Profits, Not Peace! A Note on the US Withdrawal from Afghanistan

August 31, 2021, this date will  mark the inglorious failures of the “Operation Freedom’s Sentinel” and also of NATO’S  “Resolute Support Mission.”

  • Profits, not Peace! A Note on the US Withdrawal From Afghanistan

A few days ago President Joe Biden announced that the American troops stationed in Afghanistan will return home by August 31, 2021. This date will  mark the inglorious failures of the “Operation Freedom’s Sentinel” and also of NATO’S  “Resolute Support Mission.”  The U.S. and its European allies had invaded and occupied Afghanistan in 2001, after the 9/11 attacks, launching the longest military engagement in American history: 20 years in total, concluded in an ignominious defeat.  A proper understanding of this war requires placing it in the context of the many wars that were unleashed after the 9/11 attacks. Sure enough, it was the longest but far from being the only one. US imperialism got involved in numerous wars after 9/11, all of them without sufficient monitoring and control by the United States Congress.

Although the most important theaters of the war operations were in Afghanistan and Iraq, United States troops and its NATO allies were involved in significant military actions in several other countries: invasions, “selective” strikes and bombings, attack with drones and many on the ground (cover and uncovered) operations took place in Pakistan, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and the Philippines. Despite the carelessness with which the hegemonic press followed these events, subsequent research proved that at least 801,000 people died as a result of these wars. This figure includes the military personnel of all parties in conflict, including the Pentagon-recruited “contractors” (a gentle term to name the cold-blooded “mercenaries”); journalists; humanitarian and health workers, and so on. Over 335,000 civilians were killed in direct violence between all parties involved in the conflicts; and a breath-taking 37 million were displaced because of these wars, condemned to a nomadic, miserable life, in many cases forever. Only in Afghanistan 2.448 American military and 3.846 Pentagon “contractors” lost their lives. To this, it should be added the 1.144 casualties among the NATO forces. Aid and health workers on the ground lost 444 people, and 72 journalists died while reporting the news from the battle fronts. On the Afghan side, reliable reports indicate that some 66.000 military and police personnel lost their lives in the conflict. On the other hand, 51.191 Taliban fighters and almost 50.000 civilians lost their lives too.

These figures speak loudly of the human tragedy of these wars. Let us now briefly look at their staggering economic costs. Through 2020, the United States federal government has spent $ 6,4 trillion dollars on the post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. This figure includes: direct Congressional war appropriations; war-related increases to the Pentagon base budget, to veterans care and disability, and in the homeland security budget. To all these interest payments on direct war borrowing; foreign assistance spending; and estimated future obligations for veterans’ care should be added. 

One of the most aberrant things about these wars is that they were fought almost exclusively by borrowing, which has raised to the skies the US budget deficit, increased the national debt, and had other pernicious macroeconomic effects, such as raising consumer interest rates. According to a report published by Forbes early this year the U.S. National Debt is expected to approach $89 Trillion by 2029. The author of the piece concludes that “this would put the country’s debt-to-GDP ratio at 277%, surpassing Japan’s current 272% debt-to-GDP ratio.”

Given that the US did not immediately repay the money borrowed for war, there will also be future hefty interest payments to be made by the White House. By comparison, President Harry Truman temporarily raised top tax rates to pay for the Korean War: 92%; President Lyndon Johnson temporarily raised top tax rates to pay for the Vietnam War to  77%, but President George W. Bush cut tax rates for the wealthiest, rather than raise them.

The numbers presented above speak of the formidable profits that all these wars have produced for the military-industrial complex and, also, for the financial vultures that nest on Wall Street. These wars were (and still are!) fabulous business opportunities no matter their human costs and the fact that Washington only reaped partial victories or defeats. Many experts on military issues in the US claimed that Afghanistan above all was an "unwinnable war," and many more keep asking why the US cannot win wars anymore. But with the wars profits are soaring. Tom Engelhard, an incisive analyst of military matters recently pointed out the absurdity that when President Biden announced the withdrawal of the last US troops from Afghanistan (incidentally, “the graveyard of empires”), the Pentagon budget was about to rise again from its record heights in the Trump years. “Only in America,” a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel William Astore wrote, “do wars end and war budgets go up.” 

The former is in line with the observation made by President Jimmy Carter when he asked why China is ahead of us?  “I normalized diplomatic relations with China in 1979”, he said. “Since 1979, do you know how many times China has been at war with anybody? None. And we have stayed at war." Carter said the United States is "the most warlike nation in the history of the world" due to a desire to impose American values and interests on other countries, and he suggested that China is investing its resources into projects such as high-speed railroads and basic infrastructure instead of defense spending. But unlike the US, China does not have a “military-industrial-financial complex” that desperately needs war to make huge profits. This is the reason why news wars are looming on the horizon.

The opinions mentioned in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Al mayadeen, but rather express the opinion of its writer exclusively.
Atilio A. Boron

Sociologist, political scientist, and journalist.