“I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.” – Major General Smedley Darlington Butler (1881-1940) in his book “War is a Racket” (1935).
The ending of the 20-year-war in Afghanistan, the longest ever engagement in a single conflict by the United States armed forces, has been variously described as a “catastrophe”, a “disaster” and a “debacle”. Yet this national failure from which parallels have been drawn with the Vietnam War has not had the same ring of misfortune for some.
Indeed, long before the recent scenes of calamity and collapse in Kabul brought home with resounding finality the futility of a supposed nation-building exercise, the profit-motive for the initial US invasion and the preservation of an enduring occupation was an open secret to anyone who bothered to embark on the slightest inquiry.
The gravy train of American defence spending was in full effect, facilitated by the tentacles of what US President Dwight D. Eisenhower prophesied would become the Military Industrial Complex. For the last two decades have witnessed what has been described as a “wealth transfer from US taxpayers to military contractors”. But the war, apart from confirming Afghanistan’s reputation as the “Graveyard of Empires”, also validates the phrase coined by US Major General Smedley Butler that war is a racket.
The blame game currently being played out in the United States media by the political class risks obscuring one fundamental issue: the centrality of money and the profit motive in the waging of America’s two-decade-long war in Afghanistan.
The invasion of that country had been planned well in advance of the attacks of September 11th, 2001, the event which provided the impetus for mounting a military response including the country’s occupation. The United States has long coveted gaining access to the mineral and oil rich Caspian region and Central Asia, and the coming to power of the fundamentalist Islamic Taliban movement was not seen at the time by US policy makers as an impenetrable obstacle.
As the French writers Jean-Charles Briscard and Guillaume Dasquie wrote in their book Forbidden Truth: U.S.-Taliban Secret Oil Diplomacy and the Failed Hunt for Bin Laden, which was published in 2002, the American government had been prepared to accept Taliban rule on condition that they agreed to the construction of an oil pipeline across Central Asia.