Thursday, 3 December 2009

The cost of this war

Sections of the media have done a good job spinning the latest news from the Barack Obama administration. The announcement of 30,000 extra US troops in Afghanistan has been balanced against the declaration that withdrawals of troops will start in three years' time. The former can legitimately be considered news - pouring in extra troops on that scale is hugely significant, a turning point in this long war - but the latter is meaningless. The implication is that current or increased troop levels will remain for another three years, yet in some accounts the emphasis has been placed on the fact that one day, eventually, some soldiers will return home. Obama is intensifying, and worsening, what his predecessor started. Hopes of the Obama presidency representing a change from Bush-era neoconservatism are fading (see the rather creepy picture above).

The prospects are therefore grim for Afghanistan. I also can't imagine the morale of disillusioned troops being lifted by the prospect of at least another three years. If anything we will see the disaffection of those doing the fighting increase: more desertions, increased discontent, and a growing willingness to criticise the fact they are there at all. Back home in the States there's evidence from recent polls of a turn against Obama's Afghan policies, especially from those who carried him to the White House last November. The conditions are in place for a revival of anti-war mobilisation.

In this country the war is repeatedly being brought home, due to the human cost - the rising toll of UK troop casualties. The 99th British soldier killed this year - John Amer - was from Sunderland, near where I live, and attended a school I once worked at. His death reminds the local community of what this occupation means in human terms. The stream of such tragic reports in recent months is a major factor behind the very high levels of public support for ending the NATO occupation.

In working class communities the opposition to war is also being fuelled by the sheer monetary cost. Billions are spent on maintaining the military occupation as people lose their jobs or deal with the effects of recession. Domestically we can see a privileged elite continuing to enrich themselves, as illustrated by the news that Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) plans to pay its investment bankers £1.5 billion in bonuses. There's money for war, and bonuses for bankers, yet increasingly we're warned there must be cutbacks in the public sector, job losses are inevitable, and so on.

It is vital the anti-war movement and the left channel the anger and disillusionment felt by millions. On Saturday the BNP turned up in the centre of Newcastle, attempting a public stall there for the first time in a long while. But there was also a Stop the War stall and 'die-in' arranged. Stop the War activists and supporters, helped by socialist groups who were also out campaigning, succeeded in isolating the fascists. Tyneside Stop the War's role was particularly important, as the BNP attempted to claim it was the 'anti-war party'. This Saturday there will be stalls by both Unite Against Fascism (from 11am) and Stop the War (from 1pm) at Grey's Monument.

On Monday of this week there was another successful public meeting about Afghanistan in Newcastle, attended by 60 people, at Northumbria University. This follows good turnouts at Stop the War meetings in Newcastle in October and Sunderland last month (there's now a Sunderland Stop the War Coalition where there wasn't one before). Monday's meeting took place on the back of mobilisations from the area to London on 24 October and Edinburgh - protesting at a NATO meeting - on 14 November. The next step is galvanising public support through the national petition, which military families are handing in to 10 Downing Street on 21 December.

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