Sunday, July 19, 2009
However, at the beginning of this week, a poll found that British opinion was split more or less fifty-fifty on the war in Afghanistan (though a majority wants the troops out by the end of the year). This could just be a blip, as majorities have consistently opposed the war in previous polls. But if it proved to be part of a trend, it would mean that antiwar sentiment is declining, and we have a problem on our hands. My suspicion is that the popularity of the Obama administration could be behind some of this. The other thing is that, at my meeting at the Stop the War Coalition in Birmingham on Thursday, it was mentioned that army recruitment had increased for the first time in years. Given the efforts by returning soldiers and outfits such as Military Families Against the War to enlighten people as to the bloody realities of the war, this is alarming. Perhaps the recession and higher unemployment is pushing more young people into signing up. Whatever the reason, there's a problem.
One last thing. I note the popularity of comparisons with the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. People cite this as an instance of the kind of 'quagmire' that America might find itself in. The trouble is that when Russia fell in Afghanistan, it was already on its last legs. America is not on its last legs, nor does it have a rival superpower arming the enemy. It really is just facing down a mainly popular grassroots insurgency, and these - if lacking the kind of commitment, centralisation and coordination that successful insurgencies have had - can be either coopted or ruthlessly and fanatically crushed. America has far more firepower than its Russian nemesis had, and it isn't even limited by the prospect of serious accountability - there is no Lancet survey for Afghanistan, and attempts to gauge the impact of bombing have been haphazard and woefully inadequate. The US has also retained, despite the Bush years, a broad Euro-American coalition, which easily has the ability to destroy Afghanistan and the north-western frontier province in Pakistan, where hundreds of thousands of loyal Pakistani troops have been working on the empire's behalf. Further, the resistance this time is nowhere near as united or hegemonic. If the resistance is mainly local tribespeople, the only potential national leadership that has thus emerged is the 'neo-Taliban', but it is doubtful whether they have the capacity to unite across ethnic boundaries. The point is that, as much as we like to say how improbable it is that the US could win, the fact is that their overwhelming power and ability to outsource imperial violence to smaller countries should be enough to do it. It may take years, it may be brutal, it may actually get to genocidal levels of violence, but we shouldn't assume that the US can't win.