Requiem for the ‘American Century’

As the longest U.S. war winds down in Afghanistan,  Andrew Bacevich says vows of “never again” can only be taken seriously when Americans call imperialism by its name.

9/11 tribute. (David Z from Pixabay)

By Andrew J. Bacevich

“Ours is the cause of freedom. 
We’ve defeated freedom’s enemies before, and we will defeat them again…
[W]e know our cause is just and our ultimate victory is assured…
My fellow Americans, let’s roll.”

— George W. Bush, Nov. 8, 2001

In the immediate wake of 9/11, it fell to President George W. Bush to explain to his fellow citizens what had occurred and frame the nation’s response to that singular catastrophe. Bush fulfilled that duty by inaugurating the Global War on Terror, or GWOT. Both in terms of what was at stake and what the United States intended to do, the president explicitly compared that new conflict to the defining struggles of the twentieth century. However great the sacrifices and exertions that awaited, one thing was certain: the GWOT would ensure the triumph of freedom, as had World War II and the Cold War. It would also affirm American global primacy and the superiority of the American way of life.

The 20th anniversary of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon now approaches. On Sept. 11, 2021, Americans will mark the occasion with solemn remembrances, perhaps even setting aside, at least momentarily, the various trials that, in recent years, have beset the nation.

Twenty years to the minute after the first hijacked airliner slammed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, bells will toll. In the ensuing hours, officials will lay wreathes and make predictable speeches. Priests, rabbis, and imams will recite prayers. Columnists and TV commentators will pontificate. If only for a moment, the nation will come together.

It’s less likely that the occasion will prompt Americans to reflect on the sequence of military campaigns over the two decades that followed 9/11. This is unfortunate. Although barely noticed, those campaigns — the term GWOT long ago fell out of favor — give every sign of finally winding down, ending not with a promised victory but with something more like a shrug. On that score, the Afghanistan War serves as Exhibit A. 

Bush’s assurances of ultimate triumph now seem almost quaint — the equivalent of pretending that the American Century remains alive and well by waving a foam finger and chanting “We’re No. 1!” In Washington, the sleeping dog of military failure snoozes undisturbed. Senior field commanders long ago gave up on expectations of vanquishing the enemy. 

President George W. Bush takes notes as he listens to news coverage of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, during a visit to Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida. (U.S. National Archives, Flickr)

While politicians ceaselessly proclaim their admiration for “the troops,” in a rare show of bipartisanship they steer clear of actually inquiring about what U.S. forces have achieved and at what cost. As for distracted and beleaguered ordinary Americans, they have more pressing things to worry about than distant wars that never panned out as promised.

Into the Graveyard of Empires

In his January 2001 farewell address, welcoming the dawn of the Third Millennium, President Bill Clinton asserted with sublime assurance that, during his eight years in office, the United States had completed its “passage into the global information age, an era of great American renewal.” In fact, that new century would bring not renewal but a cascade of crises that have left the average citizen reeling.

First came 9/11 itself, demolishing assurances that history had rendered a decisive verdict in America’s favor. The several wars that followed were alike in this sense: once begun, they dragged on and on. More or less contemporaneously, the “rise” of China seemingly signaled that a centuries-old era of Western global dominion was ending. After all, while the United States was expending vast sums on futile military endeavors, the People’s Republic was accumulating global market share at a striking rate. Meanwhile, on the domestic front, a populist backlash against neoliberal and postmodern nostrums vaulted an incompetent demagogue into the White House.

As the worst pandemic in a century then swept across the planet, killing more Americans than died fighting World War II, the nation’s chosen leader dithered and dissembled, depicting himself as the real victim of the crisis. Astonishingly, that bogus claim found favor with tens of millions of voters. In a desperate attempt to keep their hero in office for another four (or more) years, the president’s most avid supporters mounted a violent effort to overturn the constitutional order. Add to the mix recurring economic cataclysms and worries about the implications of climate change and Americans have good reason to feel punch drunk.

It’s hardly surprising that they have little bandwidth left for reflecting on the war in Afghanistan as it enters what may be its final phase. After all, overlapping with the more violent and costly occupation of Iraq, the conflict in Afghanistan never possessed a clear narrative arc. Lacking dramatic duels or decisive battles, it was the military equivalent of white noise, droning in the background all but unnoticed. Sheer endlessness emerged as its defining characteristic.

The second President Bush launched the Afghan War less than a month after 9/11. Despite what seemed like a promising start, he all but abandoned that effort in his haste to pursue bigger prey, namely Saddam Hussein. In 2009, Barack Obama inherited that by-now-stalemated Afghan conflict and vowed to win and get out. He would do neither. Succeeding Obama in 2017, Donald Trump doubled down on the promise to end the war completely, only to come up short himself.

Now, taking up where Trump left off, Joe Biden has signaled his desire to ring down the curtain on America’s longest-ever armed conflict and so succeed where his three immediate predecessors failed. Doing so won’t be easy. As the war dragged on, it accumulated complications, both within Afghanistan and regionally. The situation remains fraught with potential snags.

Afghan soldiers hand out supplies to people evicted from their villages by Taliban fighters in Konduz, Afghanistan, Nov. 6, 2009. (U.S. Army/Spc. Christopher Baker)

While in office, Trump committed to a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan by May 1st of this year. Although Biden recently acknowledged that meeting such a deadline would be “tough,” he also promised that any further delay will extend no more than a few months. So it appears increasingly likely that a conclusion of some sort may finally be in the offing. Prospects for a happy ending, however, range between slim and nonexistent.

One thing seems clear: whether Washington’s ongoing efforts to broker a peace deal between the Taliban and the Afghan government succeed, or whether the warring parties opt to continue fighting, time is running out on the U.S. military mission there. In Washington, the will to win is long gone, while patience with the side we profess to support wastes away and determination to achieve the minimalist goal of avoiding outright defeat is fading fast. Accustomed to seeing itself as history’s author, the United States finds itself in the position of a supplicant, hoping to salvage some tiny sliver of grace.

What then does this longest war in our history signify? Even if the issue isn’t one that Americans now view as particularly urgent, at least a preliminary answer seems in order, if only because the U.S. troops who served there — more than three-quarters of a million in all — deserve one.

Dog Tag Memorial in Boston to those killed in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Along the Freedom Trail near Old North Church. (Tony Webster, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

And there’s also this: A war that drags on inconclusively for 20 years is not like a ballgame that goes into extra innings. It’s a failure of the first order that those who govern and those who are governed should face squarely. To simply walk away, as Americans may be tempted to do, would be worse than irresponsible. It would be obscene.

Fresh Bite of a Poisonous Imperial Apple

Assessing the significance of Afghanistan requires placing it in a larger context. As the first war of the post-9/11 era, it represents a particularly instructive example of imperialism packaged as uplift.

The European powers of the 19th and early 20th centuries pioneered a line of self-regarding propaganda that imparted a moral gloss to their colonial exploitation throughout much of Asia and Africa. When the United States invaded and occupied Cuba in 1898 and soon after annexed the entire Philippine archipelago, its leaders devised similar justifications for their self-aggrandizing actions.

The aim of the American project in the Philippines, for example, was “benevolent assimilation,” with Filipino submission promising eventual redemption. The proconsuls and colonial administrators in Washington dispatched to implement that project may even have believed those premises. The recipients of such benefactions, however, tended to be unpersuaded. As Filipino leader Manuel Quezon famously put it, “Better a government run like hell by the Filipinos than one run like heaven by the Americans.” A patriotic nationalist, Quezon preferred to take his chances with self-determination, as did many other Filipinos unimpressed with American professions of benign intentions.

This gets to the core of the problem, which remains relevant to the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan in the present century. In 2001, American invaders arrived in that country bearing a gift labeled “Enduring Freedom” — an updated version of benign assimilation — only to find that substantial numbers of Afghans had their own ideas about the nature of freedom or refused to countenance infidels telling them how to run their affairs. Certainly, efforts to disguise Washington’s imperial purposes by installing Hamid Karzai, a photogenic, English-speaking Afghan, as the nominal head of a nominally sovereign government in Kabul fooled almost no one. And once Karzai, the West’s chosen agent, himself turned against the entire project, the jig should have been up.

Jan. 29, 2002: Afghan Interim Chairman Hamid Karzai, left, receiving a commemorative medallion of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The medallion was forged from steel salvaged from the World Trade Center site. (USAID, Wikimedia Commons)

The U.S. war in Afghanistan has to date claimed the lives of more than 2,300 U.S. troops, while wounding another 20,000. Staggeringly larger numbers of Afghans have been killed, injured, or displaced. The total cost of that American war long ago exceeded $2 trillion. Yet, as documented by the “Afghanistan Papers” published last year by The Washington Post, the United States and its allies haven’t defeated the Taliban, created competent Afghan security forces, or put in place a state apparatus with the capacity to govern effectively. Despite almost 20 years of effort, they haven’t come close. Neither have the U.S. and its NATO coalition partners persuaded the majority of Afghans to embrace the West’s vision of a suitable political order. When it comes to the minimum preconditions for mission accomplishment, in other words, the United States and its allies are batting 0-for-4.

Intensive and highly publicized American attempts to curb Afghan corruption have failed abysmally. So, too, have well-funded efforts to reduce opium production. With the former a precondition for effective governance and the latter essential to achieving some semblance of aboveboard economic viability, make that 0-for-6, even as the momentum of events at this moment distinctly favors the Taliban. With 75 percent of government revenues coming from foreign donors, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is effectively on the international dole and has no prospect of becoming self-sufficient anytime soon.

Whether the U.S.-led effort to align Afghanistan with Western values was doomed from the start is impossible to say. At the very least, however, that effort was informed by remarkable naïveté. Assessing the war a decade ago — 10 years after it began — General Stanley McChrystal, former commander of all coalition forces there, lamented that “we didn’t know enough and we still don’t know enough” about Afghanistan and its people. “Most of us — me included — had a very superficial understanding of the situation and history, and we had a frighteningly simplistic view of recent history, the last 50 years.” Implicit in that seemingly candid admission is the suggestion that knowing more would have yielded a better outcome, that Afghanistan should have been “winnable.”

Rep. Barbara Lee speaks against the Authorization to Use Military Force in Afghanistan. “Some of us must urge restraint..and think through the implications of our actions today so this does not spiral out of control.”  

For the thwarted but unreconstructed imperialist, consider this the last line of retreat: success could have been ours if only decision makers had done things differently. Anyone familiar with the should-have-beens trotted out following the Vietnam War in the previous century — the U.S. should have bombed more (or less), invaded the North, done more to win hearts-and-minds, etc. — will recognize those claims for what they are: dodges. As with Vietnam, to apply this if-only line of reasoning to Afghanistan is to miss that war’s actual significance.

Minor War, Major Implications

As American wars go, Afghanistan ranks as a minor one. Yet this relatively small but very long conflict stands at the center of a distinctive and deeply problematic era in American history that dates from the end of the Cold War some 40 years ago. Two convictions defined that era. According to the first, by 1991 the United States had achieved something akin to unquestioned global military supremacy. Once the Soviets left the playing field, no opponent worthy of the name remained. That appeared self-evident.

According to the second conviction, circumstances now allowed — even cried out for — putting the U.S. military to work. Reticence, whether defined as deterrence, defense, or containment, was for wusses. In Washington, the temptation to employ armed force to overthrow “evil” became irresistible. Not so incidentally, periodic demonstrations of U.S. military might would also warn potential competitors against even contemplating a challenge to American global primacy.

Lurking in the background was this seldom acknowledged conviction: in a world chockablock full of impoverished, ineptly led nations, most inhabited by people implicitly classified as backward, someone needed to take charge, enforce discipline, and provide at least a modicum of decency. That the United States alone possessed the power and magnanimity to play such a role was taken for granted. After all, who was left to say nay?

Sen. Robert Byrd’s (D-WV) Oct. 14, 2009, Senate floor response to General McCrystal’s request for more U.S. troops in Afghanistan: “What does General McCrystal actually aim to achieve?”

So, with the passing of the Cold War, a new chapter in the history of American imperialism commenced, even if in policy circles that I-word was strictly verboten. Among the preferred euphemisms, humanitarian intervention, sometimes justified by a recently discovered “responsibility to protect,” found particular favor. But this was mostly theater, an updating of Philippine-style benevolent assimilation designed to mollify 21st-century sensibilities.

In actual practice, it fell to the president of the United States, commonly and without irony referred to as “the most powerful man in the world,” to decide where U.S. bombs were to fall and U.S. troops arrive. When American forces flexed their muscles in faraway places, ranging from Panama, Iraq, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Serbia, Afghanistan, Sudan, and the Philippines to Afghanistan (again), Iraq (again), Libya, various West African countries, Somalia (again), Iraq (for a third time), or Syria, authorization by the United Nations Security Council or Congress ranked as somewhere between incidental and unnecessary. For military actions that ranged from full-scale invasions to assassinations to a mere show of force, whatever justification the “leader of the Free World” chose to offer was deemed sufficient.

Military action undertaken at the behest of the commander-in-chief became the unspoken but definitive expression of American global leadership. That Bush the father, Clinton, Bush the son, Obama, and Trump would all wield extra-constitutional authority to — so the justification went — advance the cause of peace and freedom worldwide only testified to the singularity of the United States. In this way, an imperial presidency went hand-in-hand with imperial responsibilities and prerogatives.

At first imperceptibly, but more overtly with the passage of time, military adventurism undertaken by imperial presidents fostered a pattern of hypocrisy, dishonesty, cynicism, waste, brutality, and malaise that have today become pervasive. In certain quarters, the tendency persists to blame Trump for just about everything that ails this nation, including racism, sexism, inequality, public-health crises, and the coarsening of public discourse, not to speak of inattention to environmental degradation and our crumbling infrastructure. Without letting him off the hook, let me suggest that Washington’s post-Cold War imperial turn contributed more to our present discontent and disarray than anything Trump did in his four years in the White House.

On that score, the Afghan War made a pivotal and particularly mournful contribution, definitively exposing as delusionary claims of U.S. military supremacy. Even in late 2001, only weeks after President George W. Bush had promised “ultimate victory,” the war there had already gone off script. From early on, in other words, there was unmistakable evidence that military activism pursuant to neo-imperial ambitions entailed considerable risk, while exacting costs far outweighing any plausible benefits.

The longest war in U.S. history should by now have led Americans to reflect on the consequences that stem from succumbing to imperial temptations in a world where empire has long since become obsolete. Some might insist that present-day Americans have imbibed that lesson. In Washington, hawks appear chastened, with few calling for Biden to dispatch U.S. troops to Yemen or Myanmar or even Venezuela, our oil-rich “neighbor,” to put things right. For now, the nation’s appetite for military intervention abroad appears to be sated.

But mark me down as skeptical. Only when Americans openly acknowledge their imperial transgressions will genuine repentance become possible. And only with repentance will avoiding further occasions to sin become a habit. In other words, only when Americans call imperialism by its name will vows of “never again” deserve to be taken seriously.

In the meantime, our collective obligation is to remember. The siege of ancient Troy, which lasted a decade, inspired Homer to write the Iliad. Although the American war in Afghanistan has now gone on almost twice as long, don’t expect it to be memorialized in an epic poem. Yet with such poetry out of fashion, perhaps a musical composition of some sort might act as a substitute. Call it — just to suggest a title — “Requiem for the American Century.” For one thing should be clear by now: over the course of the nation’s longest war, the American Century breathed its last.

Andrew Bacevich, a TomDispatch regular, is president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. His new book is “The Age of Illusions: How America Squandered Its Cold War Victory.”

This article is from

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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29 comments for “Requiem for the ‘American Century’

  1. Juri Greb
    April 1, 2021 at 00:07

    What a pity that ‘anti-Establishment Progressives’ took the financially rewarding pro-Wall Street, Trump-hating path. We might be having a much different discussion about perpetual foreign wars.

  2. Tomonthebeach
    March 31, 2021 at 23:22

    The one thing that COL Bacevich skipped over, but that adds context to his excellent review, is 9/11. When the topic of 9/11 comes up, it is almost always discussed in the same way we talk about 12/7 (1941) as if it both were unprovoked attacks. Neither were. We embargoed and economically sanctioned the heck out of Japan because we disapproved of their hegemony competing with ours. After WW-I, we and the British enabled a rising tribal Arab chief to create a kingdom in exchange for letting both countries explore for oil. After WW-II, Saudi riches led to the growth of a regime so repressive that a small cadre of its own family, calling itself Al Qaeda, made a bold attack on New York and Washington, DC to get America’s attention in the hope of toppling the Family Saud.

    Instead of holding the Saudis accountable (the attackers were all Arabs), we helped Saudi royals quietly flee US soil, while their friends, the Bush family, diverted US thirst for revenge on Afghanistan where Al Qaeda was supposedly hiding out. Our troops would quickly crush the Taliban Muslim extremists who were providing Al Qaeda a safe haven for future terrorism. Our revenge would be sweet and discourage future terror attacks. We ignored the failures of the British and the Russians who both finally retreated from Afghanistan in shame, and now we are facing the same fate as they did for our hubris.

    It is likely that our serial failures in Afghanistan led to the invasion of Iraq two years later, and the start of Foreverwar in the Middle East. Americans wanted revenge, and George Bush was finally going to deliver with shock and awe – just not on the Saudis. It was irrelevant that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. But focusing on Iraq let us continue supporting the Saudi monarchy whose ruthless murderous reign gave birth to Al Qaeda in the first place, and our own bad judgment in Iraq led to ISIS and more problems. It also distracted from our own failed CIA meddling in Iran which to this day makes us a target of Iran animus toward America as well.

  3. Rob Roy
    March 31, 2021 at 22:15

    Mr. Bacevich says, “A war that drags on inconclusively for 20 years is not like a ballgame that goes into extra innings. It’s a failure of the first order that those who govern and those who are governed should face squarely. To simply walk away, as Americans may be tempted to do, would be worse than irresponsible. It would be obscene.” Obscene, really? Obscene would be to stay one minute longer in a situation that is “a failure of the first order.” The MIC and its associates have made their billions. Time to illegally attack another sovereign, innocent country, kill millions of innocent citizens and make billions more. It’s what America does. It’s its legacy. It’s its raison d’être. And since good leaders are not allowed to be elected, ever, things will continue on the same path. (My only hope is Russia and China can stop this failed state.)

  4. robert e williamson jr
    March 31, 2021 at 16:00

    I was somewhat disappointed with the comments for “In Quest of a Multi-Polar World” but I am biased. I thought the article was stellar. Hudson is a voice that clarifies left , right and the other as seen by the academic as opposed to the versions blurred by the emotions of partisan politics driven greed and lust for power and money.

    Maybe it is unfortunate that it was up here before this although Bacevich does explain the symptoms leading to the demise of the American Century. I will reserve my judgement of his idea of a requiem for the American Century.

    One fact is certain though Micheal Hudson and Pepe’ Escobar provide a more that adequate autopsy of the term of illness and ultimate out come of the disease of gluttony, greed and the addiction to power that has finished off the U.S. of A.

    First signs of the current malaise publicly officially manifesting itself circa 1944.

    I have a government publication “THE NEW WORLD 1939-1946”, commissioned by the USAEC Copyright 1962. In the first few chapters the authors lay out changes in technology as an example p18 chap 2, 2nd paragraph. “The first world War bought forth another effort to forge a working relationship between government and science. The National Research Council was organized in 1916 under the auspices of the National Academy (Of Sciences) to broaden the base of scientific and technical council.

    The first two or three chapters review events from WWI forward giving an unvarnished history of just how WWI affected the captains of banking and industry processes what they learned from WWI about Americans shortcomings with respect the science and technology and how the playing field changed to benefit heavy industry, technology through science using government money in a “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” incestuous relationship with congress as mete out those advising the president and White House in smoke filled back rooms.

    The book follows these developments to advent of the nuclear age and WWII and is an expose’ in how those efforts, WWII and the Manhattan Project turned the USA into an armed camp.

    I find no direct reference to the Bretton Woods Conference in this volume however the afore-mentioned captains of banking and industry started planning the technical / economic course for profiting off the government (today’s MIC) before 1930 and event of the Bretton Woods Conference c(1944) learly displays the methods to their madness.

    As they say the rest is history.

    Thanks CN

  5. Zhu
    March 31, 2021 at 04:01

    Coming soon: war or near war with China, the Yellow Peril! They’re not submissive! They’re too prosperous! It’s their faults Americans get poorer everyday! I hope our Fearless Leaders are not dumb enough to start a war with a nuclear country, but “against stupidity the gods themselves strive in vain!”

  6. GMCasey
    March 30, 2021 at 23:59

    PRESIDENTS who have been in a war: Carter, and Bush 1. Then after that we had Clinton, Bush 2, Obama , Trump and now Biden. Since Bush 1, all the later the presidents grew up watching war movies—-but were never in a war. Maybe that’s why it’s so easy for them to start wars and even harder for them to ever finish one.

    • Anne
      March 31, 2021 at 12:46

      Hmmm and before Carter? Truman (Korean), Eisenhower (Korean), JFK (Vietnam), LBJ (Vietnam), Nixon (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos), as for Bush 1 (Panama), Reagan before him (Grenada)…..

    • Skip Edwards
      March 31, 2021 at 15:08

      There is more to US wars under those Presidents than what you describe: 1) war gives Presidents power; 2) our economy is held together by expenditures by/for the MIC, and, 3) to appease the fossil fuel plutocrats. The insatiable desire for ever more power by certain politicians will never be satisfied, the lust for war by some is an addiction and fossil fuels grease that lust and give it purpose. All three of those entities tug all life, the guilty and the innocent, ever closer to certain doom.

  7. Carstie Clausen
    March 30, 2021 at 22:29

    Letting the Democrats get on with infrastructure rehabilitation and “true peace” sounds oxymoronic to me and virtually self-contradictory. WE The People are the overlooked factor in this ruptured republic, which has gradually devolved since the Act of 1871 when Congress, bowing down to the demands of the London Bank$ters to cough up on those usurious Civil War debts, caved in and did two things: Congress made the American people surety for those debts and created the United $tates of America corporation, duly registered under the laws of the State of Delaware.

    Via the Act of 1871 the Constitution was essentially subsumed to and under that unlawful act of the alleged representatives of We The People. Therefore, what we struggle with today is a two-party duopoly, basically a whip-saw/teeter-totter arrangement where one side blames the other for the malefactions of both partisan entities. Voting only encourages them. Our nation needs a reconstitution convention to which no prostiticians (including judges and members of the duopoly would be invited. The House needs to be abolished, what with the egregious “Citizens United” Decision by the black robed Extreme Courtesans, who at least since the time of arch-Federalist John Marshall, have usurped the power of creating laws as well as interpreting them under their monarchical powers which had been denounced by Jefferson in his letters home during the Constitutional Convention. No republic, he contended, should be saddled with a monarchical and even dictatorial court system. The House, with each Congre$$critter allegedly “representing” the wishes and needs of some 750,000 citizens, needs to be replaced by direct, internet voting and with the Senate serving as the house of sober second thought.

  8. rosemerry
    March 30, 2021 at 17:14

    Only the USA matters, and only a few of the rich and powerful in the USA really matter.
    That is how US history seems to me, an outsider. Freedom is for an even smaller number, and none of them in the lands we have liberated or helped by our humanitarian intervention.

    • Anne
      March 31, 2021 at 12:42

      Rosemerry, I would only add quotation marks to: “we have liberated,” and “our humanitarian intervention.” One can only ask in true honesty – which of our so-called “liberations,” “interventions” was in anyway true to the meaning of those words, to the morality, ethicas, humanity, scruples underlying them? Not one so far as I can tell…

      And I would like to correct an earlier comment of mine – I do not agree with much of what Bacevich writes, actually and as a previous commenter mentions, the Taliban (like ’em or hate ’em, not our western business) were utterly and completely against the production of Opium…it’s production increased only after the US invaded and the CIA resumed its interference…(all so reminiscent of the UK govt’s opium cartel dealing in China in the 19C)…

  9. PaPatricia Tursi, Ph.D.
    March 30, 2021 at 15:04

    When the first Bush invaded the Middle East, I was horrified. I thought we had learned something. I did research and found out that the USA has been at war somewhere all through its existence. It makes me wonder if, now that we are faced with the elimination of our species as Humans, it will be good or bad. All of us are guilty of allowing wars without protest.

    • Tim S.
      March 31, 2021 at 04:28

      > All of us are guilty of allowing wars without protest.

      Speak for yourself! There are plenty of us who have protested against all these wars (though we were only a handful in some cases).

  10. Jeff Harrison
    March 30, 2021 at 14:59

    Afghanistan. Where empires go to die.

  11. Anne
    March 30, 2021 at 14:37

    Mr Bacevich, most of what you have written I wholly agree with…but a) why are American deaths Always listed first even though they are Always fewer in number than their victims?; b) what about the bloody (literally, no doubt) torture programs conducted by the CIA and their helpmeets in the US military (Abu Ghraib); c) our incredible, apparently never-ending, invincible HUBRIS and Utter HYPOCRISY???

  12. Dfnslblty
    March 30, 2021 at 12:21

    What’s all this billboarding of Shrub et Cie about?
    Remembering is only part of the process – the main governmental part is going on at this moment!
    The most important part must come from We The People.
    The leadership part of governing has totally lacking from the gop side.
    Fear and destruction were Shrub’s and potus45’s only acts.

    Let the Dems get on with the work of infrastructure repair and true peace.

    • Helga I. Fellay
      March 30, 2021 at 22:31

      Dfnslblty – “Let the Dems get on with the work of infrastructure repair and true peace” ??? Well, the infrastructure repair is way overdue, but true peace???? Biden has just re-started another war against Syria, is stirring up new hostilities against Russia, is 150% behind Israel’s wars against all the ME nations to be destroyed to create Greater Israel, and in general the Dems have become the War Party as blood-thirsty, if not more so, than the Republican neocons ever were. Have you just come out of a coma?

      • Anne
        March 31, 2021 at 12:36


    • TS
      March 31, 2021 at 04:25

      > Let the Dems get on with the work of infrastructure repair and true peace.

      I beg ypur pardon? Do you mean the current Cabinet of warmongers, who have already demonstrated their intention of war-business-as-usual?

  13. March 30, 2021 at 12:14

    Very disappointing article. Did not get past the first paragraph as the essayist is preserving his chops with the agenda by conveniently concurring with the official government/mass media “on message” meme of not addressing the facts as to the events of 9-11-01.

    I do respect Consortium News for its apertura to journalists of many stripes. As a recovering ink-slinger myself, there are limits, though. Fired from my last salaried position clear back in ’73; I then went on to becoming E & P of Minnesota’s most broadly circulated monthly over 56 editions until ’79. My firing was due to the pale tone of my proboscis. In “Common Sense: A Northwoods Journal” I established an open forum in the face of Minnesota’s then and current smotherliness in matters of public need to know.

    In the immortal words of Thomas Paine “these are the times that try men’s souls”. Next time Consortium features a writer who desperately remains “on message”, please do a sidebar or something such, by a journo who has the courage to call it as he sees it. I have had enough of court-historian-stenographers on behalf of the stifling agenda. I do expect more from an alternative forum.

  14. March 30, 2021 at 11:58

    “Well-funded efforts to reduce opium production [have failed abysmally, but are] essential to achieving some semblance of aboveboard economic viability.”

    This is why the United States should encourage and support the adaptation of Bolivia’s abandoned (and possibly/potentially resumed?) SYSCOCA model from the Evo Morales era, consisting of narcotics-production licensing, IMINT monitoring, and selective eradication (as described in the scholarship of Kathryn Lebedur, Coletta Youngers, and Linda Farthing) to other international circumstances such as the opium poppy economy of Afghanistan. SYSCOCA was very successful in achieving success in decreasing overall coca yields while avoiding disruption of a licit economy in hitherto controlled substances upon which many largely nonviolent people from predominantly poor sectors of society depended for their livelihoods.

    This strategy can and should be pursued in tandem with pursuing domestic legalization and sentencing reform efforts in the United States; revising the 1961 and 1988 international conventions that codify extant drug prohibition regimes throughout the world; limiting the drug trade to “aboveboard” transactions by employing methods described in Vanda Felbab-Brown’s “Improving Supply-Side Policies: Smarter Eradication, Interdiction and Alternative Livelihoods – and the Possibility of Licensing” emphasizing “focused-deterrence strategies, selective targeting and sequential interdiction efforts” rather than interdiction approaches that have traditionally favored “flow-suppression measures or zero-tolerance approaches”; and implement the following five recommendations described by Channing May of Global Financial Integrity’s GFTrade initiative:

    “Require that corporations registering and doing business within a country declare the name(s) of the entity’s true, ultimate beneficial owner(s); flag financial and trade transactions involving individuals and corporations in ‘secrecy jurisdictions’ as high-risk
    and require extra documentation; scrutinize import and export invoices for signs of misinvoicing, which may indicate technical and/or physical smuggling; use world market price databases such as GFTrade to estimate the risk of misinvoicing for the declared
    values and investigate suspicious transactions; [and] share more information between agencies and departments on the illicit markets and actors that exist within a country’s borders.”

    Of course, there is little incentive for certain influential covert interests to pursue these sorts of strategies in anything but an extremely adulterated form in practice, given their own complicity in the drug trade in Afghanistan and elsewhere, epitomized by antecedents such as Count Alexandre de Marenches’s “Opération Moustique” (see here:

    • Zhu
      April 1, 2021 at 03:06

      The USA should just leave Afghans and the rest of humanity alone. If it’s OK for Tasmanians to raise opium, it’s OK for Afghans, too.

  15. pasha
    March 30, 2021 at 11:55

    More like a musical comedy themed around the songs “Walk on by” and “Killing me softly with his song”.

  16. John Perry
    March 30, 2021 at 11:38

    Shorter version: We meant well.

    Bacevich ignores the criminal greed that has propelled our govt for a long time. At least he traces our current troubles to our more explicitly imperial/colonial past. He has a throwaway line that it would be “obscene” for the US to walk away from Afghanistan without developing that idea or explaining why it would be so. That the Taliban had all but eliminated opium growing in Afghanistan doesn’t factor into his conclusion that the US has ‘failed’ in its efforts to curtail the resurgence of the drug trade. Hmmmm. Everything can’t be explained by bad policy decisions of a well-meaning but flawed empire.

  17. Georges Olivier Daudelin
    March 30, 2021 at 10:35

    Les Atlantistes, USA en tête, font la guerre hybride à la Russie et à la Chine. Ce sont des barbares, des tueurs, des meurtriers, des assassins; tous les coups sont permis: s’il le faut, ils vont même jusqu’à créer le champs de bataille illusoire sur lequel ils veulent combattre, car ne pouvant le faire dans la réalité : tout est possible pour la BÊTE, la dictature bourgeoise affairiste cléricale libérale. La guerre hybride, c’est le militaire et la propagande. Le militaire détruit le corps de l’extérieur vers l’intérieur, la propagande détruit le corps de l’intérieur vers l’extérieur.

    • Dfnslblty
      March 30, 2021 at 12:26

      Bon commentaire, nous exigeons un changement.

    • Anne
      March 30, 2021 at 14:33

      I can only agree with what you have said, written, M. Daudelin (had to translate it ‘cos my French is much more basic! But then, I’m an Anglo!).

  18. John Neal Spangler
    March 30, 2021 at 07:27

    The American Century died in Vietnam in 1975. Since then there has been nothing but denial and fantasy in Washington. Nobody tried to learn what went wrong in Vietnam, and critics were marginalized as a Fantasy version of the war prevailed. The CIA, State and military learned nothing and squeezed out truth tellers. All our bureaucracies became bloated and incompetent. The MIC is out of control and has helped kill the once mighty Industrial-Consumer economy.

    • March 30, 2021 at 12:30

      The CIA not only “learned nothing” from the Vietnam experience. They, like the owners of the WarDefense Industry, profited mightily via that aggression against the people of Vietnam, the deaths of millions and the legacy of Agent Orange still wiping out thousands of American ex-servicemen and uncountable numbers of the victims of “collateral damage”. It may well not be a mere rumor regarding the Agency smuggling packets of heroin in the body-cavities of dead Grunts flown back to the Dover, Delaware AFB.

      From its inception, the CIA’s purported mission of keeping the president posted on intel developments, was little more than window-dressing for the public. It’s true role is to be the Deep $tate control mechanism for the entire federal apparatus, as clearly evinced by the late Gary Webb in his San Jose Mercury articles on the role of the Agency, its Nicaraguan Contras and other federal departments and agencies in smuggling literally tons on white powder into South LA to form the basis for crack cocaine.

      Soon ghettos across the fruited plain were swimming in crack and then, on cue, the pro$titicians in the Di$trict of Corruption promptly enacted legislation which upped the penalties for crack vs the favorite aperitif of attorneys throughout the land at a 100 to one ratio. It’s all been part of the overall agenda as promulgated by the likes of Heinrich Ki$$inger and other primary minions of this ruptured republic’s sons of riches.

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