US PRESIDENT Joe Biden has made a futile attempt to paint his Afghanistan policy as a success by arguing that America had not gone into the war 20 years ago for nation-building. In a speech that came after a deluge of criticism on the humiliating withdrawal of US personnel from Kabul in the wake of the Taliban takeover of the capital, Biden laid the blame for the fall of Afghanistan on the regime of Ashraf Ghani. This may not be entirely true.
Two decades and more than a trillion dollars later, the US has handed over Afghanistan to the same people it had ousted to take control. All the American investment in propping up the Kabul regime, backed by a 300,000-strong fully equipped and US-trained army, came to naught within a week of the Taliban’s lightening offensive. Had the Americans not been so aghast at the way their Afghan project collapsed like a house of cards, they would have experienced a feeling of déjà vu. After all, they had faced a similar humiliation in Vietnam decades ago, and in various other military misadventures they have stumbled into ever since.
One thing common between all these global interventions, it seems, is the spectacular failures in which they have ended, and the dangerous instability they have spawned in their wake. Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, just to name a recent few, have bled in all respects as a result of America’s misplaced interventions. The birth of terror organisations like the Islamic State and Al Qaeda are by-products of America’s ideologically fuelled policies. Entire regions, and not just countries, have paid a steep price for these US follies.
America’s failure in Afghanistan is a reminder — if yet another one was needed — that nation-building cannot be imposed from above, like the US has repeatedly attempted to do, and progress cannot sprout through the barrel of a gun. Try as the Americans might, it is difficult to gloss over the harsh reality that they — and not their puppet regime in Kabul — are primarily responsible for losing the war in Afghanistan. It is a lesson hard to digest for a superpower held hostage by its own hubris, but digest it, it must, if not for its own sake then for the sake of the world that cannot bear the burden of more such reckless military interventions. It is in fact an opportune time for Washington to indulge in some soul searching and figure out which part of its policy DNA is propelling it into such Herculean misadventures. The American voter too must ask hard questions from its leaders, and demand answers that might not be easily forthcoming. Those American officials from successive administrations who contributed to this two-decade-long folly have a lot to answer for. The United States of America, for once, should hold itself to account.
Published in Dawn, August 18th, 2021