Afghanistan: The Wheels Are Coming Off
When does a determination to look on the bright side turn into a state of denial? That is, when do leaders of a secrecy-obsessed US government admit the decision-making surrounding the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan was misguided from the beginning and the endgame is a mess because of it?
While the leadership of America is mud-wrestling with itself in the election "silly season," the nation is watching the wheels come off its military occupation of Afghanistan. It feels like that special effects TV ad for a new SUV in which, as the SUV speeds forward, thousands of its parts magically come flinging loose until we see nothing but the truck chassis speeding ahead.
In Afghanistan, we’re down to that truck chassis. And its wheels are now coming loose. Once again, US leaders have reached a crisis endpoint in yet another counter-insurgency commitment. Once again our leaders insist on "victory" when that kind of end is impossible.
The story began just over a century ago. Smart, moderate historians like Andrew Bacevich (Washington Rules and The Short American Century: A Postmortem); Chalmers Johnson (The Blowback Trilogy and Dismantling The Empire: America’s Last Best Hope) and others have made the imperial master narrative clear. In a nutshell, the expansionist militarist energy that began with the Spanish American War -- the so-called American Century -- is over. Or at least we’re climbing down the mountain we ascended so gloriously during the last century. The empire that was launched with great bully, outward-rushing enthusiasm by Teddy Roosevelt and others is now circling its wagons.
In 1899, Rudyard Kipling wrote the poem "Recessional" about “the White Man’s burden.” At the time, we were “liberating” the Philippines from the Spanish and becoming embroiled in a nasty counter-insurgency war with Philippine nationalists in which water boarding was regularly employed against uncooperative Filipinos. Here’s Kipling:
Take up the White Man’s burden -
Send forth the best ye breed -
Go send your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need
To wait in heavy harness
On fluttered folk and wild -
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child.
His theme was the passing of the baton of empire and imperialism from Britain to the United States. America was high on Manifest Destiny and bursting at the seams to bring light to the benighted peoples of the world and to remake the world in its own exceptional image.
Being on the downside of empire is less invigorating. As economic realities become squeezed, it becomes harder and harder to sustain the notion that we’re covering the world with our beneficence. Instead, what we're doing is covering our ass trying to hold on to what we got.