Workers Vanguard No. 1076
16 October 2015
Imperialist Atrocity in Kunduz
U.S. Out of Afghanistan and the Near East!
Over 100 patients and 80 medical staff were packed into the hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz as the building was ripped apart by aerial bombardment in the dead of night on October 3. Wave after wave of deadly bombing continued, lasting at least an hour, despite frantic calls from the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF—Doctors Without Borders) staff to U.S., NATO and Afghan military headquarters. By the time it was over, 12 staff and ten patients, including three children, were dead and the intensive care, emergency room and physiotherapy units razed to the ground. Six patients burned to death in their beds in the intensive care unit, another lay dead on the operating table; a surgeon died on an office table. Over 30 people are missing. A fitting marker for the 14th anniversary of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan.
As survivors mourned colleagues and loved ones, the Pentagon scrambled for cover, issuing a steady stream of contradictory lies, replete with trite references to “collateral damage” and Taliban “human shields.” That might have been the end of it, had the dead simply been indigent, illiterate Afghan villagers. But MSF is internationally respected and well-connected, and its spokesmen swatted down the Pentagon lies like flies, demanding an independent investigation into this war crime. So after nearly a week of prevarication, President Obama was finally compelled to issue a grudging apology, even as he insisted on keeping the “investigation” in-house.
Afghanistan was the “good war” Obama pledged to win when he won the presidency in 2008, as opposed to George W. Bush’s “bad war” and occupation in Iraq, which the Democrats vowed to end in short order. Seven years later, American forces remain in Iraq. In Afghanistan, notwithstanding that the U.S. combat role was officially brought to an end last year, Obama has increased the use of drone warfare, while almost 10,000 U.S. troops remain in the country on a training and advisory mission. The “advisers” are clearly still bombing away.
The Kunduz bombing was no accident. The hospital offered medical care to victims from all sides of the conflict; that’s why it was raided by Afghan government troops in July, and that’s why it was bombed. The Taliban religious reactionaries are die-hard opponents of social liberation; nonetheless, U.S. imperialism is the main enemy of the world’s working people and oppressed masses, who have a military side with even these Islamic fundamentalists against the imperialists. All U.S. and other imperialist forces out of Afghanistan and the Near East now!
U.S.-Led Anti-Soviet “Holy War” in Afghanistan
The history of U.S. imperialism in Afghanistan has been one long atrocity from the time it got involved there more than 35 years ago. In the late 1970s, the CIA began funding and training Islamic fundamentalists who rose up against a pro-Soviet left-nationalist regime that had come to power in Kabul and implemented a handful of reforms particularly benefiting women. The Islamist cutthroats specialized in targeting schoolgirls and unveiled women, among other “heathens.” Thus began the biggest covert operation in CIA history, and a decade-long proxy war against Soviet military forces. The Taliban, Al Qaeda and Islamic State (ISIS) are all first- or second-generation offspring of that U.S.-sponsored “holy war” against the Soviet Union.
The Soviet Union was based on a historically progressive collectivized and planned economy—product of the Bolshevik-led workers revolution of October 1917—albeit, beginning in 1923-24, under the rule of a nationalist and anti-revolutionary Stalinist bureaucracy. The Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan in December 1979, launched to defend the USSR’s southern flank against the CIA-sponsored insurgency, also objectively opened up the possibility of modernizing Afghan society and freeing Afghan women from centuries of degradation. The Soviet presence encouraged them to shed their burqas and study science, medicine and engineering; the victory of the mujahedin meant a return to slavery. As Trotskyists who stood for unconditional military defense of the Soviet degenerated workers state and championed the cause of women’s emancipation, we defended the Soviet intervention and proclaimed: Hail Red Army in Afghanistan! Extend social gains of October Revolution to the Afghan peoples!
Washington seized on the Red Army intervention to launch a renewed anti-Soviet campaign of military provocation and economic strangulation. Instead of fighting to finish off the mujahedin, a prospect that was within reach by the mid 1980s, the Kremlin bureaucrats temporized, hoping to appease the U.S. By the end of the 1980s, the bureaucracy had withdrawn the Soviet Army, leaving Afghanistan to revert to the benighted and tribal-riven slaughterhouse it is to this day and helping to pave the way to the destruction of the Soviet degenerated workers state itself.
The final overturn of the Russian Revolution was a shattering defeat for working people in the former Soviet Union and everywhere else, including in the U.S. The U.S. ruling class proclaimed itself the sole “superpower,” swaggering and slaughtering its way around the globe, while bleeding dry the working class at home and grinding the black and Latino poor into the dirt.
Washington’s Near East Quagmire
Since then the U.S. has extended its tentacles ever farther across the Near East. In 1991, Bush the Elder launched a punitive war against the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. A hallmark of that war was the dropping of two 2,000-pound “bunker buster” precision “smart bombs” on a civilian air raid shelter in Baghdad. Our headline read, “Hundreds Killed as U.S. Deliberately Bombs Civilian Shelter: George Bush—Baby Killer” (WV No. 521, 1 March 1991).
A decade later, with the Soviet Union gone, Bush’s son invaded Afghanistan in the wake of the criminal World Trade Center attack, ostensibly to get the Taliban regime that was harboring Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Scion of a wealthy Saudi family and veteran of the CIA anti-Soviet operation in Afghanistan, bin Laden had by then turned his attention to other “infidels,” including his former imperialist benefactors. The U.S.-led 2003 invasion of Iraq, which had nothing to do with bin Laden or the twin towers attack, followed in short order.
The bloody toppling by the U.S. of Saddam Hussein, whose bonapartist regime was based on the Sunni minority, had a huge impact not only on Iraq but on the region as a whole. The destruction of the social fabric of Iraq has threatened to upset the intricate and fragile structure erected by the British and French imperialists when they took over the Near East from the defunct Ottoman Empire following World War I. This imperialist carve-up amalgamated different pre-national peoples in artificial colonial or semicolonial states under the precept of divide and rule. Short of workers revolutions that could have channeled widespread anti-imperialist sentiment into the struggle for a socialist federation of the Near East, this ramshackle system could only be maintained through brutal imperial or bonapartist rule. Today, the prospect of a new carve-up of the region is increasingly posed.
Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, etc. were not nation-states but patchwork entities created by the imperialists (as is the case in much of sub-Saharan Africa as well). The rulers of the arrogant American Empire seem to “learn nothing and forget nothing.” They decapitated the Iraqi state, unleashing a chaotic and bloody free-for-all among the Sunni, Shi’ite and Kurdish populations. In so doing, they ended up benefiting Iran, which for decades the Western imperialists have sought to weaken and isolate. Iran now influences the rump Iraqi regime that is dominated by the Shi’ite majority, incurring the wrath of embittered Iraqi Sunnis and in turn fueling the growth of ISIS and other Sunni forces which target not only Shi’ites but also the U.S. and the West in general.
Even as he was trying to extricate the U.S. from the Iraqi quagmire, Obama embarked on the NATO bombing of Libya in 2011 that overthrew the regime of strongman Muammar el-Qaddafi and set the stage for the current bloody chaos in that country. Moreover, the hell unleashed by the U.S. imperialists and their allies across the entire region has forced millions of people to flee from their homes, to neighboring countries and to Europe.
In Syria, Obama sought to undermine the regime of Bashar al-Assad, throwing Washington’s weight behind an insurgent opposition to the Assad regime, a key ally of Iran and a client of Russia going back to the Soviet era. Based on the relatively small Alawite sect, the Assad regime could only stay in power by wielding an iron fist against all opponents. Meanwhile, the “moderate” opposition bankrolled by the U.S. was nothing but a conduit for U.S. money and arms to various Sunni fundamentalist militias, including the Syrian branch of Al Qaeda and its later offshoot, ISIS. Marxists have no side in the ethnic/sectarian civil war in Syria. Of course the working class of the entire world does have a side against the U.S. imperialists and their allies in the Near East.
After ISIS seized huge chunks of Iraq and Syria last year, the U.S. intervened militarily in the Syrian civil war, bombing ISIS forces in coordination with its spotters and foot soldiers on the ground, particularly the Kurdish nationalists. At that point we declared: “revolutionary Marxists have a military side with ISIS when it targets the imperialists and their proxies, including the Syrian Kurdish nationalists, the [Iraqi Kurdish] pesh merga, the Baghdad government and its Shi’ite militias” (“Down With U.S. War Against ISIS!”, WV No. 1055, 31 October 2014).
The U.S.-led “coalition” against ISIS includes Saudi Arabia, a hideously reactionary theocracy rooted in Wahhabi Sunni fundamentalism. The Saudi regime is waging a vicious and bloody war against Houthi-led forces in Yemen, continues to fund all manner of anti-Western Islamist groups in Syria (and elsewhere) and has much in common with the social strictures of ISIS. The Kingdom is notorious for the barbaric practice of public beheadings—over 100 people were executed in the first half of this year. Another U.S. coalition partner is Turkey, whose main target is not ISIS but the Kurdish nationalists. The Erdogan regime in Turkey has re-launched and escalated a murderous reign of terror against the Kurds.
Our central opposition is to the U.S., its imperialist allies and regional coalition partners. The recent military intervention by Vladimir Putin’s capitalist Russia, which has been met with hostility by the U.S. and its allies, does not change our position. Russia’s main concern lies in propping up its Syrian client regime and in maintaining its only foothold in the Near East, especially its sole naval facility on the Mediterranean. Capitalist Russia has a huge nuclear arsenal, inherited from the Soviet Union, and a large military, but it is not imperialist and it is not a contender for global domination; it is, for now, simply another player in the squalid civil war in Syria in which the international working class has no side. While our main opposition is to the imperialists, we also oppose all the other capitalist powers involved (including Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey) and call for them to leave.
Socialism or Barbarism
Ghoulish atrocities such as the Kunduz hospital bombing are intrinsic to imperialist wars and occupations, which seek to instill terror in the civilian population. During World War II, the U.S. and its British imperialist ally were no more hesitant than their Nazi counterparts to carry out mass murder, albeit under a “democratic” facade. Intense Allied bombing of the industrial city of Dresden in Germany and of Tokyo and Osaka in Japan resulted in upwards of 300,000 deaths, as civilian (and particularly working-class) areas were turned into infernos (see “The Hidden History of U.S. Terror Bombing,” WV No. 521, 1 March 1991). This was capped by the nuclear incineration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The imperialists employ a particularly vengeful brutality against those who challenge their rule. In its counterrevolutionary wars against the forces of the North Korean deformed workers state in the early 1950s and the Stalinist-led workers and peasants of Vietnam in the 1960s and early ’70s, the U.S. and its allies were responsible for the deaths of some six million people in total. We hailed the victory of the Vietnamese revolutionary fighters in 1975 over the U.S. and its local puppet forces.
In the intervening decades, U.S. imperialism has grown only more barbaric and irrational, having lost its economic hegemony while still dominating the world militarily. It must be brought down by a re-awakened proletariat, the multiracial U.S. working class that is its Achilles’ heel. Socialism or barbarism—those are the alternatives that have confronted humanity since the emergence of the imperialist system over a century ago. Either the conquest of power by the international proletariat and the creation of a global egalitarian order or the downfall of civilization. The task of building revolutionary Marxist parties molded in the image of the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky and subject to the discipline of a reforged democratic-centralist Fourth International remains as urgent as ever.