The big lie on Afghanistan

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken today: “We were in Afghanistan for one overriding purpose – to deal with the folks who attacked us on 9/11”

This is one ginormous whopper of a big lie.

The US and UK have been in Afghanistan for nearly two decades not to “deal with” Al-Qaeda – that happened within a few months of the invasion. No – they were there with the explicit purpose of nation building. Everyone knows that.

See for example this article in a journal ‘Politique Américaine’ from 2008:

In pursuing his “freedom agenda” Obama has stated that he shares President Bush’s goal of creating democratic political and governmental institutions in Afghanistan. If he pursues this goal, Afghanistan is likely to become the quagmire for Obama that Iraq has been for President Bush. If (as argued earlier) creating a democratic Iraq is a utopian goal, the challenge of doing so in Afghanistan makes Iraq look like Switzerland

It is true that these people appear to have believed that the two go together; that the best way to prevent terrorist bases springing up again in Afghanistan was to build a ‘democracy’. In this sense Blinken is not lying. But it is a lie because his version of events can only be true based on this idea that protecting Americans from terrorism meant building a ‘democracy’ in Afghanistan – and if that it the case they have manifestly failed to protect Americans from terrorism (given that they have failed to build a democracy). He is trying to pull a fast one.

Another official from the State Department explained at a recent press conference that after the US departure from Afghanistan they could still operate “over-the-horizon” military capability to attack terrorist bases should they spring up again. (This means air attacks from their ships and bases in the Middle East). But – this exposes Blinken. Because if this is how they can deal with terrorist bases in Afghanistan this has also been the case for every day of the last 20 years. There was no need for the “nation-building” at all.

Update: this is the head of the NATO terror organisation Jens Stoltenberg saying the same thing: “We have the capabilities to strike terrorist groups from a distance if we see that terrorist groups again try to establish themselves and plan, organise attacks against Nato allies and their countries”. Again; if they have this capacity their excuse of invading Afghanistan and occupying it for 20 years – a process which resulted in tens of thousands of civilian and combatant deaths – goes up in a puff of smoke.

The key point is this. The elites are trying to deny that the invasion of Afghanistan was anything to do with nation-building. Obviously; because if it was (it was) then we are looking at a huge and bloody failure. So they have to explain that the nation-building we saw (infrastructure projects, education, organising elections, fortifying the army and police and so on) was all about suppressing terrorism in the country. Nothing more. But then they have to explain why they are leaving now. The answer to this is that they can do ‘over-the-horizon’ suppression of terrorist bases. But then they have undermined their only possible explanation for the nation-building. If they can do ‘over-the-horizon’ suppression of terrorist bases why were we there in the first place? Acute readers, that is those who go beyond the controlled narratives they are fed in the compliant media, will notice that this doesn’t stand up. The fact is – they went into Afghanistan to do nation-building and the project has been (predictably enough) a total failure. Billions of dollars and tens of thousands of Afghan and thousands of Western lives have been simply wasted. This is what the elites are trying to hide from you.

For a long time I have thought (it was hard to accept the idea but it seemed the only explanation) that the highly paid experts in the State Department and UK Foreign Office and their respective intelligence agencies were really just very very ignorant about geography, politics, history and culture. I assumed that they really did believe that their nation-building project in Afghanistan would succeed. It is an amazing conclusion – how could they really have believed this? Surely anyone could see that a country like Afghanistan, fiercly tribal, multi-ethnic, varied terrain, a recent history of civil war, warlords, the presence of many people who no doubt actually support the Taliban (and thus obviously not Western style democracy), limited education, no pre-history of the development of parliamentary institutions, no history of the Enlightenment, was not exactly ripe for parliamentary democracy. As the authors of the above article commented – Afghanistan was infinitely less a suitable candidate for democracy even than Iraq.

Something gave me pause for thought the other day. I saw remarks by Ben Wallace, the UK’s Minister of Defence, (which I now can’t find again) to the effect that Afghanistan is a complicated patchwork of different ethnic and tribal allegiances. The import seemed to be that this explained why nation-building was not successful. This made me wonder; did they know this all along? That their nation-building project was a phantasy. Were they pouring billions and billions of US and UK tax-payer’s money and sacrificing the lives of US and UK soldiers in the full-knowledge that as soon as they withdrew their support the Afghan government would fall?

In either case: amazing stupidity or something more malign the fact is that one of the main features of the engagement by the UK and US in Afghanistan has been the recycling of billions of tax-payer’s dollars onto the balance sheets of US defence and logistics corporations. [1] All that money has achieved – for the public (i.e. the people whose money it was) precisely nothing. The total figure spent on Afghanistan by the US (including direct expenditure on the military) seems to be more than 2 trillion dollars. [2] (UK figure seems to be 37 Billions Pounds).

This process (which I call money-laundering) is a hallmark of our modern liberal democracies. The process is simple. Government identifies a social problem which needs solving (terrorism and womens’ rights in Afghanistan for example, or, in the UK for example a lack of a centralised database in the NHS [3]) They then contract out the task of “delivering a solution” to one or more private (non-state-owned) companies who are, of course, in it for the profits and who are accountable to no one but their shareholders. A huge unwieldy top-down solution is then devised and duly “delivered”. At best there are marginal benefits to the end-users or “customers”. Quite often of course there are none at all. It is ironic that all this happens in countries which make such a fuss about “democracy” all the time.

Readers familiar with the work of Ivan Illich will of course recognise that this is the behaviour of “right-wing institutions” in his special meaning of right-wing. That is hierarchical, top-down organisations which seek to ensure compliance and addiction in their users. In fact Illich commented that the US military with its efficient systems for delivering death is the ultimate “right-wing” institution.

I fear that the truth about Afghanistan is not that it is a “humiliating defeat” but that it has been an absolutely resounding success. Many, many, fortunes will have been made here. One would have hoped that the scale of the apparent failure might give the media food for thought. But, while I can see numerous reports of the scale of the expenditure and a tiny bit of questioning of that, I don’t see anywhere any aliveness to the model which lies behind this – Illich’s top-down right-wing institutions delivering solutions and creating dependency. And so; it will continue.


  3. This was a notorius example of money laundering. The UK goverment lost about £8 billion on an NHS IT system. The money went to private contractors but the end result was unworkable and had to be abandonded. Of course this scam has been completely dwarfed by the £37 billion recently splurged (mostly to private companies) on the UK’s Test and Trace (Covid-19) system. The system simply failed to do what it was set up to do; provide a robust tracing system which would prevent further lockdowns:

Author: justinwyllie

EFL Teacher and Photographer