The New Statesman
Obama's lies over the Afghanistan war remind us of the lessons of Nineteen Eighty-Four
In Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell described a superstate, Oceania, whose language of war inverted lies that "passed into history and became truth. 'Who controls the past,' ran the Party slogan, 'controls the future: who controls the present controls the past'."
Barack Obama is the leader of a contemporary Oceania. In two speeches at the close of the decade, the Nobel Peace Prize-winner affirmed that peace was no longer peace, but rather a permanent war that "extends well beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan" to "disorderly regions, failed states, diffuse enemies". He called this "global security" and invited our gratitude. To the people of Afghanistan, which the US has invaded and occupied, he said wittily: "We have no interest in occupying your country."
In Oceania, truth and lies are indivisible. According to Obama, the American attack on Afghanistan in 2001 was authorised by the United Nations Security Council. There was no UN authority. He said that "the world" supported the invasion in the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks. In truth, all but three of 37 countries surveyed by Gallup expressed overwhelming opposition. He said that America invaded Afghanistan "only after the Taliban refused to turn over Osama Bin Laden". In 2001, the Taliban tried three times to hand over Bin Laden for trial, Pakistan's military regime reported, and they were ignored.
"Hearts and minds"
Even Obama's mystification of the 9/11 attacks as justification for his war is false. More than two months before the twin towers were attacked, the former Pakistani diplomat Niaz Naik was told by the Bush administration that a US military assault would take place by mid-October. The Taliban regime in Kabul, which the Clinton administration had secretly supported, was no longer regarded as "stable" enough to ensure US control over oil and gas pipelines to the Caspian Sea. It had to go.
Obama's most audacious lie is that Afghanistan today is a "safe haven" for al-Qaeda's attacks on the west. His own national security adviser, James Jones, said in October that there were "fewer than 100" al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan. According to US intelligence, 90 per cent of the Taliban are hardly Taliban at all, but "a tribal localised insurgency [who] see themselves as opposing the US because it is an occupying power". The war is a fraud. Only the terminally gormless remain true to the Obama brand of "world peace".
Beneath the surface, however, there is serious purpose. Under the disturbing General Stanley McChrystal, who gained distinction for his assassination squads in Iraq, the occupation of Afghanistan is a model for those "disorderly regions" of the world still beyond Oceania's reach. This is known as Coin (counter- insurgency), and draws together the military, aid organisations, psychologists, anthropologists, the media and public relations hirelings. Covered in jargon about winning hearts and minds, it aims to incite civil war: Tajiks and Uzbeks against Pashtuns.
The Americans did this in Iraq and destroyed a multi-ethnic society. They built walls between communities which had once intermarried, ethnically cleansing the Sunnis and driving millions out of the country. Embedded media reported this as "peace"; American academics bought by Washington and "security experts" briefed by the Pentagon appeared on the BBC to spread the good news. As in Nineteen Eighty-Four, the opposite was true.
Something similar is planned for Afghanistan. People are to be forced into "target areas" controlled by warlords, bankrolled by the CIA and the opium trade. That these warlords are barbaric is irrelevant. "We can live with that," a Clinton-era diplomat once said of the return of oppressive sharia law in a "stable", Taliban-run Afghanistan. Favoured western relief agencies, engineers and agricultural specialists will attend to the "humanitarian crisis" and so "secure" the subjugated tribal lands.
That is the theory. It worked after a fashion in Yugoslavia, where ethnic-sectarian partition wiped out a once-peaceful society, but it failed in Vietnam, where the CIA's "Strategic Hamlet Program" was designed to corral and divide the southern population and so defeat the Vietcong - the Americans' catch-all term for the resistance, similar to "Taliban".
Behind much of this are the Israelis, who have long advised the Americans in both the Iraq and the Afghanistan adventures. Ethnic cleansing, wall-building, checkpoints, collective punishment and constant surveillance - these are claimed as Israeli innovations that have succeeded in stealing most of Palestine from its native people. And yet, for all their suffering, the Palestinians have not been divided irrevocably and they endure as a nation against all odds.
Imperial cemeteriesThe most telling forerunners of the Obama Plan, which the Nobel Peace Prize-winner and his general and his PR men prefer we forget, are those that failed in Afghanistan itself. The British in the 19th century and the Soviets in the 20th century attempted to conquer that wild country by ethnic cleansing and were seen off, though after terrible bloodshed. Imperial cemeteries are their memorials. People power, sometimes baffling, often heroic, remains the seed beneath the snow, and invaders fear it.
“It was curious," wrote Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four, "to think that the sky was the same for everybody, in Eurasia or Eastasia as well as here. And the people under the sky were also very much the same - everywhere, all over the world . . . people ignorant of one another's existence, held apart by walls of hatred and lies, and yet almost exactly the same - people who . . . were storing up in their hearts and bellies and muscles the power that would one day overturn the world."