Graveyard of Empires
by Eric Margolis: Democracy
or More Dictatorship for Egypt?
our navies melt away
On dune and headland sinks the fire
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
~ Rudyard Kipling
The poet laureate
of imperialism might write the same stanzas today about the successor
of the British Empire, the American imperium, which, having reached
its high water mark in the bleak mountains of Afghanistan, appears
set to begin receding.
of Defense Leon Panetta just announced that all US combat troops
would withdraw from Afghanistan by mid-2013. Of the 90,000 US Afghan
garrison, 22,000 will depart this fall. Some sort of US training
mission will remain.
has once more earned its well-deserved title, "Graveyard of
from combat is one of the two most dangerous military operations
(the other is river crossing or amphibious landing under fire).
Hopefully, the US can disengage from Afghanistan with the same skill
and dexterity it did from Iraq. A long-overdue peace deal with Taliban
would pave the way for an American withdrawal.
The Obama administration,
facing a tough election this year, has taken the fiscally, militarily
and politically correct decision to end the no-win Afghan war begun
by George W. Bush that has cost over $700 billion to date.
dates for roughly 40,000 NATO troops is uncertain, though France
just announced an accelerated pullout. The fate of an estimated
80,000 US-paid mercenaries in Afghanistan is also uncertain.
The US will
continue strikes by drones, warplanes, and attacks by special forces
from a small number of fortress bases. Pakistan will be cajoled
or bribed by Washington to keep its forces active against Pashtun
tribal fighters. Washington and London will keep issuing cheery
claims about the success of the Afghan War.
But the hard
truth cannot be avoided. All the concentrated military-technological
might of the United States and its allies has been defeated by fierce
Pashtun tribesmen whose primary weapons are courage, patience and
legendary determination to drive out foreign invaders.
States had hoped to pound or bribe the Pashtun fighters that comprise
Taliban and its allies, the Haqqani Group and Gulbadin Hekmatyar’s
Hisbi Islami, into submission, or split them by selective peace
backed by massive air power and ethnic cleansing of some three million
Sunnis, worked for a time in Iraq.
They have failed
in Afghanistan. Every sort of modern weapon save nuclear devices
was used against the Afghan resistance: carpet bombing, laser-guided
bombs, fuel-air explosives, cluster munitions dispending blizzards
of steel shards, mines, helicopter gunships, tanks and giant armored
trucks, swarms of drones, satellites, aircraft that disable roadside
bombs. Deadly AC-130 gunships bristling with guns and 20mm cannon.
Death squads attacking at night to kill Taliban sympathizers. Heavy
artillery and rocket batteries.
laden with sensors that looked like the gigantic killer robots from
H.G. Well’s "War of the Worlds." In fact, the Afghan War
has been a one-sided conflict between a backwards people living
in the 12th century and the high-tech military might
of 21st century America.
9/11, I wrote in a US newspaper article that US intervention in
Afghanistan would be a disaster for all concerned. I’d been with
Pashtun mujahidin, fighting first against the Soviets, then with
Taliban battling the Afghan Communists. These Pashtun mountain warriors
were the bravest men I had seen in covering 14 wars. They enjoyed
war, even reveled in it. There was no way western forces were going
to defeat them.
All the western
claims about fighting "terrorism" or abused women in hijabs
could not fully conceal that Afghanistan was also a war being waged
for strategic geography, minerals, pipeline routes, and the desire
to bar China from the region.
The last fig
leaf fell when then CIA Chief Panetta admitted there were no more
than 25-50 al-Qaida members in Afghanistan. That and the assassination
of Osama bin Laden left Washington no more excuse for occupying
Afghanistan. A majority of Americans turned against the endless
Afghan war. Even the US-installed Hamid Karzai stated that NATO’s
only achievement had been killing large numbers of Afghan civilians.
Even if US
combat troops leave next year, as in Iraq, the US will still exercise
influence through drones, air strikes, commando raids and a vast
fortified embassy ("Crusader Castles" bin Laden called
them) with its own little mercenary army.
quitting the Afghan fiasco should boost Obama’s electoral chances,
though Republicans will cry "sell-out" and "betrayal."
an end to the Afghan conflict will also lessen or end America’s
military and political semi-occupation of Pakistan, which Washington
strong-armed in 2001 into supporting a war against its own creation,
As a result,
nuclear-armed Pakistan has become dangerously destabilized and a
hotbed of anti-western hatred. Ending the Afghan War is urgent before
Pakistan blows up and draws India into the maelstrom.
be America’s primary strategic interest.
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
© 2012 Eric Margolis
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