Grifter's Paradise: Capitalism's Destruction of Afghanistan
America's longest war has several clear winners: corporations, private contractors, and the U.S. military industrial complex.
News Beat is a multi-award-winning podcast that melds hard-hitting journalism with hip-hop to inform, educate, and inspire. This episode examines the consequences of the capitalist war in Afghanistan—America’s longest conflict and most recent military failing.
Welcome back for another newsletter edition of News Beat podcast! First, we’d like to say we appreciate everyone’s support and we hope you keep spreading the word about the newsletter and the podcast. We really appreciate it!
Now, to serious podcasting business: Afghanistan.
As you're well aware, the Taliban marched across Afghanistan this summer seizing city after city, until they finally arrived at Kabul, the country’s capital and power center. With its fall virtually guaranteed, the now-former president, Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, fled in disgrace. And that’s how America’s puppet regime fell, leaving behind a vulnerable population so desperate to escape eventual Taliban rule they sacrificed life and limb to leave the only home they knew. Many thousands more have been trapped in Afghanistan with no way out.
Of course, the chaos that erupted in Kabul and elsewhere during the summer was not the result of a single decision made by any one U.S. president—but the result of decades of imperialist pursuits that began well before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Of course, 9/11 changed everything. Every congressional lawmaker but one voted for the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) that justified the invasion of Afghanistan—authorization miraculously ever-evolving throughout two decades to ravage the Middle East and Africa without subsequent congressional action. (You definitely have to listen to our podcast on AUMF.)
Why We Covered This Topic
Unfortunately, America’s mainstream media—which borders on subservient when it comes to all things U.S. military—missed an opportunity to correct the record about our many post-9/11 wars. The established narrative essentially went like this: Joe Biden is president so he’s responsible for a failed war and the collapse of the Afghan regime. No one here, of course, is giving Biden a pass, but we were struck by the media’s inability to contextualize a decades-long conflict shaped by lies and deceit across several administrations. Beyond that, the corporate media effectively turned into cheerleaders for the war industry, expressing indignation at the fact the United States was still withdrawing amid the Taliban takeover, while suddenly taking an interest in women’s rights—concerns that were largely ignored for years while U.S. drones were killing innocent civilians and destroying families in rural Afghanistan.
That’s why we decided to conduct a deep dive into the colonial history of Afghanistan, America’s 20-year occupation, and the neoliberal establishment that benefited financially from two decades of chaos, bloodshed, and rampant corruption.
Despite the varying issues embedded in Afghanistan, one thing is clear: Corporations, private contractors, and the U.S. military industrial complex made a killing from the war.
What You’ll Learn in This Episode
Afghanistan has rarely, if ever, been left alone by imperialist powers. The United States, former Soviet Union, and Great Britain have intervened for decades.
The United States deployed controversial strategies that later came back to haunt it—including creating and distributing textbooks to children that encouraged jihad.
Corruption is endemic in Afghanistan, and is partly to blame for the Taliban’s dramatic resurgence.
Defense contractors have profited immensely from the war, including Boeing, Raytheon, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, and Lockheed Martin.
Even after initially pushing the Taliban out of Afghanistan and installing its own regime, the United States stayed—an occupation it justified by frequently changing its publicly stated missions.
Several U.S. administrations lied to the public about the war effort. We can’t underscore this enough. The U.S. government lied to all of you about the war effort, for years.
Who We Interviewed & What They Said
Dr. Ali Olomi, assistant professor of history at Penn State Abington and host of the Head On History Podcast.
“This was basically a capitalist grift. Who were the beneficiaries of the 20-year war? Raytheon, Boeing. These groups made out really, really well, because they ended up getting those funds, people basically invented jobs for themselves. They went to Afghanistan and they became senior advisor for blank, senior representative of this, contractor for that, and we just threw money at it. The U.S. threw billions and billions of dollars without any accountability, without any follow-up, without any checking, and one can argue that may be by design, but it built an ongoing problem of corruption. Some elites in Kabul, some Afghan elites and our allies, may have benefited from this money. But the vast majority of the benefit came back to Americans themselves, who became experts in Afghanistan, who became advisors and who ended up with cushy jobs. I mean, I'm thinking about the generals that retired but now are sitting on boards, right? They didn't retire, they just went to cushier jobs. And this was the reality that the Afghanistan Papers revealed: That all that money went to somebody, it went to benefiting the American capitalist project.”
Halema Wali, a second-generation Afghan American and cofounder of nonprofit Afghans for a Better Tomorrow, among others.
“Foreign intervention, and especially U.S. intervention has, I think, set a path for Afghanistan that unfortunately means that they will never see peace…We anticipated that the withdrawal, just due to the lack of proper planning, due to the lack of foresight of what's going to happen once the U.S. completely withdraws, the worst did happen. The Taliban quickly took over the country. And with that came the Taliban rule that I think everyone is familiar with. The public beatings [and] whipping folks, doesn't matter who you are, man, woman, or child. We had reports of the Taliban beginning to take note of homes that are of religious and ethnic minorities, something that is very much a chilling, reminiscent thing of the Taliban's past. We have seen the Taliban essentially threaten folks. People wake up in the morning and report people that are disappearing, and never to be seen again. And so these are things that we're hearing directly from family. I have family that still lives in Kabul to this day and they're scared—they're absolutely scared for their lives.”
Antony Loewenstein, independent journalist, author, and filmmaker. He authored the book “Disaster Capitalism,” and co-created a documentary of the same name.
“To call the war in Afghanistan a ‘capitalist grift,’ I think, is accurate. But I would say it's more than that. It's the whole—much of the post-9/11 War on Terror infrastructure—the U.S. government themselves have spent at least $8 trillion. This is across all U.S. military interventions in the last 20 years. These figures come from Brown University's ‘Cost of War’ project…That's just some of the money that's been spent. And again, I don't think all the wars—Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria—are fought solely for people to make money. I don't think that's the sole reason these wars are happening. But they are central to how they’re fought.
“I do think the fact that you have private enterprise aiming to make an absolute killing in all of these countries, undeniably makes those wars worse. This one interesting point: Five of the top U.S. military contractors in the last 20 years—they are Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, and Northrop Grumman—and it's important to know that all those company's profits have gone through the roof.”
The artist for this episode is the incomparable Silent Knight, News Beat's Artist in Residence, solo artist, frontperson for our good friends and co-award-winning collaborators The Band Called FUSE, and an Innocence Ambassador for the renowned nonprofit Innocence Project. Typing his verses into this newsletter doesn’t do it justice, so please listen to his incendiary performance.
If you haven’t read the Washington Post’s secret history of the war in Afghanistan, dubbed “The Afghanistan Papers,” we highly recommend you check it out. The reporter at the center of the paper’s expose, Craig Whitlock, goes even deeper in his book “The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War.” You can grab a copy at Bookshop.org.
The aforementioned Antony Loewenstein is one of the preeminent reporters covering the intersection of militarization and private interests. Here are links to his book and documentary about “Disaster Capitalism.”
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Audio Editor/Sound Designer/Producer/Host: Manny Faces
Editor-In-Chief/Producer: Christopher Twarowski
Managing Editor/Producer: Rashed Mian
Episode Art: Jeff Main
Executive Producer: Jed Morey