The real cost of imperial hubris is always borne by the victims

Now that the Taliban has swept back into power in Afghanistan with great rapidity, recriminations are pouring in with all the principal actors trying to avoid blame for the speed by shifting it to others. This is the normal aftermath of any debacle and the pattern is predictable. One target has been the intelligence services, blaming them for not knowing the strength of the Taliban. But the intelligences services like the CIA are experts at deflecting blame and they have produced background sources saying that they correctly predicted the rapid Taliban takeover but that the administration ignored their reports.

The problem is that decision-makers will usually ask their intelligence analysts to produce a range of scenarios ranging from the best case to the worst case and that would have been the case here too. The full range of outcomes is then evaluated by people up the chain of authority who decide which are the most likely, disregard the rest, and present a very limited set to the policy decision makers to choose a course of action. So whatever the outcomes, there will be people in the organization who can say that they correctly predicted it but that their predictions were ignored. So do not expect anyone in the intelligence services or the military to take the blame for any fiasco. The only meaningful information is to have the likelihood evaluation that was made by the analysts that was associated with each option.

But that would still be a sideshow. We know that neither the intelligence services nor the military ever pays a price for these fiascos. What this heated debate over whom to blame will obscure is that what the US did in Afghanistan, not to mention Iraq, Syria, Libya and elsewhere in the region, has been to cause massive death and destruction and instability and ruin the lives of millions of people. That is not primarily the fault of this or that agency. The problem lies much deeper. It is the consequence of the imperial mindset that permeates elite opinion in the US that thinks of the world as belonging to it and that it can submit to its will. In reality it cannot but it tries to maintain that illusion by self-delusion, lying, and hypocrisy until the whole flimsy structure eventually falls apart and the failure cannot be ignored.

As Gordon Adams writes:

In Afghanistan, American hubris – the United States’ capacity for self-delusion and official lying – has struck once again, as it has repeatedly for the last 60 years.

This weakness-masquerading-as-strength has repeatedly led the country into failed foreign interventions.

Three times now this country has been lied to and the media deluded as America marched stolidly over the cliff into failure.

Recriminations are flying back and forth – who lost Afghanistan is the latest version of who lost Vietnam, Iraq and, for those with long memories, all the way back to 1949 and “who lost China.” What America has lost is, I believe, the capacity to learn, to learn from history and from our own experience.

The fall of Kabul was inevitable. Washington, once again, deluded itself into thinking otherwise. The secretary of state said, “This is not Saigon.”

It is Saigon. It is Baghdad. It is Kabul.

It would be nice to think that the US has learned its lesson but we should not be sanguine. Imperial hubris is a powerful narcotic that produces grandiose delusions. The indelible lesson that was supposed to have been hammered home by the Vietnam experience was “Never get involved in a land war in Asia”. But we still had Afghanistan. So where is the next quagmire going to be? Which hapless country is going to be destroyed?

When the costs of the war in Afghanistan are mentioned in news stories, it is usually in terms of the amount the US spent and the number of US military forces killed and injured. But those losses were due to deliberate choices made by the US to invade another country. They rarely mention the number of Afghans killed and injured and the scale of the destruction that was wreaked on that country. Those were losses that the Afghans had no choice over.


  1. sonofrojblake says

    “So where is the next quagmire going to be?”

    My money would be on Syria. Maybe Iran?

  2. seachange says

    Two weak attempts were already made towards Venezuela. The Fake News was willing to comply but FORMER president Trump wasn’t.

  3. Who Cares says

    An open attempt at invading Syria will, thanks to the Russians there turn into WW3.
    For Iran, if they can’t handle Afghanistan they can’t handle Iran, and the rest of the world will be kind of really annoyed for the oil supply disruption. Worse this will be the catalyst for their nuclear program. At least only Russia has a direct border with Iran so weaponry, training and ‘volunteers’ will come only from Russia and not also from China.

  4. mnb0 says

    “Imperial hubris is a powerful narcotic that produces grandiose delusions.”
    Dutch politicians learned that between 1945 -- 1950 during the Indonesian Independence War.

    “The indelible lesson that was supposed to have been hammered home by the Vietnam experience was …..”
    And of course the USA could have learned that lesson long before.
    1. The French learned it in 1954 after the Bien Bien Phu fiasco. Fun fact: president Kennedy was the American president who thought who could do better. It never harmed his popularity, especially among liberals.
    2. The aforementioned Indonesian Independence War could have taught a lesson too: since then military victories do not automatically result in political victories anymore. Moreover -- had the American intelligence service done its work properly -- it could have predicted what the Vietnam War would be like. The IDW was exactly as cruel, including Dutch versions of My Lai. Eg google Ragawede.

  5. Dunc says

    I don’t think Syria can count as the next quagmire, since it’s been a quagmire for the US at least since it was covertly invaded during the Obama administration.

    The way the US seems to be going, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if the next quagmire is Texas.

  6. says

    The fingerpointing is a distraction. Those doing it were ALL supporters of invasion -- politicians, media cheerleaders, spooks and paid terrorists, wall street.

    Those who were against invasion since before it began have been silenced by the same gangs of criminals. The lie has been repeated so often (“nobody predicted a quagmire / no WMDs!”) that no one will admit there was anti-war opposition in 2001.

  7. anat says

    The Taliban own much of the opium business now. The US could bring them down by decriminalizing opium and all its products. Any chance for that?

  8. Pierce R. Butler says

    Who Cares @ # 5: At least only Russia has a direct border with Iran …

    Say what? You gotta go through at least Azerbaijan to get from one to the other, or build a fleet to sail down the Caspian Sea (not the waterway of choice for practically anybody).

    Remember the good ol’ days when the US entertained serious rumblings about intervening militarily in Georgia?

  9. seachange says

    There are currently Russian …peacekeeping… troops in Azerbaijan. It is not as improbable as you think.

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