Tom Engelhardt: America’s Groundhog Day Wars

Yves here. Engelhardt makes clear his frustration of being on the right side of history but the wrong side of the times.

By Tom Engelhardt, a co-founder of the and the author of a history of the Cold War, . He is a fellow of the and runs . His sixth and latest book is (Dispatch Books). Originally published at

Fair warning. Stop reading right now if you want, because I’m going to repeat myself. What choice do I have, since my subject is the Afghan War (America’s second Afghan War, no less)? I about that war in October 2001, almost 17 years ago, just after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. That was how I inadvertently launched the unnamed listserv that would, a year later, become TomDispatch. Given the website’s continuing focus on America’s forever wars (a phrase I first used in ), what choice have I had but to write about Afghanistan ever since?

So think of this as the war piece to end all war pieces. And let the repetition begin!

Here, for instance, is what I about our Afghan War in 2008, almost seven years after it began, when the U.S. Air Force took out a bridal party, including the bride herself and at least 26 other women and children en route to an Afghan wedding. And that would be just one of eight U.S. wedding strikes I by the end of 2013 in three countries, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Yemen, that killed almost 300 potential revelers. “We have become a nation of wedding crashers,” I wrote, “the uninvited guests who arrived under false pretenses, tore up the place, offered nary an apology, and refused to go home.”

Here’s what I about Afghanistan in 2009, while considering the metrics of “a war gone to hell”: “While Americans argue feverishly and angrily over what kind of money, if any, to put into health care, or decaying infrastructure, or other key places of need, until recently just about no one in the mainstream raised a peep about the fact that, for nearly eight years (not to say much of the last three decades), we’ve been pouring billions of dollars, American military know-how, and American lives into a black hole in Afghanistan that is, at least in significant part, of our own creation.”

Here’s what I in 2010, thinking about how “forever war” had entered the bloodstream of the twenty-first-century U.S. military (in a passage in which you’ll notice a name that became more familiar in the Trump era): “And let’s not leave out the Army’s incessant planning for the distant future embodied in a recently published report, ‘Operating Concept, 2016-2028,’ overseen by Brigadier General H.R. McMaster, a senior adviser to Gen. David Petraeus. It opts to ditch ‘Buck Rogers’ visions of futuristic war, and instead to imagine counterinsurgency operations, grimly referred to as ‘wars of exhaustion,’ in one, two, many Afghanistans to the distant horizon.”

Here’s what I in 2012, when Afghanistan had superseded Vietnam as the longest war in American history: “Washington has gotten itself into a situation on the Eurasian mainland so vexing and perplexing that Vietnam has finally been left in the dust. In fact, if you hadn’t noticed — and weirdly enough no one has — that former war finally seems to have all but vanished.”

Here’s what I in 2015, thinking about the American taxpayer dollars that had, in the preceding years, gone into Afghan “roads to nowhere, ghost soldiers, and a $43 million gas station” built in the middle of nowhere, rather than into this country: “Clearly, Washington had gone to war like a drunk on a bender, while the domestic infrastructure began to fray. At $109 billion by 2014, the American reconstruction program in Afghanistan was already, in today’s dollars, larger than the Marshall Plan (which helped put all of devastated Western Europe back on its feet after World War II) and still the country was a shambles.”

And here’s what I last year thinking about the nature of our never-ending war there: “Right now, Washington is whistling past the graveyard. In Afghanistan and Pakistan the question is no longer whether the U.S. is in command, but whether it can get out in time. If not, the Russians, the Chinese, the Iranians, the Indians, who exactly will ride to our rescue? Perhaps it would be more prudent to stop hanging out in graveyards. They are, after all, meant for burials, not resurrections.”

And that’s just to dip a toe into my writings on America’s all-time most never-ending war.

What Happened After History Ended

If, at this point, you’re still reading, I consider it a miracle. After all, most Americans hardly seem to notice that the war in Afghanistan is still going on. To the extent that they’re paying attention at all, the public would, it seems, U.S. troops to come home and the war to end.

That conflict, however, simply stumbles on amid continuing bad news with nary a soul in the streets to protest it. The longer it goes on, the less — here in this country at least — it seems to be happening (if, that is, you aren’t one of the American troops stationed there or among their families and friends or the vets, their families and friends, who have been gravely damaged by their tours of duty in Kabul and beyond).

And if you’re being honest, can you really blame the public for losing interest in a war that they largely no longer fight, a war that they’re in no way called on to support (other than to the troops who do fight it), a war that they’re in for or against? In the age of the Internet, who has an attention span of 17 years, especially when the president just tweeted out his 47th outrageous comment of the week?

If you stop to think about it between those tweets, don’t you find it just a tad grim that, close enough to two decades later, this country is still fighting fruitlessly in a land once known by the ominous “the graveyard of empires”? You know, the one whose tribal fighters outlasted Alexander the Great, the Mongols, the British, and the Russians.

Back in October 2001, you might have thought that the history lurking in that phrase would have given George W. Bush’s top officials pause before they decided to go after not just Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan but the Taliban, too. No such luck, of course — then or since.

They were, of course, leading the planet’s last superpower, the only one left when the Soviet Union imploded after its , the one its leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, grimly dubbed “.” They hadn’t the slightest doubt that the United States was exempt from history, that everyone else had already filled that proverbial graveyard and that there would never be a gravestone for them. After all, the U.S. was still standing, seemingly triumphant, when history officially “” (according to one of the neocon prophets of that moment).

In reality, when it comes to America’s , especially the one in Afghanistan, history didn’t end at all. It just stumbled onto some graveyard version of a Möbius strip. In contrast to the past empires that found they ultimately couldn’t defeat Afghanistan’s insurgent tribal warriors, the U.S. has — as Bush administration officials suspected at the time — proven unique. Just not in the way they imagined.

Their dreams couldn’t have been more ambitious. As they launched the invasion of Afghanistan, they were already looking past the triumph to come to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and the glories that would follow once his regime had been “decapitated,” once U.S. forces, the most technologically advanced ever, were for an eternity in the heart of the oil heartlands of the Greater Middle East. Not that anyone remembers anymore, but Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, and the rest of that crew of geopolitical dreamers wanted it all.

What they got was no less unique in history: a great power at the seeming height of its strength and glory, with destructive capabilities beyond imagining and a military unmatched on the planet, unable to score a single decisive victory across an increasingly large swath of the planet or impose its will, however brutally, on seemingly far weaker, less well-armed opponents. They could not conquer, subdue, control, pacify, or win the hearts and minds or anything else of enemies who often fought their using weaponry valued at the . Talk about bleeding wounds!

A War of Abysmal Repetition

Thought of another way, the U.S. military is now heading into record territory in Afghanistan. In the mid-1970s, the rare American who had heard of that country knew it only as a stop on the . If you had then told anyone here that, by 2018, the U.S. would have been at war there for 27 years ( and 2001-2018), he or she would have laughed in your face. And yet here we are, approaching the mark for one of Europe’s longest, most brutal struggles, the Thirty Years’ War of the seventeenth century. Imagine that.

And just in case you’re paying no attention at all to the news from Afghanistan these days, rest assured that you don’t have to. You already know it!

To offer just a few examples, the New York Times recently revealed a new Trump administration plan to get U.S.-backed Afghan troops to withdraw from parts of the countryside, ceding yet more territory to the Taliban, to better guard the nation’s cities. Here was the used: “Newest U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan Mirrors Past Plans for Retreat.” (“The withdrawal resembles strategies embraced by both the Bush and Obama administrations that have started and stuttered over the nearly 17-year war.”) And that generally is about as new as it gets when it comes to Afghan news in 2018.

Consider, for instance, a from early July that began, “An American service member was killed and two others were wounded in southern Afghanistan on Saturday in what officials described as an ‘apparent insider attack’”; that is, he was killed by an armed Afghan government soldier, an ally, not an enemy. As it happened, I was writing about just such “insider” or “green-on-blue” violence back in (when it was rampant) under the headline “Death by Ally” (“a message written in blood that no one wants to hear”). And despite many steps taken to protect U.S. advisers and other personnel from such attacks since, they’re still happening six years later.

Or consider the , “Counternarcotics: Lessons from the U.S. Experience in Afghanistan,” issued this June by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan (SIGAR). Its focus: 15 years of American efforts to suppress opium growing and the heroin trade in that country (at historic lows, by the way, when the U.S. invaded in 2001). More than eight and a half billion American dollars later, SIGAR found, opium remains the country’s largest cash crop, “590,000 full-time jobs — which is more people than are employed by Afghanistan’s military and security forces.” Oh, wait, historian Alfred McCoy was writing about just that at TomDispatch back in 2010 under “Can Anyone Pacify the World’s Number One Narco-State?” (“In ways that have escaped most observers, the Obama administration is now trapped in an endless cycle of drugs and death in Afghanistan from which there is neither an easy end nor an obvious exit.”)

Recently, SIGAR issued , this one on the inside just about every part of the Afghan government and its security forces, which are famously filled with scads of “” How timely, given that Ann Jones was focused on that very subject, endemic corruption in Afghanistan, at TomDispatch back in… hmmm, 2006, when she , “During the last five years, the U.S. and many other donor nations pledged billions of dollars to Afghanistan, yet Afghans keep asking: ‘Where did the money go?’ American taxpayers should be asking the same question. The official answer is that donor funds are lost to Afghan corruption. But shady Afghans, accustomed to two-bit bribes, are learning how big-bucks corruption really works from the masters of the world.”

I could, of course, go on to discuss “surges” — the latest being the Trump administration’s mini-one to bring U.S. troop levels there to — such surges having been a phenomena in these many years. Or the recent of the air war there (essentially reported with the same headlines you could have found over articles in… well… ) or the amount of territory the Taliban now controls (at 17 years after that crew was pushed out of the last they controlled), but why go on? You get the point.

Almost 17 years and, coincidentally enough, U.S. commanders later, think of it as a war of abysmal repetition. Just about everything in the U.S. manual of military tactics has evidently been tried (including dropping “the mother of all bombs,” the munition in that military’s arsenal), often time and again, and nothing has even faintly done the trick — to which the Pentagon’s response is invariably a version of the classic movie line, “Play it again, Sam.”

And yet, amid all that repetition, are ; Afghans and others are being and across Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, and deep into Africa; wars and terror outfits are spreading. And here’s a simple enough fact that’s worth repeating: the endless, painfully ignored failure of the U.S. military (and civilian) effort in Afghanistan is where it all began and where it seems never to end.

A Victory for Whom?

Every now and then, there’s the odd bit of news that reminds you we don’t have to be in a world of repetition. Every now and then, you see something and wonder whether it might not represent a new development, one that possibly could lead out of (or far deeper into) the graveyard of empires.

As a start, though it’s been easy to forget in these years, other countries are affected by the ongoing disaster of a war in Afghanistan. Think, for instance, of Pakistan (with a newly elected, somewhat president who has been a of America’s Afghan War and of U.S. drone strikes in his country), Iran, China, and Russia. So here’s something I can’t remember seeing in the news before: the military intelligence chiefs of those four countries all in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, officially to discuss the growth of Islamic State-branded insurgents in Afghanistan. But who knows what was really being discussed? And the same applies to the of Iran’s armed forces chief of staff to Pakistan in July and the of that country’s chief of staff to Iran in early August. I can’t tell you what’s going on, only that these are not the typically repetitive stories of the last 17 years.

And hard as it might be to believe, even when it comes to U.S. policy, there’s been the odd headline that might pass for new. Take the recent private, direct talks with the Taliban in Qatar’s capital, Doha, by the Trump administration and seemingly ongoing. They might — or — represent , as might President Trump himself, who, as far as anyone can tell, doesn’t think that Afghanistan is “.” He has, from time to time, even indicated that he might be in favor of ending the American role, of “ out of there,” as he reportedly told Senator Rand Paul, and that’s unique in itself (though he and his advisers seem to be raring to go when it comes to what could be the next Afghanistan: ).

But should the man who would never want to be known as the president who lost the longest war in American history try to follow through on a withdrawal plan, he’s likely to have a few problems on his hands. Above all, the Pentagon and the country’s field commanders seem to be hooked on America’s “” wars. They exhibit not the slightest urge to stop them. The Afghan War and the others that have flowed from it represent both their raison d’être and their meal ticket. They represent the only thing the U.S. military knows how to do in this century. And one thing is guaranteed: if they don’t agree with the president on a withdrawal strategy, they have the power and ability to make a man who would do anything to avoid marring his own image as a winnner look worse than you could possibly imagine. Despite that military’s supposedly apolitical role in this country’s affairs, its leaders are uniquely capable of blocking any attempt to end the Afghan War.

And with that in mind, almost 17 years later, don’t think that victory is out of the question either. Every day that the U.S. military stays in Afghanistan is indeed a victory for… well, not George W. Bush, or Barack Obama, and certainly not Donald Trump, but the now long-dead Osama bin Laden. The calculation couldn’t be simpler. Thanks to his “ — those 19 suicidal hijackers in commercial jets — the nearly 17 years of wars he’s sparked across much of the Muslim world cost a man from one of Saudi Arabia’s families a mere . They’ve cost American taxpayers, minimally, with no end in sight. And every day the Afghan War and the others that have followed from it continue is but another triumphant day for him and his followers.

A sad footnote to this history of extreme repetition: I wish this essay, as its title suggests, were indeed the war piece to end all war pieces. Unfortunately, it’s a reasonable bet that, in August 2019, or August 2020, not to speak of August 2021, I’ll be repeating all of this yet again.

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33 comments

  1. kimyo

    it would seem that the simplest conclusion is that these wars were never meant to be won.

    not the wars in the middle east. nor the wars on poverty, drugs, gun violence, cholesterol, terror.

    either we have the worst luck assigning generals or tzars and always end up with the most inept ones, or what is happening is exactly what is meant to happen.

  2. leondarrell

    The 9.11 attacks rejuvenated America’s mission, which has been to lockdown the entire Eurasian continent from east to west. These failed wars are the consequence of being the world’s cop, where the goal is to control the “fulcrum of history” as the US has been doing since ’45. Consider the folly of this mission: to control the world’s largest landmass with a 6 Bil population, from the other side of Earth, using a country of 330 mil (a 20 to 1 ratio).

  3. The Rev Kev

    The last Russian Commander of their forces in Afghanistan tried to warn the US about sticking around in Afghanistan but after the initial success of the invasion, Washington was not in a mood to listen. There may have been thought too of the Russian reports of a trillion dollars worth of mineral deposits that would have more than paid for the invasion and full-time occupation. There was similar thoughts too at the time of Iraq’s oil paying for the US invasion and occupation of that sorry country.
    There is a lot of anguish about the presence of US troops year after year but I do not think that they will be going anywhere anytime soon. I am seeing them as a (futile) effort to prevent any integration of a Eurasian landmass (.svg) that would be involving at a minimum Iran, Afghanistan Pakistan, India, etc. The same sort that China is envisioning with its One Road project. For the west that would be a geopolitical disaster as they would no longer be the premium powers. And so they will stay. And if they leave they will blame Russia for supporting the Taliban as has already happened.

  4. Hayek's Heelbiter

    I remember when the Russians left Afghanistan that Washington and the the mainstream media crowed that the Russians bleeding out in Afghanistan (a process helped immeasurably those loyal American allies, the Taliban) was the death knell of the Russian Empire. Sure enough, a little more than one year later, the Soviet Empire fell.

    Could the same thing possibly be Groundhog Daying to the world’s largest hegemony?

    Just asking.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      The Domino Theory nuts were never tossed from the foreign policy establishment. They don’t call it that anymore, but I believe the perception of the super power withdrawing would lead to the U.S. being asked to leave or finding the lease rates for local bases going up, contracts being canceled, and markets being opened to competition once handed out to interests which could donate to U.S. politicians.

      Its not the same threat, but its the F-35 versus S-400 issue. Unless you want to conquer, why do you need a fantasy F-35 for local air superiority? Dedicated interceptors or SAMS would be better, and retrofitted Cessnas can handle guerilla issues that might crop up. If the Wunder weapons don’t work as advertised or seem vaguely successful, how soon before more defense contracts are canceled?

      The U.S. has been THE superpower for decades now, and U.S. big business has acted and developed as if it was an eternal situation. The blow back from losing revenue streams is dangerous for many interests. As for Americans, why do schools charge activity fees if the war is over?

    2. NotTimothyGeithner

      The other part is the “pivot to China.” Leaving Afghanistan would completely miss the point of half our recent foreign policy blunders. I don’t think these people are particularly bright, and they don’t quite grasp supply line issues; although that could be the point of targeting Russia which could block significant routes to boxing in China and supporting the bases if things ever became hot without much effort.

      Until the size of the potential entertainment market was understood, the Chinese were the threats in books, movies, and video games (with one notable game in the last few years having a last minute change of all references to China replaced with North Korea.).

  5. AbateMagicThinking But Not Money

    I’ve just finished reading “The Great Gamble, The Soviet War in Afghanistan” by Gregory Feifer which I picked up in my local library on a whim.

    I read it in a day – so riveting is its narative. The Soviet old men seemingly started it against good advice on what seems to be a whim. One of the reasons put forward for their decisions to invade was the US Congress not agreeing to the Salt 2 treaty. Ah! I remember the days of ‘detente’.

    Despite their ideology and stupid methodology even the frazzled, and elementally corrupt, Soviets could see that they had to get out of Afghanistan despite the sunk costs.

    And it seems to be the sunk costs that keeps the US military on hook of Afghanistan, unless it is just an opportunity for live exercises along with manufactured glory and decorations.

    Let us hope the author is training up someone to chew over the details of the three quarters of a century long Afghanistan involvement in forty-odd years time because that how it’s lookin’*.

    Pip-Pip!

    * I’m counting the time spent arming the Taliban’s precursors here.

  6. Ignacio

    I remember as if it was yesterday the rhetoric of Afghan invasion: bringing democracy, rigths for afghan women etc. Should the NYT review their coverage from day one, the result would be embarrassing.

    1. Hayek's Heelbiter

      Does anybody else find it incredibly ironic that the biggest purveyors of Fake News are the mainstream media and the Old Gray Lady?

      Most of the memes cited these days as Fake News are trivial in comparison to Colin Powell’s speech, so full of sincerity and gravitas, about Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction and Judith Miller’s truth-challenged cheerleading.

    2. John Wright

      The Times also strongly supported a Presidential candidate who was captured on audio tape, in 2006, referring to a Palestinian election.

      “We should have made sure that we did something to determine who was going to win.”

      To borrow from Leona Helmsley, in the NYTimes view, “democracy is for little people” (when it is time to sell a new war.)

  7. Alex V

    At this point, troop “surges” in Afghanistan are no longer the exception. We should instead refer to the periods between surges as “temporary drawdowns” or “strategic retreat”.

  8. Newton Finn

    Thom Engelhardt’s heart is in the right place, of course, but his head is still operating in an outmoded economic framework. We should not be fighting forever war simply because it’s immoral to do so, not because it drains taxpayer money from more worthy pursuits. That’s not how federal funding works, as clearly demonstrated by the self-evident principles of MMT. Until older leftists like Thom get up to economic speed, they will continue to make the right arguments for the wrong reasons. And that, in its own way, will hold back social and political progress as much as neocon/neolib propaganda.

    1. John Wright

      Re: ” We should not be fighting forever war simply because it’s immoral to do so, not because it drains taxpayer money from more worthy pursuits.”

      Maybe both “immoral” and “drains from more worth pursuits” apply?

      If one believes in climate change, if taxpayer money, via MMT or otherwise, produces a lot of CO2 in the process of being spent, we need to evaluate ALL government expenditures.

      All the wars and military hardware represent a lot of CO2 added to the earth’s atmosphere, in their fabrication, usage, and repair of the consequences of usage.

      In my view, I agree we can create an unlimited number of bookkeeping entities to represent dollars, but how they are spent matters greatly.

      I can see a group of economists postulating, “assume climate change is a hoax”.

      Maybe climate change is not a hoax and HOW our medium of exchange is purposed DOES matter greatly.

    2. Whiskey Bob

      Interestingly, older older leftists about a century ago have acknowledged that imperialism is antithetical to socialism/communism

  9. PKMKII

    When America first invaded Afghanistan, we quickly knocked the Taliban out of power and were breathing down Osama’s neck. Pakistan, wanting to avoid being labeled a terrorist state, was onboard with anything we were doing. The Afghani people had no attachments to the Taliban. International support for the US was abnormally high. We could’ve finished the job, fully eliminated the Taliban, caught Osama within a matter of months, engaged in a large-scale, marshall plan-style rebuild of the country and worked out a democratic (or at least semi-democratic) government that meshed with the regional politics and culture. It would’ve been hard, it would’ve been expensive, but there was a path there.

    Instead we gave up on fighting the Taliban and finding Osama rather quickly, installed an ex-pat puppet government, and left not enough troops to stabilize the country, but just enough to keep the puppet government in power. Iraq, that was a quagmire we got into because of the hubris of the neocon foreign policy ideology. Afghanistan is a quagmire because we actively chose to make it a quagmire.

    1. Lord Koos

      The “quagmire” is an ongoing paycheck for the pentagon and their contractors.

      It’s interesting to note that prior to US involvement the Taliban had virtually eliminated the Afghan opium crop. Now it seems as if the restored Afghan opium production is essentially being guarded by US troops. Of course the CIA historically has been a major drug trafficker…

    2. Whiskey Bob

      The counterinsurgency that the US employed for Afghanistan was flawed. It was pretty much buddying up with local warlords who conned the US into taking out their regional rivals as “terrorists.” Then the new society built up was crony for those warlords and so popular support was rising back up for the Taliban, who had the political power to fight back against the warlords in the first place. The war for the Americans was a fundamental misunderstanding of the social terrain, creating unresolvable contradictions artificially kept going in a forever war.

      1. JTMcPhee

        I’d offer a little thought: Doesn’t matter what form counterinsurgency takes, other than the exterminations a few imperial and more murderous types have practiced. So to talk about the idiocies that the imperial dopes have practiced in Notagainistan and Vietnam and the rest as being “flawed” makes a completely unsupportable presumption. However much the warfighters generate in the way of tactical and strategic and doctrinal paper and games.

  10. Alex Cox

    In computer circles there is an acronym: POSIWID. It means “the purpose of a system is what it does.”

    Since Afghan opium production was zero in 2000, and has grown exponentially every year since the Americans and their allies invaded, surely the purpose of the invasion and ongoing military occupation was to restore and expand opium production.

    McCoy’s Politics of Heroin in South East Asia made the same point about Vietnam: that a primary purpose of that otherwise unwinnable war was to make money from the heroin trade.

    1. HotFlash

      I have tried to find out but get stumped by my lack of chemical knowledge since I can’t figure out whether the ‘precursors’ are more-or-less natural or totally synthesized*. Here is my question:

      Whereas, the US is currently experiencing a domestic opioid crisis of unprecedented proportion, and

      and whereas, opium production is reaching very high levels in a country (Afghanistan) with which the US government, military, and (presumably) industry is deeply involved,

      is it unreasonable to wonder if all that opium is coming here for use by Purdue Pharma (Sackler family) and similar for domestic opioid production?

      * If domestic opiods are ‘totally’ synthesized, what are they using at base? HFCS? Wheat gluten? Kale? Gotta be something more complicated than CO2 and water!

      1. JBird

        is it unreasonable to wonder if all that opium is coming here for use by Purdue Pharma (Sackler family) and similar for domestic opioid production?

        It is not at unreasonable to wonder. I do not think that is true. History does suggests otherwise. The United States government has had at least 60 years of finding creative sources of income and of also creating businesses to hide and support their operations.

        The CIA overthrew a democratic Iranian government and installed the Shah for British and American oil companies. Toppled Central American Banana Republics for the banana grower United Fruit Company. Overthrew Congolese Prime Minister Lumumba in part to maintain control of the Congo’s mineral resources.

        Also much of what the American military and intelligence agencies have been doing since the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii is working in support of American businesses.

        The CIA ran a large cocaine smuggling operation to support the Contras, the American created and supported the ostensibly rightwing guerrilla group fighting the Sandinista government; the socialist Sandinistas had overthrown the American created and supported, corrupt, brutally repressive Nicaraguan Somoza .

        I could go on for a long, long while.

    2. Lord Koos

      The “quagmire” is an ongoing paycheck for the pentagon and their contractors.

      It’s interesting to note that prior to US involvement the Taliban had virtually eliminated the Afghan opium crop. Now it seems as if the restored Afghan opium production is essentially being guarded by US troops. Of course the CIA historically has been a major drug trafficker. 93% of the non-pharmaceutical-grade opiates on the world market originated in Afghanistan.

  11. TG

    “If, at this point, you’re still reading, I consider it a miracle. After all, most Americans hardly seem to notice that the war in Afghanistan is still going on. To the extent that they’re paying attention at all, the public would, it seems, like U.S. troops to come home and the war to end.”

    At this, I must disagree. I think the American people are paying attention, more than you might think. it’s just not getting reported. That’s what happens when the mainstream press is owned by like six sources and controlled in a top-down manner: if they decide not to cover something, it doesn’t exist.

    Trump got a lot of mileage by asking why are we spending trillions on pointless foreign wars when we could be spending that on ourselves. For that, he was attacked as being a fascist, a racist, “literally Hitler’ – astonishing really. And yes I know – he was either beaten down or lying and we are still well on track for the status quo. But of course, the mainstream press would only attack his followers as racist – was there any mass coverage of the extent to which Trump supporters didn’t like these stupid wars? Of course not. But from my personal s, disaffection with these corrupt and pointless foreign policies was and is widespread – it just doesn’t get covered, so everyone thinks that they are alone and nobody else cares…

  12. Tomonthebeach

    The list of empires that left Afghanistan humbled, more recently Russia, is perhaps a right of passage from adolescence. It’s our turn to learn that the most powerful empire of our time can be bested by guys in funny hats carrying aged rifles and homemade explosives. That is what the empires before us learned.

    I truly wonder what sort of culture does constant invasion create. It would appear that it makes returning to 12th century life seem appealing (Taliban), but might that not be an artifact of having to continually rebuild a nation from rubble?

    1. Amfortas the Hippie

      came across this the other day:

      Dr Bone’s is a hoot, and while I might like to party with him on an island sometime, I don’t think I’d like him as a neighbor.
      But his take is interesting…and germane to your questions(effects on americans of all this), as well as to the overall article and thread.
      In Doomer circles, post 9-11, the commonsense opinion was that the usa military didn’t necessarily intend to “win”…it was enough to ruin the various countries, spread depleted uranium all over the place, and maintain footprint. in 15 to 30 years, when resources(light sweet in iraq) were constrained, the local population would be so thoroughly demoralised and depleted and kids with three eyes and 20 toes that the Corps(e) could just walk in and take whatever resource they needed to fuel the Last Empire.
      This explanation is as good as any…if hypercynical…and gels well with others…like cia controlling opium production, sitting on pipeline routes, as well as encircling resource rich Siberia…a la Zbignew’s Grand Chessboard(Ukrainian coup= Imperial underhanded attack on Sevastopol/warm-water-port)
      Combine this Imperial Overreach with my observations elsewhere regarding how little the Rich and Powerful understand the little people in their own back yards…and Dr Bones doesn’t sound quite as crazy.

  13. Anarcissie

    ‘….the recent private, direct talks with the Taliban in Qatar’s capital, Doha, initiated by the Trump administration and seemingly ongoing….’

    What happens to the 2018 election if Trump cuts a passable deal with the Taliban?

    1. Harrold

      Trump is most likely going to cut a deal with Erik Prince and privitize the war in Afghanistan:

  14. Jeremy Grimm

    I don’t like comparing the war in Afghanistan to “Ground Hog Day”. In “Ground Hog Day” the hero worked to improve himself and eventually made it his goal to be all he could be and make his infinitely repeating day the best possible day. When he succeeded in this after countless repetitions and devoted learning he was released from his purgatory and he got the girl.

    I think the war in Afghanistan is more like like the days of Sisyphus. Except that when Sisyphus nears the top and the boulder rolls down he finds himself instantly transported behind the boulder to again struggle pushing it up the hill. Therefore Sisyphus without rest while walking down the hill and I’d not allow that the struggle holds enough meaning to fill his heart as a struggle toward the heights.

  15. Unna

    As per The Rev:

    “There is a lot of anguish about the presence of US troops year after year but I do not think that they will be going anywhere anytime soon. I am seeing them as a (futile) effort to prevent any integration of a Eurasian landmass….that would be involving at a minimum Iran, Afghanistan Pakistan, India, etc. The same sort that China is envisioning with its One Road project. For the west that would be a geopolitical disaster.”

    Yes.

    The economic integration of Eurasia under the Chinese-Russians and friends who may now include Turkey, extending into Europe connecting up to Germany, with pipelines down from Russia to the Koreas and then to Japan etc all moulded into one Greater Eurasian Co-prosperity Sphere is an end game scenario for an America in its current state, addicted to financialization, austerity, posturing, cultural fragmentation and so on. If the Hillary-Pompeo amateur hour blowhard school of foreign diplomacy doesn’t end in blowing up the world, we can all sit back and happily watch this as gripping entertainment in the form of a macabre sitcom about nothing.

    North America, ie, America and Canada, have to get serious about building out infrastructure, education, R & D, along with the general prosperity of their citizens. Infrastructure as in spending real money and not Trump-Trudeau Infrastructure-bank PPP scams for profit. And then extend the prosperity, Chinese style, to Central and South America with massive investments there rather than threatening poor countries with regime change and sanctions. If they did that, they wouldn’t have to worry about One Belt One Road.

    By the end of the year, if Trump doesn’t accomplish anything of value for the Deplorables, as opposed to enriching creeps like Mnuchin et ux, his time should be up come what may.

    Oh, and by the way, where’s Bernie?

    1. JTMcPhee

      So it’s all going to be about competition and conflict between Great Powers, all the way to the end of the planet as a habitation for the species. I sort of suspected as much. As if “we” Western white folks, any more than the Greater Asian-Middleastern Prosperity Sphere, were in any way going to grasp reality by the root and do the actual big stuff that would offer a prayer of species survival. Cutting off carbocombustion, crushing corporate power, all that.

      “Competitive prosperity extension” into Central and South America and “massive investment?” Say gain how that is going to do anything to lead to survival and stability? The best we, as a species, know how to do?

  16. RBHoughton

    I suspect the problem getting the domestic population to attend to events in Afghanistan is the absence of the effects of war on their own lives. American fatalities are few; American disabilities are few. The usual reminder to the home population provided by men with missing eyes and limbs and burnt faces is not happening. Has the military become clever enough to detain injured men within military bases for treatment so they do not upset the light-hearted atmosphere in the mall?

    The direct effect of suicide bombing and intentional traffic accidents has been cannily attributed to terrorism and no-one seems ot wonder why those mad mullahs should be doing that – just insane foreigners who should never have been allowed into our country. No wonder USA / UK is winning the anti-immigration struggle. Just so long as it does not delay the impetus to war.

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