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The Taliban have postponed their decision to inaugurate their newly-appointed interim government of Afghanistan, which was announced on September 7, on September 11 – the 20th anniversary of terrorist attacks in the US in order to avoid ‘wasting resources and money. The oath ceremony was expected to take place in Afghanistan on September 11 — the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The Taliban had invited Russia, Iran, China, Qatar and Pakistan to attend the ceremony of the new government formation in Afghanistan.
The Fall of Saigon to North Vietnamese forces in 1975 marked the end of the Vietnam War. It became an enduring symbol of defeat after thousands of Americans and their Vietnamese allies were airlifted out of the city on helicopters.
The fall of Kabul was inevitable. It marks the end of a post-imperial western fantasy. Yet the west’s reaction beggars belief. Call it a catastrophe, a humiliation, a calamitous mistake, if it sounds good. All retreats from the empire are messy. This one took 20 years, but the end was indeed Joe Biden’s Saigon. The US did not need to invade Afghanistan. The country was never a terrorist state and was not at war with the US; indeed the US had aided its rise to power against the Russians in 1996. Yet neither Bush nor Tony Blair listened. Instead, they experienced a rush of blood to the head. They commandeered Nato, which had begun nation-building as if nations were made of Lego. Twenty years of dependency on lavish western taxpayers means that soldiers, interpreters, journalists, academics and aid workers are seeing friends threatened and killed. Years of assistance and training were wasted. A reputed trillion dollars of American, British, EU and other allied money has been wasted.
The fall of Kabul was inevitable. It marks the end of a post-imperial western fantasy. Yet the west’s reaction beggars belief. Call it a catastrophe, a humiliation, a calamitous mistake, if it sounds good. All retreats from empire are messy. This one took 20 years, but the end was indeed Joe Biden’s Saigon.
The terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001, targeting several sites in the US certainly fit this description, as the reverberations of that epochal event are still being felt across the globe, two decades since. SOME events, due to their sheer magnitude, change the course of history. The US had every right to punish those responsible for the 9/11 attacks, as part of the doctrine of self-defence. However, the two-decade occupation of Afghanistan that has just ended in a Taliban victory and the never-ending ‘war on terror’ hardly did much to neutralise. If anything, America’s imperial overreach helped create even more bloodthirsty outfits and increasing sectarian and ethnic fissures within these societies. The neocon clique that surrounded George W Bush at the time cynically sought to use the 9/11 tragedy to further its agenda of the new American century. In the guise of fighting terrorism and spreading democracy, the American military machine embarked on imperial civilising missions across continents. Afghanistan was just the beginning; Iraq, Syria and Libya would also follow. The genuine pain and anguish of 9/11 gave way to the vulgar projection of American power across the globe.
Two decades since, the world is just as dangerous a place — if not more — than it was before the 9/11 events. The war on terror gave us gulags and black sites such as Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib run by self-professed democracies where fundamental rights were held in abeyance, while shadowy, well-connected contractors were hired to do the dirty work that Western capitals could easily deny. Recruiters for militant movements have used all these uncomfortable facts to influence young minds within the Muslim world, and strengthen their violent narratives.
In the aftermath of the recent fall of Kabul, President Joe Biden has pledged to reverse course on America’s nation-building activities. This will go a long way in stabilising the Middle East if he sticks to his promise. Moreover, many of the root causes that fuel terrorism — authoritarianism within Muslim states; poverty; lack of opportunities; the targeting of Muslim states militarily by the West; Palestine, Kashmir etc — remain unaddressed even 20 years after 9/11. The Afghan debacle certainly benefits the West’s opponents but their attitudes were not going to change anyway. What matters are the ramifications among Washington’s allies? What will they take away from the Afghan experience? Beyond the immediate crisis, will the NATO countries, and other US-allied see the US as a less reliable partner? If they do, then Mr Biden’s decision to quit Afghanistan will prove fateful, indeed.
How many times must it be drummed into US and allied heads that the empire is over? It is dead, finished, outdated, not to be repeated. TheUS has no need, let alone right, to rule other countries, to make the world a better place. The best what the West can now do is establish good relations with a new regime in Afghanistan – in liaison with Kabul’s neighbours Pakistan and Iran – to protect at least some of the good it has attempted to do this past 20 years. The world is not threatening the US and its allied. Terrorism does not need state sponsors, nor will it be ended by state conquest. The similarities with helicopters shuttling US nationals away from a falling city being too much for the newspaper front-pages to resist. But in reality – despite the superficial similarities -there are some important differences, too. By its end, the Vietnam War had become increasingly unpopular back in the US and had cost not only billions of dollars but over 58,000 American lives. For some, the fall of Saigon was a blow to America’s standing on the world stage. In the decades since, the term Vietnam Syndrome has emerged – denoting a reluctance by American voters to commit military power abroad.
The fall of Saigon took place two years after US forces were withdrawn from Vietnam. America’s evacuation from Kabul, meanwhile, is happened while the US was already preparing to leave Afghanistan. But while the political fallout for President Gerald Ford was limited in 1975, it’s unclear what impact will be felt by President Biden, despite the war’s unpopularity at home. Many US policymakers have drawn parallels between Saigon and Kabul. Indeed this is Joe Biden’s Saigon, a disastrous failure on the international stage that will never be forgotten.