Windfall for the Military-Industrial Complex
All this culminates in a new strategy for Afghanistan today, as U.S. President Trump himself tweeted on Sunday that he has reached a decision about a new strategy for Afghanistan, and promised to reveal his new plan on Monday night. Administration officials speculate that he will announce sending additional troops and allowing existing troops to embed with Afghani local forces closer to the front lines. It is estimated that some 1,500 Afghan soldiers are lost every month fighting ISIS and the Taliban, and it looks like we, the U.S., will be adding our own soldiers to those losses. Ahead of Trump’s announcement, the UN mission to Afghanistan, UNAMA, has reported that, in early August, a joint force of Taliban and ISIS killed at least 36 Afghani civilians.
On to talk about the Afghan strategy is Matthew Hoh. He’s a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, and is former director of the Afghan study group. Matthew is also a former Marine Corps officer who took part in the Iraq war, and in 2009 he resigned his State Department position in Afghanistan in opposition to the escalation of the Afghan war. He is a member of Veterans for Peace. Matthew, very good to have you with us.
MATTHEW HOH: Thank you for having me on.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Matthew, what should we expect from the new Trump strategy for Afghanistan?
MATTHEW HOH: I think what we’re gonna hear the president say is the typical language we hear from the president, we hear from politicians, we hear from the pundits that are paid by the defense contractors that dominate the cable news networks, or are interviewed by the Times or the Post, that the American troop presence, the surge, if you will, those 100,000 American troops and 30,000 European troops that were put into place by President Obama beginning in 2009, made progress. But then President Obama blew it by pulling them out, and that they did well for the Afghan people. There were real benefits for the Afghan people, but those have been lost because the troops were pulled out. And that just with a few more troops or a little more troops and more time, more patience on the part of the American people, the war can be won, which is something we have heard over, and over, and over again.
Of course, it’s all falsehood. That’s all based upon lies. It’s more of the same that we have heard time and time again. I think as the reporting has been over the last day or two, we’ll see an increase of three or 4,000 troops, which is mainly going to be to increase the special operations component of the Afghan forces, and to provide more advisors to, I think, train more Afghans in calling in airstrikes. We’ve already seen an increase in airstrikes in Afghanistan, as we’ve seen an increase in airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, as well as, say, we’ve seen an increase with our allies, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
What this is, to me and to other observers, is the United States’ policy, really our Empire’s policy, of becoming one of imperial punishment. We’ve always, I think, had this policy, but this is becoming more blatant. Moreover, that rather than trying to win hearts and minds, rather than having even political control, that we will just punish any opposition. And I think we saw this back in April when the United States dropped the mother of all bombs in eastern Afghanistan, which was an airburst weapon. Had nothing to do with destroying tunnels, had everything to do with destroying houses, livestock, orchards, and punishing people. And I think that is the direction the United States is going in Afghanistan, as well as in other countries, where people will not bend to the will of the United States and its allies.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. When Washington takes these kinds of decisions towards another country that is supposedly our friends, in terms of the government in Afghanistan, we don’t get a sense of what the government or the people of Afghanistan actually think about this U.S. strategy. So, given that President Ashraf Ghani, I have not heard anything in the media about how they are responding. How are they feeling about this new strategy that the U.S. is planning for them?
MATTHEW HOH: Well, and that’s an incredibly telling aspect isn’t it? Isn’t that an amazingly telling aspect about it? And it says a lot about the people that we have put in power and kept in power. Let’s remember that for three successive elections, the elections have been deemed incredibly fraudulent by every outside observer, aside from the U.S. government and those we have installed in power in the Afghan government, for two presidential elections, among parliamentary election. And the United States has had tens and tens of thousands of troops who have killed and died to make sure those elections have help. So the people we have put in power there, and back by tens of billions of dollars a year, have no interest in speaking out against what the American government is going to do. I think that’s a very telling point you just made, that we have not heard from, really, the Afghan government on this, in terms of its escalation of the airstrikes.
I mean, occasionally we do hear a response along the lines that, “Well, the United States really should scale back. The United States should talk to us more about it. The United States should be more careful.” But we don’t hear anything along the lines of what you would expect for government to express, in terms of outrage, when a foreign government kills its citizens. And if you look at the press outside of the American press, if you look at press from Central Asia or from Afghanistan or Pakistan, you will see how often United States kill civilians in Afghanistan. It’s near daily. And where is the outrage from the Afghan government? It’s not existent, but that’s because the Afghan government is probably the best definition of a kleptocracy, and again, it is composed of warlords. The Afghan government is composed of human rights violators, war criminals, and as I’ve been saying and many others have been saying, for years and years we have said that the Taliban is the primary beneficiaries of the drug trade in Afghanistan, a drug trade that every year has bumper crops, it has record crops.
What I believe, and many others believe, that the primary beneficiaries, the ones who have really been the drug barons of Afghanistan for the last 15 years, just as what happened in Southeast Asia when the United States waged war in Southeast Asia for 25 years have been the Afghan government. For example, Ahmed Wali Karzai, the half-brother of the former president of Afghanistan. So I think it’s no surprise that we really haven’t heard much from the Afghan government about this increase in American support, that will only keep this kleptocracy in power there in Kabul.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Now Matthew, the war in Afghanistan was started two presidents ago by George Bush in 2001, which had apparently some strategic goals of the U.S. wanted to achieve. If we are spending this kind of money and such commitment to Afghanistan, and we are losing soldiers in the process, there must be some reason, some good goals here that would have been achieved in the last 15 years. I’m wondering whether you could comment on that.
MATTHEW HOH: Well, I’m sitting in Reston, Virginia, and I think the goals have been the spending of money. I do believe that after 9/11 when the United States went into Afghanistan, it found itself very similarly to when the Soviet Union went to Afghanistan. It just found itself in the course of its own momentum in Afghanistan and propelling itself forward in that process. And then, for variety of reasons, mistake after mistake, ignorance, hubris, arrogance, a complete and total desire not to speak to the Taliban. We were intervening in a civil war. We took one side out of power, put the other side into power. We ignored any attempt at surrender by the Taliban. This is been thoroughly documented now. Anand Gopal is by far and away the best source, particularly for Americans to read about this. But in terms of like-
SHARMINI PERIES: He’s a journalist, Anand Gopal is a journalist who’s been on the ground for many years, and he reported for FP for a long time. I don’t know what he’s doing now, but just so that if people are looking for him they could find him.
MATTHEW HOH: Yeah, he was in Mosul, in Syria, and he’s still doing great work and God bless him, and I hope he’s keeping safe wherever he is. But basically we didn’t know what we were doing there. I believe we had no real purpose. I think there was a lot of politics involved. We wanted to seem tough, we wanted to get revenge, and then, of course, the money started to be made off of the defense budgets. The contractors started to make money, and again, I said I’m on here in Reston, Virginia, which is about 10, 15 miles outside of Washington D.C. For people who don’t know, Washington D.C. and its surrounding areas, depending upon how you measure it, which magazine you go to, money magazine, or Forbes, or which measure you use, Washington D.C. and its surrounding counties has 5 out of 10, or 6 out of 10, or 7 out of 10 of the wealthiest counties in the United States since 9/11. I mean, the U.S. House of Representatives just voted for a $700 billion defense budget, just for the defense budget. Not for Homeland Security, not for Veterans Affairs. We’ve spent, since 9/11, $435 billion just on debt, just on the Iraq and Afghan wars.
So I think once the money started flowing, this war was going to be impossible to stop, and then once the Iraq war began, then, of course, you had the two wars. And then President Obama saw an opportunity to campaign on the Afghan war as the good war, and then the escalation of the Afghan war became his opportunity to be a better commander-in-chief than a Republican. And then the escalation of Afghan war became a political event for the Democrats to win, get a ‘W’. It became political opportunity for the Pentagon to make up for the Iraq war, for that disaster, and it became another chance for the Pentagon, and all of its contractors, to keep making money. And I don’t believe there is any other reason for what is occurring in Afghanistan than tor that reason.
I say it to Afghans all the time. I say, “I’m sorry to tell you, but there is no reason for the United States being in your country, for us killing your people, thousands of people every month dying in your country for these 16 years, other than the fact that thousands and thousands of people in the Washington D.C. area are making six-figure salaries.” And it made the Democrats look as tough as Republicans in political races.
SHARMINI PERIES: Over $1 trillion has been spent on the Afghan war. And obviously, this is coming from the public treasury, year after year after year, when so many ordinary Americans are suffering in this country with poverty, not enough having good healthcare and so on. Is this kind of money sustainable, to have a permanent war with Afghanistan? Do we had the money to do this?
MATTHEW HOH: Unfortunately, I think we’re willing to have the money to do this, that we are willing to spend this money. I think we have a system in place with our Congress that allows for the Congress to benefit from such spending. Look, that $700 billion that the House of Representatives, just a month or two ago, voted on for the defense budget, and again, that’s just the defense budget, not all the other things that fall under the national security establishment, that leviathan. 60% of Democrats voted for that. I mean, this is a multiparty … This goes across both parties. And as long as they’re willing to prioritize this, as long as the system allows for this prioritization …
I mean, I can give you some examples from my time working on the Hill against the war. When I first spoke out against the war, in 2009, and in the months that I was working on the Hill, I was basically by myself with the support of some people I was meeting, and with the support of some members of Congress, like John Murtha, until he died in December of 2009. During that time, just during those last three months of 2009, the top 8 or 10 defense companies spent $30 million lobbying Congress on the Afghan war during October, November, and December of 2009. So while President Obama was deciding whether or not to send that final group of 30,000 troops to Afghanistan in 2009, the defense companies spent $30 million, $10 million a month, lobbying Congress just on that decision.
During other times, I remember one time meeting with Senator Casey’s staff, and he had an Army major working for him. And if people don’t know, about six, seven years ago Secretary of Defense Bob Gates started putting military officers in as many congressional offices as he could. And if you go to the congressional offices, you’ll see military officers. They don’t wear their uniforms, but you’ll see military officers, men and women working for senators and representatives. So the Pentagon has placed majors and lieutenant colonels, captains and majors and lieutenant colonels in congressional offices. But there’s one major told, who worked for Senator Casey, who was a key person on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he told me that on briefings on Afghanistan that 7 out of 10 of the briefings that the Senate was receiving were not coming from the CIA, they were not coming from State Department, they were not coming from the Pentagon. And this was in 2011. They were coming from private groups.
They are coming from think tanks like the Center For New American Security, for the Institute For The Study of War, or The Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute. All groups that receive vast sums of money from the defense industry. The way it works is very circular. We put $600-$700 billion into the Defense Department. That money then goes to Boeing and Raytheon and Lockheed, and that money then goes to these think tanks, who then fund people who have these grand ideas who aren’t looking for money, they just want to see their grand ideas about war, because they like war, and they have these romantic visions of war, and they want to be the next Clausewitz or the next Sun Tzu or whatever. They want to be these great military theorists.
And so they’re not asking for much, but they want to be in front of the congressman. They want to be the ones who have these great theories. So the defense companies fund these people, and they go in front of Congress and they said, “This is what we should do in Afghanistan. This is what we should do in Iraq.” I had the opportunity in 2010 to speak with Ike Skelton, who was the, at that time, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee in the House of Representatives, a senior person in the house for the armed services. And I spoke to him about Afghanistan, and he said to me, and this is in 2010, so eight and a half years after we’ve been in Afghanistan. And he said to me, he said, “This is the first time anyone has ever come to my office and told me anything negative about Afghanistan.”
These are the kinds of things, this is the way it works in Washington D.C. This is how we can get to this point. Eight years, or nine years after President Obama puts 100,000 troops into Afghanistan, that President Trump can think it’s a good idea to continue to put more troops into Afghanistan. Because the cycle, the circular motion of the money, the way it flows through the Pentagon, to the defense contractors, to the think tanks, back to Congress.
SHARMINI PERIES: Continuous.
MATTHEW HOH: Continuous, exactly. And what happens is that the people in Afghanistan die, and now the Empire, this imperial nation of ours, is so outraged that people have the gall to continue fighting us. As I say, I believe our policy now is just so overtly one of punishment, and it will just now be a policy in these nations like Afghanistan or Yemen or Iraq, of just using special operations commando teams and airstrikes, whether they be manned or droned, to punish those who dare to not go along with us.
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