Afghanistan Demonstrates The Utter Futility Of American Interventionism
The American intervention in Afghanistan is coming to a humiliating end. It will go down in the history books as a costly misadventure. But it is unlikely to dilute America’s love affair with war and interference.
In its innate desire to reshape the world in its image, America found a cause in Afghanistan, a country defined by enduring violence and instability. But few Afghans saw the conflict like America did, as a struggle between liberty and totalitarianism, ending with a decisive victory for the forces of freedom. There were few takers for America’s single sustainable model for national success—freedom, democracy, and free enterprise. America realized these facts after 20 years, thousands of casualties, and over 2 trillion dollars spent.
It’s a wonder that America, the sole superpower, has got it so wrong time after time. Having the ability to wreak vast nuclear destruction and decisively project conventional military power and intervene around the globe isn’t enough without clearly defined aims and objectives.
In 2001, America turned a mission to punish the Taliban for sheltering Al-Qaeda and preventing the use of Afghanistan as a terror base into a botched nation-building project and an unwinnable war. With Al-Qaeda degraded and the Taliban removed from power, America could have quit while it was ahead. The decision to abandon realistic goals and put boots on the ground is yet another example of American overreach and folly.
The fact is, America picked the worst place for a nation-building experiment. Violence and disunity have plagued Afghanistan throughout its tortured history. Most rulers got rid of their opponents to remain in power, while ordinary Afghans suffered harsh punishments, executions, and ethnic deportations. And tradition, tribalism, and religion are daunting challenges in the path of democracy and modernity.
Historically, the most ruthless have always won in Afghanistan. The Taliban fit the bill. The Taliban, like most power brokers in Afghanistan, have blood on their hands. A return of a Taliban Islamic Emirate with harsh laws and obscurantist thought is dreadful news for women and minorities. Still, the Taliban sharing power with the brutal warlords, avoiding civil war, and reducing violence is a positive outcome. Right now, a modicum of stability is more desirable than externally imposed freedom. The last two decades have shown that propped-up politicians and governments protected by American fire-power have no future.
There’s no doubt that Afghanistan has paid a heavy price for its geographic location. In the last three centuries, Afghans have had to bear interference in their affairs from British-Russian ambitions, the Soviet-American Cold War competition, and the Pakistan and India hostility.
The fact is that Afghanistan can only have a semblance of normality if regional powers can resist embroiling Afghanistan in their rivalries. It can help prevent the war-torn country from turning into a terrorist haven and drug production center once again. America and NATO can hail their mission as a success, despite the facts on the ground.
According to a 2019 report from Brown University, America has spent 6.4 trillion dollars in wars in the Af-Pak region and the Middle East since 2001. The global war on terror has sharply degraded the capabilities of Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations and prevented a repeat of the 9/11 attacks on American soil. But America wasted vast resources, took on more debt, and ultimately burned itself out to echo Kevin Phillips’ warning of the blind arrogance of great nations in his book “Wealth and Democracy.”
For America, leaving Afghanistan to its own devices admits failure. Recent polls suggest that a majority of Americans approve of President Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. But such is the power of the military-industrial complex and bipartisan support for militarism in Congress that future wars and interventions are forever on the cards.
In a reflection of skewed national priorities, many Americans want to maintain high defense spending. Yet, the spending on crumbling infrastructure and social programs is always a bone of contention between Democrats and Republicans.
In Afghanistan, the few people that benefited from foreign intervention will have to fend for themselves. It is doubtful that Afghan National Army can slow Taliban advances without foreign support. And the socio-economic gains in literacy, school attendance, life expectancy, infant mortality, urbanization, and infrastructure during foreign intervention are under threat as the country braces for a Taliban victory or at least a period of great uncertainty.
America will find reasons to begin its next foreign adventure. And the justification for meddling will vary from retaliation, deterrence, self-defense, and the instilling of democracy.