July 11, 2010

The Demand for Obedience, and Reverence for Authority (II): Being There

(I): Introduction, and Numerous Errors on the First Level of Analysis

Our first episode ended with an intolerably suspenseful cliffhanger:

Why is the United States in Afghanistan?

No, no. That simply won't do. It's far too dry and detached in presentation. Let's try to bring it closer in spirit to the form in which we commonly encounter this damnably vexing question. It usually goes more like this (I've provided detailed stage directions, to help make what is always an especially charming moment come alive for you, dear reader):
We hear gasps that grow more and more frequent, as our protagonist finds it progressively difficult to breathe. Unbearable and steadily increasing anxiety suffuses the air. As we contemplate the nervewracking spectacle, goosebumps speckle our soul. Finally, the unanswerable question of the ages bursts forth from frothing lips:

"Why, dear God, oh, why, why, why are we in Afghanistan?"

Our protagonist presses the back of one hand to his forehead as he casts his eyes beseechingly toward heaven, in the classic pose from melodrama denoting the futility of all man's efforts when faced with an implacably hostile universe. The other hand grasps his chest, vainly attempting to provide succor and strength to his faltering heart. After a few moments, he weakly extends his arms toward us, as if to beg for deliverance from his intellectual torments. Finally, he slowly collapses to the floor, his body lifeless, his soul shattered, defeated by life's excruciating burden, undone by the question that forbids satisfactory response.
Are we able to provide assistance to this beleaguered soul? To judge from most commentary, we are not. (Numerous examples of such commentary will soon be offered; many of them are remarkably akin to this profoundly unnerving scene, one surely destined for inclusion among classic horror vignettes.)

Our protagonist must perish! Woe, woe unto us. Or unto him, at least.

Ah, but we are not "most commentary." Yes, we are also arrogant. Most unfortunately for you, our insufferability shall not prevent us from proceeding.

To answer this question of questions, one which the vast majority of writers and commentators repeatedly insist is perhaps the most impenetrable mystery in the entire universe (and undoubtedly not just this universe), let's begin with a simple maxim: Geography is your friend.

Take a look at this map. Consider it for a minute or two. It's a close-up view of Afghanistan and the surrounding area, showing just that country and its immediate neighbors. Who are those neighbors?

Immediately to the south and east (and sharing a very long border) is Pakistan, with India just beyond. Also to the east, and sharing a short border with Afghanistan, is China.

To the north are three of the 'Stans: Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Beyond the 'Stans (take a look at a wider view) are Russia to the north, and China once again to the northeast.

Directly to the west, and also sharing a long border with Afghanistan, is Iran.

We recapitulate for emphasis and clarity: Pakistan, India, the three 'Stans, Russia, China and Iran. Perhaps your torment begins to ease.

In terms of geography alone, Afghanistan is a critical gateway to almost all the countries that are of greatest concern to the United States government today. If you look again at the wider view, you'll see that Afghanistan is right smack in the middle of everything.

This geographical fact about Afghanistan has placed that unfortunate region right smack in the middle of campaigns of conquest throughout history. Alexander the Great spent time in Afghanistan, as undoubtedly did other lesser-known leaders who predated him. If you come by land from Europe, Africa or the Middle East and you wish to get to the major part of the Asian land mass or the Indian subcontinent, chances are you'll go directly through Afghanistan. It's right in the damned middle.

So I repeat: geography alone means that Afghanistan is going to be of immense importance to those bent on dominion and control over large portions of the globe. Please note that this is quite apart from any natural resources that might be found in Afghanistan. Indeed, throughout much of history and long before the region was called Afghanistan, no resources were known to be there (except perhaps for human resources, but there weren't many of those either, certainly not compared to other parts of the world). And still, Afghanistan was tragically often a key part of the route followed by those who would subdue certain parts of the globe. I'll return to the question of resources a bit later; for now, think of those resources as a side dish to the main course -- a very lovely side dish, to be sure, especially for those bent on power and wealth, but still in the nature of a supplement. If it turns out to be a valuable supplement, so much the better.

The main course is geographical. Afghanistan is right in the damned middle of much that is of great importance to those who seek power and dominion.

As noted, Afghanistan was very familiar to leaders of ancient times because of its strategic location. Most of us know at least a bit about more recent history and the era of The Great Game. You can read more about that as your time and interest indicate. The foundational point remains the same. As it is sometimes expressed, and here it is all too accurate: geography is destiny.

A related point is crucial to the discussion to come in this series: because of the critical nature of Afghanistan's location for those in pursuit of power and control, the primary goal throughout history and continuing today, for Britain, for Russia, for the United States, for others, can be expressed in two words:
Being There.
That's the whole thing. Full stop. Being there -- because Afghanistan is the strategic gateway to further destinations of immense importance, because a presence in Afghanistan serves to shore up expeditions to other countries, because securing Afghanistan is necessary to a continuing power base in Central Asia.

When we understand this, we can see that all the other purported goals -- building a stable democratic government, securing Afghanistan for the Afghans, defeating alleged terrorists, ensuring regional stability for the benefit of all humankind (never solely for the sake of the U.S., or Russia, or Britain or anyone else, may the heavens forfend, but only and always for all humankind, such is the nobility and remarkable lack of self-interest of the ruling class) -- all of that is marketing and public relations. The ruling class offers those justifications because they sound so much nicer and more pleasant. Besides, the public gobbles them up with eager ignorance. Sometimes a few members of the public will behave with astonishing impertinence and point out that the marketing ploys don't seem to comport with facts on the ground. The ruling class doesn't care about any of that. Shred the PR all you wish: it's PR. It doesn't matter. They hope you spend all your time demonstrating in great detail how threadbare and senseless the marketing is. And many of you oblige them. Silly, silly you.

The marketing doesn't matter. They're primarily interested in only one objective: being there. And guess what: the United States is there. The very strong likelihood is that the U.S. will continue to be there for decades to come.

Afghanistan's geographical and therefore strategic importance is painfully obvious. So, too, are the ruling class's goals. They've announced them thousands of times. On this occasion, I don't exaggerate: the ruling class has unambiguously declared its purposes time and again. It would appear many people weren't listening -- or they heard, but chose not to believe what the ruling class repeatedly stated with admirable clarity.

Some will object that there is no reason to pursue power and control in this manner. Why don't the various powers simply mind their own business? Above all, especially today, why doesn't the United States simply mind its own business? Ah, but the ruling class emphatically believes it is minding its own business. It all depends on how we define our terms, doesn't it?

And they've explained all that to you, as well. In fact, the ruling class of the United States, so astonishingly noble and devoted only to the betterment of all mankind as they insistently declare, has explained it numerous times for over a century. There's that listening and/or comprehension problem again. So next time, we'll take a little historical survey, and there is still more to be said about Afghanistan in particular.

In terms of the U.S. ruling class's objectives, being there in Afghanistan is only the beginning of the story. The next installment will focus on the broader concern: "... and Being Everywhere."

Our ruling class does not lack for ambition. Madness, you insist? Such plans must fail? Such goals can only lead to great suffering and endless death? I haven't noticed the ruling class suffering all that much, or dying in substantial numbers. In fact, they seem to be doing quite remarkably well. They would appear to be positively thriving.

What is madness, failure and death to countless millions of "ordinary" people is a business plan for the ruling class. For decades and even centuries, it's been a very successful business plan. It all depends on your perspective.

As I've regularly noted recently, many of us do love the marketing. But you should seriously consider not discussing it as if it matters. It doesn't. To the extent you treat the marketing as important, you do the ruling class's bidding, and you provide them a gift of inestimable value.

Now wouldn't you agree that's very silly? I should think you might at this late date.