WAR and CONFLICT: Another One Bites the Dust in Afghanistan – Opinion

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Another One Bites the Dust

For the better part of three thousand years, the bleak yet beautiful land we now call Afghanistan has enticed, entrapped, and ultimately humiliated one ambitious conquering power after another.  The United States of America is merely the latest in a long list of hubristic nations to see its vainglorious pretensions laid low by Afghanistan’s daunting terrain and deadly history. 

 As the last Americans on the ground scurry to escape before the curtain finally drops on a twenty-year, two trillion-dollar war, we leave behind nothing but blood and ignominy.  Thousands of Afghans who believed our promises have been betrayed.  Thousands of American families, whose daughters and sons were told they were fighting for a noble purpose, will be left with nothing but flag-draped coffins.  Friends and foes around the world  will see in this debacle dispositive proof — as if any more were needed — that the United States is neither the great power it pretends to be nor the trustworthy ally it claims to be.     

If there is any small consolation in this, it is the fact that we are not the first great power to have made the colossal mistake of thinking that we could march into Afghanistan and leave in any condition but disgrace.  And if history is a guide, we will probably not be the last. 

The Persian Empire founded by Cyrus the Great three millennia ago may have been the first to see its ambitions interred in the land often dubbed “the graveyard of empires”.  Having subdued most of the Middle East, the Persians looked down their long noses at Bactria, as Afghanistan was then called, as a trivial side-show.  And so it was, until Alexander of Macedon came along.  As the Persians were tied up trying to tame the ever-quarrelsome Bactrians on their eastern border, wily Alexander attacked them from the west, and, in a series of lightning-quick battles, toppled the Persians before they knew what hit them.

Alexander the Great’s military acumen, alas, was not accompanied by an equal dose of common sense.  Not satisfied with defeating the Persians, the Great Man decided to push on to the fabled land of India.  This meant slogging and fighting his way through the pitiless mountains valleys of the Hindu Kush.  Alexander and his army barely got out alive, and by the time they did reach India, the Great Man had a mutiny on his hands.  For the first time in his brief but meteoric career, Alexander was forced to give way.  He turned tail and headed home.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, it was the British who invaded Afghanistan — three times — with the aim of defending India, the “jewel” in their imperial crown.  The first invasion was an unmitigated disaster.  The second, intended to avenge the first, led to a symbolic military victory but no practical results.  And the third ended in a humiliating stand-off, whereby the Afghans gained their complete independence in exchange for a promise to leave India alone.  The damage done to the prestige of the British Raj was incalculable. 

Sixty years later, it was Russia’s turn.  A communist government came to power in Afghanistan and introduced a series of political, economic, and social changes – among the latter was the novel proposition that women ought to have the same rights as men.  This was  enormously popular in urban centers like Kabul and Kandahar, but in the rural hinterlands, where attitudes on such matters haven’t changed since the middle ages, the reaction was nothing less than furious.  A rebellion broke out, stirred up by the people we now call the Taliban, and the new government soon found itself in trouble.

When Russia stepped in to support its friends in Kabul, the United States saw an opportunity to poke a stick in the eye of its existential foe.  The CIA began to shower the Taliban with money, weapons, and covert assistance.  It paid off.  After ten bloody years, the Russians were forced to withdraw — a humiliation that played no small role in the final collapse of the entire Soviet system.

Fast forward 30 years, and the United States of America decided that Afghanistan’s daunting history was not going to deter an “exceptional” nation like ours from flexing its muscles.   On the pretext of hunting Osama Bin Laden, we launched our own invasion.   When Bin Laden was finally discovered and killed, not in Afghanistan, but in Pakistan, you might imagine that we would have taken the opportunity to proclaim “mission accomplished” and gracefully withdraw.  Instead, for reasons that no one has ever been able to explain coherently, we decided that our “mission” was now going to be the creation of a new nation state, modeled along the lines of our own.  There was only one problem:  Most Afghans didn’t care — for the simple reason that we never consulted them in the first place. 

 For more than a decade, we squandered countless lives and immeasurable treasure in an attempt to impose our “values” on an altogether different society, one that was either hostile or at the very least unable to adopt those values for practical or historical reasons.  In the process, we pitted the most powerful military force on the planet against the rag-rag band of fundamentalist guerrilla fighters we had once supported.  Though never more than 80,000 in number and outmatched by every measure of technology, training, weaponry, and firepower, the Taliban defeated the United States of America and did so decisively.  Once we could no longer deny this reality and decided to cash in our chips, the papier-mâché government we had installed in Kabul promptly collapsed, and its corrupt president fled the country, taking with him a carload of cash.

The tragic dénouement of our twenty-year foray into Afghanistan is not a “strategic withdrawal”; it is not a “choice” made for want of sufficient “political will”; and it is not a reluctant nod to public opinion.  These are euphemisms peddled by generals and politicians, pundits and journalists.  WE ARE LEAVING, BECAUSE WE SUFFERED AN UTTER AND COMPLETE DEFEAT.

For years, our military leaders assured us, as they invariably do, that victory was just around the corner and could be achieved if only we spent more money, deployed more troops, had more patience, and let “the professionals” do their jobs.  This is the same fairy tale told by the four-star incompetents who presided over the catastrophes of Vietnam and Iraq.  Even now, it is being recycled, retroactively, by an assortment of former generals who decline to take any responsibility for the calamity they played no small role in causing.

EVEN SO, IT WOULD BE UNFAIR TO LAY ALL THE BLAME AT THE FEET OF THE GENERALS. They prosecute wars and may be guilty of doing so with exorbitant overconfidence, but they aren’t the ones who start wars in the first place.  That dishonor belongs to politicians and, in no small measure, to the American people themselves.  It is the American people who are ever ready to wave the flag, beat the drum, and parrot jingoistic poppycock — until, of course, their kids start dying and their taxes go up.   As a people, Americans are the very embodiment of Tom Paine’s “summer soldiers and sunshine patriots”. 

If any good is to come from this particularly shameful episode in our generally shameful history, let it come in the form of four simple lessons: 

FIRST, no matter how righteous we imagine ourselves to be, we have no right to impose our values on other nations or peoples without their participation and consent.  If we truly believe in the worth of those values, the only way to persuade others to adopt them is to set a virtuous example.  Military conquest is neither persuasive nor virtuous.  

SECOND, the vast sums we spend on our military establishment and the never-ending “war on terror” are a grotesque waste, not only of money but of moral authority.  For all our technological prowess, the armed forces of the United States have proved themselves to be remarkably incapable of winning wars; our intelligence agencies keep getting the most basic – and obvious – things wrong; and the “war against terror” is an out-and-out scam.  Climate change, COVID-19, Republican governors who seek to ban the wearing of masks, and gun-toting domestic terrorists like those who attacked the Capitol on January 6th are far more dangerous to the average American than ISIS or the Taliban will ever be. 

THIRD, the most terrible decision any nation can make is the decision to wage war.  The only possible justification for that decision is self-defense in the face of imminent danger.  Anything else — ”pre-emption”, the protection of our “interests”, the preservation of our “values” — is immoral, and those who invoke such excuses for slaughtering other human beings are little more than war criminals.

FINALLY, let us set aside the self-congratulatory myth that we are an “exceptional” nation and “indispensable” to the safety and security of the world.  All that is rhetorical eyewash, designed to obscure the sometimes brutal, often lawless, and rarely just imposition of our economic and political interests on those unwilling to play by our “rules”.  Since the end of the Second World War, the United States has been nothing less than a global hegemon, running an empire in all but name.  If our humiliating defeat in Afghanistan teaches us nothing else, it should teach us that the time has come for that empire to bite the dust.

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  • Clyde Duncan  On 09/11/2021 at 12:50 am

    REMEMBER THE ALAMO!

    Next to Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death” and Nathan Hale’s “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country”, there may be no phrase in the lexicon of patriotic American rhetoric that is more quoted than “Remember the Alamo!”

    From the day this phrase was first uttered 185 years ago, it has been invoked, repeatedly, reflexively, and with little thought, to signify heroic self-sacrifice. It has also become the de facto motto of the state of Texas, where everything must, by definition, be heroic or just plain big.

    Despite all that, this famous rallying cry begs a fundamental question, which is:

    PRECISELY WHAT ARE WE BEING CALLED UPON TO REMEMBER?

    THE ANSWER IS NOT SO OBVIOUS AS IT MIGHT SEEM.

    The phrase, “Remember the Alamo”, commemorates a 13-day siege in the winter of 1836 that took place at a run-down mission church in the town of San Antonio, Texas, then part of the newly independent nation of Mexico. A rag-tag group of roughly 200 North American émigrés, who called themselves “Texians”, had holed up within the crumbling walls of the mission in an act of rebellion against Mexico’s entirely legitimate authority. After a good deal of dithering on both sides, the siege reached a boiling point and came to a swift end when the Mexican army, in the space of 90 minutes, breached the mission walls and overwhelmed its defenders, killing all but a few.

    A FEW MONTHS LATER, THE WINDS OF FORTUNE TURNED. Sam Houston, the leader of the rebellion against Mexico, won the battle of San Jacinto, egging on his troops with the slogan, “Remember the Alamo”. He promptly declared Texas to be an independent republic and all but anointed himself as its first president. This state of affairs lasted a mere 10 years, until Texas was annexed by the United States and admitted to the union as the 14th “slave state”, briefly tipping the balance away from “free states” toward the slave-owning states of the south.

    AND THEREIN LIES THE REAL MEANING OF “REMEMBER THE ALAMO”.

    For almost 200 years, we have been brainwashed into thinking that the Alamo’s defenders were “heroes” who sacrificed their lives for a cause greater than themselves. At the same time, we have been asked to forget what that cause actually was — which was nothing less than the perpetuation of chattel slavery.

    Twenty years before the siege, the Mexican people had declared their independence from the empire of Spain and, after ten years of bloody struggle, won their freedom. The constitution of the new republic they created outlawed slavery and awarded the franchise to everyone, regardless of religion or race.

    This enlightened conception of democracy and freedom was then unthinkable in the so-called “land of liberty” to the north.

    NOT ONLY UNTHINKABLE, BUT TO THE SLAVE-OWNING WHITES WHO EXERCISED A STRANGLEHOLD OVER THE POLITICS OF THE UNITED STATES — POSITIVELY LOATHSOME.

    All the legendary “heroes” of the Alamo — William Travis, Jim Bowie, and Davey Crocket of coonskin cap fame — owned or traded slaves, or both. So, too, did the patron saint of Texas, Sam Houston. Houston’s political mentor was none other than Andrew Jackson, a genocidal racist who, when he wasn’t butchering American Indians, was lashing those of his own slaves who dared to disobey or run away. To such men, the prospect of Mexico reasserting its historical sovereignty over the American southwest was nothing less than an existential threat. THE END OF SLAVERY WOULD HAVE SENT THEM ALL TO THE POOR HOUSE.

    The unpleasant reality is that men who died at the Alamo weren’t “heroes” defending the cause of liberty;

    THEY WERE SLAVE-OWNERS DEFENDING THEIR PROPERTY RIGHTS. The story behind the words, “Remember the Alamo”, IS A LIE.

    It is not, however, the first, let alone the biggest, of the many big lies that underpin the traditional narrative of American history.

    CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS, TO BEGIN WITH THE MOST OBVIOUS EXAMPLE, DID NOT “DISCOVER” AMERICA. By the time the Great Navigator accidentally landed in the Caribbean, ignorantly convinced that he had reached India, the “new world” was already inhabited by a population of at least 50 million.

    THE PURITANS WHO STEPPED OFF THE BOAT AT PLYMOUTH ROCK WERE NOT PIOUS INNOCENTS SEEKING RELIGIOUS FREEDOM. THEY WERE BIGOTED FANATICS.

    The only freedom they were seeking was the freedom to impose their cramped and toxic theology on everyone else — which they promptly set about doing, hunting down “heretics” and hanging “witches” at every opportunity.

    The stalwart “pioneers” who “settled” the American west didn’t risk their lives to civilize a barren wilderness populated by barbarous savages. THEY STOLE THE LAND FROM ITS NATIVE AMERICAN OWNERS. When the rightful owners predictably resisted, the “pioneers”, backed by the federal government, proceeded to evict or exterminate them.

    THE MOTIVES OF OUR VENERATED “FOUNDING FATHERS” WERE MIXED AT BEST. For all their talk of equality and human rights, THE CONSTITUTION THEY BEQUEATHED TO US WAS EXPLICITLY DESIGNED TO SUPPRESS DEMOCRACY AND UPHOLD SLAVERY.

    For more than 100 years, the “checks and balances” they concocted did precisely that. Long after the abolition of slavery, our anti-democratic constitution still ties us up in political and institutional knots, making it all but impossible for millions of Americans to receive the simple justice they deserve.

    The men and women of the armed forces of the United States are not “heroes” defending an imperial nation with blood and self-sacrifice, though that is how they are endlessly told to think of themselves.

    The reality is that Americans have not fought a “defensive” war in more than half a century, nor have we had a citizen army since the dark days of Vietnam.

    The members of our present-day military are paid mercenaries doing the dirty work of a hegemonic global power. Their “mission” is not to defend an imperial nation but to enforce the economic and political interests of a de facto empire.

    IF THEY WERE TOLD THE TRUTH, AND NOT SPOON-FED LIES, I HAVE LITTLE DOUBT THAT MANY OF THEM WOULD THROW DOWN THEIR WEAPONS AND WALK AWAY.

    THESE ARE BUT A FEW OF THE MANY LIES THAT AMERICANS BELIEVE ABOUT OUR COUNTRY AND ITS HISTORY.

    So, if you’re wondering why Republicans in Texas are determined to eviscerate voting rights, why the current governor of Texas is ready to violate the constitution by building his own wall on the border with Mexico, or why he would sign a New Texas Abortion Law that ‘Turns Every Anti-Abortion Zealot Into A Bounty Hunter’; or why so many Americans are positively eager to embrace the outrageous falsehood that Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election, and why so many Republican members of Congress are ready to defend and excuse the seditious mob that stormed the nation’s capitol on January 6th, I have only this to say:

    REMEMBER THE ALAMO!

  • Clyde Duncan  On 09/11/2021 at 3:55 am

    Chee-A-Tow wrote:

    Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.

    The never ending cycle continues.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 09/11/2021 at 4:04 am

    Eddie in the UK wrote:

    It is a demonic empire founded on evil and the destruction of people’s lives and livelihood. It is the seat of sorcery, the head of all abominations in the way of Babylon. Its collapse and total destruction is near. Those who still believe in it and worship its presumed greatness shall perish in its destruction, and that includes many of our own people. For its destruction will be sudden and total.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 09/11/2021 at 7:50 am

    Philip in the UK wrote:

    Just imagine what could have been done in America with 2.4 trillion dollars. What a waste.

    Could have been the most successful socialist society in history. Affordable medical care for all, revitalised industries, upgraded infrastructure, viable alternative options to oil and coal, maybe be on Mars by now and lunar colonies.

    How quickly we forget that we are really tribal primates that in the wild look after each other for the overall good and prosperity of the tribe. But hey, socialism doesn’t work, capitalism does, ……for a few anyway.

    l hope the Americans enjoy their nation’s sunset, all self inflicted if they are truly honest with themselves. Their next civil war is but a spark away.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 09/11/2021 at 8:29 am

    How America Found Itself Fighting The Last War — AGAIN

    Even as political Washington points fingers over Afghanistan, many in the defence establishment are fretting about China

    Peter Spiegel | Financial Times

    It is the oldest and most persistent plague to infect Washington’s national security bureaucracy. Faced with a fresh threat, strategic planners and weapons buyers nonetheless “fight the last war” — that is, build intelligence and military capabilities to combat a threat that has already faded in its potential to do America harm.

    TWENTY YEARS AFTER THE SEPTEMBER 11 TERRORIST ATTACKS, IT REMAINS THE MOST POTENT LESSON OF THAT HORRIFIC MORNING.

    The Pentagon and CIA were still acquiring high-end fighter jets for air-to-air combat against a non-existent Soviet Union and prioritising cold-war-era intelligence targets — AND FAILED TO SEE THE “NEXT WAR” COMING AGAINST ISLAMIST TERRORISM.

    With all eyes in the capital focused on the ignominious end of America’s presence in Afghanistan, it seems an appropriate time to ask if two decades of retooling the US Army for irregular warfare and hiring scores of Arabic-language specialists in Langley has become another case of fighting the last war — AND WHETHER THE US IS OVERLOOKING THE NEXT THREAT?

    IF THE DEFENCE ESTABLISHMENT — MILITARY OFFICERS, CIVILIAN LEADERS AND DEFENCE CONTRACTORS — IS ANY INDICATION, THE ANSWER IS AN UNEQUIVOCAL YES.

    Even as Kabul falls, Washington is full of hand-wringing that China, which has spent years investing in precision long-range missiles that can target US installations in the Pacific and intelligence satellites that can track American troop movements, has stolen the march on the US in the next battlefield.

    “China is very different from the threat of the past 20 years,” one senior military officer involved in weapons development told me. “EITHER WE CHANGE, OR WE BECOME UNPREPARED FOR CHINA.”

    But over the past 18 months, there have been signs that the national security bureaucracy is beginning to move, however belatedly, to counter the rising Chinese challenge, with a handful of bets on technologies and strategic plans aimed at gaining ground back from Beijing.

    US Marine Corps commandant General David Berger has proposed ridding his storied service of all its tanks and most of its artillery batteries, as well as several large amphibious assault units — which allow Marines to “storm the beaches” but provide big targets for Chinese missiles — in exchange for the long-range missiles, unmanned reconnaissance drones and smaller-scale amphibious groups that would be needed for a geographically sprawling fight in the Pacific.

    He will also redeploy assets away from the Middle East, where Marines have essentially been a second US Army, towards the Japan-based III Marine Expeditionary Force. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Berger commanded all Marine forces in the Pacific before becoming commandant.

    The other service chief who has come to Washington after a tour in the Pacific is Air Force General Charles Brown, whose weapons acquisition team recently decided against replacing its fleet of traditional reconnaissance aircraft, called J-Stars, and to invest instead in a new command and control system intended to adapt commercial advances in technology, particularly artificial intelligence, to help commanders make quicker decisions — also with an eye on China.

    “The side that wins is the side that decides the fastest,” said Brigadier General Jeffery Valenzia, the US Air Force’s most senior officer on the project. “IT IS NO LONGER THE SIDE WHO HAS THE BIGGEST BOMBS OR THE MOST BULLETS.”

    Two decades of investment in drones, satellites and advanced radars have left the US military with an endless number of sensors to track enemies, but no way to pull together that information into a single view of a battlespace in real time, one that can include weapons at the ready to quickly attack a threat.

    WHAT IS NEEDED IS A “MILITARISED INTERNET OF THINGS”, IN THE WORDS OF ONE FORMER PENTAGON OFFICIAL.

    Elements of the new command and control system are being rolled out every four months in a way that mimics Silicon Valley software patches. A few months ago, an upgrade allowed a cold-war-era tank to network with a satellite-based radar to shoot down a cruise missile, a highly evasive weapon that normally can only be stopped by specialised missile defence.

    But the Pentagon bureaucracy and overseers on Capitol Hill have been resistant to both Berger and Brown’s initiatives. SOME OF BERGER’S MISSILE BATTERIES WERE CUT BY CONGRESS, WHICH ORDERED MORE HELICOPTERS INSTEAD.

    Earlier this month, the US Navy’s top officer, Admiral Michael Gilday, lit into defence contractors at a major industry conference for lobbying Congress to “build the ships that you want to build” and “buy aircraft we don’t need” rather than adapt to systems needed to counter China.

    “It’s not the ’90s any more,” Gilday railed, saying he needed the rest of the military-industrial complex to understand “the sense of urgency that we feel every day against China . . . in a bureaucracy that is really not designed to move very fast”.

    “The Pentagon pukes on agility,” added Roper, who worries that innovations aimed at countering China will continue to struggle against financial and bureaucratic interests wedded to “last war” deployments and programmes.

    “IT IS A HEROIC DEPARTURE FROM THE ACQUISITION SYSTEM THAT IS LOSING AGAINST CHINA. IT IS MORE IN JEOPARDY BECAUSE OF US THAN BECAUSE OF OUR ENEMY.”

  • Clyde Duncan  On 09/11/2021 at 8:39 am

    Therein lies the problem:

    Earlier this month, the US Navy’s top officer, Admiral Michael Gilday, lit into defence contractors at a major industry conference for lobbying Congress to “build the ships that you want to build” and “buy aircraft we don’t need” rather than adapt to systems needed to counter China.

    The military man raising Cain against the defence contractors …. for lobbying Congress to “build the ships that you want to build” and “buy aircraft we don’t need” ….

    Is this something like the tail wagging the dog?!?!! – Giving the head a shake!??

    No wonder, eh?!!

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