U.S. media finds its voice—to bay for blood over Afghanistan
Screen grabs from various television networks' recent coverage of the Afghanistan withdrawal.

It would appear the United States’ corporate-owned media has finally gotten over their love affair with President Joe Biden for not being Donald Trump.

Now, at long last, they’re actually criticizing his administration. Are they taking issue with his inaction on student debt, or his mishandling of the new coronavirus variants sweeping through the populace? Maybe they’re nailing him on a fumbled extension of an eviction moratorium that threatens to leave millions homeless.

Nope. They’re outraged because he’s ending a war.

After two decades and as many trillions spent, Biden finalized the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan earlier this month. Almost immediately, the Taliban continued its incursion into the last strongholds of the U.S.-backed comprador government, taking the capital Kabul in a matter of days. As if a switch had been flipped, the media response was as strident as it was unanimous.

Their chief objection is not, of course, the tens of thousands of Afghans killed in the 20 years of U.S. occupation. Nor are they concerned with the millions more whose lives were upended by their country’s military. What they’re worried about, what really keeps them up at night, is the loss of American credibility on the world stage. The evisceration of an entire nation is a footnote, at most, to the abject humiliation of a public retreat. Priorities firmly in order, I suppose.

This oblivious attitude was most recently exemplified in the response to a terrorist attack at the Kabul airport. After the deadly bombing, headlines blared with the number 13—how many U.S. troops were killed—but carried nary a mention of the Afghan civilians who perished. That was, of course, far higher than the total plastered across every U.S. newsstand; at present, at least 169 dead have been accounted for. Perhaps it wasn’t thought to be worth mentioning because eyewitness reports contend some of those civilians were killed when surviving U.S. soldiers opened fire.

Biden swore retribution for those 13 soldiers and delivered it in traditional American fashion: A drone strike that killed 10 civilians, seven of them children. At a time when many in the media are crying out in disbelief over why so many countries seem to despise imperialist U.S. foreign policy, the military they revere so much have given them an answer.

But their efforts to justify continued U.S. presence press on. The media has turned to all manner of tactics in this campaign, and it should come as no surprise that has included fear-mongering about China. In America’s absence, they claim, China will move into Afghanistan and run roughshod over the population. They invoke the Belt and Road Initiative to lend credence to this wild fantasia, as the myth of a supposed “debt trap” has become an unchallengeable shibboleth in the parlance of the elite.

I’m not sure what delusions they’re entertaining.

China hasn’t been at war in over 40 years. Under the Communist Party, it has done nothing even remotely comparable to the U.S.’ pathological imperial meddling. In that time, priority one for the PRC has been its own sovereignty and independence, and it has repeatedly stressed its refusal to disrupt the internal affairs of other countries. Any pearl-clutching over China stepping into a supposed “power vacuum” is window dressing for a recommitment of U.S. forces to wholesale slaughter. Besides, what do they expect from BRI involvement in Afghanistan? Unlike the U.S., China doesn’t build military bases abroad. It builds roads, bridges, ports, and railways.

The only conclusion that can be drawn from these allegations is that those commentators must believe all countries are, underneath their rhetoric, as bloodthirsty as themselves. Without a frame of reference for alternative forms of engagement—where others are treated as equal partners rather than dutiful subjects—you could see how someone could think this way. As the saying goes, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

But that glib expression has a far more sinister meaning when the nails in question are human beings. And paid political commentators are hardly naïve babes in the woods; their job is to sell the policy objectives of the U.S. security state. So I have little sympathy for their caterwauling. They’re not on the side of the people of Afghanistan and never have been.

So, what are we left with? Well, thanks to U.S. foreign policy, we’ve seen what two trillion dollars can buy. Bombs, warplanes, tanks, drones—any implement of destruction you can dream of, it’s been bought and shipped overseas to menace countless sovereign nations.

We’ve also seen what it can’t. Seemingly infinite wealth can’t be used to escape the ravages of a deadly pandemic, despite China’s successful blueprint being essentially public domain at this point. It can’t be used for efficient, affordable public transit to help the working majority get from point A to B without clogging highways and polluting the skies. It can’t be used to alleviate the crushing debt burdens and wage stagnation that’s left millions without the resources to address a single $500 emergency. For some reason, the political will just isn’t there.

And most tragically, it can’t bring back the tens of thousands of Afghans senselessly murdered in pursuit of a megalomaniacal foreign policy. There’s no amount of money that can put back together a family ripped apart by the loss of a mother, father, daughter, or son.

Those responsible for this heinous crime will see no consequences. The mild drubbing the current administration is receiving from the war hawk press pales in comparison to what the people who perpetuated this catastrophe deserve.

But U.S. imperialism operates on a perverse definition of justice, a twisted logic unrecognizable to any thinking, feeling human being. For those in charge, the disaster isn’t the two decades of massacres and pillaging; it’s the two weeks of evacuation. In their minds, leaving Afghanistan means passing up further exploitation, an end to one of the U.S.’ many avenues of plunder it camouflages in high-minded rhetoric about “human rights” and “democracy.”

Does that sound like a stretch? Hardly.

War is highly lucrative for those calling the shots in comfort and safety. There are no better terms than the ones you dictate unilaterally, and Afghanistan sits atop a vast store of mineral resources. And 20 years of occupation means a lot of weapons to be sold, at ludicrously high markup. From oil magnates to arms manufacturers to the personalities on the news running PR for both, everyone gets paid when the war drums start beating.

But even with the loss of its puppet regime, U.S. imperialism has ensured perpetual instability in large swathes of the Middle East for years to come. If direct control is no longer feasible or palatable, a state of chaos is the next best thing. Keeping geopolitical rivals occupied with a powder keg on their borders—far from the U.S.’ own shores—is an acceptable alternative, no matter the human cost.

That’s why those in charge will have considered the two trillion dollars thrown into Afghanistan money well-spent. It’s also why they’ll never contemplate such a princely sum for a project that helps people or promotes peace.

Because the talking heads at news outlets, the eggheads at think tanks, and the bean counters at defense contractors will all have the same response, one Americans hear whenever there’s a call to do good in the world:

“Where’s the profit in that?”

As with all op-eds published in People’s World, this article reflects the opinions of its author.


Ian Goodrum
Ian Goodrum

Ian Goodrum is a writer and digital editor for China Daily in Beijing, China.