The news today that 3 more NATO troops have been killed by Afghan soldiers - bringing the number of such murders to 15 in this month alone and 45 this year so far – is serious enough, but it hides a much more disturbing background. It has been dismissed as a series of random killings, not connected by any common thread, simply the result of personal grudges. However, a recent US military psychologists’ investigation found that it actually reflected deeply ingrained hate stereotypes on both sides. The US military generally viewed Afghan soldiers as “cowardly, incompetent, obtuse, thieving, complacent, lazy, pot-smoking, treacherous, and murderous radicals”. The Afghans regarded US soldiers as “violent, reckless, intrusive, arrogant, self-serving, profane, infidel bullies hiding behind high technology”. If theses are the mutual attitudes in the current partnering programme, what hope is there for the strategy of a controlled drawdown which is based on ISAF units forming close working relationships with Afghan units leading up to full handowver in 2014?
The closing of the war in Afghanistan, which has already lasted 11 years, is turning from an ordered retreat into a rout. Obana’s surge of an extra 30,000 US troops in Helmand and Kandahar has not reduced the violence in these provinces. Nor have any of the other objectives been achieved. The invasion was meant (1) to prevent Afghanistan being used as a terrorist safe haven for the future, (2) to liberate Afghan women from mediaeval servitude, (3) to bring democracy and good governance to a backward tribal society, as well of course (4) to ‘keep the streets of London safe’ and preserve US credibility as the world’s policeman. All of these aspirations lie in wreckage.
The implications of all this are sobering. The US lost the Vietnam war following the killing of 58,000 US troops as well as 2 million Vietnamese. US military forces, giving up their Saudi bases in 2003 because of the al Qaeda threat, were intended to transfer to alternative fortified bases in Iraq as a means of controlling a US military and economic (oil) platform in the Middle East, but were forced by the mounting insurgency to leave. In Afghanistan US forces have been unable to prevail against a resurgent Taliban, and the US will leave behind a broken-backed, corrupt and fragil state still run by landlords. In Egypt the US was unable to secure the pro-Western tilt from the revolution that it wanted, in Libya it was forced to leave the air and logistical warfare to the UK and France, and in Syria it has been unable to impose any significant influence on the fighting.
Equally the US economy has been hollowed out by de-industrialisation and Chinese competition, and is only kept afloat by over-dependence on creditors’ readiness to accept US Treasury bonds and capital assets or property, a downward spiral which is unsustainable. By 2017 the Chinese economy will be larger than its US counterpart. Militarily and economically the US remains the biggest and most powerful country in the world, but its decline relative to BRIC is unmistakeable and gathering pace.