viernes, 18 de marzo de 2022

Ucrania (3)

Nos impactó una nota escrita por un tal "Dr. D" en el sitio web No se la pierdan: 

Título: The West Is at War with Itself

Texto: Coverage of the war in Ukraine is very spotty and polarized. The news has been shut off, universally censored in the West, and expelled within Russia and Ukraine. Nevertheless there has been much commentary on it, from The Atlantic, “Foreign Affairs”, CNN, BBC, as well as Wall Street and London traders, geopolitical historians and commentators, and others, but like birds, all following a similar flock with a similar turn. Robert Gore is one such article, and better than most, covering Alistair MacLeod’s “Inside and Outside Money”, the mentally-ill childishness of the West, and that regardless of events right now, the outcome is certainly more chaos.

What’s interesting to me with even smart writers like Gore is that they can’t see the most fundamental background shift. To me, this takes some reading, but these authors have all done the reading and are better informed than myself. It’s not like they’re older or younger, and it’s not that they don’t know it. I’m sure in other articles they describe the fragility of Western Banking, debt-printing system. He does so to some extent within the article. Yet somehow Gore – and all the other articles I’ve read these last 4 weeks – miss the most basic item. They believe “Putin made a mistake” and this is not just knee-jerk propaganda, it’s “Our War”, “Ukraine is the 51st State” “Putin is bad M’kay” stuff. They really believe it. Either because of the West’s response, or because they see the West promising to Mujaheddin Ukraine with unlimited weapons and rubbing their fists in glee.

That certainly is the plan, and a good one. It worked in Afghanistan 40 years ago, even as it never worked at all in Syria last year. These NeoCons behind Nuland and Kagan are now all so old they probably didn’t notice and are proceeding anyway. However, none of their plans in Ukraine will happen for very simple reasons. In addition, Putin knows that was their plan for 10-20 years, as well as to take Ukraine and use it to attack and crush Russia going back to the CARTER administration, i.e. Brzezinski. I mean, really? For the love of Christmas, here? That is to say, Putin and the Russian thinkers happily take the West’s open, public, transparent, unchanging plan and figure out what items must be in place to successfully and safely respond to it. And although they are winning in Ukraine (what else? They have an army 3x their size) that’s not the Russian true field of battle. Nor the tactics the West expected. I don’t know why this is so hard to understand.

Normally, I’d say Russia thinks differently. They are half Eastern, half Western they say, and when interacting with Europe LOOK like a Europeans, but then respond softly and go around. This makes them appear weak to us even as they talk tough. Maybe that’s why we constantly think they’re bluffing, the way we would, when really Russia could hardly be more straightforward if they tried. Indeed Lavrov’s top complaint in Turkey last week, but going back years now is that he’s telling them directly how things are and what will happen and like goldfish the West, the media, forget a second later and cannot hear, reporting a different, unrelated thing they fabricated, writing what “he thinks” and “what he meant to do” using their Putin-telepathy.

It’s like this: Russia is going to crush the whole West. But that’s not Russia’s fault: the entire West is so rotten it’s barely been standing for decades now, and certainly since ’08. If not; well, Russia dies. They know this. But Russia will not die because they have been patient and careful and picked a time where the West is badly over leveraged and incredibly past their time. So yes, the West spent billions, possibly trillions at this point to subvert Ukraine and Russia had to respond to them, the West’s armed invasion and takeover of Ukraine, and that’s fine. It’s a ship you can see coming a mile away.

“Russia responds” means the West’s propaganda will kick in and they will want to start WWIII on them, a total war which Russia probably cannot survive the combined forces of all NATO countries worldwide. So that’s a consideration, and unlike the West, who wants war anyway? Like Britain, Russia essentially has one city, Moscow, and a war will erase it, so there is no reason to take that path.

Russia is not fighting a “war” they are not “fighting” in Ukraine, it’s merely a minor police action, and that’s the first of things the West doesn’t understand. They think all Russian attention is on Kiev. They wanted all Russian attention and invasion locked in Kiev, and the West was depending on all the camera shots of destruction and dead civilians. I don’t think Russia even wants Kiev, or they would make at least some attempt to approach it. 500 civilians killed I’m hearing? THAT’S NOT A WAR. It’s hardly a police action. Maybe they don’t understand war material in the 21st century, but Russia could have leveled Kiev an the other cities in under 30 minutes including all their 5 million people if they wanted. Russia’s attention is on the real war.

As the WHOLE WEST, that is, the Anglos running NATO, are fully engaged in attacking Russia and economically conquering it, as Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi say daily “Our War”, to safely stop the war Russia can only attack and disable the WHOLE WEST and NATO in return. Nothing else will do. It’s possible to detente at some point, freeze the conflict, but if the West does not fall, Russia is in danger and will be overrun. So they have to attack the West, a combined UK, Germany, Europe, and America. It appears they do not intend to do this using sabotage, attacks on rails and substations, EMPs. That would merely anger the U.S. for instance and galvanize a deeply reluctant population to support the war no one wants. It’s off the table. Instead, they are merely going around the whole West, in Eastern style.

What is the West? As Gore says, it’s a CONSUMER. Of everything. They print debt and consume things, net producing nothing. So Russia is passively embargoing them. That’s it. And with some help from China, that’s the whole plan. And it’s worse than that, Russia isn’t even trying to embargo the West. There is no need; the West is using the war to embargo themselves. This is the highest moral good, as Russia can remain completely clean of the matter, being the good guys, offering and having tried everything they could. When wheat, fertilizer, oil, metals, electric, are all shut off across Europe, citizens will ask their governments what happened. Those governments will point to Russia, but it will be no use: it will be plain to see that Russia was selling these life-giving goods to Europeans, and is still trying to sell them to Europe now. It was the European LEADERS, the bankers, billionaires, who refused to BUY them. This will not wash with a cold, hungry public.

The West is also LEVERAGED. In fact that is the key takeaway from the West, their power, and their Central Banks. They can win wars because they can produce more “gold”, that is, more “money” to throw at an ongoing conflict. But leverage goes both ways. On the way up, 10:1 gets you ten wins for a single ante, a golden goose. On the way down however, the removal of a single ante, one underlying asset, leads to a 10-fold loss. And the West is leveraged not 10:1 but 300:1 and more as Jeffrey Christian points out in a single market such as gold. But this is true as mortgages become MBS as in ‘08, in bond derivatives, in stock market margin levels, in credit cards, car loans, and everywhere else, right down to borrowing, that is, “leveraging,” to buy a cheeseburger and fries in Muncie, Indiana.

What is leverage? To borrow more than the value of your collateral. What is collateral? Real Stuff. But the West doesn’t make Real Stuff. The Real Stuff comes from others, and to an outsized level, from Russia. To a great extent, Russia is the collateral for the West. The prosperity of Germany, France, BP, Tesla’s Gigafactories, rest on Russian oil, gas, and aluminum. No gas or aluminum, no Gigafactory. No Gigafactory, no $1 Trillion dollar market cap. No $1T market cap, no 36,000 Dow. Poof. And that’s true of Volkswagen, Bosch, Bayer, Jaguar, and the banks that rest on them: DeutscheBank, Credit Suisse, HSBC, Lloyd’s. And the loss of those markets, companies, banks, would not leave New York standing. Morgan can hardly prosper if London, Hamburg and the commodity exchanges fail and stop trading as the LME did this week. They cannot make margins on the Russian banks and Russian trade they are no longer facilitating. They too will fall into a spiral of counter-leverage.

What is leverage? Let’s say the leverage at 300:1 makes NY and London appear 300x stronger than they actually are. So the end of that leverage makes them 300x weaker than they appear at present. And as we’ve said the bank leverage is what makes them able to field armies and pay for wars. So the end of leverage makes them UNable to field armies and pay for wars. Especially when they themselves refuse to receive all the raw commodity supplies that let them do so. In this structure they are planning to maintain a conflict with no coal, oil, gas, steel, aluminum, titanium, uranium, palladium, neon, and so on.

So what is Russia doing? Like all colonies, they are the raw material producer to the Imperium; the Empire, and the Empire’s Army. If, like America, they wish to rebel against that Empire, they will shut off the raw materials to the Empire, who then cannot run an effective army. This is why they behave as they do. They must go to Ukraine as Biden said in 1994, and as Biden insured with arms, arranged with his policy, and permitted in his words, saying as they did in Kuwait, a small incursion would not be met with force. And should the world remain as it does today, indeed the West would keep the conflict running indefinitely, bleed all of Russia, and kill all the Slavs, of which there are already too few.

But the world will NOT remain as it does today. In withdrawing, Russia has erased the collateral for the entire West and their banking system. As that echoes through the Western financial system there will be great disorder and disruptive bank and corporate failures. Likewise, they will not have commodities to re-build their own structure as they once did in 1930, or not for a long time. The West has positioned themselves to refuse to buy from Russia, come what may. For their part, and being a small country, Russia could not have withstood this lack of commerce, or at the least would have grown a lot weaker, too weak to resist more Western forays into their territory and sphere of influence. That is what took so long. But now, they will not have such a loss of commerce, as they merely sell all the same goods to China, weakening the West even more.

You see, if Europe doesn’t want, won’t accept raw goods, they get weaker of course. And also the opposite, where if China DOES get them, and at an enormous discount to today’s disruptive prices, obviously China will grow far stronger. How can Europe compete with $3,000 aluminum – or having no aluminum – when aluminum in China is $2,000? They already couldn’t compete before. How can Germany fill their factories with employees eating $20 wheat when China is well-fed and eating wheat at $9?

It’s the West that is going to bleed with the Mujaheddin, not Russia.

Going back to Ukraine, if the West wins, all is lost, nothing matters. However, if the West weakens due to worldwide shortages, hardships, banking failures, corporate bankruptcies, currency collapses, then they cannot arm Ukraine as they believe. They won’t have the time, money, or attention to do so. American soldiers will have to return home on a city bus, and not from palatial airfields. In any case, the 100,000 men America has there will be of little use with no food, no supplies, and no supply chain to back them. And if this is so, Ukraine will become Russian, or at least solidly within the Russian sphere of influence again, because will Ukrainians wish to eat, grow crops, have aluminum? Yes, and Russia will look prosperous compared to London at that time, with access to all Chinese goods while the West will not.

So why would you destroy Ukraine? Or even their people? It’s your own country, and your own people.

This is what the West doesn’t understand, as we are required to have a blitzkrieg, a Schwarzkopf rush to the great capital, a surrounding army destroying radio, electric, roads, water. Why would Russia ever do that? To win, they will have to “own” Ukraine or be merged with them in some way and would simply have to rebuild it. Same with the people. You need Ukrainians to be for Russia, not against it. So killing civilians – or even the valuable army – is strictly counter-productive. If it were possible, they would be best to harm nothing and kill no one, “The Art of War” writ large, but of course in war that is not possible. However, 500 civilian deaths in 4 weeks of modern war is as close as possible to killing no one, and demonstrates their goals and values.

This is the cause for the West to say Russia is “bogged down”, they’re losing. They’re not losing, they’re winning. They are saving the lives of fellow Russians, brother Slavs, while nevertheless gaining control of the country. And this without hardship, as the power is on in Kiev and elsewhere, and people are driving, shopping, and going to work. No unnecessary Ukrainians have been inconvenienced. The trains are running on time to Poland and elsewhere. Why would taking a fully intact country be considered a “loss”?

This is the situation we find ourselves in, and the Russians have been very clear about it. About their needs, their goals, their approach.

The West is being boycotted. They have embargoed themselves. They are a stark minority on planet earth, taking too much and making too little. The embargo they have placed on themselves will collapse their banking and financial system even as their manufacturers cannot function when lacking raw materials. They cannot rebuild for many years and will go hungry. They cannot prosecute a war in this state, and in any case the people are not in favor of it and will not let them. But there is good news! The West can behave honestly, buy from Russia again, and end their unnecessary war and their own hardship at any time. Both the realization, and the reversal may take some years however, and we’ve only just begun.

This is what Russia is doing, and why they aren’t worried about Ukraine.


lunes, 28 de febrero de 2022

Ucrania (2)

Continuando con la nota anterior sobre el contexto económico-político en que se desarrolla el drama de Ucrania en estos días, posteamos hoy una lúcida nota de Michael Hudson que apareció en el sitio web The Vineyard of the Saker. El final es muy sombrío, y teme lo peor.

Título: America Defeats Germany for the Third Time in a Century: The MIC, OGAM and FIRE Sectors Conquer NATO

Texto: My old boss Herman Kahn, with whom I worked at the Hudson Institute in the 1970s, had a set speech that he would give at public meetings. He said that back in high school in Los Angeles, his teachers would say what most liberals were saying in the 1940s and 50s: “Wars never solved anything.” It was as if they never changed anything – and therefore shouldn’t be fought.

Herman disagreed, and made lists of all sorts of things that wars had solved in world history, or at least changed. He was right, and of course that is the aim of both sides in today’s New Cold War confrontation in Ukraine.

The question to ask is what today’s New Cold War is trying to change or “solve.” To answer this question, it helps to ask who initiates the war. There always are two sides – the attacker and the attacked. The attacker intends certain consequences, and the attacked looks for unintended consequences of which they can take advantage. In this case, both sides have their dueling sets of intended consequences and special interests.

The active military force and aggression since 1991 has been the United States. Rejecting mutual disarmament of the Warsaw Pact countries and NATO, there was no “peace dividend.” Instead, the U.S. policy executed by the Clinton and subsequent administrations to wage a new military expansion via NATO has paid a 30-year dividend in the form of shifting the foreign policy of Western Europe and other American allies out of their domestic political sphere into their own U.S.-oriented “national security” blob (the word for special interests that must not be named). NATO has become Europe’s foreign-policy-making body, even to the point of dominating domestic economic interests.

The recent prodding of Russia by expanding Ukrainian anti-Russian ethnic violence by Ukraine’s neo-Nazi post-2014 Maiden regime was aimed at (and has succeeded in forcing a showdown in response the fear by U.S. interests that they are losing their economic and political hold on their NATO allies and other Dollar Area satellites as these countries have seen their major opportunities for gain to lie in increasing trade and investment with China and Russia.

To understand just what U.S. aims and interests are threatened, it is necessary to understand U.S. politics and “the blob,” that is, the government central planning that cannot be explained by looking at ostensibly democratic politics. This is not the politics of U.S. senators and representatives representing their congressional voting districts or states.

America’s three oligarchies in control of U.S. foreign policy

It is more realistic to view U.S. economic and foreign policy in terms of the military-industrial complex, the oil and gas (and mining) complex, and the banking and real estate complex than in terms of the political policy of Republicans and Democrats. The key senators and congressional representatives do not represent their states and districts as much as the economic and financial interests of their major political campaign contributors. A Venn diagram would show that in today’s post-Citizens United world, U.S. politicians represent their campaign contributors, not voters. And these contributors fall basically into three main blocs.

Three main oligarchic groups that have bought control of the Senate and Congress to put their own policy makers in the State Department and Defense Department. First is the Military-Industrial Complex (MIC) – arms manufacturers such as Raytheon, Boeing and Lockheed-Martin, have broadly diversified their factories and employment in nearly every state, and especially in the Congressional districts where key Congressional committee heads are elected. Their economic base is monopoly rent, obtained above all from their arms sales to NATO, to Near Eastern oil exporters and to other countries with a balance-of-payments surplus. Stocks for these companies soared immediately upon news of the Russian attack, leading a two-day stock-market surge as investors recognized that war in a world of cost-plus “Pentagon capitalism” (as Seymour Melman described it) will provide a guaranteed national-security umbrella for monopoly profits for war industries. Senators and Congressional representatives from California and Washington traditionally have represented the MIC, along with the solid pro-military South. The past week’s military escalation promises soaring arms sales to NATO and other U.S. allies, enriching the actual constituents of these politicians. Germany quickly agreed to raise is arms spending to over 2% of GDP.

The second major oligarchic bloc is the rent-extracting oil and gas sector, joined by mining (OGAM), riding America’s special tax favoritism granted to companies emptying natural resources out of the ground and putting them mostly into the atmosphere, oceans and water supply. Like the banking and real estate sector seeking to maximize economic rent and maximizing capital gains for housing and other assets,, the aim of this OGAM sector is to maximize the price of its energy and raw materials so as to maximize its natural-resource rent. Monopolizing the Dollar Area’s oil market and isolating it from Russian oil and gas has been a major U.S. priority for over a year now, as the Nord Stream 2 pipeline threatened to link the Western European and Russian economies more tightly together.

If oil, gas and mining operations are not situated in every U.S. voting district, at least their investors are. Senators from Texas and other Western oil-producing and mining states are the leading OGAM lobbyists, and the State Department has a heavy oil-sector influence providing a national-security umbrella for the sector’s special tax breaks. The ancillary political aim is to ignore and reject environmental drives to replace oil, gas and coal with alternative sources of energy. The Biden administration accordingly has backed the expansion of offshore drilling, supported the Canadian pipeline to the world’s dirtiest petroleum source in the Athabasca tar sands, and celebrated the revival of U.S. fracking.

The foreign-policy extension is to prevent foreign countries not leaving control of their oil, gas and mining to U.S. OGAM companies from competing in world markets with U.S. suppliers. Isolating Russia (and Iran) from Western markets will reduce the supply of oil and gas, pushing up prices and corporate profits accordingly.

The third major oligarchic group is the symbiotic Finance, Insurance and Real Estate (FIRE) sector, which is the modern finance-capitalist successor to Europe’s old post-feudal landed aristocracy living by land rents. With most housing in today’s world having become owner-occupied (although with sharply rising rates of absentee landlordship since the post-2008 wave of Obama Evictions), land rent is paid largely to the banking sector in the form of mortgage interest and debt amortization (on rising debt/equity ratios as bank lending inflates housing prices). About 80 percent of U.S. and British bank loans are to the real estate sector, inflating land prices to create capital gains – which are effectively tax-exempt for absentee owners.

This Wall Street-centered banking and real estate bloc is even more broadly based on a district-by-district basis than the MIC. Its New York senator from Wall Street, Chuck Schumer, heads the Senate, long supported by Delaware’s former Senator from the credit-card industry Joe Biden, and Connecticut’s senators from the insurance sector centered in that state. Domestically, the aim of this sector is to maximize land rent and the “capital’ gains resulting from rising land rent. Internationally, the FIRE sector’s aim is to privatize foreign economies (above all to secure the privilege of credit creation in U.S. hands), so as to turn government infrastructure and public utilities into rent-seeking monopolies to provide basic services (such as health care, education, transportation, communications and information technology) at maximum prices instead of at subsidized prices to reduce the cost of living and doing business. And Wall Street always has been closely merged with the oil and gas industry (viz. the Rockefeller-dominated Citigroup and Chase Manhattan banking conglomerates).

The FIRE, MIC and OGAM sectors are the three rentier sectors that dominate today’s post-industrial finance capitalism. Their mutual fortunes have soared as MIC and OGAM stocks have increased. And moves to exclude Russia from the Western financial system (and partially now from SWIFT), coupled with the adverse effects of isolating European economies from Russian energy, promise to spur an inflow into dollarized financial securities

As mentioned at the outset, it is more helpful to view U.S. economic and foreign policy in terms of the complexes based on these three rentier sectors than in terms of the political policy of Republicans and Democrats. The key senators and congressional representatives are not representing their states and districts as much as the economic and financial interests of their major donors. That is why neither manufacturing nor agriculture play the dominant role in U.S. foreign policy today. The convergence of the policy aims of America’s three dominant rentier groups overwhelms the interests of labor and even of industrial capital beyond the MIC. That convergence is the defining characteristic of today’s post-industrial finance capitalism. It is basically a reversion to economic rent-seeking, which is independent of the politics of labor and industrial capital.

The dynamic that needs to be traced today is why this oligarchic blob has found its interest in prodding Russia into what Russia evidently viewed as a do-or-die stance to resist the increasingly violent attacks on Ukraine’s eastern Russian-speaking provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk, along with the broader Western threats against Russia.

The rentier “blob’s” expected consequences of the New Cold War

As President Biden explained, the current U.S.-orchestrated military escalation (“Prodding the Bear”) is not really about Ukraine. Biden promised at the outset that no U.S. troops would be involved. But he has been demanding for over a year that Germany prevent the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from supplying its industry and housing with low-priced gas and turn to the much higher-priced U.S. suppliers.

U.S. officials first tried to stop construction of the pipeline from being completed. Firms aiding in its construction were sanctioned, but finally Russia itself completed the pipeline. U.S. pressure then turned on the traditionally pliant German politicians, claiming that Germany and the rest of Europe faced a National Security threat from Russia turning off the gas, presumably to extract some political or economic concessions. No specific Russian demands could be thought up, and so their nature was left obscure and blob-like. Germany refused to authorize Nord Stream 2 from officially going into operation.

A major aim of today’s New Cold War is to monopolize the market for U.S. shipments of liquified natural gas (LNG). Already under Donald Trump’s administration, Angela Merkel was bullied into promising to spend $1 billion building new port facilities for U.S. tanker ships to unload natural gas for German use. The Democratic election victory in November 2020, followed by Ms. Merkel’s retirement from Germany’s political scene, led to cancellation of this port investment, leaving Germany really without much alternative to importing Russian gas to heat its homes, power its electric utilities, and to provide raw material for its fertilizer industry and hence the maintenance of its farm productivity.

So the most pressing U.S. strategic aim of NATO confrontation with Russia is soaring oil and gas prices, above all to the detriment of Germany. In addition to creating profits and stock-market gains for U.S. oil companies, higher energy prices will take much of the steam out of the German economy. That looms as the third time in a century that the United States has defeated Germany – each time increasing its control over a German economy increasingly dependent on the United States for imports and policy leadership, with NATO being the effective check against any domestic nationalist resistance.

Higher gasoline, heating and other energy prices also will hurt U.S. consumers and those of other nations (especially Global South energy-deficit economies) and leave less of the U.S. family budget for spending on domestic goods and services. This could squeeze marginalized homeowners and investors, leading to further concentration of absentee ownership of housing and commercial property in the United States, along with buyouts of distressed real estate owners in other countries faced with soaring heating and energy costs. But that is deemed collateral damage by the post-industrial blob.

Food prices also will rise, headed by wheat. (Russia and Ukraine account for 25 percent of world wheat exports.) This will squeeze many Near Eastern and Global South food-deficit countries, worsening their balance of payments and threatening foreign debt defaults.

Russian raw-materials exports may be blocked by Russia in response to the currency and SWIFT sanctions. This threatens to cause breaks in supply chains for key materials, including cobalt, palladium, nickel and aluminum (the production of which consumes much electricity as its major cost – which will make that metal more expensive). If China decides to see itself as the next nation being threatened and joins Russia in a common protest against the U.S. trade and financial warfare, the Western economies are in for a serious shock.

The long-term dream of U.S. New Cold Warriors is to break up Russia, or at least to restore its Yeltsin/Harvard Boys managerial kleptocracy, with oligarchs seeking to cash in their privatizations in Western stock markets. OGAM still dreams of buying majority control of Yukos and Gazprom. Wall Street would love to recreate a Russian stock market boom. And MIC investors are happily anticipating the prospect of selling more weapons to help bring all this about.

Russia’s intentions to benefit from America’s unintended consequences

What does Russia want? Most immediately, to remove the neo-Nazi anti-Russian core that the Maidan massacre and coup put in place in 2014. Ukraine is to be neutralized, which to Russia means basically pro-Russian, dominated by Donetsk, Luhansk and Crimea. The aim is to prevent Ukraine from becoming a staging ground of U.S.-orchestrated anti-Russian moves a la Chechnya and Georgia.

Russia’s longer-term aim is to pry Europe away from NATO and U.S. dominance – and in the process, create with China a new multipolar world order centered on an economically integrated Eurasia. The aim is to dissolve NATO altogether, and then to promote the broad disarmament and denuclearization policies that Russia has been pushing for. Not only will this cut back foreign purchases of U.S. arms, but it may end up leading to sanctions against future U.S. military adventurism. That would leave America with less ability to fund its military operations as de-dollarization accelerates.

Now that it should be obvious to any informed observer that (1) NATO’s purpose is aggression, not defense, and (2) there is no further territory for it to conquer from the remains of the old Soviet Union, what does Europe get out of continued membership? It is obvious that Russia never again will invade Europe. It has nothing to gain – and had nothing to gain by fighting Ukraine, except to roll back NATO’s proxy expansion into that country and the NATO-backed attacks on Novorossiya.

Will European nationalist leaders (the left is largely pro-US) ask why their countries should pay for U.S. arms that only put them in danger, pay higher prices for U.S. LNG and energy, pay more for grain and Russian-produced raw materials, all while losing the option of making export sales and profits on peaceful investment in Russia – and perhaps losing China as well?

The U.S. confiscation of Russian monetary reserves, following the recent theft of Afghanistan’s reserves (and England’s seizure of Venezuela’s gold stocks held there) threatens every country’s adherence to the Dollar Standard, and hence the dollar’s role as the vehicle for foreign-exchange savings by the world’s central banks. This will accelerate the international de-dollarization process already started by Russia and China relying on mutual holdings of each other’s currencies.

Over the longer term, Russia is likely to join China in forming an alternative to the U.S.-dominated IMF and World Bank. Russia’s announcement that it wants to arrest the Ukrainian Nazis and hold a war crimes trial seems to imply an alternative to the Hague court will be established following Russia’s military victory in Ukraine. Only a new international court could try war criminals extending from Ukraine’s neo-Nazi leadership all the way up to U.S. officials responsible for crimes against humanity as defined by the Nuremberg laws.

Did the American blob actually think through the consequences of NATO’s war?

It is almost black humor to look at U.S. attempts to convince China that it should join the United States in denouncing Russia’s moves into Ukraine. The most enormous unintended consequence of U.S. foreign policy has been to drive Russia and China together, along with Iran, Central Asia and other countries along the Belt and Road initiative.

Russia dreamed of creating a new world order, but it was U.S. adventurism that has driven the world into an entirely new order – one that looks to be dominated by China as the default winner now that the European economy is essentially torn apart and America is left with what it has grabbed from Russia and Afghanistan, but without the ability to gain future support.

And everything that I have written above may already be obsolete as Russia and the U.S. have gone on atomic alert. My only hope is that Putin and Biden can agree that if Russia hydrogen bombs Britain and Brussels, that there will be a devil’s (not gentleman’s) agreement not to bomb each other.

With such talk I’m brought back to my discussions with Herman Kahn 50 years ago. He became quite unpopular for writing Thinking about the Unthinkable, meaning atomic war. As he was parodied in Dr. Strangelove, he did indeed say that there would indeed be survivors. But he added that for himself, he hoped to be right under the atom bomb, because it was not a world in which he wanted to survive.

viernes, 25 de febrero de 2022


Habrán notado que escribimos poco últimamente. Tratamos de decir algo cada vez que pasa algo grosso. Algunos datan en el día de ayer el inicio de un nuevo orden mundial, multipolar. De las muchas notas que hemos leído en las últimas horas, nos llamó la atención la que posteamos hoy, que hace hincapié no tanto en la historia sino en los contextos económico y financiero en que se desenvuelve el drama ucraniano en estos días. La nota que sigue, fechada ayer, es de Alasdair Macleod para el sitio web Goldmoney Insights. Acá va:

Título: How Ukraine fits into the global jigsaw


* Ukraine is part of a far bigger geopolitical picture. Russia and China want US hegemonic influence in the Eurasian continent marginalised. Following defeats for US foreign policy in Syria and Afghanistan and following Brexit, Putin is driving a wedge between America and the non-Anglo-Saxon EU.

* Due to global monetary expansion, rising energy prices are benefiting Russia, which can afford to squeeze Germany and other EU states dependent on Russian natural gas. The squeeze will only stop when America backs off.

* Being keenly aware that its dominant role in NATO is under threat, America has been trying to escalate the Ukraine crisis to suck Russia into an untenable occupation. Putin won’t fall for it.

* The danger for us all is not a boots-on-the-ground war — that’s likely to only involve the pre-emptive attacks on military installations Putin initiated last night — but a financial war for which Russia is fully prepared.

* Both sides probably do not know how fragile the Eurozone banking system is, with both the ECB and its national central bank shareholders already having liabilities greater than their assets. In other words, rising interest rates have broken the euro system and an economic and financial catastrophe on its eastern flank will probably trigger its collapse.

The bigger picture is Mackinder’s World Island

The developing tension over Ukraine is part of a bigger picture — a struggle between America and the two Eurasian hegemons, Russia and China. The prize is ultimate control over Mackinder’s World Island.

Halford Mackinder is acknowledged as the founder of geopolitics: the study of factors such as geography, geology, economics, demography, politics, and foreign policy and their interaction. His original paper was entitled “The Geographical Pivot of History”, presented at the Royal Geographical Society in 1905 in which he first formulated his Heartland Theory, which extended geopolitical analysis to encompass the entire globe.

In this and a subsequent paper (Democratic Ideals and Reality: A study in the Politics of Reconstruction, 1919) he built on his Heartland Theory, and from which his famous quote has been passed down to us: “Who rules East Europe commands the World Island [Eurasia]; Who rules the World Island rules the World”. Stalin was said to have been interested in this theory, and while it is not generally admitted, the leaders and administrations of Russia, China and America are almost certainly aware of Mackinder’s theory and its implications.

We cannot know if the Russian and Chinese leaders and administrations are avid Mackinder fans, but their partnership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is consistent with his World Island Theory. Since commencing as a post-Soviet, post-Mao security agreement between Russia and China founded in 2001 to suppress Islamic fundamentalism, the SCO has evolved into a political and economic intergovernmental organisation, which with its members, observer states, and dialog partners accounts for over 3.5 billion people, half the world’s population.

The symbiotic relationship between resource rich Russia and the industrial Chinese ties the whole SCO together. China’s development of the Asian land mass holds the promise of dramatic improvements in everyone’s living conditions. And consistent with the World Island Theory, Chinese money now dominates the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and South-East Asian nations, particularly those controlled and influenced by the Chinese diaspora. China’s influence also spreads to South America through organisations such as BRICS (B is for Brazil) and Chile for copper and other metals.

While the Sino-Russian partnership dominates the World Island economically, America has only gradually been expelled from Asian affairs. Its post 9/11 campaigns in the Middle East destabilised that region, creating fuel for America’s enemies and appalling refugee calamities for her European allies to this day. Her withdrawal from resource-rich Afghanistan was merely the last domino to fall. She retains political influence in Western Europe and South-East Asia only, though her military and intelligence presence is still widespread.

Today, America’s actions are those of a hegemon whose time is passing. By the UK opting for Brexit, American influence over the European Union through its security and political partnership with the UK has been diminished. Its grip on European affairs through NATO is being undermined by both Turkey’s determination to shift its interests into the Turkic regions of Central Asia, and the EU’s determination to establish its own defence arrangements. The irrelevance of NATO for the future defence of Western Europe is now becoming apparent to the Russians, and it must be hard for them to resist speeding its decline.

The cold war in the Pacific is all about containing China. While Taiwan’s future and China’s attempts to establish naval bases in the South China Seas hog the headlines, China’s trade influence in the region continues to increase. After President Trump withdrew America from the planned Trans-Pacific Partnership, the TTP was replaced by the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership which came into force in December 2018, whose eleven signatories have combined economies representing 13.4% of world GDP. This makes it one of the largest free trade areas by GDP and includes Australia and New Zealand. Even the UK has formally applied to join (it qualifies as a Pacific nation through its dependencies in the region), so that three of the US security “five eyes” members will be part of the CPTPP.

China also applied to join the CPTPP last September. For now, China’s membership of the CPTPP is in doubt. US allies in the partnership, including Japan, are insisting on various obstructive provisions. But in that well-worn hackneyed metaphor, China is the elephant in the room, and it is hard to see the CPTPP holding out against her membership for ever. For now, China can chip away at it by separate free trade agreements with selected CPTPP members, with whom it is already in bilateral trade.

Whatever America’s desire to retain political and military control over the Pacific may be, the economics of trade will eventually diminish that influence. And while sabres are being rattled over Taiwan and Pacific atolls, Russia is putting pressure on Europe to put an end to American dominated defence arrangements at the other end of the World Island.

Observers of the greatest of the great games would be right to look at current developments over Ukraine in the context of Mackinder’s heartland theory. Understand that, and you have a grasp of Putin’s reasoning. Driving American influence out of the Eurasian continent has been his objective ever since America reneged on her agreement not to advance NATO any closer to Russia following the ending of the old USSR.

Ukraine is caught in the middle

Both Russia and the Anglo-Saxons are ramping up the rhetoric over Ukraine. Until recently, Ukraine itself had seen little evidence of any truth in Western propaganda, asking for it to be toned down because all this war talk is increasing its likelihood and ruining the economy. Meanwhile the EU mainstream just wants peace and natural gas.

Concern is being expressed in some quarters that all this talk of war might become self-fulfilling — like the first World War. In this case, it is generally agreed by military strategists that Putin would be mad to take over Ukraine. He certainly has the fire power, and Ukraine is cast like a Belgium on the Steppes, with two ethnic groups and whose main purpose seems to be to allow foreign occupation and passage for foreign troops. But holding on to Ukraine against the peoples’ will, when there is an immensely long border over which dissidents can be provided with arms and anti-Russian propaganda is another matter.

Russian occupation is likely to be limited to defending Donbas and Luhansk now that Russia has formally recognised their right to self-determination. Without firing a shot, the Russian military has moved the border a hundred miles into formally Ukrainian territory. But that is where an occupying invasion is likely to stop and is not to be confused with the pre-emptive strikes against military bases and airfields today.

These moves are there to apply increasing pressure for a diplomatic settlement. So, what is it that Putin wants? Basically, he wants America to get out of Eastern Europe. And following Brexit, as America’s poodle he sees no reason why Britain should be there either. And having his thumb over various gas pipes into Europe, he is squeezing Germany and the other EU NATO members into his way of thinking.

Ukraine comes in the wake of America’s disastrous evacuation of Afghanistan, which followed the failure of her attempt to remove Syria’s Assad. It is rumoured that US intelligence services organised the failed coup in Kazakhstan, which was quickly subdued by Russian troops. So, from Putin’s point of view, American policy with respect to the Eurasian land mass has failed, he has America on the run, and he will want to capitalise on its retreat.

Meanwhile America, which has ruled western Europe through NATO following WW2, finds it hard to come to terms with its setbacks and needs to get back on the front foot. Presumably, by ramping up fears of a Russian invasion, the Biden administration hoped that either Putin would back down or be tricked into attacking Ukraine. If he had backed down, that would be a diplomatic victory and allow America to rebuild its presence in Kiev. If Putin invades and occupies Ukraine, America can help make life extremely difficult for an occupying force. Either way, it would mark the end of American policy failures on the Eurasian continent. Britain, as always, merely toes the American line.

But Putin is no fool. He is destroying Ukraine’s economy. He has his thumb on Nord Stream 1 and 2. And Germany has too many commercial and financial interests in both Russia and Eastern Europe for this not to hurt. Germany also hosts the main railhead for China’s silk road. If Germany kowtows to America, will America then put pressure on her to cut ties with China?

This is the geopolitical reality Germany and all mainland Europeans must now face. The new German Chancellor must decide: does he back America, sacrifice Germany’s economic potential and see energy costs soar, or does he recognise the economic realities of the Russia—China partnership and the enormous opportunities it provides for the long run?

Russia, America, and Germany are the principal actors whose decisions will decide the outcome of the Ukrainian situation. An escalation into a non-nuclear conflict and Russian occupation of Ukraine will only suit the Americans, confirming that their presence is the guarantee of national security.

Ukraine has become a virtual battleground

Ukraine’s geographical position, between the liberated central European states and Russia ensured that it would become central to the continuing rivalry between Russia and America. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Ukraine has been determined to forge its path independent of Russia as a sovereign nation. But its starting point was difficult, with its eastern provinces predominantly Russian, while the western regions were more central European.

The Orange and Maidan Revolutions in 2004 and 2014 respectively were proxy struggles between America and Russia. While America allegedly chucked billions into its Ukrainian interests, in 2014 Russia responded by taking over Crimea and fomented rebellions in Luhansk and Donetsk. By capturing Crimea and fostering two breakaway provinces, Putin had won this territorial battle in an ongoing war.

Other than these eastern provinces, most Ukrainians have desperately tried to avoid their country becoming a Russian colony. They wanted to apply for EU membership, which was rejected by Russian-backed President Yanukovych in 2013, leading to the Maidan Revolution and Yanukovych fleeing the country to Russia. Ukraine has also sought the protection of NATO, which has provoked Putin to put a stop to American influences marching eastwards.

While Ukraine never left the headlines, the US moved its focus to Syria later in 2014.The eventual failure to oust Assad, who drew on Russian help, was followed by Afghanistan. Ukraine is now back in the headlines, this time at the behest of Russia. Putin is now proactively leading this conflict instead of quietly letting America make all the mistakes and rolling with the punches, representing a major change in Russian strategy. It implies that Putin perceives America to be off balance, and he sees it as the time for a winning move.

Putin has prepared his defences carefully. US politicians called for Russia to be cut out of SWIFT after the Crimean invasion. Since then, Russia has developed Mir, a payment system for electronic fund transfers, and a SWIFT equivalent known as SPFS — System for transfer of Financial Messages, with agreements linking SPFS to other payment systems in China, India, Iran, and member nations of the Eurasian Economic Union. The Central Bank of Russia has strengthened the commercial banking network. And it has also reduced its dollar exposure as much as possible by investing in gold and euros instead, which means less reserves are held as deposits in the US banking system and invested in US bonds.

From these actions, Putin has signalled that he is aware that the danger to Russia is more likely to be a financial war, rather than a physical one. As President Biden said, to have American troops on the ground fighting the Russians is a world war and will not happen. In that sense the Ukraine, over which Russia retains an energy stranglehold, is a virtual battleground for a proxy war.

Financial considerations

In examining the strengths and weakness of the principal parties, we must first confirm who they are: Russia, America, and the EU. And in the EU, principally it is Germany, but all member states will be affected.

As argued above, Russia’s real objective is to get America out of Europe, and Putin’s strategy is to drive a wedge between America and the EU, and in particular its industrial powerhouse, Germany. Plans to split America from Europe go back to Putin’s earlier days, with the construction of Nord Stream to bypass Ukraine with which Russia’s Gazprom was in dispute. Delivering 55bn billion cubic meters of natural gas annually, the first Nord Stream was completed in 2012. A second pipeline. Nord Stream 2, which is ready to go online, doubles this capacity.

American pressure on Germany to delay the operation of Nord Stream 2 follows the dollar’s debasement from March 2020 in particular, when the Fed reduced interest rates to zero and instituted QE of $120bn every month. The effect has been to undermine the dollar’s purchasing power for nearly all commodities, including energy. Consequently, a combination of dollar debasement, winter demand and the absence of extra supply from Russia has created an energy crisis not just for Germany, but all EU members.

Germany is particularly hard hit, with its producer prices index up 25% year-on-year at the end of January. Germany cannot go along with an escalation of financial sanctions against Russia at a time when its industry is struggling with other rising production costs. Not only is her trade with Russia substantial, but she has banking and financial interests in Central Europe, Eastern Europe, and Russia, which could be destabilised by American-led attempts to restrict payments.

Despite Chancellor Scholz’s initial support for EU sanctions Germany is likely to be indecisive, torn between competing demands from a collapsing economy and pressure from NATO. By withholding regulatory permission for Nord Stream 2 he has demonstrated that instead of regarding his electors’ interests as paramount, he has given in to NATO pressure. This weakness on Olaf Scholz’s part is consistent with the indecisive socialism of his Social Democratic Party and Germany’s continuing guilt trip following two world wars.

Recognising the importance of Germany and its likely indecision, President Macron of France seized the political opportunity to mediate between Russia and the EU, which suits the Russian cause. Macron simply provided another channel for Putin’s message about NATO: get the US out of Europe and the EU should be responsible for its own defence. And given Macron’s ambitions for France in Europe he is likely to see it as an opportunity to enable France to take the lead in the EU’s future defence arrangements after the Ukraine situation has blown over. That will be down the road, but for now the EU is standing firm behind US and UK sanction proposals.

Sanctions rarely work. They merely encourage the sanctioned to dig deeper into their own intellectual and entrepreneurial resources and work hard to find ways round them. Russia will merely sell its gas elsewhere: at these high prices harm is minimal, and they can afford to restrict supplies through Ukraine, the Yamal-Europe and Turk-stream pipeline supplies. It might be sensible for Russia to allow flows through Nord Stream 1 to continue for now, holding its restriction as a backup threat. European gas prices will likely rise even further, providing a price windfall for Russia. The tweet below, from Russian President Medvedev implies European gas prices will double from here.

The apparent lack of understanding of economic and financial consequences for the EU by the EU leadership is a wild card danger. The economic and financial exposure of Germany to its eastern neighbours has already been mentioned, but other EU members are similarly exposed. Furthermore, the reckless inflationary policies of the ECB have undermined the financial health of the entire euro system to the point where even on the current rise in bond yields, the ECB and all the national central banks (with only three minor exceptions) have liabilities greater than their assets. The whole eurozone is a mountain of financial disasters balanced on an apex over which it is set to topple.[i]

We cannot say for sure that Ukraine will be the last straw for the euro system, but we can point to political ignorance of this instability. Any dissenting central banker (and there could be some, particularly at the Bundesbank) has no influence at the political level. We must assume that none of the major political players in this tragedy are aware of the financial and economic crisis in Europe waiting to be triggered. And if the Russians have made a mistake, it will be in their accumulation of euro reserves, which will turn out to be worthless when the euro system collapses.

Financial sanctions against individual oligarchs have probably already been anticipated and avoiding action been taken by them: oligarchs are not dumb. Sanctions against Russian banks will have also been anticipated and will probably inflict less damage on them than on their counterparties in the EU banking system, particularly if SWIFT comes under pressure to suspend Russian banking access.

Not only Ukraine, but the whole of the EU, for which Russia supplies over 40% of its natural gas, is being squeezed. We can be reasonably sure that the Russian government has war-gamed this situation in advance.

Inflation, gold, and unintended consequences

The situation today is very different from that of 2014 at the time of the Maidan revolution, with the world massively increasing government debt and currency in circulation since then. At the time of the Crimean take-over, commodity prices were declining from their peak in 2011, and following Crimea, they fell sharply with negative consequences for the Russian economy. The expansion of world currencies is now driving commodity and energy prices higher due to their purchasing power is declining.

Figure 2 shows how a basket of commodities has increased in price since the Fed reduced its funds rate to the zero bound and instituted QE at $120bn per month. In those 22 months commodity prices have risen by 127% by this measure.

When all commodity prices rise at the same time it is due to currency debasement, which is what has happened here. Within the broader commodity context, energy price increases have been particularly acute, with Russia being a major beneficiary, leading to a substantial surplus on its balance of trade.

It has been a long-term ambition of the Sino-Russian partnership not just to expel America from the World Island but to reduce dependency on dollars as well. While trade between Russia and China is increasingly settled in their own currencies, so long as the dollar has credibility for settling international transactions it will still dominate trade for the other nations in the Eurasian landmass.

The fiat alternative for Russia has been the euro, which partly explains why Russia has accumulated them in her foreign currency reserves. But since 2014, the stability of the euro system has deteriorated to the point where the currency is no longer a credible alternative to the US dollar. We cannot be sure if this is understood in the Kremlin. But there has always been a Plan B, which is the accumulation of physical gold.

There is evidence that official reserves in China and Russia understate the true position. Following the enactment of regulations in 1983 whereby the Peoples Bank was appointed sole responsibility for the acquisition of China’s gold and silver reserves, I have estimated that the State accumulated as much as 20,000 tonnes of gold before permitting the public to own gold, for which purpose the Shanghai Gold Exchange was established in 2002. Since then, the SGE has delivered a further 20,000 tonnes from its vaults into public hands, though some of this will have been returned as scrap.

The Chinese state has retained the exclusive right to mine and refine gold, even importing doré from abroad. China is now the largest gold mine producer in the world by far, continuing to add over tonnes annually to total above ground stocks (last year’s dip to 350 tonnes was due to covid), which are all ringfenced in China. These policies, as well as anecdotal evidence suggests that my earlier estimate of state-owned gold of 20,000 tonnes was realistic.

Russia has been relatively late in adding to her gold reserves, having officially accumulated 2,298 tonnes. But being only second to China as a gold mine producer at 330 tonnes, it is likely that following earlier financial sanctions that Russia has accumulated undeclared gold reserves as well. Additionally, we can see that all the SCO members and their associates have increased their declared gold reserves by 75% since 2014. Plan B therefore appears to be to back fiat roubles and renminbi with gold in the event of a Western fiat currency meltdown.

The West has no such plan. America’s fifty-one-year denial of and attempted demotion of gold as the ultimate money appears to have left it short: otherwise it could have returned Germany’s gold on demand instead of trying to spin it out over a number of years. Furthermore, Western central banks routinely lease and swap their gold, leading to double counting of reserves and lack of clarity over ownership. We can be sure that neither Russia nor China indulge in these practices.

The consequence of these disparities is to weaponize gold’s monetary status, turning it into a nuclear weapon in a financial war. If, say, during NATO-led attempts to destabilise the rouble Russia was to declare another 6,000 tonnes to match America’s unaudited figure and for China to revise its reserves to stabilise the renminbi, it would probably result in a run against the dollar. It would be a sure-fire way for the Asian hegemons to destroy US economic and military power.

Therefore, ultimately, the US and its five-eyes allies cannot win a financial war. When China and Russia planned their financial defences, this golden umbrella made sense, and the security services in America would have been aware of it, if not the full implications. But things have changed, particularly the debasement of all major currencies, including the renminbi. China has an old-fashioned cyclical property crisis on her hands and can only think to print her way out of trouble. Together with the Fed, the ECB, and the Bank of Japan, the Peoples Bank has expanded its balance sheet recklessly, and all together they have increased from $5 trillion equivalent in 2007 to over $31 trillion today, with their rate of expansion being particularly high from March 2020.

The consequences for their currencies’ purchasing power are becoming obvious now, turbocharging Russia’s strategy with respect to European energy supply. What few politicians appear to be aware of, and we should include Putin in this, is the fragile state of the major central banks. Having loaded their balance sheets up with fixed-interest government debt, falling market values for these bonds are eliminating central banks’ margin of assets over liabilities. While the Fed, the Bank of Japan and the Bank of England can turn to their governments for recapitalisation, embarrassing though that may be, the ECB has no such recourse.

The ECB’s shareholders are the national central banks in the euro system. And they in turn, except for Ireland’s, Malta’s, and Slovenia’s central banks, all have liabilities easily exceeding their assets. The euro system is already insolvent, and Russian action on energy supplies could tip the whole currency system over the edge.

Given the Russian Central Bank’s reserve holding of euros, we can call that an unintended consequence.

Nota: [i] See the section on the ECB at

viernes, 20 de agosto de 2021



Nos gustó esta mirada sobre el fin de la ocupación estadounidense en Afganistán. Habla de muchas cosas: los talibanes, la ocupación, la historia reciente, las costumbres, los cambios civilizatorios y las estrategias imperiales. El artículo es de Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale para el blog Acá va:

Título: Afghanistan: The End of the Occupation

Subtítulo: A lot of nonsense about Afghanistan is being written in Britain and the United States. Most of this nonsense hides a number of important truths.


First, the Taliban have defeated the United States.

Second, the Taliban have won because they have more popular support.

Third, this is not because most Afghans love the Taliban. It is because the American occupation has been unbearably cruel and corrupt.

Fourth, the War on Terror has also been politically defeated in the United States. The majority of Americans are now in favor of withdrawal from Afghanistan and against any more foreign wars.

Fifth, this is a turning point in world history. The greatest military power in the world has been defeated by the people of a small, desperately poor country. This will weaken the power of the American empire all over the world.

Sixth, the rhetoric of saving Afghan women has been widely used to justify the occupation, and many feminists in Afghanistan have chosen the side of the occupation. The result is a tragedy for feminism.

This article explains these points. Because this a short piece, we assert more than we prove. But we have written a great deal about gender, politics and war in Afghanistan since we did fieldwork there as anthropologists almost fifty years ago. We give links to much of this work at the end of this article, so you can explore our arguments in more detail.[1]

A military victory

This is a military and political victory for the Taliban. It is a military victory because the Taliban have won the war. For at least two years the Afghan government forces – the national army and the police – have been losing more people dead and wounded each month than they are recruiting. So those forces are shrinking.

Over the last ten years the Taliban have been taking control of more and more villages and some towns. In the last twelve days they have taken all the cities.

This was not a lightning advance through the cities and then on to Kabul. The people who took each city had long been in the vicinity, in the villages, waiting for the moment. Crucially, across the north the Taliban had been steadily recruiting Tajiks, Uzbeks and Arabs.

This is also a political victory for the Taliban. No guerilla insurgency on earth can win such victories without popular support.

But perhaps support is not the right word. It is more that Afghans have had to choose sides. And more of the Afghan people have chosen to side with the Taliban than have chosen the American occupiers. Not all of them, just more of them.

More Afghans have also chosen to side with the Taliban than with the Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani. Again, not all of them, but more than support Ghani. And more Afghans have chosen to side with the Taliban than with the old warlords. The defeat of Dostum in Sheberghan and Ismail Khan in Herat is stunning evidence of that.

The Taliban of 2001 were overwhelmingly Pushtuns, and their politics was Pushtun chauvinist. In 2021 Taliban fighters of many ethnicities have taken power in Uzbek and Tajik dominated areas.

The important exception is the Hazara dominated areas in the central mountains. We come back to this exception.

Of course, not all Afghans have chosen to side with the Taliban. This is a war against foreign invaders, but it is also a civil war. Many have fought for the Americans, the government or the warlords. Many more have made compromises with both sides to survive. And many others were not sure which side to take and are waiting with different mixtures of fear and hope to see what will happen.

Because this is a military defeat for American power, calls for Biden to do this or that are simply silly. If American troops had remained in Afghanistan, they would have had to surrender or die. This would be a even worse humiliation for American power than the current debacle. Biden, like Trump before him, was out of options.

Why so many Afghans chose the Taliban

The fact that more people have chosen the Taliban does not mean that most Afghans necessarily support the Taliban. It means that given the limited choices available, that is the choice they have made. Why?

The short answer is that the Taliban are the only important political organization fighting the American occupation, and most Afghans have come to hate that occupation.

It was not always thus. The US first sent bomber planes and a few troops to Afghanistan a month after 9/11. The US was supported by the forces of the Northern Alliance, a coalition of non-Pushtun warlords in the north of the country. But the soldiers and leaders of the Alliance were not actually prepared to fight alongside the Americans. Given the long history of Afghan resistance to foreign invasion, most recently to the Russian occupation from 1980 to 1987, that would just be too shameful.

On the other side, though, almost no one was prepared to fight to defend the Taliban government then in power. The troops of the Northern Alliance and the Taliban faced each other in a phony war. Then the US, the British and their foreign allies began to bomb.
The Pakistani military and intelligence services negotiated an end to the stalemate. The United States would be allowed to take power in Kabul and install a president of their choice. In return, the Taliban leaders and rank and file would be allowed to go home to their villages or into exile across the border in Pakistan.

This settlement was not widely publicized in the US and Europe at the time, for obvious reasons, but we reported on it, and it was widely understood in Afghanistan.

For best evidence for this negotiated settlement is what happened next. For two years there was no resistance to the American occupation. None, in any village. Many thousands of former Taliban remained in those villages.

This is an extraordinary fact. Think of the contrast with Iraq, where resistance was widespread from Day One of the occupation in 2003. Or think of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, met with the same wall of anger.

The reason was not simply that the Taliban were not fighting. It was that ordinary people, even in the Taliban heartland in the south, dared to hope that the American occupation would bring Afghanistan peace and develop the economy to end the terrible poverty.

Peace was crucial. By 2001 Afghans had been trapped in war for twenty-three years, first a civil war between communists and Islamists, then a war between Islamists and Soviet invaders, then a war between Islamist warlords, and then a war in the north of the country between Islamist warlords and the Taliban.

Twenty-three years of war meant death, maiming, exile and refugee camps, poverty, so many kinds of grief, and endless fear and anxiety. Perhaps the best book about what that felt like is Klaits and Gulmanadova Klaits, Love and War in Afghanistan (2005). People were desperate for peace. By 2001 even Taliban supporters felt a bad peace was better than a good war.
Also, the United States was fabulously rich. Afghans believed the occupation could lead to development that would rescue them from poverty.

Afghans waited. The US delivered war, not peace.

The US and UK military occupied bases throughout the villages and small towns of the Taliban heartland, the mainly Pushtun areas of the south and east. These units were never told of the informal settlement negotiated between the Americans and the Taliban. They could not be told, because that would shame the government of President Bush. So the US units saw it as their mission to root out the remaining “bad guys”, who were obviously still there.

Night raids crashed through doors, humiliating and terrifying families, taking men away to be tortured for info about the other bad guys. It was here, and in black sites all over the world, that the American military and intelligence developed the new styles of torture that the world would briefly glimpse from Abu Ghraib, the American prison in Iraq.

Some of the men detained were Taliban who had not been fighting. Some were just people betrayed to the Americans by local enemies who coveted their land or held a grudge.

The American soldier Johnny Rico’s memoir Blood Makes the Grass Grow Green provides a useful account of what then happened next. Outraged relatives and villagers took a few potshots at the Americans in the dark. The American military kicked in more doors and tortured more men. The villagers took more potshots. The Americans called in airstrikes and their bombs killed family after family.

War returned across the south and east of the country.  

Inequality and corruption spiraled.

Afghans had hoped for development that could lift both the rich and the poor. It seemed like such an obvious, and such an easy thing to do. But they did not understand American policy abroad. And they did not understand the deep dedication of the 1% in the United States to spiraling inequality in their own country.

So American money poured into Afghanistan. But it went the people in the new government headed by Hamid Karzai. It went to the people working with the Americans and the occupying troops of other nations. And it went to the warlords and their entourages who were deeply involved in the international opium and heroin trade facilitated by the CIA and the Pakistani military. It went to the people lucky enough to own luxury, well-defended homes in Kabul they could rent out to expatriate staff. It went to the men and women who worked in foreign-funded NGOs.

Of course people in these groups all overlapped.

Afghans had long been used to corruption. They both expected it and hated it. But this time the scale was unprecedented. And in the eyes of the poor and middle income people, all the obscene new wealth, no matter how garnered, seemed to be corruption.

Over the last decade the Taliban have offered two things across the country. The first is that they are not corrupt, as they were also not corrupt in office before 2001. They are the only political force in the country this has ever been true of.

Critically, the Taliban have run an honest judicial system in the rural areas they have controlled. Their reputation is so high that many people involved in civil lawsuits in the cities have agreed that both parties will go to Taliban judges in the countryside. This allows them swift, cheap and fair justice without massive bribes. Because the justice was fair, both parties can live with it.

For people in Taliban-controlled areas, fair justice was also a protection against inequality. When the rich can bribe the judges, they can do anything they want to the poor. Land was the crucial thing. Rich and powerful men, warlords and government officials could seize or steal or cheat their way into control of the land of small farmers, and oppress the even poorer sharecroppers. But Taliban judges, everyone understood, were willing to rule for the poor.

Hatred of corruption, of inequality, and of the occupation merged together.

20 Years On

2001, when the Taliban fell to the Americans after 9/11, is twenty years ago now. Enormous changes happen to political mass movements over twenty years of war and crisis. The Taliban have learned and changed. How could it be otherwise. Many Afghans, and many foreign experts, have commented on this. Giustozzi has used the useful phrase neo-Taliban.[2]

This change, as publicly presented, has several aspects. The Taliban have realized that Pushtun chauvinism was a great weakness. They now emphasize that they are Muslims, brothers to all other Muslims, and that they want and have the support of Muslims of many ethnic groups.

But there has been a bitter split in Taliban forces over the last few years. A minority of Taliban fighters and supporters have allied themselves with Islamic State. The difference is that Islamic State launch terror attacks on Shias, Sikhs and Christians. The Taliban in Pakistan do the same, and so dp the small Haqqani network sponsored by Pakistani intelligence. But the Taliban majority have been reliable in condemning all such attacks.

We return to this division later, as it has implications for what will happen next.

The new Taliban have also emphasized their concerns for the rights of women. They say they welcome music, and videos, and have moderated the fiercest and most puritanical sides of their former rule. And they are now saying over and over again that they want to rule in peace, without revenge on the people of the old order.

How much of this is propaganda, and how much is truth, is hard to tell. Moreover, what happens next is deeply dependent on what happens to the economy, and on the actions of foreign powers. Of that, more later. Our point here is that Afghans have reasons for choosing the Taliban over the Americans, the warlords and Ashraf Ghani’s government.

What About Rescuing Afghan Women?

Many readers will now be feeling, insistently, but what about Afghan women? The answer is not simple.

We have to start by going back to the 1970s. Around the world, particular systems of gendered inequality are entangled with a particular system of class inequality. Afghanistan was no different.

Nancy did anthropological fieldwork with Pushtun women and men in the north of the country in the early 1970s. They lived by farming and herding animals. Nancy’s subsequent book, Bartered Brides: Politics and Marriage in a Tribal Society, explains the connections between class, gender and ethnic divisions at that time. And if you want to know what those women themselves thought about their lives, troubles and joys, Nancy and her former partner Richard Tapper have recently published Afghan Village Voices, a translation of many of the tapes that women and men made for them in the field.

That reality was complex, bitter, oppressive and full of love. In that deep sense, it was no different from the complexities of sexism and class in the United States. But the tragedy of the next half century would change much of that. That long suffering produced the particular sexism of the Taliban, which is not an automatic product of Afghan tradition.

The history of this new turn starts in 1978. Then civil war began between the communist government and the Islamist mujahedin resistance. The Islamists were winning, so the Soviet Union invaded late in 1979 to back up the Communist government. Seven years of brutal war between the Soviets and the mujahedin followed. In 1987 the Soviet troops left, defeated.

When we lived in Afghanistan, in the early 1970s, the communists were among the best people. They were driven by three passions. They wanted to develop the country. They wanted to break the power of the big landowners and share out the land. And they wanted equality for women.

But in 1978 the communists had taken power in a military coup, led by progressive officers. They had not won the political support of the majority of villagers, in an overwhelming rural country. The result was that the only ways they could deal with the rural Islamist resistance were arrest, torture and bombing. The more the communist led army did such cruelties, the more the revolt grew.

Then the Soviet Union invaded to prop up the communists. Their main weapon was bombing from the air, and large parts of the country became free fire zones. Between half a million and a million Afghans were killed. At least another million were maimed for life. Between six and eight million were driven into exile in Iran and Pakistan, and millions more became internal refugees. All this in a country of only twenty-five million people.

When they came to power, the first thing the communists tried to do were land reform and legislation for the rights of women. When the Russians invaded, the majority of communists sided with them. Many of those communists were women. The result was to smear the name of feminism with support for torture and massacre.

Imagine that the United States was invaded by a foreign power who killed between twelve million and twenty-four million Americans, tortured people in every town, and drove 100 million Americans into exile. Imagine also that almost all feminists in the United States supported the invaders. After that experience, how do you think most Americans would feel about a second invasion by another foreign power, or about feminism?

How do you think most Afghan women feel about another invasion, this time by the Americans, justified by the need to rescue Afghan women? Remember, those statistics about the dead, the maimed and the refugees under Soviet occupation were not abstract numbers. They were living women, and their sons and daughters, husbands, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers.

So when the Soviet Union left, defeated, most people breathed a sigh of relief. But then the local leaders of the mujahedin resistance to the communists and the invaders became local warlords and fought each other for the spoils of victory. The majority of Afghans had supported the mujahedin, but now they were disgusted by the greed, the corruption and the endless useless war.

The Class and Refugee Background of the Taliban

In the autumn of 1994, the Taliban had arrived in Kandahar, a mostly Pashtun city and the largest in southern Afghanistan. The Taliban were like nothing before in Afghan history. They were products of two quintessentially twentieth century innovations, aerial bombing and the refugee camps in Pakistan. They belonged to a different social class from the elites who had governed Afghanistan.

The Communists had been the sons and daughters of the urban middle classes and the middle level farmers in the countryside with enough land to call their own. They had been led by people who attended the country’s sole university in Kabul. They wanted to break the power of the big landowners and modernize the country.

The Islamists who fought the Communists had been men of similar class backgrounds, and mostly former students at the same university. They too wanted to modernize the country, but in a different way. And they looked to the ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Alzhar University in Cairo.

The word Taliban means students in an Islamic school, not a state school or a university. The fighters of the Taliban who entered Kandahar in 1994 were young men who had studied in the free Islamic schools in the refugee camps in Pakistan. They had been children with nothing.
The leaders of the Taliban were village mullahs from Afghanistan. They did not have the elite connections of many of the imams of city mosques. Village mullahs could read, and they were held in some respect by other villagers. But their social status was well below that of a landlord, or a high school graduate in a government office.

The Taliban were led by a committee of twelve men. All twelve had lost a hand, a foot or an eye to Soviet bombs in the war. The Taliban were, among other things, the party of poor and middling Pushtun village men. [3]

Twenty years of war had left Kandahar lawless and at the mercy of warring militias. The turning point came when the Taliban went after a local commander who had raped a boy and two (possibly three) women. The Taliban caught and hung him. What made their intervention striking was not just their determination to put an end to the murderous infighting and restore people’s dignity and safety, but their disgust at the hypocrisy of the other Islamists.

From the first the Taliban were funded by the Saudis, the Americans and the Pakistani military. Washington wanted a peaceful country that could house oil and gas pipelines from Central Asia. The Taliban stood out because they brooked no exceptions to the injunctions they sought to impose, and the severity with which they enforced the rules.

Many Afghans were grateful for the return of order and a modicum of security, but the Taliban were sectarian and unable to control the country, and, in 1996, the Americans withdrew their support. When they did so, they unleashed a new, and deadly, version of Islamophobia against the Taliban.

Almost overnight, Afghan women were deemed helpless and oppressed, while Afghan men – aka the Taliban – were execrated as fanatical savages, paedophiles and sadistic patriarchs, hardly people at all.

For four years before 9/11 the Taliban had been targeted by the Americans, while feminists and others clamored for the protection of Afghan women. By the time the American bombing started, everyone was meant to understand that the Afghan women needed help. What could possibly go wrong?

9/11 and the American War

The bombing began on October 7th. Within days, the Taliban had been forced into hiding – or were literally castrated – as a photograph on the front page of the Daily Mail crowed. The published images of the war were truly shocking in the violence and sadism they portrayed. Many people in Europe were appalled by the scale of the bombing and the utter carelessness of Afghan lives.[4]

Yet in the United States that autumn, the mixture of vengeance and patriotism meant dissenting voices were rare and mostly inaudible. Ask yourself, as Saba Mahmood did at the time, ‘Why were conditions of war, (migration, militarization) and starvation (under the mujahideen) considered to be less injurious to women than the lack of education, employment and most notably, in the media campaign, western dress styles (under the Taliban)?’ [5]

Then ask again even more fiercely – how could you possibly ‘save Afghan women’ by bombing a civilian population that included, along with the women themselves, their children, their husbands, fathers and brothers? It should have been the question that ended the argument, but it was not.

The most egregious expression of feminist Islamophobia came little over a month into the war. A vastly unequal war of revenge doesn’t look very good in the eyes of the world, so better to be doing something that looks virtuous. In anticipation of the American Thanksgiving holiday, on the 17th of November 2001, Laura Bush, the President’s wife, loudly lamented the plight of the veiled Afghan women. Cherie Blair, the British Prime Minister’s wife echoed her sentiments a few days later. These wealthy war-mongers’ wives were using the full weight of the Orientalist paradigm to blame the victims and justify a war against some of the poorest people on earth. And ‘Saving Afghan Women’ became the persistent cry of many liberal feminists to justify the American war.[6]

With the election of Obama in 2008, the chorus of Islamophobia became hegemonic among American liberals. That year the American anti-war alliance effectively dissolved itself to aid Obama’s campaign. Democrats and those feminists who supported Obama’s war hawk Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, could not accept the truth that Afghanistan and Iraq were both wars for oil.[7]

They had only one justification for the endless wars of oil – the sufferings of Afghan women. The feminist spin was a clever ploy. It precluded comparisons between the undoubted sexist rule of the Taliban and sexisms in the United States. Far more shocking, the feminist spin domesticated and effectively displaced the ugly truths about a grossly unequal war. And it separated those notional ‘women to be saved’ from the tens of thousands of actual Afghan women, and men and children killed, wounded, orphaned or made homeless and hungry by the American bombs.

Many of our friends and family members in America are feminists who believed with decent hearts much of this propaganda. But they were being asked to support was a web of lies, a perversion of feminism. It was the feminism of the invader and the corrupt governing elite. It was the feminism of the torturers and the drones.

We believe another feminism is possible.

But it remains true that the Taliban are deeply sexist. Misogyny has won a victory in Afghanistan. But it did not have to be that way.

The communists who sided with the cruelties of the Soviet invaders had discredited feminism in Afghanistan for at least a generation. But then the United States invaded, and a new generation of Afghan women professionals sided with the new invaders to try to win rights for women. Their dream too has ended in collaboration, shame and blood. Some were careerists, of course, mouthing platitudes in exchange for funding. But many others were motivated by an honest and selfless dream. Their failure is tragic.

Stereotypes and Confusions

Outside Afghanistan, there is a great deal of confusion about stereotypes of the Taliban elaborated over the last twenty-five years. But think carefully when you hear the stereotypes that they are feudal, brutal and primitive. These are people with laptops, who have been negotiating with the Americans in Qatar for the last fourteen years.

The Taliban are not the product of medieval times. They are the product of some of the worst times of the late twentieth century and early twenty-first century. If they look backward in some ways to an imagined better time, that is not surprising. But they have been moulded by life under aerial bombardment, refugee camps, communism, the War of Terror, enhanced interrogation, climate change, internet politics and the spiralling inequality of neoliberalism. 

They live, like everyone else, now.

Their roots in a tribal society can also be confusing. But as Richard Tapper has argued, tribes are not atavistic institutions. They are the way that peasants in this part of the world organise their entanglement with the state. And the history of Afghanistan has never been simply a matter of competing ethnic groups, but rather of complex alliances across groups and divisions within groups.[8]

There is a set of prejudices on the left which incline some people to ask how the Taliban could be on the side of the poor and anti-imperialist if they are not “progressive”. Leave aside for the moment that the word progressive means little. Of course the Taliban are hostile to socialism and communism. They themselves, or their parents or grandparents, were killed and tortured by socialists and communists. Moreover, any movement that has fought a twenty-year guerrilla war and defeated a great empire is anti-imperialist, or words have no meaning.

Reality is what it is. The Taliban are a movement of poor peasants, against an imperial occupation, deeply misogynist, supported by many women, sometimes racist and sectarian, and sometimes not. That’s a bundle of contradictions produced by history.

Another source of confusion is the class politics of the Taliban. How can they be on the side of the poor, as they obviously are, and yet so bitterly opposed to socialism? The answer is that the experience of the Russian occupation stripped away the possibility of socialist formulations about class. But it did not change the reality of class. No one has ever built a mass movement among poor peasants that took power without being seen as on the side of the poor.

The Taliban talk not in the language of class, but in the language of justice and corruption. Those words describe the same side.

None of this means that the Taliban will necessarily rule in the interests of the poor. We have seen enough peasant revolts come to power in the last century and more, only to become governments by urban elites. And none of this should distract from the truth that the Taliban intend to be dictators, not democrats.

A Historic Change in America

The fall of Kabul marks a decisive defeat for American power around the world. But it also marks, or makes clear, a deep turning away from the American empire among Americans.
One piece of evidence is the opinion polls. In 2001, right after 9/11, between 85% and 90% of Americans approved of the invasion of Afghanistan. The numbers have been dropping steadily. Last month, 62% of Americans approved of Biden’s plan for total withdrawal, and 29% were opposed.

This rejection of the war is common on both the right and the left. The working class base of the Republican Party and Trump are against foreign wars. Many soldiers and military families come from the rural areas and the south where Trump is strong. They are against any more wars, for it is they and those they loved who served, died and were wounded.

Right wing patriotism in America now is pro-military, but that means pro-soldier, not pro-war. When they say ‘Make America Great Again’, they mean that America is not great now for Americans, not that the US should be more engaged in the world.

Among Democrats, too, the working class base is against the wars.

There are people who support further military intervention. They are the Obama democrats, the Romney republicans, the generals, many liberal and conservative professionals, and almost everyone in the Washington elite. But the American people as a whole, and especially the working class, black, brown and white, have turned against the American Empire.
After the fall of Saigon, the American government was unable to launch major military interventions for the next fifteen years. It may well be longer after the fall of Kabul.

The International Consequences

Since 1918, 103 years ago, the United States has been the most powerful nation in the world. There have been competing powers – first Germany, then the Soviet Union and now China. But the US has been dominant. That ‘American Century’ is now coming to an end.

The long-term reason is the economic rise of China and the relative economic decline of the United States. But the covid pandemic and the Afghan defeat make the last two years a turning point.

The covid pandemic has revealed the institutional incompetence of the ruling class, and the government, of the United States. The system has failed to protect the people. This chaotic and shameful failure is obvious to people around the world.

Then there’s Afghanistan. If you judge by expenditure and hardware the United States is overwhelmingly the dominant military power globally. That power has been defeated by poor people in sandals in a small country who have nothing but endurance and courage.

The Taliban victory will also give heart to Islamists of many different sorts in Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Mali. But it will be true more widely than that.

Both the covid failure and the Afghan defeat will reduce the soft power of the US. But Afghanistan is also a defeat for hard power. The strength of the informal empire of the United States has relied for a century on three different pillars. One is being the largest economy in the world, and domination of the global financial system. The second is a reputation in many quarters for democracy, competence and cultural leadership. The third was that if soft power failed, the United States would invade to support dictatorships and punish its enemies.

That military power is gone now. No government will believe that the US can rescue them from a foreign invader, or from their own people. Drone killings will continue and cause great suffering. But nowhere will drones on their own be militarily decisive.

This is the beginning of the end of the American century.

What Happens Now?

No one knows what will happen in Afghanistan in the next few years. But we can identify some of the pressures.

First, and most hopeful, is the deep longing for peace in the hearts of Afghans. They have now lived through forty-three years of war. Think how only five or ten years of civil war and invasion have scarred so many countries. Now think of forty-three years.

Kabul, Kandahar and Mazar, the three most important cities, have all fallen without any violence. This is because the Taliban, as they keep saying, want a country at peace, and they do not want revenge. But it is also because the people who do not support, indeed those who hate the Taliban, also chose not to fight.

The Taliban leaders are clearly aware they must deliver peace.

For that it is also essential that the Taliban continue to deliver fair justice. Their record is good. But the temptations and pressures of government have corrupted many social movements in many countries before them.

Economic collapse is also quite possible. Afghanistan is a poor and arid country, where less than 5% of the land can be farmed. In the last twenty years the cities have swelled immensely. That growth has been dependent on money flowing from the occupation, and to a lesser extent money from growing opium. Without very substantial foreign aid from somewhere, economic collapse will threaten.

Because the Taliban know this, they have been explicitly offering the United States a deal. The Americans will give aid, and in return the Taliban will not provide a home for terrorists who could launch attacks like 9/11. Both the Trump and Biden administrations have accepted this deal. But it is not at all clear that the US will keep that promise.

Indeed, something worse is entirely possible. Previous US administrations have punished Iraq, Iran, Cuba and Vietnam for their defiance with long running and destructive economic sanctions. There will be many voices raised in the US for such sanctions, to starve Afghan children in the name of human rights.

Then there is the threat of international meddling, of different powers supporting different political or ethnic forces inside Afghanistan. The United States, India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, Russia and Uzbekistan will all be tempted. It has happened before, and in a situation of economic collapse it could provoke proxy wars.

For the moment, though, the governments of Iran, Russia and Pakistan clearly want peace in Afghanistan.

The Taliban have also promised not to rule with cruelty. That is easier said than done. Confronted with families who have amassed great fortunes through corruption and crime, what do you think the poor soldiers from the villages will want to do?

And then there is climate. In 1971 a drought and famine across the north and center devastated flocks, crops and lives. It was the first sign of the effects of climate change on the region, which has brought further droughts over the last fifty years. Over the medium and long term, farming and herding will become more precarious.[9]

All these dangers are real. But the often insightful security expert Antonio Giustozzi is in touch with the thinking among both the Taliban and foreign governments and the Taliban. His article in The Guardian on August 16 was hopeful. He ended it:

Since most of the neighbouring countries want stability in Afghanistan, at least for the time being any fissures in the new coalition government are unlikely to be exploited by external actors to create rifts. Similarly, the 2021 losers will struggle to find anybody willing or able to support them in starting some kind of resistance. As long as the new coalition government includes key allies of its neighbours, this is the beginning of a new phase in the history of Afghanistan.[10]

What Can You Do? Welcome Refugees.

Many people in the West now are asking, “What can we do to help Afghan women?” Sometimes this question assumes that most Afghan women oppose the Taliban, and most Afghan men support them. This is nonsense. It is almost impossible to imagine the kind of society in which that would be true.

But there is a narrower question here. Specifically, how can they help Afghan feminists?
This is a valid and decent question. The answer is to organize to buy them airplane tickets and give them refuge in Europe and North America.

But it is not just feminists who will need asylum. Tens of thousands of people who worked for the occupation are desperate for asylum, with their families. So are larger numbers of people who worked for the Afghan government.

Some of these people are admirable, some are corrupt monsters, many lie in between, and many are just children. But there is a moral imperative here. The United States and the NATO countries have created immense suffering for twenty years. The least, the very least, they should do it rescue the people whose lives they have wrecked.

There is another moral issue here too. What many Afghans have learned in the last forty years has also been clear in the last decade of the torment of Syria. It is all too easy to understand the accidents of background and personal history which lead people to do the things they do. Humility compels us to look at the young communist woman, the educated feminist working for an NGO, the suicide bomber, the American marine, the village mullah, the Taliban fighter, the bereaved mother of a child killed by American bombs, the Sikh money changer, the policeman, the poor farmer growing opium, and to say, there but for the grace of God go I.

The failure of the American and British governments to rescue the people who worked for them has been both shameful and revealing. It is not really a failure, but a choice. Racism against immigration has weighed more strongly with Johnson and Biden than the debts of humanity.

Campaigns to welcome Afghans are still possible. Of course such a strong moral argument will come up against racism and Islamophobia at every turn. But in the last week the governments of Germany and Netherlands have both suspended any deportations of Afghans.

Every politician, anywhere, who speaks in support of Afghan women must be asked, again and again, to open the borders to all Afghans.

And then there is what might happen to the Hazaras. As we have said, the Taliban have stopped being simply a Pushtun movement and have gone national, recruiting many Tajiks and Uzbeks. And also, they say, some Hazaras. But not many.

The Hazaras are the people who traditionally lived in the central mountains. Many also migrated to cities like Mazar and Kabul, where they worked as porters and in other low paid jobs. They are about 15% of the Afghan population. The roots of enmity between Pushtuns and Hazaras lie partly in long standing disputes over land and rights to grazing.

But more recently it also matters a good deal that Hazaras are Shias, and almost all other Afghans are Sunnis.

The bitter conflicts between Sunnis and Shias in Iraq have led to a split in the militant Islamist tradition. This split is complicated, but important, and needs a bit of explanation.

In both Iraq and in Syria the Islamic State have committed massacres against Shias, just as Shia militias have massacred Sunnis in both countries.

The more traditional Al Qaeda networks have remained staunchly opposed to attacking Shias and argued for solidarity between Muslims. People often point out that Osama Bin Laden’s mother was herself a Shia – actually an Alawite from Syria. But the necessity of unity has been more important. This was the main issue in the split between Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.

In Afghanistan the Taliban have also argued strongly for Islamic unity. The sexual exploitation of women by Islamic State is also deeply repugnant to Taliban values, which are deeply sexist but puritanical and modest. For many years the Afghan Taliban have been consistent in their public condemnation of all terror attacks on Shias, Christians and Sikhs.

Yet those attacks happen. The ideas of Islamic State have had a particular influence on the Pakistani Taliban. The Afghan Taliban are an organization. The Pakistani Taliban are a looser network, not controlled by the Afghans. They have carried out repeated bombings against Shias and Christians in Pakistan.

It is Islamic State and the Haqqani network who have carried out the recent racist terror bombings of Hazaras and Sikhs in Kabul. The Taliban leadership have condemned all those attacks.

But the situation is in flux. Islamic State in Afghanistan is a minority breakaway from the Taliban, largely based in Ningrahar province in the east. They are bitterly anti-Shia. So are the Haqqani network, a long-standing mujahedin group largely controlled by Pakistani military intelligence. Yet in the present mix, the Haqqani network have been integrated into the Taliban organization, and their leader is one of the leaders of the Taliban.

But no one can be sure what the future holds. In 1995 an uprising of Hazara workers in Mazar prevented the Taliban gaining control of the north. But Hazara traditions of resistance go much deeper and further back than that.

Hazara refugees in neighboring countries may also be in danger now. The government of Iran are allying with the Taliban, and begging them to be peaceful. They are doing this because there are about three million Afghan refugees already in Iran. Most of them have been there for years, most are poor urban workers and their families, and the majority are Hazaras. Recently the Iranian government, in desperate economic straights themselves, have begun deporting Afghans back to Afghanistan.

There are about a million Hazara refugees in Pakistan too. In the region around Quetta more than 5,000 of them have been killed in sectarian assassinations and massacres in the last few years. The Pakistani police and army do nothing. Given the long support of the Pakistani army and intelligence for the Afghan Taliban, those people will be at greater risk right now.

What should you do, outside Afghanistan? Like most Afghans, pray for peace. And join protests for open borders.

We will leave the last word to Graham Knight. His son, Sergeant Ben Knight of the British Royal Air Force, was killed in Afghanistan in 2006. This week Graham Knight told the Press Association the UK government should have moved quickly to rescue civilians:

We’re not surprised that the Taliban have taken over because as soon as the Americans and the British said they were going to leave, we knew this was going to happen. The Taliban made their intent very clear that, as soon as we went out, they would move in.
As for whether people’s lives were lost through a war that wasn’t winnable, I think they were. I think the problem was we were fighting people that were native to the country. We weren’t fighting terrorists, we were fighting people who actually lived there and didn’t like us being there.” [11]


Fluri, Jennifer L. and Rachel Lehr. 2017. The Carpetbaggers of Kabul and Other American-Afghan Entanglements. Athens OH: University of Georgia Press.

Giustozzi, Antonio. 2007. Koran, Kalashnikov and Laptop: The Neo-Taliban Insurgency in Afghanistan. London: Hurst.

—, ed. 2009. Decoding the New Taliban: Insights from the Afghan Field. London: Hurst.

—, 2021. ‘The Taliban have retaken Afghanistan – this time, how will they rule it?’ The Guardian, August 16.

Gregory, Thomas. 2011. ‘Rescuing the Women of Afghanistan: Gender, Agency and the Politics of Intelligibility.’University of Manchester PhD thesis.

Hirschkind, Charles and Saba Mahmood. 2002. ‘Feminism, the Taliban and the Politics of Counterinsurgency.’ Anthropological Quarterly, 75(2): 339-354.  

Hughes, Dana. 2012. ‘The First Ladies Club: Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush for the Women of Afghanistan.’ ABC News, March 21.

Jalalzai, Zubeda and David Jefferess, eds. 2011. Globalizing Afghanistan: Terrorism, War, and the Rhetoric of Nation Building. Durham: Duke University Press.

Klaits, A. & G. Gulmanadova-Klaits. 2005. Love and War in Afghanistan, New York: Seven Stories.

Kolhatkar, Sonali and James Ingalls. 200. Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence. New York: Seven Stories.

Lindisfarne, Nancy. 2002a. ‘Gendering the Afghan War.’ Eclipse: The Anti-War Review, 4: 2-3.

—. 2002b. ‘Starting from Below: Fieldwork. Gender and Imperialism Now.’ Critique of Anthropology, 22(4): 403-423, and in Armbruster and Laerke, 23-44.

—. 2012. ‘Exceptional Pashtuns?’ Class Politics, Imperialism and Historiography.’ In Marsden and Hopkins.

Lindisfarne, Nancy and Jonathan Neale, 2015. ‘Oil Empires and Resistance in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.’ Anne Bonny Pirate.

—. 2019. ‘Oil, Heat and Climate Jobs in the MENA Region.’ In Environmental Challenges in the MENA Region: The Long Road from Conflict to Cooperation, edited by Hamid Pouran and Hassan Hakimian, 72-94. London: Ginko.

Manchanda, Nivi. 2020. Imagining Afghanistan: The History and Politics of Imperial Knowledge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Marsden, Magnus and Benjamin Hopkins, eds. 2012. Beyond Swat: History, Society and Economy along the Afghanistan-Pakistan Frontier. London: Hurst.

Mihailovič, Konstantin. 1975. Memoirs of a Janissary. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Mount, Ferdinand. 2008. Cold Cream: My Early Life and Other Mistakes. London: Bloomsbury.

Mousavi, Sayed Askar, 1998. The Hazaras of Afghanistan: An Historical, Cultural, Economic and Political Study. London: Curzon. 

Neale, Jonathan. 1981. ‘The Afghan Tragedy.’ International Socialism, 12: 1-32.

—. 1988. ‘Afghanistan: The Horse Changes Riders,’ Capital and Class, 35: 34-48.

—. 2002. ‘The Long Torment of Afghanistan.’ International Socialism 93: 31-59.

—. 2008. ‘Afghanistan: The Case Against “the Good War”.’ International Socialism, 120: 31-60. 

Nojumi, Neamatollah. 2002. The Rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan. New York: Palgrave.

Rico, Johnny. 2007. Blood Makes the Grass Grow Green: A Year in the Desert with Team America. New York: Presidio.

Tapper (Lindisfarne), Nancy. 1991. Bartered Brides: Politics, Gender and Marriage in an Afghan Tribal Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tapper, Richard, ed. 1983. The Conflict of Tribe and State in Iran and Afghanistan. London: Croom Helm.

Tapper, Richard, with Nancy Lindisfarne. 2020. Afghan Village Voices: Stories from a Tribal Community. London: I.B. Tauris.

The Guardian, 2021. ‘Afghanistan Live News.’ August 16.

Ward, Lucy, 2001. ‘Leader’s Wives Join Propaganda War.’ The Guardian, Nov 17.

Zaeef, Abdul, 2010. My Life with the Taliban. London: Hirst.

Zilizer, Barbie. 2005. ‘Death in Wartime: Photographs and the ‘Other War’ in Afghanistan.’ The Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics, 10(3): 26-55.


[1] See especially Nancy Tapper (Lindisfarne), 1991; Lindisfarne, 2002a, 2002b and 2012; Lindisfarne and Neale, 2015; Neale, 1981, 1988, 2002 and 2008; Richard Tapper with Lindisfarne, 2020.

[2] Giustozzi, 2007 and 2009 are especially useful.

[3] On the class basis of the Taliban, see Lindisfarne, 2012, and many chapters by other authors in Marsden and Hopkins, 2012. And see Moussavi, 1998; Nojumi, 2002; Giustozzi, 2008 and 2009; Zareef, 2010.

[4] Zilizer, 2005.

[5] There is a vast literature on saving Afghan women. See Gregory, 2011; Lindisfarne, 2002a; Hirschkind and Mahmood, 2002; Kolhatkar and Ingalls, 2006; Jalalzai and Jefferess,2011; Fluri and Lehr, 2017; Manchanda, 2020.

[6] Ward, 2001.

[7] Lindisfarne and Neale, 2015

[8] Richard Tapper, 1983.

[9] For the drought in 1971, see Tapper and Lindisfarne, 2020. For more recent climate change, see Lindisfarne and Neale, 2019.

[10] Giustozzi, 2021.

[11] The Guardian, 2021.