US raids backfire
Clumsy adventurism in Sudan and Afghanistan unleashes more problems
In August 20 the United States deployed between 70 and 100 Tomahawk cruise missiles in attacks on targets in Afghanistan and Sudan. This blatantly adventurist intervention, unthinkable in the era of Soviet power, may well have unforeseen and serious consequences, not only for the region, but for the world as a whole.
The term ‘adventurism’ is used here to describe military operations undertaken purely or primarily with short-term, tactical objectives. Characteristically they are politically motivated demonstrations of brute force that reflect recklessness and an absence of long-term vision.
Of course, if we believe the US state department, then these cruise missile strikes constituted a legitimate act of retaliation. They are a measured, speedy and effective answer to the terrorist bomb attacks against US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania earlier this month, in which 12 Americans and several hundred Africans were killed. According to the state department, the targets were carefully selected on the basis of “compelling evidence”: ie, from their intelligence services’ reports.
Even if we were to accept this explanation at face value, however, the fact remains that in every single particular this operation was a conspicuous failure. Leaving aside for a moment the official justification for this act of retributive violence, what short-term goals can we identify that might have led the US president to approve measures of this kind?
Unsurprisingly, much of the bourgeois press, even some of the broadsheets, were content to see the whole episode as being little more than what might be called the ‘war of Clinton’s penis’. According to this reading of events, the strikes against Afghanistan and Sudan were nothing but a diversionary exercise designed to distract attention from ‘zippergate’.
Some of these papers, having gorged their readers on every salacious and prurient detail of the whole tawdry saga of Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky, even went so far as to accord the president a measure of grudging admiration for the sheer boldness of his counterstroke - after all, why should the killing of a few Afghans and Sudanese be allowed to get in the way of a good macho story?
Bizarre as it may seem, there may be some justification in looking at the American attacks against Afghanistan and Sudan in this light. Who knows what goes on in the minds of Clinton’s advisers? Given their obsessive, introspective focus on the world of public relations, perhaps these goons really did believe that life could be made to imitate art, and that the solution to Clinton’s problems was to be found in the plot of a one-joke, second-rate movie called Wag the Dog, in which a paedophile president was extricated from his dilemma by the invention of a virtual war in Albania. It remains true, of course, that if these attacks were motivated by a desire to draw attention away from Clinton’s legal difficulties, then they did not fail. Americans love a strong leader who does not hesitate to wield the cudgel abroad. Opinion polls indeed indicate that the cruise missile attacks did Clinton no harm at all as far as his domestic constituency was concerned - quite the reverse.
Nevertheless any analysis of US foreign policy that goes no deeper than the consequences of Clinton’s libido must clearly be woefully inadequate. Very real interests are at stake. The attacks occurred at a time when capitalism is beset with intractable difficulties - not least the economies of Russia, Japan and the so-called Asian ‘tigers’. Some say the system is on the verge of a global financial crisis greater than any since the great crash of 1929.
No matter that the targets of attack were a paltry pharmaceuticals plant and a couple of terrorist training camps - the important thing under these circumstances for the myopic Clinton administration was for the US to flex its muscles. It has no economic answers to the world’s problems. But it does have military might: the cruise missile, not a Marshall plan. The New World Order means undisputed US hegemony over small countries. The US will justify this whenever necessary by reviving an old, spectral threat - international terrorism, this time farcically depicted as being under the control of a single, evil individual.
Unfortunately for Clinton, the US attacks on Sudan and Afghanistan are widely and correctly perceived as having failed. The Sudanese government’s reaction to the bombing of a supposed chemical weapons factory in the northern suburbs of Khartoum suggests that, not for the first time, the US acted on the basis of false intelligence. Embarrassing also is the fact that in Afghanistan they failed to kill the man whom they have chosen to demonise as public enemy No1, the supposed godfather of international terrorism, Osama bin Laden. According to some reports, the actions of US diplomats in Islamabad were so clumsy as to give ample warning of an impending military operation against his headquarters.
The whole case of bin Laden is, of course, replete with irony. Here is a disaffected Saudi multi-millionaire whom the CIA once recruited and trained to lead Afghan ‘freedom fighters’ in their campaign against Soviet armed forces. When he and his fellow bandits were killing Soviet pilots and soldiers Mr bin Laden was a great hero, but now it appears that he is biting the hand that once fed him. We are led to believe that he is now the tarantula at the centre of an international web of terrorist conspiracy.
Of course, the consequences of this US operation go much further than mere embarrassment. At a stroke, the Clinton administration has done a great deal to unify and consolidate the forces of militant Islam throughout the Middle East. For each person killed in Khartoum or Afghanistan, you can reckon that a thousand volunteers have entered the ranks of those actively pledged to attack US citizens and interests wherever they can do so.
The adverse consequences on some of the United States’ key allies in the Gulf must also be very profound. Take the case of Saudi Arabia: a year ago the oil price stood at $24. Now it is around half that, and the political and social tensions arising from vastly depleted oil revenues were already there for anyone to see. Even optimistic western analysts admit that the Saudi regime, which lacks any social base outside the extended royal family, is very vulnerable to subversion and eventual destruction by the forces of Islamic fundamentalism. This internal threat to the stability of one of the USA’s most important clients can only have been deepened as a result of the recent attacks, and the same can be said for other Gulf states.
In the sphere of international relations and politics these attacks represent a significant development: outside open warfare, they were of unprecedented severity and were conducted without any prior reference to bodies such as the United Nations Security Council. Since the demise of the Soviet Union the US can strut across the world stage in its role as global gendarme doing exactly what it likes. Any state small enough not to be able to resist US aggression can expect to meet similar treatment as and when this suits the policy objectives of the White House.
Many bourgeois liberal commentators believe the US action was not only against international law but also morally reprehensible. Yet few have gone beyond the expression of mild concern. But no doubts whatever appear to have crossed the mind of Tony Blair. He is Margaret Thatcher’s star pupil when it comes to giving supine approval to US military intervention wherever it takes place. No sooner had the missiles exploded than Blair was telling the world of his full support and making it clear that he personally (for some inexplicable reason) had been consulted by Clinton beforehand. And to show that he too could wield the stick he stated publicly that, although he could do so, he had decided not to authorise the assassination of members of the so-called Real IRA by British Special Forces. This must surely have been a slip of the tongue, as it would appear to give weight to the suspicions recently strengthened by the Shayler-Tomlinson fiasco that the British government does indeed resort to assassination at home as well as abroad.
Finally, what reaction should we expect from the left to this latest demonstration of US aggression? By the time these words are printed some groups will have declared their unconditional ‘military’ support for the Taleban militia against US imperialism. Such a position is, of course, politically wrong. The Taleban that currently rule Afghanistan represent the most medieval and barbaric form of religious fanaticism and reaction. Their ‘anti-imperialism’ has nothing whatever to offer the Afghan peasantry - and the Afghan working class in so far as it exists - except oppression and violence.
We unreservedly condemn US state terrorism and its Tomahawk diplomacy. But we do so knowing that the immediate political beneficiaries of this bellicose action will not be such embryonic revolutionary movements as exist in the Middle East, but the reactionary forces of Islamic fundamentalism.