ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

Multi-Billion-Dollar Terrorists and the Disappearing Middle Class

The entire political establishment in the United States is bizarrely oblivious to the fact that their multi-billion-dollar pursuit of an estimated 50-75 phantom Al Qaida terrorists in Afghanistan has hastened the disappearance of middle income jobs in the US.


separatist” armed ethnic conflicts and apply

Multi-Billion-Dollar Terrorists
the tactics of “divide and conquer” against

Iran, China, Russia and the central Asian

and the Disappearing Middle Class

republics. Third, Washington’s launch of the Afghan war (2001) and the easy initial conquest encouraged the Pentagon to be-James Petras lieve that a low cost, easy military victory

The entire political establishment in the United States is bizarrely oblivious to the fact that their multi-billion-dollar pursuit of an estimated 50-75 phantom Al Qaida terrorists in Afghanistan has hastened the disappearance of middle income jobs in the US.

James Petras (, emeritus professor, State University of New York at Binghamton and adjunct professor at Saint Mary's University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, is a prolific writer, especially on Latin American and west Asian politics.

Economic & Political Weekly

october 1, 2011

he US government spends $10 billion a month, or $120 billion a year, to fight an estimated “50-75 ‘Al Qaida types’ in Afghanistan”, according to the Central Intelligence Agency and quoted in the Financial Times of London (25-26 June 2011, p 5). During the past 30 months of the Obama presidency, Washington has spent $300 billion in Afghanistan, which adds up to $4 billion for each alleged “Al Qaida type”. If we multiply this by the two dozen or so sites and countries where the White House claims “Al Qaida” terrorists have been spotted, we begin to understand why the US budget deficit has grown astronomically to over $1.6 trillion for the current fiscal year.

During Obama’s presidency, Social Se curity’s cost-of-living adjustment has been frozen, resulting in a net decrease of over 8%, which is exactly the amount spent chasing just five dozen “Al Qaida terrorists” in the mountains bordering Pakistan.

It is absurd to believe that the Pentagon and White House would spend $10 billion a month just to hunt down a handful of terrorists ensconced in the mountains of Afghanistan. So what is the war in Afghanistan about? The answer one most frequently reads and hears is that the war is really against the Taliban, a mass-based Islamic nationalist guerrilla movement with tens of thousands of activists. The Taliban, however, have never engaged in any terrorist act against the territorial US or its overseas presence. The Taliban have always maintained their fight was for the expulsion of foreign forces occupying Afghanistan. Hence the Taliban is not part of any “international terrorist network”. If the US war in Afghanistan is not about defeating terrorism, then why the massive expenditure of funds and manpower for over a decade?

Several hypotheses come to mind. The first is the geopolitics of Afghanistan. The US is actively establishing forward military bases, surrounding and bordering on China. Second, US bases in Afghanistan serve as launching pads to foment “dissident

vol xlvi no 40

was at hand, one that could enhance the image of the US as an invincible power, capable of imposing its rule anywhere in the world, unlike the disastrous experience of the Soviet Union. Fourth, the early success of the Afghan war was seen as a prelude to the launching of a sequence of successful wars, first against Iraq and to be followed by Iran, Syria and beyond. These would serve the triple purpose of enhancing Israeli regional power, controlling strategic oil resources and enlarging the arc of US military bases from south and central Asia, through the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean.

The strategic policies, formulated by the militarists and Zionists in the Bush and Obama administrations, assumed that guns, money, force and bribes could build stable satellite states firmly within the orbit of the post-Soviet US empire. Afghanistan was seen as an easy first conquest, the initial step to sequential wars. Each victory, it was assumed, would undermine domestic and allied (European) opposition. The initial costs of imperial war, the Neo-Cons claimed, would be paid for by wealth extracted from the conquered countries, especially from the oil-producing regions.

The rapid US defeat of the Taliban government confirmed the belief of the military strategists that “backward”, lightly armed Islamic peoples were no match for the US powerhouse and its astute leaders.

Wrong Assumptions, Mistaken Strategies

Every assumption, formulated by these civilian strategists and their military counterparts, has been proven wrong. Al Qaida was and is a marginal adversary; the real force capable of sustaining a pro longed people’s war against an imperial occupier, inflicting heavy casualties, undermining any local puppet regime and accumulating mass support is the Taliban and related nationalist resistance movements. Israeliinfluenced US think tanks, experts and advisers who portrayed the Islamic adversaries as inept, ineffective and cowardly,


totally misread the Afghan resistance. Blinded by ideological anti pathy, these highranking advisers and White House/Pentagon civilian-office holders failed to recognise the tactical and strategic, political and military acumen of the top and middlelevel Islamist nationalist leaders and their tremendous reserve of mass support in neighbouring Pakistan and beyond.

The Obama White House, heavily depen dent on Islam phobic pro-Israel experts, further isolated the US troops and alienated the Afghan population by tripling the number of troops, further establishing the credentials of the Taliban as the authentic alternative to a foreign occupation.

As for the neoconservative pipe dreams of successful sequential wars, cooked up by the likes of Paul Wolfowitz, Feith, Abrams, Libby et al, to eliminate Israel’s adversaries and turn the Persian Gulf into a Hebrew lake, the prolonged wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan have, in fact, strengthened Iran’s regional influence, turned the entire Pakistani people against the US and strengthened mass movements against US clients throughout west Asia.

Sequential imperial defeats have resulted in a massive haemorrhage of the US treasury, rather than the promised flood of oil wealth from tributary clients. According to a recent scholarly study, the military cost of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan have exceeded $3.2 trillion (The Costs of War since 2001, Eisenhower Study Group, June 2011) and is growing at over $10 billion a month. Meanwhile the Taliban “tightens (its) psychological grip” on Afghanistan (Financial Times, 30 June 2011, p 8). According to the latest reports even the most guarded five-star hotel in the centre of Kabul, the Intercontinental, was vulnerable to a sustained assault and takeover by militants, because “high security Afghan forces” are infiltra ted and the Taliban operate everywhere, having established “shadow” governments in most cities, towns and villages (ibid).

Imperial Decline, Empty Treasury

The crumbling empire has depleted the US treasury. As the Congress and White House fight over raising the debt ceiling, the cost of war aggressively erodes any possibility of maintaining stable living standards for the American middle and working classes and heightens growing inequalities between the top 1% and the rest of the American people. Imperial wars are based on the pillage of the US treasury. The imperial state has, via extraordinary tax exemptions, concentrated wealth in the hands of the super-rich while the middle and working classes have been pushed downward, as only low paid jobs are available.

In 1974, the top 1% of US individuals accounted for 8% of total national income but as of 2008 they earned 18% of national income. And most of this 18% is concentrated in the hands of a tiny superrich, 0.01% of the American population, (Fi nan cial Times, 28 June 2011, p 4 and 30 June 2011, p 6). While the super-rich plunder the treasury and intensify the exploitation of labour, the number of middle income jobs is plunging: From 1993 to 2006, over 7% of middle income jobs disappeared (Financial Times, 30 June 2011, p 4). While inequalities may be rising throughout the world, the US now has the greatest inequalities among all the leading capitalist countries.

The burden of sustaining a declining empire, with its monstrous growth in military spending, has fallen disproportionately on middle and working class taxpayers and wage-earners. The military and financial elites’ pillage of the economy and treasury has set in motion a steep decline in living standards, income and job opportunities. Between 1970 and 2009, while gross domestic product more than doubled, US median pay stagnated in real terms (Financial Times, 28 July 2011, p 4). If we factor in the added fixed costs of pensions, health and education, real income for wage and salaried workers, especially since the 1990s, has been declining sharply.

Even greater blows are to come in the second half of 2011. As the Obama White House expands its imperial interventions in Pakistan, Libya and Yemen, increasing military and police-state spending, Obama is set to reach budgetary agreements with the far right Republicans, which will savage government healthcare programmes, like MEDICARE and MEDICAID, as well as Social Security, and the national retirement programme. Prolonged wars have pushed the budget to the breaking point,

october 1, 2011

while the deficit undermines any capacity to revive the economy as it heads towards a “repeat recession”.

The entire political establishment is bizarrely oblivious to the fact that their multi-billion-dollar pursuit of an estimated50-75 phantom Al Qaida terrorists in Afghanistan has hastened the disappearance of middle income jobs in the US.

The entire political spectrum has turned decisively to the right and the far right. The debate between Democrats and Republicans is over whether to slash $4 trillion or more from the last remnants of our country’s social programmes.

The Democrats and the far right are united as they pursue multiple wars while currying favour and funds from the superrich, financial and real estate moguls whose wealth has grown so dramatically during the crisis!


But there is a deep and quiet discomfort within the leading circles of the Obama regime: The “best and brightest” among his top officials are scampering to jump ship before the coming deluge: the economic guru Larry Summers, Rahm Emmanuel, Stuart Levey, Peter Orzag, Bob Gates, Tim Geithner and others, responsible for the disastrous wars, economic catastrophes, the gross concentration of wealth and the savaging of our living standards, have walked out or have announced their “retirement”, leaving it to the smiling con-men – President Obama and Vice-President ‘Joe’ Biden – and their “last and clueless loyalists” to take the blame when the economy tanks and our social programmes are wiped out. How else can we explain their less-than-courageous departures (to “spend more time with the family”) in the face of such a deepening crisis? The hasty retreat of these top officials is motivated by their desire to avoid political responsibility and to escape history’s indictment for their role in the impending economic debacle. They are eager to hide from a future judgment over which policymakers and leaders and what policies led to the destruction of the American middle and working classes with their good jobs, stable pensions, social security, decent healthcare and respected place in the world.

vol xlvi no 40

Economic & Political Weekly

Dear Reader,

To continue reading, become a subscriber.

Explore our attractive subscription offers.

Click here


To gain instant access to this article (download).

Pay INR 50.00

(Readers in India)

Pay $ 6.00

(Readers outside India)

Back to Top