Spartacist Canada No. 169
U.S. Murders Its Frankensteins Monster Bin Laden
War on Terror: Marauding Abroad, Repression at Home
Imperialists Out of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya!
The following article is reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 980 (13 May), newspaper of the Spartacist League, U.S. section of the International Communist League.
The May 1 assassination of Osama bin Laden in his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, was an act of imperialist arrogance typical of the U.S. “cops of the world.” The day before, the NATO imperialists had bombed the house of Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi’s son, missing Qaddafi, their intended target, but killing his son and three grandchildren. A few days later, a U.S. drone attack in Yemen killed two people in an unsuccessful attempt to take out Anwar al-Awlaki, one of at least four American citizens officially targeted for assassination by Washington.
The Obama administration did not even inform its Pakistani “allies” in advance of the incursion into their country by a military death squad. The raid was carried out by Navy SEAL commandos, a gang of specially selected and trained hitmen who shot and wounded bin Laden’s youngest wife and killed his son and three others. In murdering the Al Qaeda leader and dumping his body in the Arabian Sea, Washington destroyed its own Frankenstein’s monster. The U.S. had sponsored bin Laden and other Islamic reactionaries against the Red Army in Afghanistan in the 1980s as part of the decades-long imperialist drive to strangle the Soviet Union and foment capitalist counterrevolution.
Barack Obama, who came into office with broad support from the pro-capitalist trade-union bureaucracy and the reformist left, is simply carrying out his duties as Commander-in-Chief. In escalating the bloody occupation of Afghanistan, he is doing what he promised to do if elected. Obama was more than willing to ignore other campaign promises in the interests of continuing the imperialist “war on terror.” His decision to maintain the U.S. concentration camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, as well as the system of kangaroo-court military commissions for accused terrorists, underlines the continuity of Obama’s policies with those of his Republican predecessor. Politicians and the bourgeois media are now engaged in a sick debate over how “effective” torture was in extracting information that helped track down bin Laden. Our position on those who have been tortured and brutalized—from Afghanistan and Iraq to Guantánamo—is simple: Free the detainees!
Seizing on the bin Laden kill, Obama appealed to “the sense of unity that prevailed on 9/11,” waving yet again the bloody shirt of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Obama got a quick spike in the polls. But the “spontaneous” rallies of jubilation outside the White House and World Trade Center site, replete with bloodthirsty chauvinism, quickly dissipated and got little traction among working people. It is not so easy this time to whip up a spirit of shared “national interest” among workers, who have been thrown out of their jobs and homes by the millions and have seen their hard-won medical and pension benefits slashed by the capitalist class represented by the Democrats and Republicans. A common response even among workers who bought into the mission to “get” bin Laden was: OK, you got him, now when can we get out of Afghanistan? Obama made clear on May 1 that he had no intention of changing course in Afghanistan or relaxing the “anti-terror” crackdown on the home front.
The September 11 attack on the World Trade Center was a heinous crime, with nearly 3,000 people from all walks of life wantonly killed. Unlike the World Trade Center, the Pentagon was and is the command and administrative center of the U.S. imperialist military and, being a military installation, the possibility of getting hit comes with the territory. That fact did not make the attack an “anti-imperialist” act. In any case, terrorism almost always gets innocent people, including the passengers and crews on the hijacked airliners and the maintenance staff and secretaries at the Pentagon.
A Spartacist League/U.S. Political Bureau statement on the World Trade Center attack issued the day after (printed in WV No. 764, 14 September 2001) declared that those who perpetrated this act “embrace the same mentality as the racist rulers of America—identifying the working masses with their capitalist exploiters and oppressors!” The statement went on to warn:
“It’s an opportunity for the exploiters to peddle ‘one nation indivisible’ patriotism to try to direct the burgeoning anger at the bottom of this society away from themselves and toward an indefinable foreign ‘enemy,’ as well as immigrants in the U.S., and to reinforce their arsenal of domestic state repression against all the working people.”
This is precisely what happened. Beginning with rounding up immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries for imprisonment and deportation, the U.S. government has shredded civil liberties and vastly expanded police powers, a particular danger to black people and to the labor movement as well. In December 2001, striking teachers in Middletown, New Jersey, were compared to the Taliban by the school board after they defied a back-to-work order. The following year, as West Coast longshoremen organized by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) were engaged in tough contract talks, the head of Homeland Security warned that strike action could be treated as a threat to “national security.” The government later imposed the Transportation Workers Identification Credential, making longshoremen, rail workers and truckers undergo immigration review and criminal background checks—an invitation to purge blacks and other minorities as well as union militants. The FBI has also extended the “anti-terror” dragnet to include antiwar activists and reformist leftists, many of whom had supported Obama’s election.
When U.S. imperialism launched its wars in Afghanistan in 2001 and in Iraq in 2003, we, as revolutionary Marxists, stood for the military defense of those neocolonial countries without giving an iota of political support to the reactionary Taliban or to Saddam Hussein’s blood-soaked capitalist regime. We stressed that every victory for the imperialists encourages more predatory wars, while every setback serves to assist the struggles of working people and oppressed the world over.
We called for class struggle against the imperialist rulers at home, in counterposition to the labor bureaucracy, which treacherously signed on to the “war on terror” while sometimes complaining about how it was applied. It is the historic task of the proletariat, led by a revolutionary party, to sweep away the system of capitalist imperialism. As Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin explained in a May 1917 speech titled “War and Revolution,” this will lay the basis for the “socialist system of society, which, by eliminating the division of mankind into classes, by eliminating all exploitation of man by man and nation by nation, will inevitably eliminate the very possibility of war.”
Bin Laden: Product of Anti-Soviet Cold War
The post-September 11 “global war on terror” is but one of the many facets of capitalist reaction that followed the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union in 1991-92. Proclaiming themselves the “world’s only superpower,” the U.S. rulers have launched one bloody military action after another. Even as it remains embroiled in the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. is stepping up murderous drone attacks in Pakistan while NATO escalates its bombing campaign on behalf of the pro-imperialist opposition in Libya.
Pakistani military leaders are fuming over the brazen disregard for their country’s national sovereignty manifested in the raid against bin Laden. U.S. officials, in turn, are demanding to know how bin Laden could have resided for years in a garrison town dominated by military installations without the protection of powerful figures in the Pakistani military or security forces.
The fact is that bin Laden and his ilk were promoted not only by the Pakistani authorities but, in the first instance, by the U.S. For decades, the U.S. fostered the growth of Islamic fundamentalism as a bulwark against “godless Communism” and even secular nationalism. In 1950, John Foster Dulles, who would become Secretary of State in the Eisenhower presidency, wrote: “The religions of the East are deeply rooted and have many precious values. Their spiritual beliefs cannot be reconciled with Communist atheism and materialism. That creates a common bond between us, and our task is to find it and develop it.”
The origins of bin Laden’s Al Qaeda stem from the U.S.-backed war against the Soviet Union’s 1979 intervention in Afghanistan. In the biggest CIA covert operation in history, money and arms were funneled to the mujahedin (holy warriors) based in western Pakistan. The main conduit was Pakistan’s top intelligence agency, the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate), led by fervent Islamist Hameed Gul. By the CIA’s own estimate, as many as 70,000 Islamic fundamentalists recruited from more than 50 countries by the CIA and ISI were trained at Islamist schools, which still flourish in Pakistan.
Washington started funneling arms to the mujahedin soon after the Soviet-allied People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) came to power in April 1978. As modernizing left nationalists, the PDPA attempted to implement a program for redistributing land, lowering the bride price, educating women and freeing them from the prison of the head-to-toe covering called the burqa. As the Islamic hierarchy launched a fierce insurgency, the Soviet Union intervened at the PDPA’s request to prevent the collapse of its client regime. Beginning with Democrat Jimmy Carter and continuing under Republican Ronald Reagan, the U.S. seized on the Red Army intervention to launch a renewed anti-Soviet offensive across the globe, in particular waging a proxy war aimed at killing Soviet soldiers and officers in Afghanistan.
For Marxists, there was no question which side working people and the oppressed the world over had in this conflict. The threat of a CIA-backed Islamic takeover on the USSR’s southern flank posed pointblank the need for unconditional military defense of the Soviet Union, a bureaucratically degenerated workers state. Moreover, the Soviet intervention and the possibility of a prolonged integration of Afghanistan into the Soviet system opened the perspective of social liberation for the Afghan masses, particularly women. This was, as we wrote at the time, the first war in modern history in which a central issue was the rights of women. While most professed leftists around the world echoed the imperialists in condemning the Soviet intervention, the international Spartacist tendency (now the International Communist League) uniquely raised the slogans: “Hail Red Army in Afghanistan! Extend social gains of the October Revolution to the Afghan peoples!”
Among those who flocked to enlist in the jihad against Communism was Saudi millionaire Osama bin Laden, the son of a construction magnate who had been a close friend of the former Saudi king, Faisal. In Ahmed Rashid’s Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia (2000), bin Laden recounts that his “volunteers were trained by Pakistani and American officers. The weapons were supplied by the Americans, the money by the Saudis.”
The New York Times took note of this history in its obituary of bin Laden. But what really caught our eye was the following editorial gem from the International Socialist Organization (ISO):
“One inconvenient truth you won’t hear much about in the media’s celebration of bin Laden’s death is the fact that the U.S. government helped him form al-Qaeda.
“When the former USSR invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the U.S. saw an opportunity to turn the country into a battlefield in the Cold War….
“The U.S. ignored progressive and secular forces in Afghanistan, instead funneling support to fundamentalist groups that were not only anticommunist, but notorious for their brutality…. These were the rebels who Ronald Reagan praised as ‘freedom fighters’.”
—Socialist Worker online, 3 May
An inconvenient truth that you are definitely unlikely to hear from the ISO is that these anti-communist social democrats were themselves firmly in the camp of Washington’s “freedom fighters,” howling along with the imperialists that the Soviets should get out of Afghanistan. When the Kremlin bureaucracy announced in 1988 that it was pulling out the Soviet troops, the ISO wrote that “we welcome the defeat of the Russians in Afghanistan. It will give heart to all those inside the USSR and in Eastern Europe who want to break the rule of Stalin’s heirs” (Socialist Worker, May 1988). For Trotskyists, the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan was a historic betrayal that paved the way to the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union itself, which the ISO, true to form, hailed as well.
As for bin Laden, after having joined hands with the U.S. in the “holy war” against Communism, he became incensed by the deployment of U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia during the 1991 “Operation Desert Storm” against Iraq. Al Qaeda went on to launch a series of attacks on U.S. facilities overseas, setting the stage for 11 September 2001.
Defeat U.S. Imperialism Through
In a starry-eyed response to the killing of bin Laden, Phyllis Bennis of the liberal Institute for Policy Studies wrote in a May 2 article titled “Justice or Vengeance?”:
“The president’s speech last night could have aimed to put an end to the triumphalism of the ‘global war on terror’ that George W. Bush began and Barack Obama claimed as his own. It could have announced a new U.S. foreign policy based on justice, equality, and respect for other nations. But it did not….
“It’s ineffably sad that President Obama, in his claim that bin Laden’s death means justice, didn’t use the opportunity to announce the end of the deadly U.S. wars that answered the attacks of 9/11. This could have been a moment to replace vengeance with cooperation, replace war with justice.”
It is not surprising that the ISO reproduced this piece on its Web site without comment. For years, the ISO, the Workers World Party (WWP), the Party for Socialism and Liberation and others tried to build an “antiwar movement” whose basic premise was “Anybody but Bush” in the White House. The plain fact is that the Obama White House has, as promised, carried on and escalated the “war on terror” initiated under George W. Bush, causing some consternation among the ISO, WWP and other opportunist groups that had celebrated Obama’s election.
Writing in the New York Times (8 May), conservative columnist Ross Douthat observed that the killing of bin Laden “operationalized Bush’s famous ‘dead or alive’ dictum” and highlighted the continuity in foreign policy under both Republicans and Democrats. Citing the war in Libya, the escalating drone strikes in Pakistan and the “policy of targeted assassination” of U.S. citizens, Douthat wrote:
“Imagine, for a moment, that these were George W. Bush’s policies at work…. Imagine the outrage, the protests, the furious op-eds about right-wing tyranny and neoconservative overreach. Imagine all that, and then look at the reality. For most Democrats, what was considered creeping fascism under Bush is just good old-fashioned common sense when the president has a ‘D’ beside his name.”
In truth, Democratic politicians barely worked up a whimper in protest against the foreign adventures of the Bush gang, while the reformists’ “antiwar” movement dissipated more and more the closer it got to the 2008 elections. Sowing the illusion that the Democrats in office could be pressured to carry out a humanitarian foreign policy and to meet the needs of working people at home, the reformists serve, to the extent their forces allow, to reinforce the ties binding workers, minorities and youth to the other party of U.S. imperialism.
For the working class to take the offensive against the depredations of its rulers—at home and abroad—will require a new leadership, a workers party of the Bolshevik type that fights for a workers government. Our task is to build such a party in the “belly of the beast” of U.S. imperialism, to fight for the only answer to exploitation, repression and imperialist war: international socialist revolution.