Despite some differences, the current situation in Afghanistan, resembles many other troop withdrawals from foreign territories by advanced capitalist countries of the west. The recent panic stricken airlift evacuation of people after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, has been eerily reminiscent of the panic and disorganisation associated with the evacuation of Saigon in 1975. However, that too was nothing new. Leaving chaos behind has actually occurred in many other cases of western and European withdrawal after earlier invasions of foreign territories. Indeed, throughout history, ‘getting in’ is as destructive as ‘getting out’.
If in doubt of the above assertion, just check out the history of the Greek Empire under Alexander; the Roman Empire’s entanglement in the Middle East, before its decline and fall; or the British Empire’s efforts at getting out of North America, India and Africa.
The historic excuse for imperialist and colonialist invasions and occupations has always been ‘rationalised’ as for the benefit of the occupied people. It has been presented as bringing the benefits of civilisation or ‘true’ religion or peace (sic) when the real reason has been to benefit the invaders. The greed for tangible resource benefits such as oil, rubber, gold, diamonds, timber, land, slaves, trade routes or competition, has always been wrapped up in a verbal pretense of altruistic concern for the intended victims. After conquest, structures and institutions are put in place to administer the exploitation/extraction of the particular benefit associated with the country targeted in this way. The process involves encouraging local collaboration to assist in the resource extraction.
However, once that ‘benefit’ (however calculated) has reduced to the point of it costing more to stay as an occupying power, than to get out, then the subsequent confusion and mayhem of withdrawal are almost universal. The structures, including local bureaucracies, are not designed nor equipped to do more than enable imperial or colonial extraction. Therefore, these structures begin to collapse almost as soon as the occupying power loses the means or motive for maintaining them. Afghanistan is merely the most recent example of a common pattern of western military withdrawal from incursions within the continents of Asia, Africa, South America, and North America. The rapid collapse of the American and British supported Afghan ‘regime’ in 2021 was therefore predictable as will be the humanitarian crisis it leaves behind.
This is because the Afghan ‘administration’ was not an indigenous creation, but an occupiers client semi-state, with corruption running through it like a water mark indelibly stains paper. The ghost army which was created by the contradictions of this corrupt US backed regime never existed beyond paycheck numbers, so never really existed. Thus the real Afghan army when faced with a choice of risking their lives in order to defend the corruption, discrimination and authoritarian clients of US foreign policy, decided it was not worth it. So like the South Vietnam soldiers (and many others in such collapses before them) they decided to lay down their rifles, abandon their equipment and discard their uniforms and boots. The US governments empty justification for placing ‘boots on the ground’ has been Trumped and the boots probably just lie abandoned – yet again!
The incompetence of the elite sponsored US and UK withdrawals from Afghanistan should not have come as surprise either. The pro-capitalist elites have absorbed no lessons outside of those needed to secure their own personal interests and welfare. When they pulled out of Vietnam, Iraq and many other places of occupation, they did so in the form of a hasty, unprepared shambles, leaving chaos behind. Closer to home, the warnings of climate change, pollution and ecological destruction, have been sounded and ignored by governing elites for decades, yet the planet is currently burning and flooding all over the place. More recently elites the world over, had many years of advanced notice and warnings of a coming pandemic and completely bungled the preparation for, and handling of, that issue.
It should have not come as a surprise, therefore, that the warnings of Afghan diplomats and other ‘intelligence’ experts that if the US and UK elites didn’t plan a careful well-rehearsed exit strategy for Afghanistan, chaos would follow and many who had helped them would be left behind. And the complementary coincidence of a chaotic Afghan withdrawal during a chaotic global pandemic was illustrated by media optics. Packed to overflowing, streets of terrified crowds in heat-saturated queues and cramped planes left Kabul, with no masking, washing facilities and no social distancing. Despite an out of control pandemic, Covid precautions were clearly not factored into this withdrawal debacle.
This whole chaos at Kabul and other places in Afghanistan, is also an unnecessary and potential super-spreader event which together with the dominance of the Delta variant, is going to create an additional layer of problems. In any country accepting those desperate people leaving Afghanistan, the working classes will bear the brunt of any additional problems created by this unnecessary Covid problem on top of the current refugee problem, which is also on top of the current climate change problem.
Was it worth it?
Many voices have been raised about the costs of this Afghan occupation in money and lives and these questions have been conveniently pushed into the future. Former soldiers have asked whether their sacrifices were worth it, but of course the answer to this depends upon who determines ‘it’. If the advancement of humanity was the purpose, then deaths and limb loss were certainly not worth it, because the same fundamentalist Taliban regime has taken over yet again, with all that implies.
Twenty years ago, they were patriarchal fundamentalist opponents of secularism and feminist rights and they remain so. After all, it’s their ideological raison d’ etra! However, if the purpose of occupation was to serve the interests of the pro-capitalist elites, then the deaths and injuries suffered by the troops were worth it to them, because these elite interests have been served. For millenia, soldiers, employed by elites have always served the interests of those elites and never humanity as a whole.
All this should be obvious by now and should have been obvious before to all who are not blinded by self-interest into supporting the present system of production. The whole question of why so many men (and women) prefer a system of ancient patriarchal tribal governance, such as the Taliban etc., to modern secular so-called democratic capitalism is a metaphorical elephant in the room. The existence and resurgence of religious fundamentalism of all strains – Islamic, Jewish, Christian, etc. – in the modern world is largely a distorted protest against the way modern capitalism has developed and is administered throughout the world.
Patriarchy versus Patriarchy.
This religious fundamentalist opposition (Taliban, ISIS etc.) to what now dominates, takes the form of a deeply oppressive mode of governance. It is one in which aggressive males still dominate humanity in the East, in the name of worshiping a fictitious God, rather than the aggressive males now dominating humanity in the West in the name of worshiping ‘capital’. Humanity is certainly at a defining moment in its evolution. How our production is organised, how it’s results are shared and how we think about each other requires revolutionary changes if we are to survive to really become a wise and humane species. Afghanistan, as the metaphorical ‘grave yard of empires’ is yet another long-running example of the problems we face as a species, not an example of the way our manifold problems can be solved.
Roy Ratcliffe (August 2021)