As the United States hastily withdraws from Afghanistan, warning its citizens there to flee immediately, and washes its hands of the Central Asian country, the Taliban are running riot. In the space of weeks, the militant group has seized dozens of districts and at least 10 cities.
US officials have warned that the country could collapse entirely to them in a minimum of 90 days, or at least all bar Kabul. It is hard to argue against the claim that Afghanistan’s government and military are collapsing already, with hundreds of high-profile defections to the Taliban, assassinations of senior leaders, and the sacking of the country’s commander of the armed forces.
It is staggering to think that after 20 years, trillions of dollars spent, and eye-watering costs in human lives on all sides, this is the end product. Two decades of propping up this country has returned absolutely nothing but a 360-degree turn back to square one. It is the biggest and most colossal waste of time in history. But why has Afghanistan been such an astronomical American failure? One which has arguably been the biggest humiliation and representation of Washington’s hubris since the Vietnam War, and it’s not going to be long before a Saigon-like evacuation of the US embassy follows…
The answer is that the Afghanistan failure reveals the dogmatic zealousness and utopian nature of the US policy of trying to export its ideology as an answer to the world’s problems, as well as its insecurities, and repeatedly using violence to do so.
Afghanistan is not just a US strategic failure; it is a failure in America’s uncompromising and zero-sum world view of the world, which has, not just on this occasion, brought disaster to the countries it has subjected it to. Washington believed that building and sustaining a democracy in Afghanistan was somehow a prerequisite to defeating international terrorism, and was woefully ignorant of the social, political, and economic conditions of the country it occupied stubbornly for two decades, and how this in turn contributes to extremism.
Yet it extends further back than that. The Afghan conflict was born out of two things, both of which happened to be vested in America’s enormous ideological complacency and oversight. Let us not forget that, long before the events of 9/11, Afghanistan came on America’s radar as part of a crusade to topple the Soviet Union and the communist-backed state in Kabul, a neoconservative policy known as the ‘Reagan Doctrine’. This involved arming and training Islamist extremists who Reagan even hosted in the White House. It was the disastrous consequences of this policy which led to the rise of Al Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden, 9/11 and, as a subsequent ‘solution’, the War on Terror.
Along came the Bush Doctrine, as outlined in this Archived “National Security Strategy” of 2002, which militantly believed that the answer to defeating terrorism was to relentlessly push for freedom all around the world. It set the stage for another disaster of that period, Iraq. Similar to then, the answer to the ‘problem’ was never as simple as going in there, culling a few terrorists, carpet bombing it, and propping up a new democracy and saving the day.
Besides Islamism, Afghanistan as a state has seldom found a way to function and secure a legitimate government that can bring all its ethnic groups together. The current conflict is an ethnic one as much as it is a theological and anti-imperialist one; the Taliban are in practice Pashtun nationalists, and it is this that has made them so resilient, combined with the country’s broken and barren economy.
The US frequently believes that democracy is the path to prosperity and the solving of all of a society’s ills, but ask yourself: what good is the right to vote to a poor Afghan farmer who finds himself growing opium to supply the Taliban just to survive? Americans have never understood that democracy is a structural arrangement, not an incentive to live or thrive on, one more suited to developed middle classes – and it almost certainly cannot improve or change your life when your country lacks legitimacy and social stability.
The US-established Afghanistan was unsurprisingly a failed state which lived on the drip feed of its military power. The function of ‘democracy’ couldn’t compensate for the fact its population had little confidence in it to begin with, and as soon as military support was taken away, all was revealed.
As a result, occupation did not change Afghanistan, and merely attempted to brush all of the country’s problems under the carpet for 20 years. Despite the US withdrawal from the country, there is arguably no inclination in Washington foreign policy circles to admit that this costly venture was truly a mistake, that the US “methods” failed miserably. Instead, there’s merely a shift in priorities and a refocusing of resources: Washington has decided that trying to export democracy to Muslim countries to build “security” is no longer the most important thing – but doing so to China and the Far East is. There has been no real renouncement of war, and you can see that in how Biden still uses punitive military action in Syria, Somalia, etc.
There has been woefully little soul searching or rendition that Washington’s evangelistic interpretation of America’s role in the world or national security has not worked as intended, only that there are now more pressing things. Perhaps there have been questions over the tactics, but never a wavering in the commitment that an outpouring of democracy can solve all ills, even as it is used to sugar-coat a relentless pursuit of hegemonism.
The crisis in Kabul is not only the biggest American failure since the Vietnam War. It is the story of how the very militants the US believed they could vanquish in the name of democracy and liberty have managed to be on the brink of retaking power even before US forces actually leave. It exposes the shoddy, simplistic, trigger-happy, and ill-advised view of the world that Washington DC has – one that has been the hallmark of almost every issue that nation has ever faced.
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