Labor and antiwar activists speak out on the war in Afghanistan
In October 2001, in the name of the so-called “war on terror,” the United States and an international coalition bombed Afghanistan, drove out the Taliban, and installed a puppet regime that survived only thanks to U.S./NATO occupation troops. At the height of the war, 120,000 U.S. troops were deployed in Afghanistan, with heavy reliance on mercenaries from Blackwater and other private contractor firms.
What was the result? The longest-ever foreign military intervention by the United States left more than 241,000 Afghan civilians dead, 2,442 U.S. troops dead (and 20,666 wounded), and more than 2 million internal and external Afghan refugees. The total cost of the war to the United States is estimated at $2.3 trillion. (source: Brown University, Watson Institute’s Cost of War Project)
Today, the very same Taliban who were driven from power in 2001 have been returned to power by the U.S. government following an agreement signed on February 29, 2020 in Qatar by the Trump administration — and subsequently endorsed and implemented by the Biden administration.
We are publishing below short statements by U.S. labor and antiwar activists with their assessment of this 20-year war and its outcome.
[All statements have been issued in a personal capacity; titles and organizations are listed for identification purposes only.]
COMMENTS by GENE BRUSKIN
(Co-founder – US LABOR AGAINST THE WAR)
US LABOR AGAINST THE WAR was formed in January 2003 to oppose the imminent war in Iraq and become labor’s voice in opposition to US foreign interventions, including Afghanistan. It was no accident that both the Iraq and Afghan wars were started by the viciously anti-worker administration of George Bush and Dick Cheney as labor opposition to their policies was growing. War and nationalism in the US always succeeded in the US in distracting people from the injustices perpetrated on them by our government and their corporate cronies.
It is the height of irony and, in fact, very revealing, that the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan has again played a role of undermining the gains of working-class Americans. The successful massive, united front of social forces against the threatened Trump dictatorship forced onto the national political agenda a set of progressive policies and social investments not seen in recent decades. But once again a US foreign intervention has pulled the attention of the nation from its domestic needs toward protecting our troops and citizens in Afghanistan and those Afghans whose lives were in danger for their support of our aggression.
The calculus of 20 years of the US war in Afghanistan is tragic: massive suffering, death, impoverishment and displacement for millions of Afghans the US allegedly was fighting for; hundreds of billions of dollars shifted to the coffers of the war industry (with many weapons ending up in the Taliban hands in this final period); billions of dollars lost to corrupt US contractors and Afghan leaders; thousands of deaths and injuries of US soldiers, mostly working class, and an incalculable amount of damage to those suffering PTSD; and, lastly, an open field for ISIS in Afghanistan emerging in the mess left behind as the US exits, contradicting the excuse for invading Afghanistan to begin with.
It is impossible to separate US imperialist foreign policy from our domestic policy. There can be no justice at home unless there is justice for all. Justice, like health and climate sustainability, can only be achieved globally. — 8/27/21
COMMENTS by CLARENCE THOMAS
(Past President of ILWU Local 10)
The fall of the corrupt government in Afghanistan, propped up by the Western powers, was inevitable. Right now, we are witnessing the destruction of Afghanistan, with the mass displacement of terrorized Afghans.
More than $2 trillion has been expended in this imperialist war, a war that has lasted 20 years. One can only imagine what could have been done with those $2 trillion if it were spent here at home. We probably could have had nationalized healthcare, living wages, infrastructure, improved public education, and more.
My union, ILWU Local 10, has been at the forefront of the fight against the wars at home and abroad. We shut down the 24 ports on the West Coast to protest the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – the first time that a U.S. trade union has taken such strike action, not for the purpose of wages and benefits, but to protest and resist a U.S. foreign policy. That was indeed historic.
We believe that this specific strike action – and there were many others going back to the 1930s – would not have taken place were it not for the Black rank-and-file members and leaders of ILWU Local 10. We have served as an example for other trade unions to follow.
I do believe, however, that because of the influence of the Democratic Party, our labor movement nationally has been handcuffed, prevented from taking the kind of actions needed to protect and advance the interests of the working class. Because of labor’s subordination to the Democratic Party, we have been demobilized from opposing U.S. wars and occupations in the interest of profits.
Our labor movement needs to act independently, beginning with the demand to slash the war budget. An Injury to One Is an Injury to All!
COMMENTS by DESIREE ROJAS
(President, Sacramento chapter, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (AFL-CIO)
They called the war in Afghanistan an “open check book” war many years ago, and today we definitely can call it “The Open Check Book War, with No Ledger!”
It’s a telling truth to see the end of a war that has nearly bankrupted the U.S., and by design fueled the privatization drive that has attacked organized labor across the country – especially public-sector workers at the local, state, and federal levels, creating more and more billionaires.
These are the same billionaires – and trillionaires – who do not pay taxes, undermine our laws, punish workers and their families, and destroy our environment. This has compelled us to take on refugees and step up the struggle for immigration justice, free healthcare, lower rents, and JOBS!
COMMENTS by JIM LAFFERTY
(Executive Director Emeritus of the National Lawyers Guild in Los Angeles, and a member of the Governing Board of the A.C.L.U. of Southern California)
Hours after the attacks of 9/11, at a meeting to discuss the appropriate U.S. response, then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld wrote, “judge whether good enough hit S.H. (Saddam Hussein) … go massive … sweep it all up. Things related and not.”
This was what the hard-liner U.S. imperialists had been looking for – a new Pearl Harbor that would justify, in the minds of the American people, the U.S. attacking Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, etc. You know, “things related and not.”
Since 9/11, that’s pretty much what the U.S. has done. And none of it, as in Iraq, has turned out as the U.S. imperialists had hoped. Afghanistan is but another example of that fact. And if today’s journalists and pundits were paying more attention to the fact that we had no right to wage war in Afghanistan in the first place, nor any chance of doing more in the war than bringing about vast amounts of death and destruction, the debacle of our exit could be viewed by the American people in the correct context. That is, the American people might realize that the tragedy now playing out in Afghanistan as we leave, is the fault of the U.S. government, not the people of Afghanistan, no matter how despicable those now in control of Afghanistan may be.
COMMENTS by KATHARINE HARER
(Co-VP & Organizer, AFT 1493.org — San Mateo Community College Fed of Teachers)
I am saddened, and angered, by our country’s military intervention in Afghanistan. Continuing for more than twenty years, it is the longest military incursion by the United States, leaving hundreds of thousands dead or maimed, while forcing millions to seek refuge in foreign lands. The total cost of the war to the United States is more than $2 trillion.
Meanwhile, our country continues its downward spiral into extreme income inequality – families are hungry, more and more people are being forced out of their homes and into the streets, and medical care is costly and difficult to access. Education budgets continue to shrink, and teachers’ pay isn’t commensurate with the cost of living. Many of our community college students work two or more jobs just to survive. It’s time to refocus on the needs of the U.S. and our people and stop intervening militarily in other countries.
My heart goes out to our troops who are still stationed in Afghanistan and to all the refugees who seek entry into our country.
No more imperialist wars, no more wasted lives.
Haïti Liberté Statement on the U.S. War in Afghanistan
(published in Brooklyn, N.Y.)
The U.S. military invasion and occupation of Afghanistan from October 2001 until August 2021 is one of history’s greatest crimes. It was a violation of international law, human rights law, the UN Charter, Nuremberg Principles, and was a crime against peace, defined in part as the “planning, preparation, initiation, or waging of wars of aggression.”
This criminal war killed over 241,000 Afghani men, women, and children. It also left some 2,500 U.S. soldiers dead and almost 21,000 wounded. It produced over two million Afghan refugees, who are internally or externally displaced. The war cost about $2.3 trillion and was used as a stepping-stone for the follow-on war against Iraq.
We in Haiti were the victims of a similar two-decade U.S. war a century ago. From 1915 until 1934, U.S. Marines militarily occupied Haiti, killing thousands of Haitians, who also fiercely resisted their aggression. The invasion’s purpose was to take control of Haiti for geopolitical purposes. The U.S. wanted to control our agriculture, raw materials, and banks, as well as the Windward Passage between Haiti and Cuba, through which all shipping from the U.S. East Coast to the West Coast passed on the way to the Panama Canal, completed in 1914. The U.S. was asserting its control over the Caribbean in the face of rivalry from European powers.
Similarly, the U.S. wanted to control Afghanistan as a strategic region through which to build gas pipelines, militarily encircle China and Russia, control about $1 trillion of rare earth minerals, and facilitate the production of heroin, revenue from which is used to fund U.S. intelligence black budgets.
But the Afghani people, like the Haitian people, fought the U.S. occupation until the end. Washington has nothing to show for the two decades it spent in Afghanistan, just as it had nothing to show in Haiti a century ago. Both Afghanistan and Haiti show that popular resistance, in whatever form, can foil the plans of even the most powerful empires. Haitians proved that in 1804 and 1934, and the Afghans proved that in 2021.
Down with Washington’s endless wars around the globe!
Long live self-determination for Afghanistan and Haiti!
COMMENTS by MICHAEL ZWEIG
(Former National Co-Convener, U.S. Labor Against the War)
Thoughts on the U.S. Leaving Afghanistan
Turning an old adage upside down, all bad things must come to an end. And so the United States is pulling all military troops from Afghanistan.
President Biden and others in top U.S. government positions say they had no idea the Afghan government and military forces they created and paid for would just disappear in a matter of days from the start of the withdrawal. The sad fact is that the U.S. ruling class has never had the slightest idea that corresponded to real Afghan political and social dynamics. How ludicrous was it that the U.S. years ago claimed to be giving military assistance to Afghan forces so they could be properly equipped and learn how to fight! The Afghan people have known how to fight for a very long time. That’s what it means that Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires.
But we – peace activists from the labor movement and all sections of U.S. civil society – we did know from the very start of the war in 2002 that it was wrong. We mobilized against it immediately because we knew it was wrong for one country to invade and dominate another. We knew the U.S. war was doomed to fail because we knew that empire never knows what the people know. We knew that U.S. domination of any country will lead to resistance and ultimate defeat.
And so it has been. But after how much death? How much suffering? How much catastrophic physical and social destruction in that country? After how much shame has accrued to the U.S. ruling class, in all its ignorant hubris?
Yet President Biden continues to promise that U.S. military and intelligence assets will continue to patrol Afghanistan from “over the horizon” and strike anywhere it suits him. Meanwhile, President Biden wants to “pivot” U.S. strategic military and diplomatic assets to confront the People’s Republic of China in an attempt to show the world that “The U.S. is back, at the head of the table.”
President Biden is no apostle of peace. Even in the face of daunting U.S. domestic challenges arising from gross inequality, the Covid pandemic, environmental catastrophes of unprecedented fire, flood, and drought, we must hold high the banner of peace and international labor solidarity. La Luta Continua! — August 27, 2021
COMMENTS by SANDY EATON, RN
(Former Chair, Legislative Council, National Nurses United, AFL-CIO)
Afghanistan & the Working Class
Forty-two years ago, the US Carter Administration started recruiting, funding and arming religious fanatics to help overthrow the socialist government in Kabul and draw the Soviet Union into a quagmire. The Reagan Administration subsequently expanded that intrusion greatly and succeeded in bringing down the Soviet Union. Every US administration of whichever party has since contributed to the devastation of countries in Central and Southwest Asia, Africa and around the world.
To the crises of climate change and the global pandemic we now must add fear that the US, being routed from Afghanistan, will lash out viciously elsewhere to deflect attention from that humiliation and to assure arms manufacturers that their privileged position in the economy is secure.
Early in the first Reagan Administration, 241 US Marines were killed in an explosion in Beirut. Within a few days, US armed forces invaded Grenada to overthrow the New Jewel Movement government there. Later, the US invaded Panamá, striking the heaviest blows to working-class neighborhoods.
So now we stand poised in anticipation of the next outrage, be it against Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua or the emerging liberation movements across Latin America and the Caribbean. A wounded beast of prey, even one wounded mortally, still strikes out. We stand in solidarity with all the victims of imperialism, past and yet to come.
COMMENTS by JULIAN KUNNIE
(First Nations Enforcement Agency; Free Mumia Movement; Black Alliance for Peace, in a personal capacity)
The US and NATO imperialist wars of invasion and occupation of Afghanistan since 2001, like all imperialist wars, have resulted in untold death, annihilation, and suffering of the Afghan people and people in the region.
These, along with US imperialist wars armed with weapons of mass destruction continue to destroy mostly Muslim nations like Libya, Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen (aided by monarchical Saudi Arabia), and other countries, and are tantamount to cultural genocide considering that these are among the most impoverished peoples of the world.
All wars of invasion, aggression, destruction, and occupation for the looting of oil and other materials needed for the capitalist-killing profit-making machine must end now. There can be no humanity, no life, with senseless blood-letting wars that cause much harm to the Earth and all life. No justice, No Peace!
COMMENTS by MICHAEL CARANO
(Teamster Local 348, retired)
After 20 years of senseless deaths of hundreds of thousands, after over two trillion in wasteful spending with the only winners being military contractors and weapons manufacturers, after the unceasing lying to the public about “progress” in the futile effort to supposedly build democracy in a nation-building project, Pres. Joe Biden says the U.S. is leaving Afghanistan.
The right approach is to face all dispatches from Washington with the proper skepticism. This skepticism also suggests Washington’s reasons for withdrawal to be not wholly honorable, such as redirecting its focus for a new endeavor – the “war on terror “now having lost its luster – to a military response to a new cold war against the behemoth economic power of China and the threat of its alliance with Russia.
The U.S. must acknowledge over 40 years of a failed foreign policy that uses might to make nations bow to its imperial, economic designs. It is now time to clean up the mess this approach has made in much of the world. End all sanctions against Iran, Syria, Yemen, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba.
Along with its incessant meddling in these countries, the U.S. must end its historical attempts to stifle self-determination in places like Haiti, the nations of the Horn of Africa, Central and South America.
It must cut the military budget (at least) in half and direct the monies to the material well-being of its citizens via education, healthcare, leading in the fight against climate change, and in short becoming a nation among nations, one working in conjunction with all nations to stave off nuclear destruction and a degraded world. It is time to put a knife in the heart of the congressional military-industrial complex.
Empire must end now. Organizing the world for the sole purpose of profit must end. It is a time for humanity to come together to face the threat that capitalism has bequeathed the planet we call home.
COMMENTS by CLIFF CONNER
(author of The Tragedy of American Science)
When Joe Biden self-servingly declared, “Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires,” did he not realize he was acknowledging the imperialist character of the American mission?
The recent events there demonstrate the failure of their “Plan A”—the “regime change” strategy — to subjugate Afghanistan and convert it into a docile U.S. neo-colony. However, the fallback “Plan B” — the “failed state” strategy —relentlessly continues. As with Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and so many others, when the United States cannot conquer a country, it tries to militarily destroy its governing institutions, its economy, and its physical infrastructure, and if successful, the policymakers then shed crocodile tears over the “failed state” they created.
It is therefore not surprising to see them “defecating on the floor as they walk out the door.” The final chapter of the Afghanistan saga has yet to be written, but the evident failure of U.S. imperialism to crush Afghanistan after twenty years of all-out effort powerfully testifies to the ongoing decline and fall of the American empire.
COMMENT by JOE LOMBARDO (and excerpts from UNAC statement)
[Comrades: Please find below brief excerpts from a statement issued August 19 by the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC) on whose steering committee I serve. The statement is titled, “UNAC Statement on Taliban Takeover of Afghanistan.” — In solidarity, Joe Lombardo]
Events are happening very fast in the world today but perhaps none faster than the rapid advance of the Taliban and the fall of the US puppet regime in Afghanistan.
The US supposedly went into Afghanistan to capture Osama Bin Laden who they held responsible for the attacks on 9/11. The Taliban government said they would turn him over to an international court if shown proof of his involvement, but rather than do that, the US attacked and occupied the country and turned the government over to a group of war lords from the Northern Alliance. That was supposed to bring democracy to Afghanistan. Twenty years later the Taliban has returned stronger than ever.
The last 20 years have been hell for the Afghan people. Around 240,000 have been killed, there have been massive numbers of drone strikes and bombings, Black sites for torture such as Bagram Air Base were created. Opium production skyrocketed under the US occupation.
The US was never in Afghanistan to fight terrorism or to bring a better life for the Afghan people, they were there to install a pro-US government that would support their strategic political and military goals in the region, including their aggression against China and Iran. Additionally, they wanted to get their hands on the vast mineral resources in Afghanistan.
We must demand: No more bombing, remove all troops, mercenaries, and special forces from the country and the surrounding area, no sanctions, and pay reparations for the destruction caused by their war and occupation. The people of Afghanistan must find their own way free from US intervention.
COMMENTS by JACK RASMUS
(Author, economist, labor activist)
Afghanistan As Marker for the US Empire at Historical Juncture
The USA as global hegemon can no longer afford the financial cost of remaining in Afghanistan, so it is pulling out. New projected costs of maintaining US global empire in the decade ahead have risen dramatically since the Afghan war began in fall of 2001. The US is pulling out because, for the first time since 1945, it has decided to cut its costs in less strategic areas like Afghanistan in order to be able to finance the anticipated growing costs of empire elsewhere, which are projected to rise sharply during the 2020s decade and beyond.
The two new areas requiring trillions of dollars of new funding are:
+ the rapidly rising costs of investing in next generation technologies needed to compete with China, both militarily and economically;
+ the costs of cybersecurity investments needed to deal with Russia, China, and with select lesser cyber challengers;
US imperial interests increasingly realize they cannot continue to throw away trillions of dollars more in wars in Afghanistan, let alone the broader middle east—whether Iraq, Libya, Syria/Isis, Iran containment, or financing Arab states’ war in Yemen.
Collapsing imperial finance forces the US empire to retreat, consolidate and regroup for the new strategic threats to US imperial hegemony on the horizon.
The focus henceforth will be on the Great Technology War with China and cybersecurity conflicts with Russia. These are the key strategic interests of the American Empire in this decade and beyond—not Afghanistan. — August 27, 2021
COMMENTS by RODGER SCOTT
(Past president of AFT 2121)
The undeclared, interventionist war in Afghanistan was one of the most shameful and destructive of the many failures of my country’s ignorant, racist and politically hysterical foreign policy. I am a patriotic person who served in the U.S. Army between the undeclared wars in Korea and Vietnam. I also served two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Colombia and 48 years as a teacher in four countries. We must learn from our crimes against humanity and stop intervening in other nations.
COMMENTS by ALLAN FISHER
(Past Exec. Bd., AFT 2121)
The US must learn from the Afghanistan experience that it has no right to occupy other lands, peoples and nations. The US must provide reparations and apologies for the peoples that it has damaged. The US methods of conducting war has always meant the huge loss of innocent civilian lives. Revenge should never be a justification of using violence against adversaries since it increases the probability of retaliation and continuing violence hurting both sides.
The US armed forces and the wars and violence it pursues is a major source of greenhouse gases which are an existential threat to humanity. Who benefits? – the war profiteers. Nobody should be allowed to profit from war and national defense expenditures. We must struggle to end these unjust wars and greatly reduce our bloated and unnecessary “Defense” budget that does not make us any safer.
COMMENTS by HAL SUTTON
(retired member of the UAW)
Following two decades of direct US/NATO military intervention, the coalition of imperialist nations that is led by the United States is in the process of disengaging from that war-torn nation, leaving it in the hands of a regime that was originally supported by the United States, but deposed following September 11, 2001.
As the process of disengagement approaches its completion, the danger of a re-introduction of imperialist forces will remain for as long as capitalist imperialism continues to dominate the political economy of humanity. As with all other imperialist military operations, the toiling masses of the world, including in the U.S., will have absolutely no interest in such a military re-engagement in Afghanistan.
The labor movement in the U.S. must become vigilant and prepared to oppose all imperialist military operations, which are always conducted at the expense of the social needs of the working class.