No region of the world has more strategic value to powerful U.S. transnational corporations and the military industrial complex than the arc of countries stretching from the Middle East to Central and South Asia. If wars are going to be fought in the 21st century, the probability of them occurring in this region is high.
And the reasons are simple. If you are thinking terrorist actions (which are as much an effect as a cause of the instability in this part of the globe) are the explanation, you just failed the quiz. If on the other hand, your answer is oil and China, you aced it. Together they give this far-flung territory its strategic importance.
Control of the region's vast oil supply assures a steady flow of this critical but finite natural resource (without which the world economy would grind to a halt), stratospheric profits for the U.S. corporate energy complex, and enormous strategic leverage over foes (and friends) alike.
As for China, this vast country is the main strategic competitor to U.S. capitalism in the 21st century. If U.S. economic and political power is in decline (and I think it is), China's power is on the rise, thus making necessary - in the eyes of the corporate-energy-military crowd - an array of U.S. allied or client states bordering and hemming in China, whose energy needs not unimportantly are vast.
I say all this because listening to the conversation about Afghanistan in the media, one would think that this battered country has no strategic value, that the war is only about combating al-Qaeda and the Taliban. But is this the case? It is true that Afghanistan is not a major oil or gas producer like petro states in the region, (although some oil fields were recently discovered whose size is still unknown), but does it follow that securing control of this country is of no significance strategically for U.S. ruling circles? Don't think so!
For one thing, it shares a border with China. For another thing, it sits in a region that is both in equal measure the main source of oil production and very unstable. Thus from the standpoint of powerful interests in our country, turning Afghanistan into a friendly and reliable regime is considered of strategic importance. It could give, for example, the U.S. military the ability to project power to one or another country in that region in a matter of minutes.
Thus the $64,000 question is: How much blood, treasure, and goodwill in the Muslim world are we ready to sacrifice in this military occupation in order to establish a pro-U.S. government in that country? We know that U.S. ruling circles are not of one mind. Some are ready for the long haul, while others are reluctant to make that kind of commitment to what already is protracted occupation. President Obama, it appears and in contrast to his right-wing Republican counterparts, leans in the direction of extricating ourselves in the relatively near term. Among other things, he is certainly mindful of the negative impact of the Vietnam quagmire on the presidency of Lyndon Johnson.
As for the U.S. people, they are tiring of this occupation. Many are ready to bring the troops home expeditiously and give space to the United Nations and governments in the region, including representatives of the Afghani people, to sit down and search for a negotiated settlement that will bring some measure of peace, democracy, independence and development to the country.
In electing President Obama the hope was that we would begin to turn away from policies of aggression, sanctions, blockade and interference. His first months in office were promising as he eloquently made the case for a new foreign policy. And he has taken a number of steps in that direction. Nevertheless, too many of his actions have contradicted his words and intentions. It has also become clear that a powerful bloc of interests in Congress and the White House, the Pentagon, right-wing extremists, the military and energy complexes, conservative foreign policy lobbies, security agencies, etc., are resisting all or any but the smallest adjustments in our country's role in the world arena.
Saying this doesn't let the president off the hook as far as Afghanistan is concerned; no one else is as well positioned to redirect our foreign policy along the lines that he earlier articulated, but it will take courage to "break from the pack."
Whether he does will depend in no small measure on the peace and people's movement, and to be fair too many among us have been a little asleep at the switch on this. Mass sentiments against the Afghanistan war are one thing, but unless organized those sentiments will have a minimal impact on the administration's policy, including its positive initiatives.