America’s chief ally in the war on terror, the British government, announced Monday a new strategy in the war against the Taliban. They are going to let them reenter the Afghani government.

That’s right. The government whose rule President Bush called "a totalitarian nightmare" is negotiating with the British for the opportunity to rule Afghanistan. Again.

The possibility of "moderate" members of the Taliban rejoining the government raises the question why we ever invaded in the first place. However, the government is not the only factor in Afghanistan sliding backward. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, nearly every aspect of life in Afghanistan is worse than it was before the U.S. invasion. Many women commit suicide by self-immolation, the only escape from their misogynistic country.

It has become cliché to say the invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with fighting terrorism. However, Mr. Bush and his cohorts’ willingness to let Afghanistan sink back into fundamentalist rule reveals the "war on terror" is not about fighting terror either. Lofty rhetoric about spreading democracy and combating evil is just a cover for consolidating American power in an economically vital region of the world.

During the invasion of Iraq, Mr. Bush promised the war on terror would cause democracy to blossom throughout the Middle East. It was an odd claim for a man with close ties to the Saudi royal family, the rulers of a brutal fundamentalist regime. However, the January 2006 elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council provided a chance for Mr. Bush to prove his commitment to democracy. When Palestinians voted for Hamas, a party that refused to recognize Israel or kowtow to the United States, Mr. Bush and his allies reacted ruthlessly. Israel began to refuse turning over tax revenue to the Palestinian Authority, undermining Hamas’s ability to govern. The United States and Israel are now sanctioning the Gaza Strip, Hamas’s base of support, as punishment for failing to obey. Israel’s stranglehold has caused rampant childhood malnutrition, and according to the Gaza director of the United Nations’ Relief and Works Agency, Gaza’s children attend school "hungry and unable to concentrate." To the United States, democracy means, "What we say, goes."

The claim that America is in the Middle East fighting terrorism is equally dubious. In mid-September, a terrorist group drove through Baghdad’s Nisour Square, firing guns in every direction as Iraqis fled, killing 17 people and wounding 27. An Iraqi government investigation found that four vehicles passed through the square with bullet holes found at 360 degrees around the convoy. The group responsible was not al-Qaida, but Blackwater USA, the American-hired mercenary company.

Blackwater is not the only U.S.-backed thug company in Iraq. In January 2005, Newsweek reported that the Pentagon was considering what they called the "Salvador Option." A reference to the American-trained death squads that terrorized El Salvador and Honduras in the 1980s, the Salvador Option would involve training Shiite militias to uproot the insurgency from the Sunni population. As one Pentagon official explained, "The Sunni population is paying no price for the support it is giving to the terrorists. … From their point of view, it is cost-free. We have to change that equation."

The Sunnis of Iraq ended up paying that price. Within a year, the United Nations revealed there were Shiite death squads operating within the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior. The death squads killed many of their victims using electric drills to bore holes into their skulls and torsos. Not surprisingly, these sectarian murders contributed to the Shiite-Sunni violence that is occurring today.

Unfortunately, the belief that the United States has the right to terrorize the Middle East is not confined to the Bush administration. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said Aug. 1 he would consider unilaterally invading Pakistan to fight al-Qaida, provided he had "actionable intelligence." In September, fellow Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton voted to label a division of the Iranian military a terrorist organization, laying the groundwork for a potential attack on Iran. All of the Democratic presidential frontrunners, including John Edwards, said they could not guarantee that all U.S. troops would be out of Iraq by 2013.

Many Americans have realized the war in Iraq is about controlling oil. Recently, even former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and retired U.S. General John Abizaid have publicly stated that oil is a main cause of the occupation. However, the "war on terror" is still generally beyond criticism in mainstream discourse. Somehow, the Democrats and the media have separated the corrupt and brutal war in Iraq from the rest of Bush’s foreign policy, as if Iraq was just a "misstep" in a generally noble cause. This country is going to see a massive, grassroots anti-war movement before it sees an end to U.S. occupation of Iraq. But if we want to avoid more wars in the Middle East, we need a movement that also demands an end to all American terrorism.

Paul Pryse ([email protected]) is a senior and member of the International Socialist Organization.