Afghanistan: Insanity in the ‘Graveyard of Empires’

In today’s world, wars are rarely conventional. Declarations of war are a thing of the past and battles are fought through proxies and militias. Our opponents are immeasurable, they respect no borders, they represent no nation, and they often fight for no leader. 

The so-called “war on terror”, from its very inception, was doomed to failure. From Saigon to Kabul, history has proven time and time again that while bombs and bullets may crush uprisings, they rarely crush ideals.

Our leaders, however, do not learn from history. In domestic politics, western leaders claim to stand for rational, democratic, and evidence-based politics. Yet in foreign policy, they remain dedicated to a rapidly aging neoconservative ideology. 

Successive governments, both on the left and right of the aisle, have marched their armies through jungles, deserts, mountains, and across seas to export this homogeneous ideological exceptionalism.

This tired, played-out thinking, has yet again been shown to be incompatible with the intricacies of our modern age, yet rather than accept this fact, our leaders double down, refusing to even acknowledge the fact that a change in tact is sorely needed.

A quote, erroneously attributed to Einstein but nevertheless insightful, defines insanity as repeating the same actions over and over again and expecting the same results.

In the language of political science, it is assumed that in a functioning system of governance there is likely to be some form of “policy learning.” Governments learn from the mistakes of previous administrations, from their allies, and even from their enemies.

When the Biden regime rejects comparisons between the helicopter evacuations from the embassy roofs of Saigon in 1975 and Kabul in 2021, it is made painfully clear that there is something that has impeded this learning. 

There exists an insanity, so deep rooted, that our senior diplomats and politicians blind themselves to history. Their ideological commitment runs so deep, that they would sooner have another Afghanistan than dare question their ideals.  

Just as Adolf Hitler ignored the lessons of Napoleon, and did march against his enemies in the depth of the harsh Russian winter, the western world committed itself to war against an enemy unknown, deep in the heart of the “graveyard of empires.”

As history repeats itself once again, it is high time that this insanity is challenged firmly.

For all the Republican Party’s woes, it appears that a new generation of Trumpian Republican senators are beginning to wake up to this reality. In an excellent piece written for the Washington Post, it appears that the old-guard of the Republican party, heavily involved in fostering the spread of American Neoconservatism, have been beaten into the background by a new age of America First, isolationist Republicans. 

Republican senator Matt Gaetz, a long-term ally of former US president Donald Trump, has been especially vocal of this lack of historical learning. “There are far too many people in Washington who really don’t think you’re all that special,” Gaetz said. “They think they can build Jeffersonian democracies out of sand and blood and Arab militias in the Middle East. They think we can go and create the 13 colonies out of the caves of central Asia.”

America agrees with Gaetz’s criticism. The majority of Americans now oppose the U.S ever having entered into the conflict, and even more agree that it was right to pull troops out. The rhetoric behind “nation building” in Afghanistan has long disappeared from the political discourse. 

Donald Trump and his allies are certainly not paragons of virtue in the field of American foreign policy, that is for sure, but it is nevertheless refreshing to finally see the currents of change in American politics. 

All political learning, however, ends with U.S president Joe Biden. Death, destruction, and misery are old news for Old Joe. Afghan civilians plummeting from the skies is of little importance because “That was four or five days ago” – man! 

If the election of Joseph Biden has served to demonstrate one thing, it is that, for the time being, the political old guard is here to stay. And as long as they are, there will be another Kabul, Benghazi, Saigon, or Pyongyang.

The tragedy of these wars should not just be used as an attempt to make cheap pot-shots against Biden’s political credibility, but rather to rightfully question the West’s obsession with “forever wars.” 

There is no easy answer to the question of the West’s relationship with its turbulent neighbours. If the West is to avoid another Kabul, what should the future of global foreign policy look like? If ideological guerillas cannot be easily overcome by international military occupation, then what good is intervention? Evidently, none. 

While we rightfully scorn the ascension of the Taliban to power, it should be noted that the blame for the evacuation at Kabul is not theirs, but ours. 

It is the West’s intervention which spawned this conflict, it is their failure in nation building which kept the Taliban’s message alive, and it is their botched withdrawal which handed modern Kabul to the radically traditional Taliban.

The massacres of Kabul should surprise no-one. They are a product of an ideologically flawed war. The Viet Cong were more forgiving to their prisoners, but the pullout of troops from a war to stop communism ironically forced more than half a million people into communist re-education camps. The U.S’ war on terror has similarly seen increased global terrorism, and has propelled a government toppled 20 years ago to return to power.

Kabul is a wake up call. If the West truly desires an end to “forever wars”, then it must radically rethink its foreign policy and find new ways to avert human tragedy, avoiding military “quick fixes”, even if that means standing by and watching the horrors of war unfold.

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