The end of the 20-year US Afghanistan adventure is another one of imperialism’s overreaching, supremely arrogant, regime-change projects ending in fiasco.
For most of the post-war era, the US and Israel-- the anointed police agent of the Eastern Mediterranean and Central Asia-- promoted Islamism as a bulwark against secularists and socialists. Both governments offered arms and aid, while enthusiastically tolerating cultural and political backwardness in the service of imperialist interests. From Nasser to Assad, the US counter posed Islamist “freedom fighters,” with their feudal values and intolerance, against imperfect, but secular, anti-monarchical, independent, and nationalist regimes.
Should it come as a surprise that those same “freedom fighters” eventually turned on their secular, infidel sponsors?
Twenty years ago, former clients of the US mounted suicide attacks on symbols of US power. The same Islamic warriors under the direction of a prominent Saudi, Osama Bin Laden, who were armed and encouraged to attack Soviet troops supporting a secular, progressive government in Afghanistan, turned on their US masters.
The US military responded with an occupation of Taliban-governed Afghanistan, said to be the protector of Bin Laden's jihadists. With the hubris displayed by previous empire builders, US authorities set out to shape Afghanistan into a reliable junior partner, a society to be built around the same inequalities and elite dominance found in the US. In twenty years, the US occupiers succeeded in fostering unimaginable corruption, in installing cynical leaders completely detached from the Afghan people, in introducing a swarm of NGOs parasitically feeding on Western funding, and in finally restoring Afghan acceptance of the Taliban.
As a 300,000-soldier army equipped with sophisticated US weaponry, US training, and a modern air force dissolved before motley warriors with twentieth-century assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, twenty years of myths melted away. Pundits, bureaucrats, generals, and politicians scrambled to attach blame to someone else. Fingers were pointing in every direction. What was a systemic failure, a collective misadventure underwent a tortured reconstruction as Biden’s failure or Trump’s failure, two answers that required little thought and even less analysis.
In fact, Biden’s withdrawal of US troops may prove to be the crowning achievement of his administration.
Three other Presidents lacked the courage and integrity to call a halt to the occupation and war (those in the know-- including Obama-- acknowledge that Biden was the only one in the Obama administration who opposed the troop surge and continuing the war).
Because the media moguls have glorified the generals, the “special” forces, the cops, and the spies with primetime TV and big screen movies, they elude blame in the Afghanistan fiasco. Yet it was a military operation from start to finish. Anything that the four Presidents uttered since 2001 came to them from military or security sources: status assessments, the balance of forces, troop readiness, etc. were all the products of military minds. Of course, that doesn’t stop the discredited General Petraeus from braying his disdain for the “political” failure to secure the Afghanistan exit.
The popular “Saigon” comparison with the retreat from Kabul is surely apt, but where is the comparison with the Soviet exit from Afghanistan? For those who like to gloat about Afghanistan being the USSR’s Vietnam, the analogy between the respective exits is embarrassing to the imperialists.
When the Soviets left Afghanistan in February of 1989, US intelligence expected the government-- arrayed against a mujahideen supported by generous assistance from the US, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Germany, and the PRC-- to fall within three to six months. Instead, the leftist government held the Islamists at bay until 1992.
Defense of Jalalabad in 1989 and Paghman in 1990 and disunity among the mujahideen factions proved that the secular, progressive government retained support for its land reforms, secular schools, rights of women, etc. Ultimately, the reactionary Russian government of Boris Yeltsin refusing even basic assistance, disunity within the progressive Afghan government, and the sheer weight of the foreign-backed assault forced the fall of the government.
Those today bemoaning the expected Taliban retreat on women’s rights, they need to revisit Stephen Gowans’s scathing article from ten years ago, Women’s Rights in Afghanistan. Gowans sarcastically opines concerning women’s rights: “Anyone worried about the revival of the Taliban ought to be hoping for the revival of the communists.”
This saga of foreign intervention-- designed to bleed the Soviet Union-- seldom if ever finds its way into Western media accounts. The consequent bloody war between the mujahideen factions never gets laid at the interventionists’ doorsteps, a war that in one form or another continues to this day.
But no one in Western media circles dares to revisit the doomed effort by the Afghan people to bring their country into the modern era. In fact, Western elites mocked and undermined the effort. Today, the joint effort by the Afghan Peoples’ Democratic Party and the USSR to unite and advance the country is a denied history. Pundits are afraid to compare that project with the twenty-year US failure, the evaporation of a puppet army, and the bum-rush exit.
It is a bitter irony that Biden and others-- disappointed with and disparaging the performance of the Afghan military-- now blame the Afghans for their lack of will; they can’t be forced to fight for their “freedom and democracy.” Why US authorities didn’t anticipate this twenty years ago is beyond comprehension.
The very idea of forcing a country to do something deemed by another country to be in its better interests is an absurdity, an absurdity that insults the basic concept of self-determination.
Where will US policy makers next force their unwanted will on another independent country?