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Afghanistan: The Graveyard Of Empires

Afghanistan is known as the graveyard of empires. After a 20-year war that has cost tens of thousands of lives and over $2 trillion, the US is the latest country to retreat from the country after a failed invasion.

In light of the Biden administrations withdrawal from the country, host, Ross Ashcroft met up with Former Marine Corps Intelligence Officer, Scott Ritter, and Founder of Krainer Analytics, Alex Krainer, to discuss the disastrous two decades-long US intervention in Afghanistan and its possible geopolitical implications.

America beaten back

As a former US Marine Corps veteran and analyst who has studied war and conflict in the Middle East, Scott Ritter, is ideally placed to critique the flawed 2001 military intervention in Afghanistan.

In a recent article written for RT, Ritter’s assessment of the unfolding situation confronted by the United States in Afghanistan is unequivocal:

“We lost. Blame the generals. Blame the troops. Blame the spies. Blame the diplomats. Blame the politicians. Blame the American people”, says Ritter.

The former intelligence officer outlines his reasoning in more detail:

“For twenty years we just sat back, turned on TV and watched this war unfold. We didn’t give a damn. So I blame the American people and the people they elected. I blame Congress. After all, Congress controls the budget. Nothing happens without money. And Congress continued to funnel money.”

Ultimately, Ritter attributes most of the blame on the US generals, arguing that the defeat of the Taliban in 2001 was the catalyst for the generals to trick the US public and Congress into believing they had won the war and were making progress in the long-term, when in reality they had only won a short-term battle.

“Twenty years later, Afghanistan belongs to the Taliban. That’s what defeat looks like. We stopped winning in 2002 and ever since then we’ve been lying to ourselves about victory”, says Ritter.

The reason why the deception lasted so long is because the military who instigated it had a vested economic interest in ensuring that this state of affairs continued. In other words, military careers depended upon the perception of victory.

“There was a need”, says Ritter, “to tell Congress that we are winning, that we are capable of winning, in order to transform our entire military establishment away from the kind of combined arms warfare focus we had prior to this.”

Negotiating with the Taliban?

Instead of rushing to war in Afghanistan, Ritter would, from the outset, have negotiated up front with moderate Taliban foreign minister, Wakil_Ahmed_Muttawakil, about how to deal with al-Qaeda.

The analyst claims, however, that the US political and military establishment refused to accept the notion of a moderate Taliban and claims they were ignorant of the Pashtun people’s tribal code – the Pashtunawali – which if successfully tapped into, could have given the US leverage over hearts and minds.

A key ethos that violates the Pashtunawali code were the kinds of atrocities perpetuated against innocent people on September 11, 2001. On the basis of the code, the Taliban, Mullah Omar and his subordinates were prepared to evict Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda from the country on the condition that the US provided them with evidence that the latter were responsible for the 9/11 attacks.

Although from Ritter’s perspective this was a viable solution, the problems for the US in undertaking such a strategy were two-fold. First, the US public had no respect for Afghan culture and the Pashtunwali code. Second, the US political establishment responded to the public’s call for blood lust revenge, which not only overrode any requirement for sound policy, but also begot blowback.

Ritter posits that a sensible strategy going forward would be for the United States to recognise that the Taliban in power today is not the Taliban of two decades ago:

“In 1998/1999/2000 they had no clue how the world worked. The Taliban today understand the realities of the world. Remember, these guys that we’re mocking, beat us, not only on the battlefield, but in diplomacy. They want China to come in and extend the Belt and Road Initiative, have reached out to Russia to find a way to work together with former Soviet republics and are now collaborating with previous sworn enemies, Iran.”

Ritter continues:

“Next week, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is getting together to meet. One of the things on the agenda is to bring Iran in as permanent member. Afghanistan will be there as an observer. The whole idea is if you can get Afghanistan functioning as a nation state, you will finally have a Eurasian geopolitical entity that can fire on all cylinders.”

However, according to the analyst:

“None of this is going to be allowed to happen. A successful Afghanistan is a threat to the United States of America. We spent 40 years perfecting the art of destabilising that nation. And I think we’re going to continue to implement destabilisation policies going forward, because the last thing we need, the last thing we want, is for the Taliban to succeed.”

Asserting hegemony

Analyst, Alex Krainer, notes that Washington’s geostrategy aligns with Sir Halford Mackinder’s Heartland Theory. The theory, published in 1904, basically formed the geopolitical imperative for the British Empire, namely, to assert hegemony over the Eurasian landmass which holds the majority of the world’s resource wealth.

Krainer explains how Afghanistan fits into this geostrategic picture:

“We have a metastasizing financial crisis in the West which hasn’t still broken in its full force. The financial system requires collateral. And we’re really past peak collateral. So for the Western financial system to remain stable, it needs to add Eurasian and African landmass as collateral in order that it can continue the process of extending and expanding loans and the money mass to keep the economic machine humming.”

Historically, it’s been impossible for the dominant Western powers to hold on to this landmass by military force. Instead, for the past 200 years these powers have used divide and conquer strategies to control it.

Krainer, however, says this game may be coming to an end:

“Over the last 20 years, we’ve seen the rise of rival powers, notably China and Russia, who are not only now strong enough to push back against the empire, but who have also understood the game. We’ve seen the empire’s gambit in Syria fail. We see that it’s failing in Ukraine.”

Krainer adds:

“The loss of Afghanistan, I think, has been particularly egregious. On the 15th August, we’ve seen the country’s president flee in panic with bags of cash. Two days later, the country’s central bank chief followed suit. One of the essential elements of maintaining this empire is for your servants and your propped-up dictators to feel safe and protected. The fact that the empire was not able to protect their own people in Afghanistan is a very bad lesson for everybody else.”

In as much as ‘nation building’ (euphemism for wealth extraction and plunder) is the crux of the problem, the cost of the war in Afghanistan estimated at 2.3 trillion dollars over 20 years means that the squandered money is indicative of the depletion of the empires economic resources needed to undertake the said actions.

Cui bono?

Krainer posits that the main beneficiaries of these policies are the military-industrial complex and those that place orders with it as well as the network of systemically important banks in the world.

“When KBR, BP or one of these large corporations get concessions to exploit oil or mineral rights in Afghanistan, the collateral accrues to the banking system. And based on that collateral, they can then ramp up the money creation process and rake in profits. So I think it’s primarily the Western banking cartel and then the corporations that grow up around them that benefit the most”, says Krainer.

The analyst argues that the falling of the US-Afghanistan domino is a mortal wound to the empire illustrative of an ongoing decay at the heart of the system.

It’s a process that Krainer says is unsustainable and is ready to fall like a house of cards.

As to the question of who is likely to fill the vacuum, the analyst says this will largely depend on the actions of grassroots movements. When empires implode, state repression tends to turn inwards towards domestic populations because the said forces want to retain control by whatever means they deem necessary.

Krainer proffers some practical steps on the path to freedom:

“We’re going to have to push back and replace the systems that are failing with more robust and more sustainable ones. Economist, Richard Werner, is one of the people who is pointing in the right direction. I think we have the opportunity and the privilege to build a better world for the coming generation. So I am actually very optimistic, but it will depend on us. We cannot passively watch this happen and expect that the committees of experts selected by the same suspects, are going to magically contrive solutions that are going to be satisfactory.”

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