Sunday, May 9, 2010

Is the War in Afghanistan an Imperialist War?

By John W. Warnock

Recently a small group of professors at the University of Regina suggested that Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan was an act of imperialism and should not be glorified. The professors were vigorously attacked by Premier Brad Wall, a number of Conservative Members of Parliament, and a long list of editorial writers, columnists and directors of news in the mainstream Canadian media.

Imperialism has been around at least since 2500 B.C. It has always been the imposition of the rule or authority of a more powerful country or state over a weaker one. It takes the form of the domination of another country’s political, economic, religious and cultural systems. It is the denial of a weaker country’s right to democracy and self determination.

Chalmers Johnson reminds us that the United States is much more than just a major military power. It has 735 known bases in 38 countries, five Central Commands which cover the world, 12 aircraft carrier strike groups, a fleet of strategic bombers which strike anywhere in the world, an arsenal of nuclear missiles and 1.5 million active military personnel.

The world is the U.S. sphere of influence. President Barrack Obama has intervened in Pakistan, Honduras, Haiti, Columbia, Yemen and Somalia, greatly increased the number of U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan, and has produced the largest military budget in history.

The U.S. Petroleum Institute and the Anglo and American oil corporations strongly supported the war on Iraq as Saddam Hussein was cutting them out of the second largest underdeveloped oil resource in the world. They also supported the war in Afghanistan, a necessary part of gaining control over the oil and gas resources around the Caspian Sea. This has been the official U.S. geopolitical strategy in Central Asia since the declaration of the Carter Doctrine in January1980.

On October 7, 2001 the U.S. government launched a massive air and missile attack on Afghanistan. Their allies on the ground were the Northern Alliance warlords, the remnants of the radical Islamist government (1992 to 1996) that had been driven out of Kabul by the Taliban. U.S. and NATO forces soon arrived and they are still occupying the country after nine years.

The United States, backed by Canada and the other NATO allies, imposed a government and Hamid Karzai on the people of Afghanistan. They vetoed the restoration of the democratic 1964 Constitution and imposed a foreign model with an all powerful presidency. They have blocked the development of the democratic parties, preferring a political system based on ethnic, religious and regional identification. They have refused to allow the democratic parties to participate in any elections. Is this not classic imperialism?

Afghanistan is a very poor country and it has yet to develop a capitalist class. Therefore, past governments followed the model created by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in Turkey, which relied on the state for important and necessary developments. However, the U.S. government, backed by Canada and the other NATO allies, have imposed a free market free trade model of economic development, emphasizing foreign ownership and control, especially in the resource sector.

Today US/NATO forces continue to expand the war, killing thousands of innocent Afghan men, women and children. All recent polls indicate that a strong majority of the Afghan people want a negotiated end to the war. Who stands in their way?

The U.S. and Canadian governments, and their NATO allies, have imposed on the people of Afghanistan a corrupt government of warlords, drug lords and radical Islamists. Many Canadians are fully behind this project, just as most Canadians (outside Quebec) strongly supported British imperialism and colonialism. But many Canadians are not at all proud of the role of our government and military in this poor country.

John W. Warnock is retired from teaching political economy and sociology at the University of Regina. He is author of Creating a Failed State: the U.S. and Canada in Afghanistan (Halifax: Fernwood Publishing, 2008).

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