the lowest numbers are between 171,000 to 174,000 killed as a direct result of the war. Nicolas Davies estimates the true number to be between 640,000 and a maximum of 1.4 million. Among these casualties can be found reports such as this one from the Independent on December 2, 2019: “A US drone strike on a car carrying a woman who had just given birth in southeastern Afghanistan left five people dead, including the mother, three of her relatives and the driver, Afghan officials and family members said Sunday.” US airstrikes destroyed a health clinic and a school during the withdrawal on August 9, 2021. The number of dead is dwarfed by the almost 2.5 million refugees created by the war in Afghanistan. The direct cost of the US intervention in Afghanistan in human lives is staggering. Anyone who complains about the rights of women under the Taliban and ignores the horrendous human cost of the US-led war, should not be taken seriously.
The real reason the US was in Afghanistan comes down to corporate profit motives. In 1935, Major General Smedley Butler exposed the military industrial complex in his work War is a Racket. Little has changed since he described war thus: “It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.” This has been true of the Afghanistan war as well. The Afghanistan War has cost an estimated $2.26 trillion. To track where this money has gone would require an army of researchers. Some of it went to warlords in Afghanistan, but much of it went into fueling the military-industrial complex. As Foreign Policy recently reported:
Because of heavy reliance on a complex ecosystem of defense contractors, Washington banditry, and aid contractors, between 80 and 90 percent of outlays actually returned to the U.S. economy. Of the 10 to 20 percent of the contracts that remained in the country, the United States rarely cared about the efficacy of the initiative. Although corruption is rife in Afghanistan, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction repeatedly identifies bewildering corruption by U.S. firms and individuals working in Afghanistan.
The US government was using the war to funnel money to corporate interests. These interests of course include the arms manufacturers. The withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan does not mean the flow of money will stop. In May of 2021, private contractors such as Blackwater successor Triple Canopy and arms manufacturer Raytheon were still preparing to stay in Afghanistan after the planned withdrawal. The Taliban takeover may have changed those plans, but in his speech, Joe Biden gave a list of targets for future interventions:
Today, the terrorist threat has metastasized well beyond Afghanistan: al Shabaab in Somalia, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Nusra in Syria, ISIS attempting to create a caliphate in Syria and Iraq and establishing affiliates in multiple countries in Africa and Asia. These threats warrant our attention and our resources.
Rather than signaling an end to endless wars, the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan indicates a shift of spending priorities for the war machine. Further airstrikes in Afghanistan are not off the table, as Joe Biden said, “We’ve developed counterterrorism over-the-horizon capability that will allow us to keep our eyes firmly fixed on any direct threats to the United States in the region and to act quickly and decisively if needed.” The military budget is planned to increase to $753 billion next year. Multi-million-dollar defense contracts are released daily – for example, on August 13:
Raytheon Co., Marlborough, Massachusetts, has been awarded a $960,000,000 indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract for the Advanced Extremely High Frequency-Terminals (AEHF-T) Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center (AFNWC) requirement for interim contractor support, contractor logistics support, terminal depot activation, terminal hardware/software procurement and studies associated with support of the AEHF-T systems.”
It is no coincidence that Lloyd Austin III, former board member of Raytheon, was appointed as US Secretary of Defense by President Biden. He is just one of many members of the Biden cabinet with direct ties to the military industrial complex. Many US senators and representatives are heavily invested in defense companies like Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, and Honeywell. The same Congress members who vote for bloated defense budgets are benefiting from the stocks they own in these companies.
Even mainstream media personality Dan Rather has tweeted about this spending spree:
Many pundits have fallen for the taxpayer myth in this context. It is not that the US is spending trillions on war which prevents them from being able to afford to spend at home. It is that the government is in the service of transnational corporations and there is no profit motive driving public spending at home. The United States can fund whatever it has resources for, whether that be endless war or a Green New Deal – the funding exists for both. Universal healthcare would take the profit motive out of healthcare and a clean energy bill would defy the wishes of the oil lobbyists. Yet, as long as the government is controlled by corporate lobbyists, no progress will be made for any except for the capitalist class. It is the choices of corrupt politicians that prevent us from having healthcare, not a lack of funding because it is being spent on needless wars such as Afghanistan. The US could afford both healthcare and the war. To pretend that taxpayer dollars are being wasted on war is to buy into the false narrative that taxes constrain government funding. The 68,000+ people dying every year in the United States from lack of healthcare are as much a casualty of corrupt government as are those being bombed abroad. Human rights at home and abroad take a backseat to profit when the government is run only in the interests of the ownership class.
Another common myth in regard to Afghanistan is that the US went in to extract their resources – a more accurate description would be to say that the US went into Afghanistan to open up its resources to exploitation by transnational capitalism. This is something that a nationalist like President Trump could not understand. According to Reuters, “Trump argued at a White House meeting with advisors in July that the United States should demand a share of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth in exchange for its assistance to the Afghan government.” This is a similar argument to that made by Neera Tanden in regard to Libya and their oil. The greed of neoliberals takes a back seat to reality. These suggestions are based on the false reality that the United States needs to fund itself through resource exploitation. The US does not seek to enrich itself, because it does not have a bank account – rather, it seeks to enrich the transnational capitalist class and maintain the capitalist system. The opening of mineral wealth for exploitation around the world is a requirement of sustaining capitalism – a system which cannot stand on its own without opening new areas to exploitation.
The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signaled the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production.Karl Marx, Capital Vol. 1, Chapter 31.
These resources also include access to oil. As Michael Parenti described, “The discovery of vast oil and gas reserves in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan provided the lure, while the dissolution of the USSR removed the one major barrier against pursuing an aggressive interventionist policy in that part of the world.” In 2013, President Obama met with Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif where they both “welcomed progress on the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline project.” The TAPI pipeline would open up untapped nature gas reserves in the Galkynysh gas field in Turkmenistan. Work on the pipeline is being done by the Saudi Arabian based Global Pipe Company. In October 2020, the Trump administration met with Afghanistan and Turkmenistan and discussed the implementation of the TAPI pipeline. In a time of rapid climate collapse, the exploitation of oil and gas remains a priority for the ruling class. The US could have been spending on building renewable energy in Afghanistan, instead they spent $43 million on a single gas station in support of continued extractive efforts.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said on Tuesday, August 17, “We are going to allow women to work and study within our frameworks. Women are going to be very active within our society.” These statements sound similar to the lies that the US told when they invaded Afghanistan. What happens to women under the Taliban rule remains to be seen, but it is unlikely to be progressive. The United States will not intervene again on the basis of women’s rights – what will really matter is whether the Taliban regime is willing to play ball with transnational capitalists. If development and privatization of their resources is allowed to continue, the United States will be content no matter how oppressed the women are. If the Taliban were a left-wing socialist group that planned on nationalizing the mineral wealth and providing healthcare and education to all, the US occupation would be continuing today. Since they are a reactionary religious fundamentalist group, the US will only directly oppose them if it conflicts with capitalist interests. This is why Saudi Arabia saw no repercussions from murdering Jamal Khashoggi. Human rights and morality only matter when it aligns with the interests of the ruling class.