Decipher America’s Afghan War: War On Terror Or Hegemony?

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On October 7, 2001, the US officially started the war in Afghanistan. When the last American soldier left the country on August 30, the war had lasted 19 years and eight months, at a total cost of more than $ 2 trillion and the lives of some 2,500 soldiers and 71,000 civilians.

The war may be over, but the aftermath of the longest war in American history still reverberates and haunts both the American public and the international landscape as questions arise: Why did the U.S. lose? What’s next with Afghanistan? And the most basic: Why did the US invade Afghanistan in the first place?

What was the real purpose?

The official reason was to fight terrorism. After the Afghan Taliban government refused to hand over the leader of the al-Qaeda terrorist group, Osama bin Laden, who masterminded the attack on September 11, 2001, then US President George W. Bush declared the “war on terror” .

According to him, the war in Afghanistan was “part of the global campaign against terrorism” in which US soldiers responded to justice to defend peace and freedom so that “people everywhere can live and raise their children without fear.”

But after bin Laden’s assassination in 2011, many began to question the main purpose of the war as the US decided to stay and export its democracy to Afghanistan.

Afghan refugees crowd on the border between Afghanistan and Iran. / CFP

Afghan refugees crowd on the border between Afghanistan and Iran. / CFP

A geopolitical statement

From a geopolitical point of view, Afghanistan lies at the crossroads between Central Asia, West Asia, South Asia and East Asia. Because of this, the country is historically known as the heart of Asia and an important center for Eurasia as a whole.

Given its unique strategic position, scholars have suggested that the US occupation of Afghanistan is a reflection of Sir Halford John Mackinder’s “world island theory”. Mackinder, known as the founding father of geopolitics and geostrategy, viewed Eurasia as the heartland one must conquer if one is to rule the world.

According to the theory, Washington would be able to “manage” Eurasia and rule two of the three most advanced and economically productive regions in the world once the US brought Afghanistan under its control.

Feng Shaolei, director of the Center for Russian Studies at East China Normal University, believes that by controlling Afghanistan, the US can expand its influence in regions such as Central Asia, South Asia and the Middle East to create the original order of Eurasia.

Members of the Old Guard stand next to a U.S. soldier’s coffin during a full military funeral ceremony adjacent to Section 60, the section of Arlington National Cemetery reserved for those killed during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in Arlington, Virginia, August 16, 2021. / CFP

Members of the Old Guard stand next to a U.S. soldier’s coffin during a full military funeral ceremony adjacent to Section 60, the section of Arlington National Cemetery reserved for those killed during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in Arlington, Virginia, August 16, 2021. / CFP

An attempt to export democracy

In addition to geopolitics, Feng saw the US occupation of Afghanistan as an attempt to “transplant” the American style of democracy through war.

The US destroyed Afghanistan and rebuilt it with Western political systems. With this, the Americans hoped to integrate the country into the so-called liberal international order, said Feng.

Others believe that the US invasion and occupation of Afghanistan is a result of the country’s interventionist foreign policy.

In an interview with CGTN, Martin Sieff, a senior fellow at the American University in Moscow, said that US foreign policy has in the past acted like a “pendulum” oscillating between isolationism and interventionism.

The 20-year war in Afghanistan came at a time when the US was trying to impose its values ​​and beliefs on other societies, Sieff said.

He compared the US intervention in Afghanistan to “medieval crusaders in Europe”.

“Their main crusade back then was against the Muslim world. But if they couldn’t fight the Muslims, then they led a crusade against Orthodox Slavic Christians in Eastern Europe and they invaded them instead,” Sieff said, adding that the crusader mentality in Washington is aimed at China and Russia.

From the British Empire to the Soviet Union to the United States, external forces have dominated the construction of Afghanistan in the past century. They have imposed their vision of development on the country, thus making the country a test field and a mirror that reflects the real situation of the international community.

Now, with the complete withdrawal of US forces, the fate of Afghanistan has finally returned to the hands of its people. Whether Afghanistan can overcome its geopolitical curse and find its own path of development is worth seeing.


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