By Ubaldo Daverro
Here we are, almost five months after the last American solider hastily departed Afghanistan, the ‘graveyard of empires’ and wondering where did the truth go? Aside from the utter failure of Washington’s 20-year invasion and occupation in ‘fighting terrorism,’ what has the world learned about the Afghan debacle? The world has learned two undeniable facts. First, the truth of the war was purposively hidden from the American public and international community and second, the two-decade military occupation was a magnificent windfall for American weapons and defence contractors.
First, the Afghan Papers published in the Washington Post on 9 December 2019 undeniably reveal that the disgraceful truth was withheld from the public while official reports offered a much more positive picture of the war and its outcomes. Where was the truth of the complete destruction of Afghan life—its people, infrastructure, and institutions? Where did all the money go? According to American journalist, Tom Engelhardt, Washington spent 8 trillion dollars propping up a puppet government with no popular support when the money could have been more effectively spent helping struggling Americans. This is especially true of American pandemic struggles and President Biden’s attempt to stimulate the American economy by pushing Congress to accept a roughly 4 trillion dollar bill aimed at infrastructure renewal eventually settling for just over 1 trillion dollars. Members of Congress kept asking ‘where would the money come from?’
Engelhardt also points out that Washington’s public insistence that the ultimate goal in Afghanistan was the feel-good idea of “nation building” more resembled the reality of “nation unbuilding.” Later government claims that women’s rights and educating young girls were guiding American efforts were equally empty. World renown investigative journalist and documentary film maker John Pilger reported as far back as the 1980s that the US government was well aware that supporting the Afghan mujaheddin (which morphed into the Taliban and other fundamentalist groups) would ultimately lead to the destruction of women’s and workers rights. As part of Operation Cyclone, Washington and London believed any government in Afghanistan not aligned with American interests must be destroyed. World renown journalist Tariq Ali wrote in The Forty-Year War In Afghanistan: A Chronicle Foretold, that the “failures” in nation-building were “systemic.” He writes, “… the corruption of its local agents, the growing alienation of large sectors of the population and the strengthening of armed resistance are all compounded by the distortions wrought by the opium-heroin industry on the country’s economy.”
The truth of the matter is that American efforts centred around establishing another permanent military base to add to its more than 750 already located around the globe, the interests and lives of local populations be damned. Engelhardt points out that Brown University’s “Costs of War Project” estimates that post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, and Yemen have displaced 38 million people while leading to the deaths of 929,000 people. These are conservative statistics to be sure. If Afghan nation building was the true focus of America’s actions, Washington could provide Kabul with the necessary funds to do so. Instead, the ‘kindler and gentler’ Joe Biden decided to freeze 9 billion dollars in Afghan foreign assets.
The second undeniable fact is that weapons makers and other defence contractors and their shareholders made off like bandits making the 19th Century ‘robber barons’ look positively ordinary. Any attempt to successfully sell arms and services domestically or abroad is looked at as a ‘win’. This is especially true of America’s top five manufacturers—Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics amounting to a massive transfer of wealth from American taxpayers to defence weapons makers and contractors. Thomas Meaney in the London Review of Books (9 September 2021) writes, “The corruption of the Afghan government is dwarfed only by the American operation itself, which constituted a massive wealth transfer to US Defence industries.” This upward transfer of wealth was foretold by Tariq Ali over 20 years ago. John Swartz writing in The Intercept concluded that during the war defence stocks outperformed the stock market by 58 percent overall. After all, American defense spending is by far the highest in the world at 740.5 billion dollars in 2021 alone. This is more than the next 13 countries combined including China, India, Germany, the United Kingdom, Japan, Saudi Arabia and France. Vladimir Putin’s Russia comes in at number 11 for a paltry total of 42.2 billion dollars— a mere 6 percent of US spending. Defence contractors also benefit from American international arms sales. Again, the US sells more than any other country annually exporting just over 47 billion dollars worth of weaponry. In fact, in November 2021, Washington sold Saudi Arabia 650 million dollars worth of air-to-air missiles and related hardware. Did anyone in Congress ask what impact further arms sales to Saudi Arabia will have on the people of Yemen? Again, we are left to ask, “Where did the truth go?”