The return of the Taliban to power will be one more signpost of the end of the American empire — and nobody will be held accountable.
By Chris Hedges
The debacle in Afghanistan, which will unravel into chaos with lightning speed over the next few weeks and ensure the return of the Taliban to power, is one more signpost of the end of the American empire.
The two decades of combat, the one trillion dollars spent, the 100,000 troops deployed to subdue Afghanistan, the high-tech gadgets, artificial intelligence, cyberwarfare, Reaper drones armed with Hellfire missiles and GBU-30 bombs and the Global Hawk drones with high-resolution cameras, Special Operations Command composed of elite rangers, SEALs and air commandos, black sites, torture, electronic surveillance, satellites, attack aircraft, mercenary armies, infusions of millions of dollars to buy off and bribe the local elites and train an Afghan army of 350,000 that has never exhibited the will to fight, failed to defeat a guerrilla army of 60,000 that funded itself through opium production and extortion in one of the poorest countries on earth.
Like any empire in terminal decay, no one will be held accountable for the debacle or for the other debacles in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Yemen or anywhere else. Not the generals. Not the politicians. Not the CIA and intelligence agencies. Not the diplomats. Not the obsequious courtiers in the press who serve as cheerleaders for war. Not the compliant academics and area specialists. Not the defense industry. Empires at the end are collective suicide machines.
The military becomes in late empire unmanageable, unaccountable, and endlessly self-perpetuating, no matter how many fiascos, blunders and defeats it visits upon the carcass of the nation, or how much money it plunders, impoverishing the citizenry and leaving governing institutions and the physical infrastructure decayed.
The human tragedy — at least 801,000 people have been killed by direct war violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and Pakistan and 37 million have been displaced in and from Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines, Libya, and Syria according to The Watson Institute at Brown University — is reduced to a neglected footnote.
‘The Enemy Within’
Nearly all the roughly 70 empires during the last 4,000 years, including the Greek, Roman, Chinese, Ottoman, Hapsburg, imperial German, imperial Japanese, British, French, Dutch, Portuguese and Soviet empires, collapsed in the same orgy of military folly. The Roman Republic, at its height, only lasted two centuries. The U.S. empire is set to disintegrate in roughly the same time. This is why, at the start of World War I in Germany, Karl Liebknecht called the German military, which imprisoned and later assassinated him, “the enemy from within.”
Mark Twain, who was a fierce opponent of the efforts to plant the seeds of empire in Cuba, the Philippines, Guam, Hawaii and Puerto Rico, wrote an imagined history of America in the 20thcentury where its “lust for conquest” had destroyed “the Great Republic…[because] trampling upon the helpless abroad had taught her, by a natural process, to endure with apathy the like at home; multitudes who had applauded the crushing of other people’s liberties, lived to suffer for their mistake.”
Twain knew that foreign occupations, designed to enrich the ruling elites, use occupied populations as laboratory rats to perfect techniques of control that soon migrate back to the homeland. It was the brutal colonial policing practices in the Philippines, which included a vast spy network along with routine beatings, torture and executions, which became the model for centralized domestic policing and intelligence gathering in the United States. Israeli’s arms, surveillance and drone industries test their products on the Palestinians.
It is one of the dark ironies that it was the American empire, led by Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, which spawned the mess in Afghanistan. Brzezinski oversaw a multibillion-dollar CIA covert operation to arm, train and equip the Taliban to fight the Soviets. This clandestine effort sidelined the secular, democratic opposition and assured the ascendancy of the Taliban in Afghanistan, along with the spread of its radical Islam into Soviet Central Asia, once Soviet forces withdrew.
The American empire would, years later, find itself desperately trying to destroy its own creation. In April 2017, in a classic example of this kind of absurd blowback, the United States dropped the “mother of all bombs” — the most powerful conventional bomb in the American arsenal — on an Islamic State cave complex in Afghanistan that the CIA had invested millions in building and fortifying.
The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were not an existential threat to the United States. They were not politically significant. They did not disrupt the balance of global power. They were not an act of war. They were acts of nihilistic terror.
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The only way to fight terrorists is to isolate them within their own societies. I was in the Middle East for The New York Times after the attacks. Most of the Muslim world was appalled and revolted at the crimes against humanity that had been carried out in the name of Islam. If the U.S. had the courage to be vulnerable, to grasp that this was an intelligence war, not a conventional war, it would be far safer and secure today. These wars in the shadows, as the Israelis illustrated when they tracked down the assassins of their athletes in the 1972 Olympic games in Munich, take months, even years of work.
Greatest US Strategic Blunder
But the attacks gave the ruling elites, lusting for control of the Middle East, especially Iraq, which had nothing to do with the attacks, the excuse to carry out the greatest strategic blunder in American history — the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq.
The architects of the war, including then Sen. Joe Biden, knew little about the countries being invaded, did not grasp the limits of industrial and technocratic war or the inevitable blowback that would see the United States reviled throughout the Muslim world. They believed they could implant client regimes by force throughout the region, use the oil revenues in Iraq, since the war in Afghanistan would be over in a matter of weeks, to cover the cost of reconstruction and magically restore American global hegemony. It did the opposite.
Invading Iraq and Afghanistan, dropping iron fragmentation bombs on villages and towns, kidnapping, torturing and imprisoning tens of thousands of people, using drones to sow terror from the skies, resurrected the discredited radical jihadists and was a potent recruiting tool in the fight against U.S. and NATO forces. The U.S. was the best thing that ever happened to the Taliban and al Qaeda.
There was little objection within the power structures to these invasions. The congressional vote was 518-to-one in favor of empowering President George W. Bush to launch a war, Rep. Barbara Lee being the lone dissenter. Those of us who spoke out against the idiocy of the looming bloodlust were slandered, denied media platforms, and cast into the wilderness, where most of us remain.
Those who sold us the war kept their megaphones, a reward for their service to empire and the military-industrial complex. It did not matter how cynical or foolish they were.
Historians call the self-defeating military adventurism of late empires “micro-militarism.” During the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.) the Athenians invaded Sicily, suffering the loss of 200 ships and thousands of soldiers and triggering revolts throughout the empire. Britain attacked Egypt in 1956 in a dispute over the nationalization of the Suez Canal and was humiliated when it had to withdraw its forces, bolstering the status of Arab nationalists such as Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser.
“While rising empires are often judicious, even rational in their application of armed force for conquest and control of overseas dominions, fading empires are inclined to ill-considered displays of power, dreaming of bold military masterstrokes that would somehow recoup lost prestige and power,” the historian Alfred McCoy writes “In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power.” “Often irrational even from an imperial point of view, these micromilitary operations can yield hemorrhaging expenditures or humiliating defeats that only accelerate the process already under way.”
The death blow to the American empire will, as McCoy writes, be the loss of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. This loss will plunge the United States into a crippling, and prolonged depression. It will force a massive contraction of the global military footprint.
The ugly, squalid face of empire, with the loss of the dollar as the reserve currency, will become familiar at home. The bleak economic landscape, with its decay and hopelessness, will accelerate an array of violent and self-destructive pathologies including mass shootings, hate crimes, opioid and heroin overdoses, morbid obesity, suicides, gambling and alcoholism.
The state will increasingly dispense with the fiction of the rule of law to rely exclusively on militarized police, essentially internal armies of occupation, and the prisons and jails, which already hold 25 percent of the world’s prisoners although the United States represents less than 5 percent of global population.
Our demise will probably come more swiftly than we imagine. When revenues shrink or collapse, McCoy points out, empires become “brittle.” An economy heavily dependent on massive government subsidies to produce primarily weapons and munitions, as well as fund military adventurism, will go into a tailspin with a heavily depreciated dollar, falling to perhaps a third of its former value. Prices will dramatically rise because of the steep increase in the cost of imports. Wages in real terms will decline.
The devaluation of Treasury bonds will make paying for our massive deficits onerous, perhaps impossible. The unemployment level will climb to depression era levels. Social assistance programs, because of a contracting budget, will be sharply curtailed or eliminated. This dystopian world will fuel the rage and hyper nationalism that put Donald Trump in the White House. It will spawn an authoritarian state to keep order and, I expect, a Christianized fascism.
The tools of control on the outer reaches of empire, already part of our existence, will become ubiquitous. The wholesale surveillance, the abolition of basic civil liberties, militarized police authorized to use indiscriminate lethal force, the use of drones and satellites to keep us monitored and fearful, along with the censorship of the press and social media, familiar to Iraqis or Afghans, will define America. The U.S. is not the first empire to suffer this fate. It is a familiar ending.
Imperialism and militarism are poisons that eradicate the separation of powers, designed to prevent tyranny, and extinguish democracy. If those who orchestrated these crimes are not held accountable, and this means organizing sustained mass resistance, people will pay the price, and may pay it soon, for their hubris and greed.
Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for 15 years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East bureau chief and Balkan bureau chief for the paper. He previously worked overseas for The Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitor and NPR. He is the host of the Emmy Award-nominated RT America show “On Contact.”
This column is from Scheerpost, for which Chris Hedges writes a regular column. Click here to sign up for email alerts.
The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.
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I think more that one trillion $ was wasted.
More in Afghanistan alone and an order of magnitude (or more) more than that in other useless excursions.
The money is running out. I’m think might be time to sell my home and get out of the big city.
Man is this article sad…..
In a good way.
It’s hard to make the case that those overseeing the collapse of Empire should be held accountable. Those who built it did the real damage.
The charge toward rationality is more like a creap we Americans generally don’t approve of. It’s embedded in our cultural intelligence (?) to be on top and to win. Hey, it pays off in the forms of consuming lifestyles that actually bury any desire to form an equitable empire. I think most Americans are quite comfortable with dominating markets. I mean, the only thing we collectively endorse is that military budget. We’re pretty good with all that. In fact, it’s our spirituality.
Wasn’t the invasion of Afghanistan done to secure the opium trade? The Taliban by 2001 had reduced opium production to almost zero. Every year since the NATO invasion, opium and heroin production have increased. Presumably a deal has been made to ensure that the drug trade continues to flourish after our troops are gone.
You’ve got it and no one wants to mention or detail that. I wrote a series of comments on the subject after studying the opium trade, but no one was interested. The CIA had debts to pay to the American Mafia for a number of Mafia political aids. When the opium production was shut off it cost the Mafia billions of dollars and they screamed into the CIA ears that they needed opium back. Within a couple of months after the invasion the debt was paid, opium production was reinstalled and eventually exceeded the old production levels. Marijuana was added to Afghan dope production in a big way.
It’s all a horror story of misdeeds and fascistic horrors. It continues and as Hedges brilliantly describes, America’s hari kari will reduce us to total nothingness.
Thanx, Chris. I will say that everything is proceeding as I have foreseen. Ask Patrick.
“The congressional vote was 518-to-one in favor of empowering President George W. Bush to launch a war”
This is the strangest aspect of this story. I am sure there is a good reason explaining the quasi unanimity of that vote. Still those senators are representatives of a country that supposedly is a champion if individual rights. However that vote sounds very much like the result of herd behavior. That raises the question as to how American politics really works and how opaque or transparent it is.
It is sometimes advocated when comes a crisis as it was the case following 9/11 that one needs to lower our moral standards and use techniques such as undercover operations, torture, targeted assination, censorship and propaganda to handle politics. This is a dangerous path to follow. This means the elected politicians will have to make decisions without having good information. This is like asking the blind to drive on the highway; a good recipe for disaster.
…Writing truth about usa government’s oligarchic inability to live at peace in the world.
And the current govt. insists on aggrandising the military at the expense of its Citizens’ health, education and true security in the world.
m.i.c. must be restricted and constrained by congress and Citizens’ will.
Chris Hedges is highly respected worldwide and rightly so. I share that tribute. His description of the rise and fall of empires is to the point and a timely premonition of what’s is in the offing for the US. As an American he has every right to be saddened by the prospect, but as a victim of Imperial roguery ( born and raised in Afghanistan ) , I look forward to seeing a loss of hegemony for the Rogue Empire, even the US citizens will enjoy the consequences.
But Mr Hedges makes two big mistakes: apparently he has not read the thousands of books, articles and videos about the true perpetrators of9/11; nor does he know that the Brzezinski role was to entice the USSR to be entrapped in Afghanistan and he helped the Mujahiddin and not the Taliban.
As Hedges eloquently points out, when a ruling elite terrorizes people overseas, it won’t be long before it terrorizes its own people at home.
Did we really think the plutocracy would distinguish between us?
This is an excellent and enlightening article which is comprehensive in its nature.
Many Thanks, Chris Hedges. Let this be the final imperialistic lesson for our country.
I ever believed that the American people supported the idea of international domination, either then or now. Even if one bought the propaganda of the time, like Vietnam, it didn’t take long to realize that more was going on than the initial lies. All countries and peoples are sovereign and must be seen in that light. May the politicians who orchestrated this travesty pay the ultimate price. Barbra Lee saw it correctly from the beginning.
Most Americans DON’T support it, but they also have no clue what’s actually going on and are so easily led around by the nose.
Sadly true, Ash. We can find an answer to this by electing representatives that hold the executive in check. It seems impossible but when your local representative never follows your desire; get rid of them… Thanks Ash.