The War on Terror and the Terror of War


Editorial for Socialist Appeal 86. The vicious cycle of state and individual terror continues unabated. Now France has been pulled violently into the maelstrom. The Marxists have long explained that imperialism and Islamic fundamentalism are two aspects of the same reactionary phenomenon—the decay and decline of capitalism—which threatens to take the whole of humanity down with it.

A gaggle of “world leaders” gathered in Paris for a photo-op march, literally jockeying for position in a compact group, while millions of people marched separately in an organic outpouring of human solidarity. These faithful representatives of the top 1% of society marched arm-in-arm in defense of “freedom of expression,” while curtailing such freedoms at home and abroad. How can they speak of a “free press” when, in the United States, for example, just 5 or 6 companies dominate 90% of the media? The hypocrisy is palpable when the heads of states that spy, torture, murder, and invade on a massive scale piously declare that we must all join hands to combat “extremist violence.” Why do these assorted criminals and exploiters not show the same degree of concern for the 150 people—mostly children—massacred by fundamentalists in Peshawar, Pakistan, or the 2,000 or more slaughtered in Baga, Nigeria in the last few days? Why not make the trek to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa or Borno state to pose for the cameras there?

Just as they did in the aftermath of 9/11, they aim to cynically use the genuine grief and outrage of ordinary workers and youth for their own gain. With their persistent calls for “national unity” and a “war on terror,” they seek to distract European workers from the deepening economic crisis, cuts, austerity, unemployment, and deflation. They want to lay the foundations for further imperialist intervention abroad and greater repression at home. In the name of “security,” there are now 10,000 French troops stationed throughout the country and there is talk of a French “Patriot Act.” As in the US and elsewhere, these tools will be used against the working class in the future.


As Marxists we condemn the killing of the staff of Charlie Hebdo. Aside from killing innocent, left-leaning journalists, these terrorist attacks—even if they were ostensibly in response to state terrorism and pervasive institutional discrimination—are being used by the ruling class in an attempt to drive French workers into the arms of reaction. They have also encouraged the reactionary rallies now taking place in Germany, not only against terrorist killings, but against Islam as a whole. This polarization along ethnic and religious lines can only confuse the working class and youth, and prolong the development of a united, mass, working class political and trade union movement against the rule of capital.

But while Marxists energetically defend the right to freedom of expression, and oppose any efforts by the bourgeois state to curtail this right, we do not do so in the abstract. Basic democratic rights such as press, speech, and assembly are tools that allow the workers to more effectively organize the struggle against capitalism. We support that which increases working class consciousness, confidence, and unity, and oppose anything that works against this. With that in mind, we must ask: in the context of France’s past and present imperialist oppression and atrocities, and the marginalization and alienation of hundreds of thousands of Muslims in that country, did Charlie Hebdo’s mocking cartoons increase working class unity or cut across it? Did they expose the hypocrisy of the ruling class and the true roots of exploitation, oppression, and religious obscurantism? Did they help raise workers’ consciousness of their mutual interests, regardless of ethnicity, race, or gender? Or did they stir the pot of racism, one of the most poisonous and effective tools in the ruling class’s “divide and rule” arsenal? Charlie Hebdo certainly had the right to publish these cartoons, and we defend that right. However, we do not agree with their content, which can only serve to alienate millions of ordinary muslims, thus exacerbating ethnic and religious tensions, cutting across the unity of the working class, and playing into the hands of reaction. But by no means does any of this justify the murderous rampage of these obscurantist reactionaries.


No one should be surprised that there has been no mention in the mainstream media of the inconvenient elephant in the room: the origins and genesis of Islamic fundamentalism. It is a well-documented fact that this monster was in fact a creation of imperialism, above all US imperialism. In the 1960s and 70s, dozens of right-wing Islamist outfits were funded and supported to cut across the rising working class militancy and surge to the left throughout the so-called Muslim world. From Indonesia to Iran, Palestine to Pakistan, one revolutionary movement after another was sabotaged and strangled, either directly or by propping up one “lesser evil” dictatorship or another.

The failure of the labor and communist leaders to transform society and spread the revolution throughout the region left a vacuum that was inevitably filled by reaction once the revolutionary flood tide ebbed. General Zia ul Haq in Pakistan, the mujahedeen/al-Qaeda/Taliban in Afghanistan, and the mullahs in Iran, were all funded and facilitated by the US imperialists. But the feral fundamentalist dogs, unleashed mercilessly against the workers and youth of Africa, the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, and other parts of Asia, could not be controlled. They had ambitions of their own and eventually turned against their former masters.

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and co. wasted no time in launching an invasion of Afghanistan and preparing public opinion to do the same in Iraq. It seemed to many that the US imperialists were unstoppable. The miseries suffered by the people of these countries cannot be quantified or qualified. Hundreds of thousands were killed and maimed, and millions were displaced. But the end result—as predicted at the time by the comrades of the IMT—was an unmitigated disaster for US imperialism. If their mission was to bankrupt the national treasury, nearly break the back of the US military, and open new areas of the region to Islamic fundamentalism, they certainly accomplished it.

All told, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will cost an estimated $5 trillion dollars in borrowed money—a debt burden that amounts to $16,000 per American citizen. Over 2.5 million different Americans were deployed in these two countries, some of them multiple times. Over 57,000 Americans have been killed and wounded so far in Iraq and Afghanistan—more than during the American Revolutionary War.

But far from peace and harmony, any semblance of stability from the Levant to Pakistan has been upended. ISIS now controls wide swathes of Syria and Iraq. US military commanders and Obama say that the war against these thugs will last years, not months, and have openly admitted that the world’s best-funded and trained military may ultimately be impotent in the face of an irregular army of gangsters. Iraq has begun to break up along ethnic and religious lines,“Axis of Evil” member Iran’s influence has grown, and Turkey is also aggressively asserting itself as a regional power. The Kurds, Yazidis, and other religious and ethnic minorities are being cruelly crushed in the midst of the ongoing chaos.

According to former military intelligence officer Jim Gourley, “At this point, it is incontrovertibly evident that the US military failed to achieve any of its strategic goals in Iraq. Evaluated according to the goals set forth by our military leadership, the war ended in utter defeat for our forces.” Nonetheless, just 3 years after formally withdrawing all combat troops from Iraq, Obama is now sending as many as 3,000 US troops back to that unfortunate country, many of whom will be “forward deployed.”


The US defeat in Afghanistan has been even more humiliating. It now ranks as the longest war in American history—nearly 4 times as long as the United States’ direct participation in World War II. The British failed to subjugate this region in three separate wars. The Stalinists of the USSR also failed. Now, after 13 years and 2,200 US deaths, Obama has the gall to declare that the war has been “concluded responsibly.” According to US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, the US invasion and occupation has “made our world safer and given Afghanistan the opportunity to chart a secure, democratic, and prosperous future.” He pointed out that the he believes the Afghan state “can defend Kabul”—conveniently leaving out the rest of the country—but neglected to mention that in this now “democratic and prosperous country” and “emerging democracy,” drone strikes and the deployment of over 10,000 US troops would continue indefinitely.

These wars have deeply shaken the US military’s effectiveness as a tool for imposing the imperialists’ will. According to military author William Greider, “our presumption of unconquerable superiority leads us deeper and deeper into unwinnable military conflicts.” William S. Lind, a military historian who helped develop the concept of “Fourth Generation War,” or struggles against insurgents, terrorists, or other “nonstate” groups, recently wrote: “The most curious thing about our four defeats in Fourth Generation War—Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan—is the utter silence in the American officer corps. Defeat in Vietnam bred a generation of military reformers . . . Today, the landscape is barren. Not a military voice is heard calling for thoughtful, substantive change. Just more money, please.”

According to an in-depth article on the state of the US military by James Fallows: “The United States will spend more than $1 trillion on national security this year. That includes about $580 billion for the Pentagon’s baseline budget plus “overseas contingency” funds, $20 billion in the Department of Energy budget for nuclear weapons, nearly $200 billion for military pensions and Department of Veterans Affairs costs, and other expenses. But it doesn’t count more than $80 billion a year of interest on the military-related share of the national debt. After adjustments for inflation, the United States will spend about 50 percent more on the military this year than its average through the Cold War and Vietnam War. It will spend about as much as the next 10 nations combined—three to five times as much as China, depending on how you count, and seven to nine times as much as Russia. The world as a whole spends about 2 percent of its total income on its militaries; the United States, about 4 percent.

“Total taxpayer losses in the failed Solyndra solar-energy program might come, at their most dire estimate, to some $800 million. Total cost overruns, losses through fraud, and other damage to the taxpayer from the F-35 project are perhaps 100 times that great, yet the ‘Solyndra scandal’ is known to probably 100 times as many people as the travails of the F-35. Here’s another yardstick: the all-in costs of this airplane are now estimated to be as much as $1.5 trillion, or a low-end estimate of the entire Iraq War.”


To top off the abject failure in Afghanistan, the US has had to negotiate with various factions of the loosely-defined Taliban in order to draw down its troops and avoid an all-out civil war at this stage. According to the BBC, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, in a desperate effort to cobble together a government, had to offer the Taliban several government posts: “The three men whom President Ghani had hoped to draw into his government were Mullah Zaeef, the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, who has lived relatively openly in Kabul for some years, Wakil Muttawakil, the former Taliban foreign minister, and Ghairat Baheer, a close relative of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose forces are allied to the Taliban.” There were also negotiations to appoint Taliban governors to three southern provinces—Nimruz, Kandahar, and Helmand—some of the areas most bloodily contested by rank-and-file US and British troops. So much for “we do not negotiate with terrorists”!

In the end, the Taliban refused the offer. They can surely see the limited shelf life of the new regime and have their eyes on even broader control and authority in the not-too-distant future. And the BBC reported: “It is not even clear that the involvement of the Taliban in government would have ended the insurgency, as some commanders remain opposed to any deals.”

These are the real results of the money and lives expended in the “war on terror.” With the attack on Charlie Hebdo, imperialism’s chickens have forcefully come home to roost in yet another country. Islamic fundamentalism and imperialism are two forms of capitalist reaction and are deeply intertwined. They both manipulate the fears and alienation of the masses. At the dawn of the 21st century, you cannot have one without the other.

The madness of state and individual terror will not end until the capitalist system that spawns them is ended. Only socialism can provide a world of peace and plenty, based on genuine equality, mutual respect, and a high standard of living for all. Workers of all countries: unite and fight against racism, fundamentalism, and imperialism!

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