US failure in Afghanistan

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By JOSÉ LUÍS FIORI*

The strange defeats of a power that keeps expanding and accumulating power

“Political power is flux, more than stock. To exist it needs to be exercised; needs to reproduce and accumulate permanently. And the act of conquest is the original force that establishes and accumulates power. (JL Fiori, Global power and the new geopolitics of nations).

In the early hours of July 2, 2021, US troops secretly withdrew from their military base in Bragam, the last and most important US base in Afghanistan, after a war that lasted exactly 20 years and has just ended. absolutely disastrous way. In the conflict, 240 Afghans and about 2.500 American soldiers died; The Americans won many battles but ultimately lost the war, and their army leaves behind a shattered and divided country on the brink of a new, violent civil war between Taliban forces and the current Afghan government.

Right now, Taliban forces are advancing from all sides and the
perspective is that they assume the central government of the country much sooner than later.
Even more surprising or shocking is following the peace talks between the two sides of the current Afghan conflict, which are negotiating the possibilities of a coexistence pact in Tehran, under the sponsorship of the Iranian government, arch-enemy of the USA. At the same time, member countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, under the leadership of China and Russia, are also mobilizing to find a formula that pacifies the country, and above all prevents Taliban fundamentalism from expanding beyond the borders of Afghanistan, threatening its neighbors, including China itself.

That is, after the September 11 attacks and 20 years of war, the US managed to promote a somersault by handing Afghanistan back to its main military enemies from the first minute of the US bombing in Afghan territory, then controlled by Taliban forces. The surprising thing about all this, however, is that this is not an exceptional situation, or an unforeseen defeat. On the contrary, this seems to have been the rule in American wars after World War II.

The US led UN forces in the Korean War between 1950 and 1953, and after three years of back and forth, it was forced to sign a 67-year truce with Korean People's Army troops and representatives of the Chinese People's Volunteer Army, on August 27, 1953. Afterwards, the Americans were defeated in the Vietnam War, from which they had to withdraw almost as or more shamefully than now in Afghanistan, culminating with the famous scene of the evacuation of the American embassy in Saigon and the hasty evacuation, by helicopter, of civil and military personnel who were still in the South Vietnamese capital, on the eve of its occupation by the troops commanded by General Van Tien Dung, from North Vietnam, on April 30, 1975.

Sometime after this historic humiliation, the US led a new United Nations coalition and won the 1991 Gulf War, but after killing about 150 Iraqis, it gave up on taking Baghdad and deposing and replacing President Saddam Hussein. This had been a protégé and military ally of the US during the Iran-Iraq war, in the 80s, and later became its main enemy in the two US wars against Iraq. Likewise, in 2003, American troops, supported by British soldiers, again defeated the Iraqis and this time killed their president, but then “lost the thread” and ended up handing Iraq over to its main enemies, the Shiites. Iranians.

After that, the Americans got involved in Libya's civil war, helped to kill its president and former ally, Muammar al-Gaddafi, and ended up leaving the country to its fate, destroyed and divided into a state of chronic civil war until today. And something analogous would have happened in Syria, had it not been for the Russian military intervention that sustained President Bashar al-Assad, made a decisive contribution to defeating the troops of the so-called Islamic State, and is now leading the effort to pick up the pieces of a country completely destroyed, divided and in the most absolute misery. And everything indicates that the same thing will happen again in a few more months, after the United States withdraws its military support to Saudi Arabia's intervention in Yemen.

One must add to this picture of successive defeats and failures by US diplomacy and troops, the distancing of its former allies, Pakistan and Turkey, increasingly closer to the Russian and Chinese zone of influence. A loss of influence that is reflected in the US absence from negotiations that are in full swing in various parts of the Middle East and Central Asia with a view to pacifying the “Greater Middle East”, invented by the Bush administration and destroyed by the successive Democratic and Republican administrations of the latter. 30 years.

One can remember here, as a true turning point in this history, the irrelevance of the USA in the recent conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, and its complete irrelevance in the negotiations of the truce that was achieved with the mediation and guardianship of Russia and Turkey.

However, what is really difficult to understand and explain is how the US went through all these defeats or failures in achieving its immediate objectives, without losing its global power. More than that, how did they manage to increase their power with each new defeat? A very important question to understand the past of the world system we live in, but even more important to think about its future.

But, at the same time, a question that does not have an immediate and conjunctural answer, and can only find an explanation by resorting to the long-term history of the system of national states that was born in Europe between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and that later became universal in the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, through the expansion and conquests of the great European colonial powers. Throughout the history of this national state system, there have always been winner states and losing states, and the system as a whole has always been competitive, warlike and expansive. And all its “members” were forced to compete and wage war to survive in this true race for power and for the conquest of greater wealth than that of their competitors, not least because the accumulation of wealth has become a fundamental part of the struggle for power. .

As the great German historian and psychoanalyst Norbert Elias once said, the basic rule of the system of national states invented by Europeans is: “whoever does not rise, falls” – a rule valid even for the great powers that are already at the forefront of this race without end. That is, even the so-called “great powers” ​​of this system are forced to expand permanently, increasing their power and wealth, to continue occupying the positions they already occupy and need to preserve through their new conquests and wars that point in the direction of creation. of a universal empire that managed to monopolize power within the international system. But this “universal empire” is a logical impossibility within the system itself, because if it were to take place, the system would disintegrate or enter a state of entropy, due to the disappearance of competition itself, which is where the energy that moves the whole system that works together as if it were a true machine for creating more power and more wealth.

For this very reason, preparation for war and the wars themselves do not prevent coexistence, complementarity and even alliances and mergers between the States involved in the conflicts. Sometimes conflict predominates, sometimes complementarity, but it is this “dialectic” that allows the existence of more or less prolonged periods of peace within the world system, without interrupting competition and the latent conflict between its most powerful States. The “leading” or “hegemonic” power itself needs to keep expanding its power continuously, to maintain its relative position, as we have already said, but also to keep its power alive. Power within this system is flux, it is conquest, and it only exists as long as it is exercised, regardless of whether the victors manage to impose the immediate objectives in each of their wars or not.

As absurd as it may seem, in this system it is more important that its leading states wage successive wars and demonstrate their military power, than that they succeed in achieving their declared objectives and used to justify their endless exercise of new wars. The past confirms that the leading power in the system, be it England, in the 300th and XNUMXth centuries, or the USA, in the XNUMXth century, were the states that waged the most wars during the entire history of the interstate system that was invented by Europeans, and the number of these conflicts initiated by these two leading powers has increased over time and in proportion rather than decreasing as the power of these two great Anglo-Saxon powers that have led the international system for the last XNUMX years has increased.

It is for this very reason, moreover, that the great powers also end up being the main “destabilizers” of the world order, and their “hegemonic power” is invariably the one that most frequently destroys the rules and institutions that it built and protected in a previous moment in history. An example of this is when, in 1973, the USA got rid of the “gold dollar monetary standard” that they had created in Bretton Woods in 1944. And now, more recently, when the Donald Trump government started to attack and destroy all the rules and institutions created and supervised by the US since the end of World War II, in particular after the end of the Cold War.

Finally, summarizing and returning to the discussion on the successive American defeats in the period in which the United States was at the epicenter of the world system and its permanent movement of expansion: from our point of view, the world system is an “expanding universe” , where all states struggling for “global power” – in particular, the leading or hegemonic power – are always creating, at the same time, order and disorder, expansion and crisis, peace and war. For this reason, crises, wars and defeats are not necessarily the announcement of the “end” or the “collapse” of the defeated power. On the contrary, they can be an essential and necessary part of accumulating their power and wealth, and heralding new initiatives, wars and conquests. What passed is already behind, as if it were a loss of stock that does not necessarily alter the flow of its power directed forward and towards new competitions and conquests.

And this is exactly what is happening now, from our point of view, when the United States is realigning its forces, its old alliances, and preparing all its vassal states for the struggle for power and wealth that is already underway within the new Asian axis of the world system. And, in particular, to face its new great challenge and engine of its own power: China. And from this point of view, by the way, the American withdrawal from the Middle East and Central Asia can be seen as part of this new dispute, and as a way of weakening its new adversary, triggering a fundamentalist explosion and a great religious and civil war in the territory that the United States is abandoning, located exactly in the rear of mainland China.

* Jose Luis Fiori Professor at the Graduate Program in International Political Economy at UFRJ. Author, among other books, of Global power and the new geopolitics of nations (Boitempo).

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