Editorial : We Are at War

Reprinted from The Common Good, No 51, Advent 2009

Our country is officially at war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Not the full scale war of 1939-45, but more akin to the regional wars of Korea and Vietnam. This was admitted by the Prime Minister, John Key, in September when he acknowledged that 71 SAS troops are serving on the front line in Kabul, Afghanistan, joining the previously announced 161 ‘re-construction troops’. In addition, we have secretly sent intelligence operatives working in ‘non-military support roles.’ (NZ Herald, 9 September 2009). This is the ninth year of this particular war, a war that could well go on for at least another nine years.

It is a venture doomed to disaster and the sooner we pull out the better. We have no moral or legal right to be there. Western troops never win wars in Afghanistan.

We need to step back and imagine what war means to the average person in Afghanistan. During most of their lives Afghans have suffered bombardment and constant fighting. Russia sought, during the 1980s, to take over the country to gain access to natural gas resources in the Caspian Sea. At the time, the US armed what is now the Taliban in order to defeat the Russians. They did this for the same reasons that the Russians invaded – to gain access to rich resources. The US conglomerate Unacol wanted to build a pipeline through Afghanistan to the Caspian Sea. The plan would have bypassed troublesome Iran and enabled oil companies to transport crude oil and natural gas from the Caspian Sea to the Indian Ocean at the Pakistani port of Gwadar. The Taliban rejected this plan. So a cartel of powerful Western oil companies then prodded the US military to declare war on the Taliban.

Now New Zealand is backing the Western presence there with firepower on the ground. Where does our discernment of the morality of such a move come from? The Clark Government wisely kept New Zealand out of the quagmire that became Iraq, a war built on lies and duplicity, which latest figures show caused 1.3 million deaths. Even Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the US Federal reserve, admitted as much to a Congressional inquiry. ‘We are in Iraq for the oil.’ Now the war in Afghanistan is in the process of sucking New Zealand in for similar mercenary reasons.

We can all guess that politically we were bullied into going by the US, though many National Party senior politicians have a very gung-ho approach to war. There was no officially sponsored public debate here in New Zealand about our participation. The visit of the Prime Minister to New York and his meetings with President Obama were not about sharing cookies and coffee with friends. They were about locking New Zealand more tightly into the Western alliance, and more particularly, the American dimension of it. And that means the American war machine.

Given that the US operates a constant war economy and stated goals of serving ‘US interests’ in all that it does internationally, we should be very wary of any closer alliance with the American empire. Despite being bullied, relative independence from American foreign policy has served us well for 25 years. We should maintain that position. Economically and politically, the more independence we have, the better.

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