US forces evacuated the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan on Friday. This marks an important milestone in the Americans’ ongoing disengagement with a twenty-year old conflict. The event sparked debates on how worthwhile the US intervention in the country has been and whether anything had been achieved. Parallels are being drawn with Vietnam, where US withdrawal had led to the total victory of the communists. There are numerous examples of such US actions around the world in its capacity as ‘globocop’. It cannot be denied that in at least some cases the situation required intervention, particularly where large scale massacres or human rights crises were taking place. That most of these ‘justified’ involvements turned out badly is another matter, mostly due to political ineptitude.
It is also a fact that US interventions were largely motivated by its economic interests – protecting oil sources or commercial sea lanes. During the Cold War, the obsession was to reduce Soviet influence – the genesis of the ongoing Afghan conflict and creation of non-state jihadi groups like Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Over the years, public opinion in America has increasingly tired of these foreign adventures, particularly as almost all were proving to be expensive and unproductive. Trump’s promise to withdraw all forces has not been overturned by Biden’s administration, either, for this very reason.
However, history might judge things differently. If nothing else, the ‘misadventures’ bought precious time. The failure to network with the rest of the world brought down the Soviet Union’s economy and, eventually, its government. China’s desperation to ‘connect’ with the ‘third world’ and acquire ‘vassal’ states is driven by the need to avoid a similar fate. The threat of US interference, particularly when backed by UN resolutions and sanctions, has forced many a country to remain relatively civilised, even practice some kind of democracy. The Myanmar Junta, for instance, has dared to upend its elected government only because of US reluctance to get drawn into such ‘foreign’ problems. It has been encouraged, instead, by Chinese backing. The price is being paid by the ordinary people.
The UN has become increasingly ineffective because it no longer has the backing of US ‘muscle’. The liberal democratic model encouraged by it has gone on the back foot because of local strife based on religious, ethnic and ideological lines. The Chinese are eager to replace it with their model. The world will wait and watch what occurs when they knock on Afghanistan’s doors via Pakistan.