The Last Days of the US in Afghanistan

There has been many megabytes of pixels spilled, writing about the US exit from Afghanistan. The tragedy, if there is one, is that the US knew for decades that it was eventually going to have to leave, but hung around spending money and ruining lives, because of fear of embarrassment. That’s right: the response to fear of embarrassment was to embarrass ourselves fucking more. Brilliant.

This is something I stumbled across years ago, and I kept intending to do a more in-detail decompilation of many of the things Stockwell has to say. But I don’t think it matters. The people who could have learned any lessons from this deliberately turned away from those lessons long, long ago, and are immune from learning a damn thing. You could take everything Stockwell says about the South Vietnamese government and its corruption, and apply it to the US-installed puppet government that ran Afghanistan.

A guy I used to talk to in the 90s was an intelligence officer at CIA, who came into that job via the Phoenix Program in Vietnam, then served as an intelligence special operations type during the cold war – literally, one of those guys who you’d see carrying stuff through Checkpoint Charlie, in divided Berlin, etc. For obvious reasons that start with a ‘P’ he didn’t like to talk much about Vietnam, but one time he got started talking about corruption, and it sounded exactly like Stockwell. Any effort that was being made to win the war (or “win the peace”) was being undercut in real-time by everybody who was in any position to steal and sell something. I talked, once, with a Russian ex-soldier who was in Afghanistan during their time there, and – surprise – he told me that you could buy anything at the time: the official government had people selling blocks of opium, the Russian military had people who’d sell you half a helicopter if you had the money, everyone was selling everything to everyone else and absolutely none of that commerce was contributing to anything but criminal enterprise. My former CIA friend said, “it’s not that the government was ‘corrupt’ – it was corruption. Solid, compressed, corruption from one end to another.”

The title isn’t very accurate. Is any of this “secret” really? Didn’t imperial Rome do the same thing: take over and put tax-farmers and soldiers in charge of running affairs? There’s nothing that’s not embarrassing going on here, and the way to stop being embarrassed is not to double down, it’s to get the fuck out.

In a few years, technology will allow us to edit Stockwell’s using the word “Vietnam” and change it to “Afghanistan” and nobody’ll notice the difference. When I read about the CIA evacuating their base [where, yes, of course they tortured people – the CIA always tortures people!] and destroying everything, then sneaking off on their own private transport system ahead of the grunts, I imagine what that story would elicit from Stockwell. Any emotion except surprise.

France24 has a good bit about the Taliban running tours through the ruins of the CIA’s secret base: [france24] Think how much that place cost, how many lives were bent and broken there, and how it was all to avoid having to confront a great big load of embarrassment by putting it off, embarrassingly.

Guess what kind of embarrassing disaster AFRICOM is building? Is there any sign that the colonial/imperialists have learned a damn thing?


  1. Who Cares says

    Funny, I never associated the Sunk Cost fallacy with embarrassment but thinking it over a bit it would indeed be one of the (if not the) primary motivators.

  2. cartomancer says

    At least the Romans sometimes recalled and prosecuted provincial governors for this sort of misconduct. No less a personage than Cicero made his name prosecuting such cases, particularly that of Gaius Verres in Sicily.

    Has any US imperial administrator faced even a fraction of the legal scrutiny and punishment that Verres got in 70BC?

  3. jrkrideau says

    @ 1 Who Cares

    The 20 years were also great for military and possibly CIA careers. The USA did not fight a 20 year war in Afghanistan but twenty 1-year wars as a tour there usually was one year. Lots of officers got a few medals and punched their ticket as having served in a combat zone. This was the same in Vietnam.

    This can also be parlayed into a political career at times.
    One also should not forget Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and so on saw no reason to withdraw.

  4. says

    I got Stockwell’s name wrong (I wrote “Stockton”) and it’s embarrassing that I didn’t fact-check myself. My memory appears to not be as good as it used to be (10 years ago I would never ever have made a mistake like that) and I’m used to just blasting away, full trust in my recall. Ugh!

    Sorry! I fixed the text but I’ll leave this here to acknowledge my mistake.

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