By: Víctor Silverman and Miguel Tinker Salas*
Thousands of innocent dead, religious intolerance, oppression of women and millions of refugees! Those will be the inevitable results of the collapse of the “government” of Afghanistan in the face of the Taliban’s triumph. For the 38 million Afghans who have suffered decades of war, the human disaster intensifies.
A short time ago President Joe Biden declared: “The United States has returned.” It certainly has returned, but not in the way Biden anticipated. In Washington, the resounding military failure of the Afghan “army” means something different than it means to the country’s population. Some observers advance and anticipate the end of the US as a world leader. They emphasize that the defeat in Afghanistan will produce the collapse of the system of alliances that are an essential part of the so-called “world order.” For them, the alternative to the posture of permanent war is crisis. In the past, prognoses about the eminent collapse of US power were utilized to strengthen the empire’s power. In reality, the present defeat could initiate a cycle in which an attempt is made to reaffirm the global role of the United States.
Many inside the centers of power in Washington would fail a history class. The majority believe that US military defeats were the product of tactical errors. The New York Times recently wrote that the Taliban victory “reflects years of miscalculation.” But what has happened is much worse that a simple tactical error.
What happened is a resounding defeat of the “nation-building” project, the latest example of the madness of the dream of the “neoconservatives” and liberals who proposed transforming countries, with the use of weapons, to create “modern, transparent, secular and, especially, capitalist states.” A civil war also underscores, once again, the limits of the imperial power.
The US has suffered many defeats –Korea, in the 1950s, Cuba in the ‘60s, Vietnam, Nicaragua and Iran in the ‘70s, for example–. During the ‘70s, some in the upper echelons of power absorbed the lessons that the victory of the communists in Vietnam produced. This defeat demonstrated that an empire, although it may be at the pinnacle of its power, doesn’t have the ability to dominate the world. It was not able to overcome a guerrilla army that has the support of a large part of the population –especially when its allies are corrupt and don’t have popular support–. The victory of David against Goliath does not imply that Goliath abandons the club to attack his supposed enemies.
Despite the lessons of the 1970s, after Vietnam, the US intervened in Nicaragua, Lebanon, Honduras, El Salvador and many other countries. The current situation in Central America, corruption, poverty, violence, drug trafficking and authoritarian regimes are products of United States intervention in the region. After decades of the war against drugs in Colombia and Mexico, they continue promoting military solutions in the face of social problems. None of these experiences fostered changes in the fundamental methods of the US imperial system: alliances with nationalist forces of the center or right, creation of armies following the US model, integration into a world economy based on free trade and investment treaties, capitalist consumption and promotion of the ideology of “democracy” and now neoliberal multiculturalism.
During the 80s, the end of the “cold war” and the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disintegration of Eastern Europe, seemed to confirm what a sector of the elite believed; The US had inaugurated the end of history, as the political scientist Francis Fukuyama proposed in 1989. During the decade in which the unipolar moment prevailed, the idea spread, according to Madeleine Albright, US ambassador to the UN in 1998, that: “if we have to use force, it’s because we are America, the indispensable nation.”
The 9/11 attacks toppled the happy consensus in the elite. The terrorist actions of Al-Qaeda never threatened the global position of the United States. Likewise, it never presented a military target where advanced weapons could be used. Nevertheless, the US responded the same way as it did in the past. After the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion (Cuba, 1961), President John Kennedy argued that now: “we have to make our power credible and Vietnam seems like the place.” After 9/11, President George W. Bush decided that US credibility required more than a legal process or a clandestine operation against Bin Laden and his associates. War has never been a solution to the challenges that nationalist movements represent, or fundamentalist terrorism, and much less drug trafficking. Both liberals and conservatives voted for the invasion. Only Congresswoman Barbara Lee voted against the invasion of Afghanistan. What will be the next place where the US will try to demonstrate its military capacity and its socio-political vision?
After Afghanistan, Biden or any other president, of whatever party, will face the same challenge and will propose the same solution that Kennedy, Johnson, Reagan, Bush, Obama and Trump proposed. In a short time, the logic of power, the unification of the nation and the political popularity that emerges with the start of a war and the use of their gigantic military forces, will again provoke historic amnesia among the elites. Before long, the US and its policy of permanent war will be in evidence once again.
* History Department, Pomona College
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Monday, August 16, 2021
Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee