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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.
With this in mind, what unfolded in Afghanistan a year ago with the panicked withdrawal of US forces to end Washington and its allies’ 20-year occupation of the country was a historic tipping point, a significant signpost pointing to US hegemonic and imperial decline.
In this respect, the chaotic and panicked scenes at Kabul airport, where US and British military forces hastily attempted to effect the evacuation of their own nationals still in the country, along with those Afghans who worked with them during the country’s occupation, drew comparison with Saigon in 1975. They did so with good reason.
For just as Saigon marked the end of US geostrategic ambitions in Indochina after 10 years of war and conflict there, so Kabul marked the end of the same in central Asia.
Making the “Fall of Kabul” more significant than the Fall of Saigon, however, is that the former came 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 lavish feast, just waiting to be devoured.
The Grand Chessboard is the title of the 1997 book by Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser 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 mojahedin, support which began under the Carter administration in 1979 in order to draw the Soviets into their own Vietnam-style quagmire.
In this they certainly succeeded, but at what cost? For the trajectory from then to now has been one of imperial over-reach 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 US counterparts, and so it has proved.
With hardly a shot being fired, and with the 20th anniversary of the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York looming, the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan was a year ago not only seismic geopolitically but also symbolically.
Sadly, though, it is the innocent in Afghanistan who have suffered most and who will continue to suffer most in the future.
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.
Joe 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 community were, confirming that after 20 years in Afghanistan the US possessed little or no understanding of Afghan society or its complexities.
And make no mistake, this particular debacle lies at the door of a Biden administration that allowed the country to collapse like a house of cards.
The result was a security vacuum that proved manna from heaven for Isis’s Afghan affiliate, Isis-K. This was confirmed in horrific fashion on Thursday August 26 2021 when a twin suicide bomb attack at Kabul airport killed 13 US service members and dozens of Afghans, among them children, while wounding hundreds more.
In effect, the reckless and precipitous manner of Biden’s withdrawal left thousands of US and British military personnel, and thousands more Afghans gathered there desperate to get out, as no better than sitting ducks for such terror attacks.
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 long lasting.
This is not a withdrawal, it is the abject defeat of an imperial project conceived in hubris and aborted in shame.
Afghanistan and its people were just a pawn in their game. Now the game is over and all that remains are the tears of the innocent.
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