The scenes of people desperately trying to board planes in Kabul, Afghanistan, hanging from and even falling from landing gear, are reminiscent of past United States exits, most notably from Vietnam. Yet these images should not be surprising nor should they change anyone’s views about the terror that the U.S. brought to that country. The turmoil in present day Afghanistan is the end result of more than 40 years of U.S. involvement and it should not be discussed without an analysis of that history.
Liberals in this country, even those who had expressed opposition to the war, now show themselves as imperialists, and in the case of Afghanistan claim concern for the treatment of women in advocating for a never-ending war. They should point out that the U.S. is responsible for bringing the Taliban as a political group into existence, and thereby ended the substantial gains that had been made for Afghan women under a secular government.
U.S. involvement in Afghanistan began in the 1970s when Jimmy Carter was president. A left-wing Afghan government came to power in 1978 and sought help and support from the Soviet Union. This simple statement of fact disappeared from the official narrative and most Americans know nothing about it. Instead there were tales of Soviet invasion and non-existent chemical weapons attacks. The Carter administration poured millions of dollars into the country and used Islamists as proxies to fight the Soviets.
Ronald Reagan was next and he greeted Afghan members of the mujahideen in the white house in 1983. Various Islamist factions in Afghanistan and later U.S. puppet president Hamid Karzai were recipients of money and weapons from Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump.
Osama bin Laden, said to be the mastermind of the September 11, 2021 terror attacks, was among those who profited from Washington’s largesse. But he was never an ally , “For us, the idea was not to get involved more than necessary in the fight against the Russians, which was the business of the Americans, but rather to show our solidarity with our Islamist brothers.”
Americans were told that the Taliban, some of the same people who benefited from U.S. help, were responsible for the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. None of the people identified as operatives were from Afghanistan and no one could prove direct involvement from that country. The trauma to the nation and state propaganda were a potent mix and there was near universal support for the invasion. Barbara Lee of California was the only member of congress to vote against it.
Soldiers born after the occupation began were old enough to deploy before the ignominious exit. President after president sent drones and bombs which killed civilians. Defense contractors made billions of dollars. An entire generation accepts that this country has the right to invade and occupy at will. The damage done to this country’s politics and to the anti-war movement has been enormous.
Of course, Afghanistan suffered the most with an estimated 47,000 civilians losing their lives as a result of the U.S. attack. Wars kill, maime, create refugees, and destroy infrastructure. They insidiously trap the targeted nation into a state of dependency on the aggressor. Of course many Afghans have worked for the U.S. military and contractors since 2001. Some of them were so terrified that they died in their effort to escape when the Taliban entered Kabul.
The chaos seen in the media should cause a wholesale rejection of imperialist interventions. The very premise of this war and every other war should be called into question but very few people in this country are truly anti-imperialist. They approve of U.S. violence committed around the world as long as the rationale is something they can accept. Arguments in favor of humanitarian intervention work all too well on the uninformed.
The U.S. presence in Afghanistan should not be dismissed as merely a mistake and no one should be sorry that it is winding down. It was the ultimate act of cynicism, a war crime, and no one should try to defend it. Nor should anyone defend the presidents and members of congress who vote for defense spending that is now more than 60% of the discretionary budget. There are many guilty parties in this story.
Afghanistan would be better off if it had been left alone to resolve its own issues. The same is true for every other country the United States claims to be helping. When presidents, and corporate media op-eds, and congress, and think tanks make the case for war, the rest of us must reject their arguments out of hand. Let us not forget Afghanistan when we are told to support sanctions, drone strikes, or boots on the ground anywhere else.
Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She is the author of Prejudential: Black America and the Presidents . Her work can also be found at patreon.com/margaretkimberley. Ms. Kimberley can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.