Graveyard of Empires
by Eric Margolis: Turkey:
The Mother of Revolutions
In his majestic
poem "Recessional," Rudyard Kipling was writing of the
fading British Empire, but his words are as vivid and pertinent
today as a century ago:
our navies melt away –
On dune and headland sinks the fire –
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
of war is to achieve political objectives, not to kill enemies.
the US has achieved nothing in Afghanistan after ten years of desultory,
destruction, and titanic expenditure.
So in this
sense, the United States has already lost the Afghan conflict, its
longest war. Militarily its forces have been stalemated, meaning
that it has lost the all-important military initiative and is now
on the strategic defensive. We have seen this before – in Vietnam.
Afghanistan fulfills its grim title as "graveyard of empires."
The US has
failed to install an obedient regime in Kabul that controls Afghanistan.
It has made bitter foes of the nation’s Pashtun majority, and, in
pursuing this war, gravely undermined Pakistan. Claims that US forces
were only in Afghanistan to hunt the late Osama bin Laden were widely
President Barack Obama bowed to public opinion, approaching elections,
military reality and financial woes by announcing he would withdraw
a third of the 100,000 US troops from Afghanistan by the end of
next summer. Pentagon brass growled open opposition. Obama should
have smacked them down, but did not, adding to the growing belief
that he is weak and overawed by the military chiefs.
US allies France
and Germany announced similar troops reductions. All foreign troops
are supposed to quit Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
withdrawal will take the US garrison roughly back to the size it
was before President Obama sent 30,000 reinforcements to Afghanistan.
This means enough soldiers to hold the main urban centers and connecting
roads, but not enough to defeat Taliban guerillas in the field,
or to block the Afghan-Pakistan border.
currently spends at least $10 billion monthly on the Afghan war,
not counting "black" payments, CIA and NSA operations.
The US has poured $18.8 billion in development aid into Afghanistan
since 2001 with nothing to show for the effort. Pakistan has been
given $20 billion to support the Afghan War. Each US soldier in
Afghanistan costs $1 million per annum, not counting full support
None of these
costs are covered by taxes; all are piled onto the gargantuan national
The US deficit
is heading over $1.4 trillion. The national debt, when unfunded
pensions and benefits are added, is likely $100 trillion, according
to the chief of PIMCO, the world’s largest bond trader. This means
America, top-heavy with unsustainable debt, risks capsizing financially.
million Americans now receive food stamps; the national infrastructure
of roads, airports, bridges and schools is crumbling from neglect.
Unemployment, officially at 9.5%, is probably closer to 20%.
The cry is
being heard: "Rebuild America, not Afghanistan."
In spite of
intense pro-war propaganda, over half of Americans now oppose the
Afghan War. Even US-installed Afghan president Hamid Karzai calls
it, "ineffective, apart from causing civilian casualties."
So will the
US really pull out of Afghanistan? That remains to be seen. There
are many contradictory signs.
between the US and Taliban have been conducted for over a year.
Washington’s plan was to try to split Taliban through such talks.
US Afghan supremo
Gen. David Petraeus tried to buy off Afghan resistance in the same
manner he had bribed Iraq’s Sunni tribes into quiescence. This gambit
did not work with Taliban’s hardened warriors, for whom honor holds
as much value as money.
The US will
probably keep a sizeable number of its remaining 66,000 soldiers
in Afghanistan after 2014, rebranding them training troops. The
huge US bases at Kandahar and Bagram will be retained as permanent
US fortified enclaves.
will be spent on the Afghan government army and police. They have
so far proved ineffective because most are composed of Tajik and
Uzbek mercenaries who are hated and distrusted by the Pashtun.
A similar process
is underway in Iraq where "withdrawal" means keeping combat
brigades in Iraq, renamed "training units" and "counter-terrorism
units," thousands of mercenaries, and mobile US combat forces
in neighboring Kuwait and the Gulf.
New US embassies
in Baghdad and Kabul – huge, fortified complexes with their own
mercenary combat forces – will be the world’s biggest. Kabul will
have a staff of 1,000 US personnel. Bin Laden called them "crusader
fortresses." Fortified US consulates are under construction
in other parts of Afghanistan.
the US will still arm and finance allied Tajik and Uzbek militias
in Afghanistan, and CIA-run mercenary forces. Financing Pakistan’s
US-backed regimes and Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan must
also continue at around $3 billion yearly. What political concessions
the US is giving Moscow to allow passage of war supplies through
its territory remains a secret.
The US appears
to be going and staying at the same time. By contrast, Taliban’s
position is clear and simple: it will continue fighting until all
foreign troops are withdrawn. US special forces, drones and hit
squads have been unable to assassinate enough Taliban commanders
to make the mujahidin stop fighting.
never study history, not even their own. We don’t recall founding
father, the great Benjamin Franklin, who said, "there is no
good war, and no bad peace." Or that the Pashtun Taliban and
its allies are dedicated, undefeated warriors who fight where they
live, and have all the time in the world.
I’ve been in
combat with Pashtun fighters and remain in awe of their courage
and love of combat. The Pashtun mujahidin will keep fighting as
long as their ammunition lasts.
all its B-1 heavy bombers, strike fighters, missiles, helicopter
gunships and drones, armor, super electronics, spies in the sky
and all the other high tech weapons of modern war has failed to
defeat some 30,000 tribal fighters armed with nothing more than
light weapons and legendary valor.
The US has
lost the political war in Afghanistan. It may linger there, but
it cannot win.
him mail] is the author of War
at the Top of the World and the new book, American
Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the
West and the Muslim World. See his
© 2011 Eric Margolis
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