Even by ordinary American standards, the collapse of the American building and spaciously sponsored Afghan army in the light of the Taliban’s victory in Kabul is a failure of great proportions. The usual post-mortem examination (which “lost” Afghanistan, how and why) barely scratches the surface of what really happened.
As a ragtag movement, presumably forgotten by the most powerful military alliance on the planet, and blown up and re-inflated for more than two decades, rises from the ashes, he walks into the presidential palace built by the “terminators” is- who happen to still be looking around and looking as if they are in a trance – to manage its terminal absence, it is not Afghanistan that we need to discuss here. It should be America itself and what remains of it as a world power.
So far, the standard answers offered: how the “good war in Afghanistan” (unlike, god forbid, the bad in Iraq!), Has also become bad; how better logistics and timing could help, how strategies could have been different, etc.
This focuses on largely technical issues, such as the internal command problems within NATO, poor planning, corruption and incompetence in the Afghan leadership, the failure of President “Barack Obama”‘s resurgence “in 2009, missed opportunities for peace, etc. a derivation as an informative analysis.
Even the persistent accusations against Pakistan for supporting the Taliban are irrelevant; even if this is true, its involvement would not match the more than 40 other advanced countries that support America, and the strong support of tribal ethnic forces that initially fought most of the land.
Here we have the most powerful, ultra-modern war machine in the world, which is failing in a war against a marginal, almost alien, military-political force in one of the poorest countries in the world. This dream alliance, generously funded (up to more than a trillion dollars) and backed by United Nations leadership and leadership in civil affairs, has garnered ‘victories’ and ‘achievements’ for two decades. Then he watched in astonished impotence as barefoot villagers stepped inside or rode a motorcycle to erase all the ‘achievements’ within a few weeks.
It was not a technical or logistical accident. It was a devastation, a defeat in every sense of the word, a horrible failure. Even in the aftermath of the most violent colonial liberation wars, we have never seen an occupation that had to rush him to take all his’ human achievements’, including the translators’, with him. As routes go, it was epic!
A few critics have raised the fundamental question of whether the idea of war itself was good, and we are reminded of the dubious justifications, since none of the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks came from Afghanistan, and America had more of it than Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda chose Afghanistan because of its statelessness, not because it had a ‘terrorist-sponsored’ state. The war therefore did not address the cause of the conflict.
Afghanistan was extremely resistant to foreign invaders – and very effective in keeping them away, unlike Iraq, which had a formative colonial experience. The invasion was therefore helpless and unwise. Many considered it unfair and illegal.
However, Western support for this ‘good’ and just war was generally strong, apart from a small number of skeptics. In October 2019, Foreign Affairs asked a group of “authorities with deeply specialized expertise” on the Afghan issue whether the war was a mistake. Only a handful question its legitimacy, even after everything that has happened or become known.
In the post-9/11 trauma, U.S. leaders felt they had to do something violent, and soon. It was more an act of seeking catharsis than a rational response. Like Osama bin Laden, George W. Bush also chose Afghanistan, the seemingly weakest link, as the site of his retaliatory spectacle.
However, the consequences of such a result were not so difficult to predict. The question is: Why was the prospect of disaster so difficult in this ‘advanced’ country, with an unlimited number of experts, scholars, experts and veteran policymakers?
The Afghan debacle was not the only major event that surprised ‘experts’. So too the Arab Spring, the Berlin Wall, the Iranian revolution, the rise of Islamism – you name it. There is something problematic about ‘experts’ who are always the last to know.
Some scholars have argued that historical developments are inherently unpredictable, even for the role players involved; many of the latter do ‘preference falsification’ (intentional concealment of intentions). However, this is not the whole story. There is often a reluctance by ‘experts’ to see the obvious.
I have been responding to wishful thinking about the ‘end of Islamism’ for the past few decades. In the late nineties, an American friend sent me for commentary, chapters of her book, which foretold the end of Islamism. I sent her an article I had published a decade earlier, in which I criticized the methodology for similar conclusions drawn by analysts from the State Department.
They based their conclusions on the “election” results of five countries, all autocracies! I warned in that piece that continued repression by US-backed governments would radicalize Islamists, not get rid of them, as some seem to be striving for. I think we all now know how things have evolved since then.
Edward Said’s deep critique of ‘Orientalism’ has shown us that these errors are part of a broader pattern of distortions. Ironically, Said’s work had a setback that caused a ‘sectarian’ polarization in Middle Eastern studies in the USA. Opponents of his views, including an alliance of neo-conservatives and pro-Israel lobbies, have launched several crusades against just academics, including defamation campaigns, lobbying to cut official funds at universities considered anti-Israel, or even against America.
These ventures include the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, founded in 1995 by Lynne Cheney and Senator Joe Lieberman, and described by critics as a form of New McCarthyism for its systematic goal of progressive academics as “enemies of the American civilization”.
In 2002, pro-Israel lobbyists launched Campus Watch, which aims to target academics who view Israel’s agenda as hostile. The group published a ‘blacklist’ of ‘abusive’ academics and urged students to hide their professors!
Given the already mentioned problems of ‘expertise’ in foreign policy analysis, the advice of these fighters seems like a prescription for the visually impaired to wear blindfolds. Since being improved by Trumpism and its hostility to anything rational, this approach threatens American society as a whole, and not just academia and rationality.
The Afghan question must be seen in this broader framework. Deficient analyzes (or clear bias / bias) often result in disastrous policies, which in turn generate more misleading analyzes. There is the background issue of Israel and the irrational decision in Washington to be aware of the absurd and dangerous policies that Israelis are proposing, without realizing the consequences, even for Israel itself. As a result, it is not Israel but America that poses the greatest threat to stability in the region.
But the immediate roots of the current crisis go back to 1990, when President George Bush Sr. decided to use Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait to assert American hegemony in the post-Cold War era. Instead of using diplomacy to solve the crisis, he seized the opportunity to show off American firepower, arouse friendly despots, obtain oil supplies, and show everyone who’s the boss.
Senior British and US officials reject warnings about serious consequences and brag after the war about how right they are: nothing happened. Then, of course, 9/11 happens, and the same people ask: where does it come from?
What happened in the Middle East in 1990 was similar to what happened in Afghanistan in 2001. In both cases, a conservative society was traumatized by a disruptive foreign presence (more violent in the case of Afghanistan) that tore it apart and provoked violent defensive reactions. which spilled over to America.
The invasion of Saudi Arabia in 1990 was the inherited sin, caused by al-Qaeda; the 2003 invasion of Iraq caused ISIS; then the invasion of Afghanistan created a more viable Islamic emirate.
At the same time, the regional balance became indifferent. Ironically, Iran, the alleged enemy, has achieved several victories; the US neutralized its Iraqi (and later Afghan) enemies and virtually surrendered to Iraq. At the same time, Saudi Arabia, Iran’s arch-enemy, has been destabilized by the disruptive presence of US troops on its territory.
As I have indicated elsewhere, followers of Iran’s late commander Ruhollah Khomeini will be forgiven for considering it a divine intervention: heaven has sent Iran’s arch-enemy to subdue its local adversaries and plunder the Iranians. The US acted almost like one of the pro-Iranian militias in the region, but they did so at a distance for free.
In the same vein, instead of taking serious action to stop the genocide of Bashar al Assad on the Syrian people, the selective intervention against ISIS the US and NATO has the complimentary air force of the Syrian regime and Qassem Soleimani of the Islamic Made Revolutionary Guard, this time handing over Syria to Putin and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
America’s most trusted ally, Turkey, has left the can, hostage to the alliance between Russia and Iran. Even the good old Machiavellianism seemed elusive. Ethics is not the only victim here, but so is pragmatism. By letting its allies down by its fickleness and infidelity, and helping its enemies to prosper through its incompetence, America will next time without allies decide to look to China or Russia.
Only a decade ago, the question would have been: How long can extremists survive in the era of American unipolarity? I think now the question would be: how long can America last in the era of the Taliban?
In this, so-called ‘experts’ are just as guilty as the blundering politicians.
A few years ago, a taxi driver who drove me to an interview with Sky News studios in London asked me about the subject I was going to talk about. When he heard that it was the war in Iraq, he remarked angrily: “I think the intelligence agencies should be sued under the Trade Descriptions Act.”
Maybe they are not the only ones.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Al Jazeera.