The withdrawal from Afghanistan and run up to the 20 year anniversary of 911 is an appropriate time to continue our reflection on the religion of our ruling elite.
“The most important columnist in America today,” Thomas Friedman expressed this sentiment succinctly in the wake of the attacks on the Twin Towers. “A month into the war in Afghanistan the hand wringing has already begun over how long this might last. Let’s all take a deep breath and repeat after me: Give war a chance.
In the 20 years since the corporate media has, if anything, become more not less bellicose. While heaping all the blame for the upsetting images coming out of Afghanistan on Biden, and throwing around pejoratives like “embarrassment,” “disaster,” and “betrayal,” the corporate media has turned to the very same pro-war voices that were responsible for the entire catastrophe to start with, to proclaim their preferred message: that the pullout from Afghanistan shouldn’t have happened, and that the US presence there should continue indefinitely.
There’s a reason for this behavior. The US is a neoliberal empire that uses its military to smash socialist or non-client states and loot their economies while privatizing essential services and turning their financial system over to Wall Street. Neoliberalism and neoconservatism provide the intellectual justification. The corporate media and Hollywood dress it all up in the name of American exceptionalism, where US foreign policy is an angel-and-devil Disney production—starring the prototypical evil dictators killing and torturing their innocent citizens, until the US rides to the rescue.
However, it’s become clear that after 20 years of the war on terror, justified by the attacks on 9/11, the efforts of the corporate media and the entertainment industry are having diminishing returns, largely because of the malign effects on the homeland. This hints at a domestic political order that is so hollowed out that only its instruments of global empire remain standing – an outsized central bank and an outsized war machine seeking to prop up the global order. Indeed, successive US governments have spent a total of $2 trillion on the war effort in Afghanistan. And they have done so while infrastructure has crumbled and de-industrialisation accelerated at home.
We can see the results today in the homeland. Political life is decaying into oligarchic rule from above and fragmented identity politics from below. And we can see it on the periphery, in places like Afghanistan, where this decay has resulted in warlordism and ethnic strife. This is the globalisation of what the critical theorist Max Horkheimer termed ‘racket society’, in which a social order, underpinned by law and universal principles, disintegrates into various large hierarchies offering protection in return for domination, and devoid of any sense of common interest or general will. In the US this is apparent in an emerging oligarchic state and the various identity groups it sponsors; in the periphery, it is apparent in the predominance of warlords, drug dealers, NGOs, kleptocrats, smugglers, terror networks, UN agencies, peacekeepers and occupying armies. State failure is the result of globalised neoliberalism.
Neoconservative and liberal-interventionist “state-building” was developed as a counterpart to the neoliberalism of the 1990s. It was intended to facilitate the extension of the market into the developing world. Neoliberalism was expressly counterposed to the state and intended to curb, delegitimise and repress public power over the market. But, at the same time, neoliberalism was always dependent on state power to achieve these aims. As a result, neoliberalism succeeded in delegitimizing public power and authority, while also relying on the state to expand the rule of the market.
Afghanistan is just the latest and most tragic example of this malign process. The corporate media, in the coming weeks, will do their thing, bellowing about the betrayal of the troops, the Taliban’s abuse of the woman and children, the loss of American credibility, etc. At the left end of the dial they’ll describe it as a disaster and perhaps a war crime.
Amidst all the sound and fury you won’t hear the dirty little secret that Afghanistan wasn’t a failure but a magnificent success.
“Entrenching U.S. forces in Afghanistan was the military-industrial complex’s business plan for 20+ years,” declared the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group Public Citizen. “Hawks and defense contractors co-opted the needs of the Afghan people in order to line their own pockets,” the group added. For instance, Lockheed Martin’s stocks got a return of 1,235.60% across the war on terror, which displaced 37 million people. In a Tuesday morning tweet, they highlighted returns on defense stocks over the past 20 years—as calculated in a “jaw-dropping” analysis by The Intercept—and asserted that “the military-industrial complex got exactly what it wanted out of this war.”
The magnificent success is why there has been no accountability for the national security types and corporate media, who have pushed for war at every opportunity.
Unfortunately, it’s also the reason that these policies will continue.
One would think that there’s some political angle to all of this but one also can dream eternal.