The Crisis in Afghanistan, Born Out of Western Imperialism
September 22, 2021
I will never forget the day. I was in my eighth-grade English class, and the War in Afghanistan came up in discussion. During, I said something along the lines of “We [Americans] are there [Afghanistan] only for the oil,” rather than in response to the terror attacks on 9/11. I remember even more prominently how my teacher responded. It was not exactly in what she said that was striking, but how outraged she was at my comment. It was as if I had spat on the coffins of American soldiers. That happened around the years 2012-2013.
Seeing the events currently unfolding in Afghanistan, my words, though admittedly ignorant of the situation, were not too off base.
The Taliban has taken over Afghanistan in place of the U.S.-backed Afghan government.
Diplomats and allies evacuate, a president flees his country, refugees scramble for protection, citizens live in fear and anticipation of what is to come, the Taliban revels in their victory; the situation, by all intents and purposes, is utter chaos. In uncertain times like this, people often look for something or someone to blame, whether it be a natural force, an ethnic group, or a leader of some sort. Today, I blame a country: the United States of America.
The current crisis in Afghanistan is directly attributable to American interventionism. America promotes itself as being the herald of democracy and human rights. Operating from a position of chauvinism and Eurocentric ideals, America often, throughout its brief history, believes it must teach the “lesser,” the “underdeveloped,” the “colored” races how to act, justifying anything from invasion to colonization. The American government and its citizenry are also very reactionary concerning political affairs, both domestic and foreign.
After the terror attacks of 9/11, America made it its mission to punish those it deemed responsible — Osama bin Laden, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda — and thus began a missile campaign on Afghanistan. Later, when the government saw it politically fit to do so, America would invade the country, using 9/11 and the potentiality of another attack as justifying agents for a War on Terror in Afghanistan.
In 2001, the Taliban offered Osama bin Laden to America (through a third, neutral country), which would have effectively rendered obsolete the initial reasoning of the invasion. The American government declined the offer. In response, it would have to bring something different to the table to justify its military occupation of another country. Here, nation-building and the ushering in of a new “democratic” government would become a focal point of the war, alongside countering terrorism.
Dr. Ali A. Olomi, a history professor of the Middle East and Islam at Penn State Abington, said in an interview with Vox that, “The main justification was to go after Osama bin Laden. Once the Taliban collapses, and they say, ‘Hey, we’ll hand over Osama bin Laden,’ a sort of new justification had to be invented. And that was, we need to nation-build, we need to build Afghanistan up.”
Undergirding the war effort was America’s imperialistic desire of extending its military stronghold on the world— the global South in particular. In this way, America could install a government friendly to its interests in the region while also ensuring its safety from attack back at home.
In a global capitalist system, where the accumulation of capital equals power, it is in the interest of America, a world power, to control what land, from which to exploit resources (oil, minerals, et cetera) and people (labor, assistance in war, et cetera), it can. One can see this by the profit made by war contractors in the Afghanistan War.
It was not solely the government but also the American people, however misled, who bought in on this idea. Without the continued popular support of the American people, there is no War on Terror.
So much of the international War on Terror is reminiscent of the domestic War on Drugs. It was once and still is in America’s interest to jail as many Black and Latino citizens as possible to prop up the prison-industrial complex. Just like it was in its interests to start a War on Terror overseas to further its geopolitical, imperialist, and settler-colonial aims. It is not the only parallel.
America is a country that does not know (nor does it care to learn) its history. Thus, given how American intervention in Afghanistan bore eerie similarities with American intervention in Vietnam, I would not be surprised to see repetition elsewhere or even in the same place.
This situation also elucidates the hypocrisy of America in its stated aims of “democracy,” “human rights,” and “egalitarianism.” How can a state, whose legitimacy depends on its monopoly and use of violence, be the paragons of what is virtuous in the world when it cannot embody said ideals at home? Whenever I hear words like democracy spill out the belly of the imperial beast’s mouth (i.e., America), what immediately comes to mind is white hegemonic capitalism or, in plain words, white domination.
Now that the war effort and its justifications have failed, I cannot go a day without seeing some article produced by the mass media — itself imperialistic in attitude — about how Taliban rule endangers the rights and freedoms of Afghan women and children.
There are moments in history, especially during strenuous, decisive events, where the media reveals this imperial nature. In a 2001 article, Thomas L. Friedman, a columnist at The New York Times, said, “Give war a chance. This is Afghanistan we’re talking about. Check the map. It’s far away.” This year, the title of a CNN article reads, “The Taliban are sitting on $1 trillion worth of minerals the world desperately needs.”
That is not to dismiss the valid fear of the Taliban by Afghan women and girls, but of the American government and the mass media alike, taking that fear based on objective reality and exploiting it for their selfish aims.
America is a country that does not know (nor does it care to learn) its history.
The withdrawal itself has been shoddy at best and disastrous at worst. Despite this reality, it is best for Afghanistan that America removed its military forces from the country. It will finally give the Afghan people a chance to determine their future for themselves, outside the influence of foreign military intervention. That is a hopeful prospect.
However, I am under no false notion that America will completely sever military relations in Afghanistan. On the situation in Afghanistan, President Joe Biden said, “We’ve developed counterterrorism over-the-horizon capability that will allow us to keep our eyes firmly fixed on any direct threats to the United States in the region and to act quickly and decisively if needed.”
Just as final withdrawals were underway, the U.S. government, in retaliation for the Kabul airport attack that left 13 American soldiers dead, sent a drone strike on Kabul. The Pentagon initially said the U.S. drone strike killed two ISIS-K members suspected of carrying explosives (both claims turned out to be false). Later, they would admit that the drone strike killed 10 Afghan civilians, including seven children, confirming earlier media reports.
This is what “over-the-horizon capability” looks like: the destruction of people’s lives and families. In what way does this advance human rights? Honor women’s rights and protections? Ensure the safety of children? It does not. Because that is not the point— never was, never will be.
As we move away from the 20th anniversary of 9/11, I would also like to mention that while almost 3,000 American citizens died in the 9/11 attacks (which spurred the Afghanistan War forward), the War on Terror killed more than 71,000 Afghan civilians. Let us remember that when we speak about the loss of human life and the cost of war.
Nobody knows what will be in store for the future of Afghanistan and its people. Time will tell, as is often the case with matters like this one. In the meantime, the world needs to open its arms to Afghan refugees seeking safety from the Taliban regime.
In the coming weeks, Maryland expects to receive more than 180 Afghan nationals, according to a press release from Governor Larry Hogan. Operation Allies Refuge, the system Maryland will use to grant Afghan refugees Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs), will help them start a life here. More is required, however.
According to Rose Wagner of the Baltimore Sun, there are five services you can contact to assist Afghan refugees in the DMV area: Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area, International Rescue Committee in Baltimore, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Maryland Muslims Welcome Refugees drive and the Church World Service in Washington, D.C.
America, along with other Western countries, shares responsibility for the current situation in Afghanistan, so it is not only fair, but also the moral obligation of these countries to receive these refugees and provide them with all the tools necessary for a life worthy of dignity and respect.