Afghanistan Weeps

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Empires advance and empires retreat, though not in circumstances of their own choosing – to borrow from one Karl Marx – and certainly never smoothly or without upending entire regions, countries and societies in their wake.

What has and continues to unfold in Afghanistan is nothing less than a historic tipping point when it comes to US hegemonic and imperial decline. The chaotic and panicked scenes at Kabul airport, where US and British military forces are hastily attempting to effect the evacuation of their own nationals still in the country, along with Afghans who made the mistake of working for them during the country’s occupation, unsurprisingly have drawn comparison with Saigon in 1975.

Just as Saigon marked the humiliating defeat of US geostrategic ambitions in Indochina after ten years of war and conflict in a country it never had any right to be in, so Kabul marks the humiliating defeat of same in Central Asia. 

Making the ‘fall of Kabul’ today more significant than the fall of Saigon back then, however, is the fact that the former comes at the tail end of Washington’s unipolar moment, when after the Berlin Wall came crashing down Western ideologues and neocons in Washington became intoxicated with triumphalism and ‘End of History’ fanaticism. At this historical juncture, the world appeared to them like a freshly cooked juicy steak, waiting to be devoured.

The Grand Chessboard is the title of the 1997 book by Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security advisor to President Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s. In it he argues that domination of Eurasia should be viewed as critical to US strategy for domination of the world’s resources in the post-Cold War era. Brzezinski was key in advocating US military and material support for the Afghan mujahideen, which began under the Carter administration in 1979 in order to draw the Soviets into their own Vietnam.

The trajectory from then to now has been one of imperial overreach on the part of a Washington establishment blinded by an entirely misplaced sense of its own exceptionalism and a catastrophically failed belief in its ability to bludgeon and bully the world into submission.

‘You have the watches, we have the time,’ the Taliban leadership is said to have pointed out to their American counterparts, and so it has proved. With hardly a shot being fired, and with the 20th anniversary of 9/11 looming, the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan is not only seismic geopolitically but also just as importantly, symbolically.

Sadly, it is the innocent in Afghanistan who have suffered most and who will continue to suffer most going forward. Meanwhile, the same old hypocrisy abounds. Western commentators lamenting the fate of women in Afghanistan under Taliban rule are completely silent when it comes to the fate of women in Saudi Arabia. Politicians beside themselves with grief over the fall of Kabul have shed not a tear over the destruction of Yemen.

Korea, Vietnam, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria – wherever Washington treads foot, ruination follows. Along with ruination comes Washington’s pattern of betrayal with regard to allies and proxies on the ground. Afghans who made the mistake of trusting US promises and assurances failed to learn from the fate of the Kurds, who themselves failed to learn from the fate of the South Vietnamese.

When it comes to Afghanistan and the wider region in the here and now, Washington and its allies have proved after two decades that they have nothing to offer but misery and despair. Now into the vacuum must step China, Iran, Russia, and Pakistan, regional powers with a vested interest in stability and security being returned to a society and people that have known only its lack over five long decades of turmoil and strife.

With yet another refugee crisis triggered by another failed US-led Western crusade, the world must demand that all sanctions on Iran are lifted, a country where even before the collapse of US power in Afghanistan was already home to over 2 million Afghan refugees. If countries such as Iran and Pakistan are to bear the brunt of a humanitarian crisis fashioned in Washington, they are entitled to expect Washington to at least acknowledge its responsibility and act accordingly.

No one in Islamabad or Tehran will be holding their breath, of course. This, after all, is not a country whose foreign policy is guided by moral principles, it’s a hegemonic juggernaut that brutally destroys everything in its path.

Mr Biden fatuously believed that a US trained, funded and equipped Afghan army could hold the line against the poorly trained, funded and equipped Taliban insurgency. How wrong he and his intelligence were, confirming that after 20 years presence in Afghanistan the Americans possessed little or no understanding of Afghan society or its complexities.

Just as Rome’s emperors erroneously believed in the universality and divine permanence of Rome as the sun around which the rest of the world revolved in its time, so US presidents have made the mistake of believing the same myth in ours. Afghanistan throughout its tortured history has been a graveyard for such myths. The Greek Empire of Alexander the Great, the British Empire, the Soviet Union, all have exited the country grievously diminished and weakened – fatally so, in the case of the Soviets – compared to when they entered. 

The Scramble for Africa of the 19th century has been replaced by the Scramble out of Central Asia in the 21st, and the ramifications will be far-reaching and longlasting. This is not a withdrawal it is the abject humiliation of an imperial project conceived in hubris and aborted in shame.

1 comment

  1. avatar
    Michael August 29, 2021 12:22 pm 

    “The Grand Chessboard is the title of the 1997 book by Zbigniew Brzezinski,” and this is exactly the mentality that overshadows and pervades empires’ perspective of what they consider their domains. This mentality is an illness, a severe one, that does not simply involve the horror of war and combatants, but covers the vast populations of country after country as “leaders” look at the world as a chess board and begin to strategize and manipulate the pieces, which are not pieces at all but flesh and blood human lives of women, children, and men who are not warriors/combatants.

    We are so subject to statistics of deaths and injured populations, they are part of every conflict story. And being subject to these numbers can make us callous to the point of hearing single or double digit figures no longer impress unless someone we know or love is involved. This callousness is one of the injuries of war no matter how far away we might be and seemingly “uninvolved.”

    And this callousness does reach to where we live, to our hearts and minds, and impacts upon our daily lives and the communities in which we live. We no longer are moved to care, respond, and attempt to assuage human suffering because “it is does involve us,” until in some unthought-about way, it does.

    Afghanistant? Far away. Yemen? Far away. Gun deaths in our communities or in another community? Not me. Covid deaths? Well, I’m feeling all right now, other priorities. And the list goes on, of course. Callousness, that the great disability, insensitivity, the malfunction, not caring, what happens then to the glue, the bonds that holds community together. Eventually we will need that community, all of us will need it, it is as inevitable as death, actually. Which means, a single life in far away lands is invisibly connected to our our own well-being, although we may not see the nearly invisible link that binds us together. Humanity is not simply a collection of isolated lives, it is like a flowing river, one moving throughout many lands.

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