Trump on Afghanistan: Protect profits and to hell with everything else

President Trump announced to the nation last night that he has traded in his alleged one-time support for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan for a policy of perpetual war. Saying he “always opposed” timelines for withdrawal, he left open the possibility that U.S. troops could stay there forever.

The 16-year-long war in that country, with 8,000 troops still stationed there, is outdone only by the Korean War, which has lasted more than 65 years, with 30,000-plus U.S. troops still on the Korean Peninsula.

Of course, U.S. troops are currently stationed essentially almost everywhere on the planet. Our nation’s ongoing wars are costing trillions of dollars, and we are losing the lives and health of our young servicemen and women.

After the president’s speech, pundits are searching for the reasons why Trump has seemingly reversed his position on keeping troops in Afghanistan. They are saying absurd things like “the president has come to his senses and started listening to his generals,” or the president has finally realized “the weight of the office he holds,” or that he finally understands, under the tutelage of White House Chief of Staff General Kelly, that the choices made by Presidents Obama and Bush before him are the only ones available.

What they are failing to note is that President Trump, like presidents before him, is simply following the money. The wealthy contractors and corporations that sell armaments to the military and the people who push those sales are wallowing in their ill-gotten gains. The Afghanistan war has already been won as far as they are concerned. They rake in billions in profits from this war month after month, year after year. The only way for them to continue to “win” is to continue the war.

Better yet, try to start up a few new wars to supplement the ones we already have going. Why not a new war in Pakistan? Maybe even drag India into the conflict. Those possibilities were raised by President Trump last night in his speech to the nation.

Tragically, the last time there was real hope for the people in Afghanistan and in Pakistan was before the U.S. began militarily aiding right-wing and religious despots in those countries. There was a time when both Pakistan and Afghanistan were on paths to secular-left and progressive development. In both cases, the U.S. intervened on the side opposing that positive development. The result is the disaster we are faced with now—a disaster in which Americans die, people of those countries die, corrupt governments continue in power, and fundamentalist religious terrorists thrive.

What we have done with this policy of militarism and are doing with the continued U.S. presence in Afghanistan is to force an unacceptable choice on the people of these countries: A corrupt undemocratic government on the one hand, or a group like ISIS or the Taliban on the other.

The people who reaped profits of war care not what they have sowed. Everything’s cool as long as the money continues to roll in. In an article in The Nation today, Michelle Chen cites a study by the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IMHE), which shows that from 1990 to 2015, the people of Afghanistan (among other countries) have suffered drastic increases in chronic illness and death from preventable disease and psychological instability. Diabetes and lung cancer have doubled and Afghanistan and Pakistan are both among the 10 countries with the highest child mortality rate in the world.

Nothing Trump said last night will help turn any of this around. The problems began and grew during the years of U.S. military involvement and will continue under Trump’s policy of perpetual war.

Imagine a child, Chen notes, who was two or three years old when the war in Afghanistan began and is now in his or her early twenties. What kind of life has that child had? Trump last night proposed continuing that life of horror by sustaining the military profit-making war machine in Afghanistan, along with dragging Pakistan further into the conflict.

That child could well live out his or her entire life experiencing nothing but the horrors of war. Americans, on the other hand, will continue to die in Afghanistan and be no safer at home. The U.S. policy of war fuels the things that give rise to terrorism—serving actually as a recruitment device for ISIS and the Taliban.

Instead of spending trillions on war, we need to be boosting investment in social, medical, and physical infrastructure both in the countries ravaged by war and in the U.S. It’s the only way to undo some of the damage caused over there and to reverse problems we have here at home.

Wouldn’t such a massive program, expensive as it would be, have a greater payoff in jobs and world security than the military expansion we now pursue? Militarism is already more expensive than any modern-day “Marshall Plan” would be, and military expansion really only pays off for the rich who benefit from the war.

It will take nothing less than a powerful peace movement here and around the world to compel a new direction for U.S. policy on Afghanistan. What Trump laid out last night was the same old “protect the money and to hell with everything else” approach that has as its only winners the armaments producers and their friends in the Pentagon and the government.


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.