“We think we have a strategy that will create the space and time for the Afghans to stand up their own security forces and take responsibility. But we’re not going to be, you know, walking away from Afghanistan again. We, we did that before, it didn’t turn out very well. So we will stay involved, we will stay supportive, and I think that’s exactly the right approach.”
— Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Meet the Press, December 6, 2009
Advocates for a “strong” foreign policy of U.S. empire, beyond suffering the ills of projection and overcompensation, possess a remarkable capacity for ignoring inconvenient aspects of history. That is, while those of the bomb-them-‘till-their-free school of thought can point to a long list of countries and conflicts where they argue an American intervention could have prevented massive loss of life — Rwanda, Darfur, etc. — they are remarkably unconcerned with any of the negative consequences befalling a policy of constant war (such as the establishment of permanent and sizable constituency directly benefitting from empire and armed conflict that might agitate for wars not always on the basis of Samantha Power’s superior moral sensibilities) or the demonstrated failings of past U.S. interventions (Vietnam, Cambodia, East Timor, Iran, Iraq…). Conveniently, these are often the same people ordering the bombs to be dropped in the first place.
So when Hillary Clinton, alluding to the presence of al Qaeda in Afghanistan before 9/11, suggests that was a result of the U.S. “walking away” from the region, she’s conveniently gliding over more than a decade of American arms and funding that went to groups we now collectively label “the Taliban” — and a few folks, like Osama bin Laden, that would later on make a name for themselves turning their fire against their former patrons — as one would expect from a person in her position. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who as a high-ranking CIA official helped direct funding to the Afghan mujahideen beginning in 1979, has made the same self-serving claim, arguing the the hypothetical actions the U.S. did not take in Afghanistan are more responsible for its present state that the demonstrable, having-actually-occurred actions successive American administrations did take. For those who gain power and prestige from the maintenance of a global American empire — people like Gates and Clinton, and the countless hangers-on at Washington think tanks and within the State and Defense bureaucracies — it serves one’s interests well to contrast make-believe accounts of interventions that could be with the less than holy interventions of the real world.
Preferring a fairy tale straight out of Hollywood, Gates and Clinton neglect to mention the very real blowback that came about as result, not of some policy of backwards isolationism, but imperial Cold War proxy fighting aimed at undermining the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan by arming and funding — via the always reliable Pakistani intelligence service, financial backing courtesy of our theocratic friends in Saudi Arabia — many of those we now call the Taliban and al Qaeda (who, mind you, are not the same thing). Rather than a failure to build more schools and playgrounds following the Soviet exit, it was a proactive U.S. policy aimed at strengthening the mujahideen with money and arms that ultimately led to their being strengthened. One needn’t possess a PhD in international affairs to grasp that cause and effect. The staggering number of Muslims the U.S. government has killed since the late 1980s has only further strengthened those groups by fueling opposition to the United States, often labeled “anti-Americanism” by the media as if it were some sort of irrational religious phenomenon and not a perfectly understandable reaction to American policy in the Middle East.
As becomes more obvious the more you observe those in power, it simply pays to be blissfully unaware — or to appear that way — if one wishes to rise to the top of the hierarchy. Consider Gates’ comments rejecting there being any historical comparison between the Soviet and American occupations of Afghanistan:
“First of all, the Soviets were trying to impose an alien culture and, and political system on, on Afghanistan. But more importantly, they were there terrorizing the Afghans. They killed a million Afghans. They made refugees out of five million Afghans. They were isolated internationally. All of those factors are different for, for us, completely different. We have the sanction of the U.N. We have the sanction of NATO. We have the invitation of the Afghan government itself. We have 42 military partners in Afghanistan.”
Boiled down, Gates’ defense of the U.S.-led war is this: we’ve got more friends, which I doubt would pass good old St. Augustine’s litmus test. And spoken by a man who oversees another U.S. war that has created five million refugees and, by some accounts, led to the deaths of more than one million people — to say nothing of the very real death and destruction U.S. policy has wrought on Afghanistan in the last decade alone that Gates so blithely elides — the remarks are offensively asinine. Again, though, that’s just par for the course, to be expected.
And given the historical illiteracy of much of the major media’s celebrity journalists, why should Gates be bothered with repeating uncomfortable truths that don’t help the preferred U.S. narrative? It’s not like he will ever be challenged on his history, certainly not by the likes of NBC’s David Gregory, whose idea of a tough question is asking Gates — no joke — “Is failure an option in Afghanistan?” Well, David, no it isn’t, I suppose. Practicing real journalism isn’t one either, from the looks of it.