In an interview Jan. 2 on NBC’s Meet the Press, Republican Senator Lindsay Graham called for a permanent U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.
Graham said: “...the idea of putting permanent military bases on the table in 2011 I think would secure our national interest and tell the bad guys and the good guys we're not leaving, we're staying in a responsible way [sic] if the Afghan people want us to stay.”
I think it would be enormously beneficial to the region as well as Afghanistan. We've had air bases all over the world. A couple of air bases in Afghanistan would allow the Afghan security forces an edge against the Taliban in perpetuity. It would be a signal to Pakistan that the Taliban are never going to come back in Afghanistan. They could change their behavior. It would be a signal to the whole region that Afghanistan is going to be a different place.
And if the Afghan people want this relationship, they are going to have to earn it. But I hope that they will seek a relationship with the United States so we can have an enduring relationship, economic and militarily and politically, and a couple of air bases in Afghanistan will give us an edge militarily, give the Afghan security forces an edge militarily to ensure that the country never goes back into the hands of the Taliban, which would be a stabilizing event throughout the whole region. That has to be earned by the Afghan people and it has to be requested by the Afghan people.
Of course, the U.S. never asked the Afghan people before invading and occupying their country – as was the case with Iraq – and neither will the U.S. ask their permission to continue the occupation. The U.S. government will simply do what is in the interests of the U.S. ruling class and the corporations which dominate the political life of this country.
The economics of occupation
At stake in Afghanistan are resources worth trillions of dollars: the "enduring" economic relationship that complements the military one.
Just last month, on Dec. 12, the head of the corrupt puppet government in Kabul, Hamid Karzai, signed an agreement for a massive energy project that would result in a 1000-mile long natural gas pipeline. The U.S. has long favored the proposed pipeline, which has been discussed for over 15 years, because it would bypass Iran and bring significant energy resources from Turkmenistan to India and Pakistan. Turkmenistan has an estimated 2.9 trillion cubic meters of natural gas and its reserves may be amongst the top five in the world. The pipeline that would carry the gas is planned to cut through some of the deadliest territory for U.S. troops, in the south of the country where the anti-occupation insurgency controls vast areas of land.
Russia and Iran are the countries with the greatest reserves of natural gas, so in addition to generating fantastic profits for the corporations that will be involved in the pipeline deal, it also has the strategic effect of working to sideline these two countries, which are regional competitors to the United States.
In addition to the pipeline project, the U.S. Department of Defense also stunned many observers of the occupation when it announced in June 2010 that an estimated $1 trillion dollars of untapped minerals - iron, copper, cobalt, gold and other minerals - lie waiting for exploitation. Afghanistan's Minister of Mines Wahidullah Shahrani said the value may reach as high as $3 trillion.
Struggle for regional control
Leaving aside the material resources at stake in Afghanistan and the region, Graham's comments also shed light on another key aspect of the reason the U.S. has invested so much in the occupation, and that is the struggle for control of the region's resources and territory.
Lindsay Graham is calling for permanent air bases to be built in Afghanistan. But the U.S. is fighting a counter-insurgency war, in which ‘boots on the ground’ are of prime importance. It is impossible to win a campaign for hearts and minds with air strikes. In fact, air strikes may be the undoing of the occupation. Over 1000 air strikes took place in October 2010 alone and over 27,000 air strikes were carried out over the year. These air strikes and drone attacks have resulted in thousands of civilian casualties, generating resentment and fueling a popular insurgency that is increasingly well-coordinated.
But the air bases are not about defeating an insurgency. Rather, permanent air bases would serve to cement U.S. power in the region, sending a warning signal to Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Iran that the U.S. has the decisive say in how the region's vast resources are exploited and distributed.
Afghan and U.S. people say no to occupation
But history is not decided by the desires of any individual, no matter how powerful, and Senator Graham is mistaken if he thinks that the Afghan people will accept the wholesale exploitation of their country under U.S. occupation. A recent poll in Afghanistan (which did not poll people in insurgent controlled territory) found that 55% of Afghans wanted the U.S. out of their country as quickly as possible. Americans, too, are turning against the war in greater numbers, with 63% of people recently polled stating that they oppose the war, while 56% say that the war is going badly.
The Afghan people have suffered terribly under the nine-year occupation of their country that has resulted in tens of thousands of casualties, mass poverty and hundreds of thousands of refugees. Working-class Americans have also taken a terrible toll, with tens of thousands of troops wounded and killed, while thousands more have returned home emotionally scarred. The hundreds of billions of U.S. tax-payer dollars wasted on war and oppression in Afghanistan should be used to fund schools, hospitals and jobs here at home.
Only the rich and powerful have benefited from this occupation and the "enduring relationship" that Lindsay Graham is suggesting the U.S. should permanently impose on Afghanistan. It is time for the U.S. to get out of Afghanistan and leave the Afghan people to decide their own affairs.