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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 8/18/21

Afghanistan's Footprint

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Message stephen Bronner

Afghanistan's Footprint

In Memory of Stanley Aronowitz

Stephen Eric Bronner*

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell's "pottery barn rule" applies: "You break it! You own it!" Perhaps: but then you can always throw "it" away. That's what occurred in Afghanistan, known as "the graveyard of empires," because it has historically been difficult to govern and more difficult to conquer. The United States sent in a raiding party to capture Osama bin Laden following 9/11/2001 and then, like the "man who came to dinner," remained for 20 years -- just long enough to keep rekindling an endless civil war, install its proxies, and then leave the nation to rot. Not that this hasn't happened before in Vietnam and in Syria. There, too, we came, we wrecked, we lost, and we left--though we still engaged in a few post-departure drone-strikes and some useless bombing for good measure. Following President George W. Bush's proclamation of "mission accomplished" in Iraq, roughly 1/4 of its population wound up either dead, wounded, homeless, or in exile. The Iraqi infrastructure was in shambles, the ecological damage remains brutal, and, even given the way things work, it's a miracle that Bush and his neo-conservative henchman escaped indictment by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

Now the shoe is on the other foot; it's Afghanistan's turn to leave its footprint in the sand. Having thrown out the former Soviet invaders in 1989, the Taliban have finally done the same to the United States and, for better or worse, established itself as a sovereign state. To be sure there is chaos at the airports, every day people are scared, and the government is preparing for a shakeup. But the chaos will pass, civilians will adapt, draconian punishments might fall by the wayside, and perhaps the new regime will keep its promise of blanket amnesty for those in the old regime and creating an Islamic yet "inclusive" society. Such a program would contradict the extremist identity that inspired the Taliban over the years. It is difficult to assume that religious absolutists will extend the hand of friendship to the "other." Skepticism is necessary concerning the Taliban's avowals of pluralism and recognition of women's rights. Nevertheless, the United States and the world community should remain agnostic for now about how this will all turn out.

Today, indeed, caution and uncertainty are virtues. Acting precipitously in the aftermath of the attack on the Twin Towers first led the United States into the quagmire, and the war was lost as soon as the failed kidnapping made way for a full-scale invasion. The United States took charge of a fractured anti-Taliban coalition of warlords and tribes that lacked a unifying sovereign. Its military proudly occupied cities like Kabul and the ancient city of Kandahar. American forces lacked support in the countryside, however, and military command made things worse by backing up Afghani ground troops with bombings that produced havoc among civilians. Worse: there was nothing to be done about the ingrained corruption of the Afghani state with its drug economy.

Bereft of a clearly stated political purpose, or an exit strategy, "mission creep" set in. As with the Bay of Pigs, Vietnam, Iraq, and Syria, America's civilian government was constantly misled by a mendacious and self-interested military establishment. Seeking increased funding with each new budget, supposed victories were celebrated in public, while cynical rumors about inevitable defeat made the rounds in private. With each new budget came the spurious justifications for increased funding. Greed was also complemented by ignorance, and ignorance by arrogance. American policymakers consistently underestimated the diplomatic and military skill of the enemy--perhaps because there was so little expertise concerning the actors involved and the region's political complexities.

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STEPHEN ERIC BRONNER received his B.A. from the City College of New York and his Ph.D. from the University of California: Berkeley. Member of over a dozen editorial boards, Professor Bronner has also worked with US Academics for Peace and Conscience (more...)
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