Britain in Iraq and Afghanistan: Sacrifices on the alter of imperialism

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The number of British soldiers killed in the intervention in Afghanistan has passed the 110 mark. The figure for Iraq is more than 175. The government says that these deaths are not in vain and the army is fighting for a good cause - to establish democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq. Cleary, the government felt that this needed to be underlined, because the military interventions do appear to be futile.

At the beginning the intervention in Afghanistan did not appear not to be headed towards a quagmire, because the Taliban, very sensibly, simply ran away rather than trying to face the full force of American military might. However, the influence of the Kabul ‘government' does not extend far into Afghanistan - and the relations of the government to its ostensible political allies in some parts of the country can be fraught with difficulties. The US and Britain have been unable to make headway, for instance, in controlling the production of the opium poppy - the basis of the international heroin trade. And there are large regions of the country that are not under the control of the US, Britain or the Kabul government at all - it is in those regions that the fighting is concentrated.

However, the principal objective of the military intervention in Afghanistan is not to create a stable society - though it would certainly ease the difficulties of the occupying powers if they could. All the countries involved are there because of the strategic significance of the territory of Afghanistan. They are there for the same reasons the British invaded Afghanistan in the nineteenth century. Control of Afghanistan is critical to the control of Asia, just as control of Iraq is critical to control of the Gulf. Even the French bourgeoisie have, after making a major re-appraisal of their strategic posture, decided that they should be involved in Afghanistan. This is surprising considering their previous attitude to American adventures in the region.

So there is every reason to take the British bourgeoisie seriously when they say they are going to stay in Afghanistan despite the difficulties of the fighting. But there is a real problem facing the British bourgeoisie and that is that the perspective of ‘great power' interventions in the third world is becoming more and more expensive at a time of increased economic stringency. With 4000 troops in Iraq and soon more than 8000 in Afghanistan, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup has said that the armed forces are "stretched beyond the capabilities we have" and "We are not structured or resourced to do two of these things on this scale on an enduring basis but we have been doing it on an enduring basis for years." This follows Sir Richard Dannatt, the Chief of the General Staff, who has been saying that Britain should withdraw from Iraq since he was appointed in 2006. He has also said "I want an army in five years time and ten years time. Don't let's break it on this one". When the coffers of the state treasury are empty, it is difficult to maintain commitments like the presence in Afghanistan and Iraq

The British bourgeoisie have a long record of being forced to cut back on military commitments because of economic constraints. They had to leave Greece after the Second World War, for example, and ask the Americans to step in. They had to retreat from ‘East of Suez' because of economic difficulties in the 1960s. The economic difficulties of the present phase of the economic crisis are certainly no less severe. Overseas military interventions greatly exacerbate economic problems. The British bourgeoisie will be confronted with difficult choices of priorities and will have to further review their capacity to maintain costly overseas adventures in the face of a rapidly deteriorating economic situation.   Hardin 5/7/8