Newspaper commentary is full of coverage of how the US and its Nato allies have lost the Afghan war. There is very little mention of how the military-industrial complex of the US has won despite the US losing the war.
The military-industrial complex of the US is in need of constant wars abroad to keep its wheels oiled on a constant basis. That is why, since the Second World War, the US has come out of one foreign war to only engage in another. Millions of non-Americans around the world have lost their lives, limbs, and homes in these proxy and actual wars; yet the greed of the military-industrial complex of the US is never satiating. It keeps finding new pastures for foreign wars.
Andrew Cockburn’s piece in the ‘Spectator’ of August 2021 offers a good analysis of the US military-industrial complex. He opens the article with these often-neglected lines in popular parlance, “The departure of American troops from Afghanistan is being lamented (or hailed – see the Chinese press, passim) as a defeat. But this is a shortsighted attitude, at least from the point of view of the US military and the multitude of interested parties who feed at its trough. For them, the whole adventure has been a thumping success, as measured in the trillions of taxpayer dollars that have flowed through their budgets and profits over the two decades in which they successfully maintained the operation.”
This viewpoint is validated through some anecdotes. The writer’s friend who is a mid-level staffer attended a meeting of senior generals of the US discussing Trump’s “mini-surge” in 2018. The generals were unanimous in their view that this level of the increase of the US forces in Afghanistan will be inconsequential for the outcome of the war but they “happily agreed” with Trump’s proposal as it would bring more budget for the Pentagon.
The writer refers to another member of the US defence forces, Col John Boyd, a former air force fighter pilot who wrote about human conflict theory who explained that the US military’s claimed mission and its indifference to achieving military success are not contradictory – although they may seem so. He refuted the analysis that the Pentagon does not have a war strategy as evident from Vietnam to Afghanistan. Actually, the “Pentagon does have a strategy. It is: ‘Don’t interrupt the money flow, add to it’”.
The larger point being elucidated above is that the US military earns rent of its productive economy. According to World Bank data, the US’s GDP in 2020 was nearly 21 trillion dollars and it has in these last 20 years spent two trillion dollars in Afghanistan. Nearly 89 billion dollars have been spent on giving Afghanistan a standing army that withered away in a fortnight like a house of cards in the face of Taliban onslaught. Most of this money has gone to the US army, defence contractors and consultants. Surely, some money has gone to previous Afghan governments as well, most of it believed to have been siphoned off in corruption.
The entire military-industrial complex of the US benefited from the Afghan war. A post forwarded by the progressive anti-war icon Tariq Ali points out that during the Afghan war; Lockheed Martin had a 1,236 percent return on its investment, Northrop Grumman had a 1,196 percent return, Boeing had a 975 percent return, General Dynamics had a 625 percent return, and Raytheon had a 331 percent return. The post ends by stating: “The military-industrial complex got exactly what it wanted out of this war.”
Another article by James Risen in the recent ‘The Intercept’ issue points out how the chair of General Atomics Neal Blue, the US defence corporation and Southern California energy produced the drone ‘predator’. It shows how the Blue brothers of General Atomics enriched themselves by producing drone technology while there was continuous loss of lives in Afghanistan.
Famous progressive journalist and filmmaker John Pilger has written in the MintPress News that it was the American CIA, British MI6 and their local allies that took part in the CIA covert operation ‘Cyclone’ to defeat the Soviet designs on Afghanistan on an initiative of Zbigniew Brzezinski. The chicken has come home to roost now by taking a full 360 degrees turn.
As far as Taliban 2.0 being reformed, they might have learnt to game it. An article by Emma Graham-Harrison in the ‘Guardian’ recently pointed out that this talk of reformed Taliban is only for “show”. There are atrocities, curbs on women’s rights and intimidation in the areas that fell to the Taliban earlier before the full capitulation, yet their Doha Shura talks of an ‘inclusive’ government.
The Taliban do know that they cannot run Afghanistan on their own and they need world recognition and money. They have learnt to game it. It is like their ‘talk, talk; fight fight’ strategy during the war. They might throw some crumbs to the world on inclusivity and women’s rights within the religious framework, but they might continue to act out exactly what they have always believed in.
Foreign wars for the US military have become a way to enrich itself and the entire military-industrial complex of the US. It is beyond the point that these wars bring innumerable suffering, immense loss of lives and resources in these foreign lands. As long as they continue to enrich the US military and its military-industrial complex and its British and Nato allies and their local collaborators, these foreign wars will continue to be ‘fought’ no matter how futile and destructive they are to humanity.
The writer is an Islamabad-based social scientist.