There are adults today who were born on and after the 12th of September 2001, who are fighting, killing and dying in a war started due to an attack they had never even witnessed. This is the war in Afghanistan, a war that has claimed the lives of at least 40,000 civilians and over 2000 US and coalition soldiers. Recently, President Biden pledged to withdraw US and Nato troops by September 11, 2021, the run up to the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks in 2001.
This is welcome news, but we shouldn’t be naïve about the machinations of empire. Covert operations and drone surveillance/bombings by the Pentagon are bound to continue. After all, the American Empire has never voluntarily left any of its conquered lands. And that this “withdrawal” comes at a time of increased belligerence toward China is unlikely to be mere coincidence. In fact, this announcement came at the same time the Pentagon requested $27 billion dollars for a massive military build up in Asia.
Although it is still far from close to the US in terms of wealth, military power and influence, China is a rapidly rising world power. It has posed virtually no military threat to the US thus far, but American politicians have been busy reframing the narrative in terms of war. Just last month US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, channeling his predecessor Pompeo, sanctimoniously condemned the “abuses” of China and North Korea as he met with other Asian countries of the so-called “Quad.” His rhetoric, steeped in the racism of American “exceptionalism” was designed to create a framework to justify potential “humanitarian interventions” by the US and its allies, the usual cloak the US uses to cover its own imperialistic abuses and violence.
This isn’t to imply that China and North Korea have not committed human rights abuses or do not have oppressive policies, but to suggest that the US is in any position of moral authority is ludicrous given its long as well as recent history, its abysmal response to the pandemic, sadistic abuses against refugees from Central America, and rampant police violence against communities of color and the poor among them.
This bellicose position also comes at a time of rising hate crimes against Asian Americans. Donald Trump stoked this hatred by continually referring to Covid-19 as the “China virus,” as well as using other racial slurs. But Blinken’s rhetoric adds to a Sinophobia that has always been an undercurrent in American society. The draw down of the troops in Afghanistan provides a convenient distraction from all of this. It presents Biden, the same man who cheered on the war against Iraq and Libya, as a dove.
But the US has always used violence to maintain its hegemonic control abroad. Today, the violence has shifted slightly, and at least temporarily, to the form of economic sanctions. But it will not be long before the wraiths of Lockheed Martin, Boeing, BAE Systems, General Dynamics, and Raytheon will be drooling for another bloodbath and more killing fields where they can test their latest weapons of mass destruction.
The economic and social stability of the US is fraying. The pandemic has left its anemic social welfare system in shambles. But despite this, its oligarchic ruling class only becomes more depraved by the day. Unable to grapple with the hubris of throwing trillions of dollars into a bloated military sector while denying basic material needs to its citizens, like universal healthcare or a living wage, it seeks to otherize its problems by projecting it onto external enemies. China, at least in their minds, represents the biggest threat to its economic tyranny for the long haul.
So as Biden prepares to bring the troops home from Afghanistan we should be happy, but we should also not expect any kind of draw down in American militarism. Quite the contrary, if the war hawks and profiteers in the US get their way, the next “forever war” will make the one in Afghanistan look like a grade school fist fight.
Kenn Orphan April 2021
*Title illustration: Calvin Shen
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