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US withdrawal: An end of an American century?

For two decades now, the U.S. has seemed increasingly unable to effectively harness its military prowess and economic strength to its advantage. In this regard, Rustam Shah Mohmand, a specialist of Afghanistan and Central Asian Affairs wonders if the old adage about Afghanistan’s being the graveyard of empires proves as true for the United States as it did for the Soviet Union.

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The disastrous outcome of the two-decade-long Afghan war has raised alarms of the declining US power. Many have questioned the US position and legitimacy after the Taliban rapidly seized control of Afghanistan.

The stupendous investment the US made in Afghanistan to achieve invisible goals cost many American lives, as well as billions of dollars. This investment will haunt Washington’s policymakers for many years to come. The defining moment wasn’t the collapse of Afghan security forces or the shockwaves sent throughout the country because of the withdrawal of foreign troops, but the Taliban’s triumphal entry into Kabul on 15th August.

The US withdrawal has given us an important reminder

The victory of the Taliban can be judged as a reminder of the declining US power and influence. The epoch-making events of August 2021 would herald the advent of a new era. The American century is not yet over but the tide is turning. And a new world order is expected to emerge.

The setback in Afghanistan sheds light on how a superpower consumed paranoia and the overarching ambition to guide and control the destinies of other nations backfires. The US intervention in Afghanistan was based on faulty assumptions and a wholly erroneous understanding of the objective realities of a poor tribal society. If anything, the intervention was a disastrous miscalculation that only imperial hubris can produce and instill in the minds of the rulers.

Read more: Cowardice or for peace? Why Afghanistan forces surrendering to Taliban?

The existing US-dominated world order originated from the ashes of the second world war. Even then it was rooted in a brute display of naked power. The Japanese had agreed to surrender in July 1945 and the terms of surrender were being worked out between the two militaries. But President Truman wanted to test the new nuclear bombs and the chances of such an opportunity presenting itself again were low. As a result of this, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were decimated, and the US empire was born.

The decades thereafter witnessed an expansive show of military and political power. The US was involved in perpetually every region of the world — making and breaking governments and designing and enforcing potentially hazardous and destructive policies — all at the cost of US taxpayers. The US was engaged in both overt and covert interventions across the world. The interventions and operations were fueled by a passion for an everlasting global hegemony and dominance.

There are, however, consequences and limitations for such an unending appetite for dominance and influence over other countries. Historical amnesia takes over slowly and imperceptibly.

Read more: Biden’s impending challenges in Afghanistan

Has the US lost its credibility? 

Given the US status as a superpower with an abundance in technological, military and human resources, the miscalculation in Afghanistan is almost frightening. The invasion of Afghanistan was based on entirely bogus assumptions. None of the hijackers of the planes that attacked the Twin Towers and Pentagon were from Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden had momentarily taken shelter in Afghanistan because he was deported from Sudan.

The Americans went to Afghanistan to punish the ‘perpetrators’ of the September 11 attacks. They claimed Osama bin Laden to be the chief of the terror network. However, Osama was taken out by just three helicopters. His capture did not require 14,000 troops armed with lethal weapons to be deployed in Afghanistan for 20 years. The unnecessary war cost $2 trillion with hundreds of thousands killed and wounded on both sides.

US General Douglas Lute’s claims of lack of justification for the Afghan war were of little surprise. It is almost astounding to think that a powerful country like the US with its sound system of governance and vast resources could make such an error of judgment and pay a horrendous price in blood and treasure to pursue goals that have no relevance to the ground realities.

Read more: Panjshir may surrender to Taliban within next 24 hours

However, this is not the first time that the US policy was driven by misjudgment. In fact, the US legacy of misjudgments can be traced back to the Vietnam War in the 1950s. The US had believed that communist North Vietnam was trying to seize control of South Vietnam with the help of the USSR. North Vietnam did not have any ties with the USSR until much later.

Therefore, here too, the US intervention came because of paranoia and powerplay during the cold war. The Vietnam war that was aimed to save South Vietnam from the communist threat resulted in one of the longest wars in history with millions of lives lost on both sides. The war also put a significant strain on the American economy. Eventually, a united communist Vietnam emerged after the long-drawn withdrawal of the US troops from Saigon.

Lessons we should learn from the past

Ironically, a communist Vietnam is now a US ally against expansionist China. What this tells us is that the only lesson mankind has learned from history is that it has learned no lesson, as observed by historian Toynbee many years ago. More importantly, this ascertains that the US has involved itself in many regions of the world based on miscalculations to protect its own hegemonic interests.

The question that arises now is: who can be held responsible for such monumental blunders that ruined societies, decimated infrastructure, and caused fatalities? Has the American dream come full circle?

Read more: Why dress code is an important issue in Afghanistan?

The military setback is only part of the story. The dangerous ingredients of a policy that seeks world domination are embedded in flawed decision-making, the arrogance of being the world’s protector, and intolerance towards others. The US has always harbored support for dictators and despots around the world who can help support its interests. Connecting the supreme national interests of the US to any upheaval around the world and the belief in invincibility have all aided its hegemonic interests.

In the aftermath of the Afghan war, the world can now unlearn and relearn the defining limits of US power. This would usher the world into a new era, one that is no longer premised on US supremacy. The US has not yet plunged into its downfall. But the decline of US hegemony has begun. What we are now witnessing might be the beginning of the end of the US dominance.

Rustam Shah Mohmand is a specialist in Afghanistan and Central Asian Affairs. He has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan and also held the position of Chief Commissioner Refugees for a decade. The article originally appeared at The Express Tribune and has been republished with the author’s permission. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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