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THE FOLLY OF EMPIRES: In the Wake of Afghanistan's Ruination

09/16/21

By Kambiz Zarrabi

The Bible tells us that Cyrus the Great of Persia went to Babylon to rescue the Jewish people from captivity some 2,500 years ago; doubtless a very noble cause.

No; he didn't! Cyrus was not motivated or "anointed" by Yahweh for that noble mission; he was a warrior, a conqueror, out to expand the domain of the empire he was ruling over. He was in his seventies when he was slain in another battle of expansion, this time against the Massagetae tribes, in the marshlands of eastern Caspian Sea area, a thousand kilometers away from Persia's capital.

The Islamic conquerors of 1,400 years ago did not attack North Africa and Central Asia to spread the Word of God and salvage the souls of the disbelievers. No! They came to plunder and enjoy the spoils of war.

The Golden Hordes of the Mongols nearly wiped out the Islamic civilizations of Central Asia, and the Middle East simply because they wanted better grazing pastures and craved the opulent luxuries that they never had.

The Portuguese and the Spanish conquistadors did not invade Central and South America to introduce the defenseless natives to Christian faith and civilized ways. No! They were after silver, gold and jade, and whatever else of value for their masters in Portugal and Spain.

The British Empire colonized India and traded opium from Afghanistan and India in exchange for tea from China. The British portrayed this as a favor: introducing civilized ways to the backward people of India, and pleasurable tranquility to the Chinese!

In short, to remain an empire, all empires do what empires must do in order to maintain their empirical global dominance.

Historically speaking, the Mongols were perhaps the only major empire builders that never tried to whitewash or justify their brutal and merciless conquests. They did what they felt they had to do with no apologies!

The world has changed mostly due to better public awareness through expanding technologies and wider access to the means of communication.

What hasn't changed, however, is the gluttonous appetite of empires to exercise their predatory global control and dominance by any means at their disposal.

We are accepting of the bands of lions and hyenas engaging in brutal combat to expand their domains of influence in the plains of Serengeti, and regard it casually as a demonstration of the Darwinian natural selection and the survival of the fittest.

But when it comes to us humans, our conscience or, better put, our sense of self-righteousness, gets in the way of that kind of bare-naked pragmatism. And this has become the main dilemma that our human empires have had to deal with: How to avoid violating public sensitivities while engaging in the relentless pursuit of the empire's most often less than noble objectives.

Imagine going out to dinner at an expensive, upscale restaurant. You order their very special steak on the menu. The waiter brings the plate to your table and hands you a pamphlet that describes in some detail, including photographs of the blood and gore, how that animal was slaughtered and cut up to extract that particular cut of beef you ordered for dinner.

That kind of honesty would lead to the bankruptcy of any restaurant; wouldn't it? Customers want to enjoy their tasty cut of meat without knowing what it took to get it!

Enter hypocrisy!

But before I continue, I should make it clear that this short essay in not a criticism of anything, but a critique; there is a big difference. I also prefer to eat a tasty steak without thinking about the gory details of its origins. If that makes me a hypocrite, so be it; after all, I admit that I am a true Darwinian by nature: We all are; whether or not we are willing to admit it! We all engage in various hypocritical acts when they serve our purpose; don't we? Women mask their real selves by wearing makeup and augmenting their lips or breasts to look more attractive; and men have their own fake displays of what they consider masculine virility and charm. Even animals engage in similar acts of self-serving deception: and believe it or not, we are not that far removed from the lower species of life in that respect!

Now, to the Middle East theater.

The United States entered the game as a new empire right after the WWII. America took over where Great Britain left off after the war, with only the Soviet empire representing a potential or real challenge on the path to global dominance.

The first test for the new kid on the block was the intervention in Iran in 1953 to overthrow the democratically elected and very popular, Premier Mosaddegh, through a military coup. History shows that the decision was not initiated by President Eisenhower or the Dulles brothers, but was prompted by the British who had lost their lucrative and lopsided oil concessions in Iran. Nonetheless, the official rationale sold to the Americans by the CIA was that Premier Mosaddegh was about to throw Iran into the laps of the Soviets, which would have given the Russians access to the warm waters of the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. That, of course, was a lie about Mosaddegh's or Iran's intentions, but believable enough by the American public to justify that intervention, which supposedly saved the hapless Iranians from the fangs of the Soviet bear!

That was a good enough rationale as, even as far back as then, the world was divided between the two major empires: the so-called Free World headed by America, and the bad guys, the Soviet Block; with the nonaligned nations, such as was Iran at the time, as targets of exploitation by the mighty foes.

Now to Afghanistan; another hapless nation that was, as we were told, targeted by the ever hungry Soviet bear.

A landlocked country, actually a territory divided into de-facto autonomous parcels ruled by various warlords, with never a meaningful central government, had been ignored until around the early 1980s, when some ambitious Afghan leaders decided to unify the nation under one flag and create some sort of a federal system. But without an effective infrastructure, a unified military or security force, and necessary social services throughout the country, etc., the ambition of creating a federal republic seemed no more than a crazy dream.

Under President Najibullah, a soviet trained Afghan leader, Russia offered to help create the so-called Democratic Republic of Afghanistan along the lines of the neighboring Soviet Socialist Republics of Central Asia, such as Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan or Tajikistan. To overcome the expected resistance by the local chieftains or warlords, the Russian military forces entered Afghanistan with hope and indeed the expectation of easily fulfilling Najibullah's dream of establishing a united Afghanistan.

What?! A godless communist state in the heart of Islam?! And another bold move by the Soviet Union to extend its influence southward to reach the warm waters of the oil-rich Persian Gulf?! That prospect was totally unacceptable to the United States.

Russia's entry into Afghanistan was branded as an invasion, and not an invitation by the Afghan leadership. Of course, the Saudis were told to be alarmed by the invasion of heathens into an Islamic state, and were ready to fund any resistance force that would confront the invaders. The Pakistanis were equally alarmed; and, needless to say, America was more than ready to help with strategic support and needed arms.

This is how the Mujahedin army was formed; trained and equipped in Pakistan, with Saudi money and American arms and CIA guidance, and sent to Afghanistan to gather local support and cooperation by willing local warlords to fight the Russian forces. The mission was to rescue the hapless Afghans from the fangs of the Russian bear; yet another noble mission planned by the masterminds half-way around the planet.

It was almost a television sitcom routine when, as I recall, a reporter was interviewing an Afghan farmer up in the mountainous Hazara area. The poor man was lamenting that the bombardments were keeping him from tending to his farm. I could understand what he was saying, as I know the language. The translator was reporting that the farmer says he hates communism and would fight for freedom and democracy! Sure; that illiterate peasant was so sophisticated to understand the evils of communism and the benefits of democracy!

In the process, of course, millions of Afghans perished and the country was pushed further back into the Stone Age. The Russians had to abandon their mission and retreat in disgrace. It was Russia's equivalent of America's war in Vietnam.

One Saudi mercenary commander in the campaign against the Russians in Afghanistan was Osama Bin Laden, who was in fact a dissident Saudi and a member of a very prominent family in Saudi Arabia, dispatched to that war zone perhaps to get rid of him as a political troublemaker.

Well, the Mojahedin managed to kick the Russian troops out of Afghanistan; but soon after their victory they fragmented into rival groups competing for influence and wider control. The increasing prominence of the so-called Northern Alliance alarmed the Pakistani-backed Pashtun tribes who had control over the southern and eastern parts of Afghanistan.

A highly militant group, the religious fundamentalists trained in Pakistan, originally formed to confront India in the disputed Kashmir region, flooded into Afghanistan to fight our former allies, the Mujahedeen. These were the Taliban; Arab and Pakistani militant religious students, receiving funding from Saudi Arabia, and sharing with the Saud clan in their warped version of Islamic tenets, the so-called Shari'a. The Taliban were dispatched to Afghanistan to "stabilize" the fragmented country.

Another period of devastation ensued, resulting in mass persecutions and the destruction of anything that was not already broken. The Northern Alliance commander, Ahmad Shah Massoud, was assassinated by a Taliban member, which ended the Mujahedeen's prominence.

Then came the disaster of September 11, 2001, for which Osama Bin Laden proudly took credit, even though there remains a great deal of doubt whether he was, in fact, the mastermind behind that terrorist act. It is noteworthy that the two-dozen individuals who committed that horrendous act were all Egyptians and Saudis with known connections to the dissident Arabs and Egyptians, many of whom were in self-exile away from their homelands. As it turns out, there existed, and perhaps exists today, sleeper cells affiliated with Al-Gha'eda in the United States and elsewhere, comprising people who carry a deep-seated grudge against the Western powers' policies toward the Islamic Middle East.

The ensuing portrayal in the West was very clear and effective: It was Islamic terrorism against what the Western countries, especially the United States, represented. The generally accepted narrative was, and continues to be to this day, that the Islamic terrorists, or worse yet, Moslems in general, simply hate the concepts of freedom and democracy, as these are alien concepts to them, with the word freedom magnified above all else!

So, these young Arabs, Saudis and Egyptians, who seemed to have everything going for them, frequenting bars and entertainment centers and even learning to fly airplanes, etc., were looking forward to dying by suicide, while taking down thousands of innocent victims, so that they each could go to some heavenly brothel and enjoy the company of the promised 72 virgins! Obviously, it had to be Islamic brainwashing of their young minds: How could it be anything else?

But why would people on the opposite side of the planet even care if we enjoy our freedoms and democratic ways here to try to attack us: just because they hate freedom or our way of life? What kind of freedom is it that they hate so much, which we insist on defending to preserve?

The ambiguous word freedom is so pervasively emblematic in the American culture that we seldom, if ever, bother to define it: freedom to do what exactly? Which kind of freedom might it be that people who don't like us object to so vehemently? Could it perhaps be the freedom to extend the pursuit of our interests into their lands even when it entails denying them of their freedom and independence?

This is certainly not a religious issue even though rebellions, uprisings and even barbaric aggressions are often cloaked in religion to rally or inspire people for a cause. Islam is not at war with Christendom on theological grounds, and it never was. Not even the long-fought Crusades of the 11th through 13th centuries were over settling a dispute over whose version of god was superior to whose!

Well, the attack of 9/11 against the United States homeland had to be responded to immediately, and it was. We couldn't very well start bombing Riyadh or Cairo, since the regimes in Saudi Arabia or Egypt were not our enemies; they were our own designated allies. And, the dissidents were dispersed all over the place, including in Europe, which did not provide a definite target. Ben Laden, however, was known to be in Afghanistan near the Pakistani border.

Afghanistan was hit hard, not only to get Ben Laden, but to eliminate his supporters, our former allies the Taliban, who couldn't or wouldn't hand him over to the United States.

Afghanistan was invaded by the United States and Western allies in 2001 to eradicate the Taliban, and their Al-Gha'eda affiliates, and to establish a new regime, headed by Hamid (Haamed) Karzai. The Iranian government also helped support the Karzai regime, as the Taliban and Al-Gha'eda were admittedly Iran's enemies, as well.

Significantly, however, even though the United States had officially thanked the Iranian government for its support by assisting in establishing the new Afghani regime, a year later George W. Bush in his State of the Union address called Iran a member of the Axis of Evil, along with North Korea and Iraq! He was simply reading the text written for him by a Jewish Canadian Zionist propagandist without giving any thought as to its ramifications. That verbiage, however, was carefully crafted and with well-calculated consequences.

A year later, George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq, based on the "mistaken" intelligence reports that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. I, for one, never believed that the CIA, and especially the notorious Israeli Mossad, would have made such an egregious mistake! George Tenet became the fall guy; but I firmly believe that the invasion of Iraq took place with the full knowledge that Saddam did not have any such weapons of mass destruction to use against our troops, or we wouldn't have risked that invasion. So, why did we invade and occupy Iraq?

The United States invaded Iraq and, of course, found no trace of weapons of mass destruction or any signs of the alleged Al-Gha'eda nests there. Iran thus became sandwiched between an American controlled Afghanistan and an American occupied Iraq. With Iran isolated and Iraq in our grasp, it was Syria to become the next target, with potentially Lebanon to follow.

Was it just a weird coincidence that we were carrying out the steps outlined in the original masterplan called "A Clean Break" or Securing the Realm, drafted for the Israelis in 1996 by a group of American Zionist strategists? Please spend a little time reviewing that link; it is highly informative and eye-opening.

The Clean Break strategic plan followed a deeper precursor outlined by the investigative writer, Jim Lobe; a must read for a better understanding of the empire's geopolitical thinking.

The best laid plans, however, do not always pan out as expected.

The pretexts for invading Iraq and later entering Syria were deceptively convincing: Iraq was becoming the nest of anti-West terrorist groups that had lost their perch in Afghanistan; and Syria was about to implode in anti-regime rebellions, with pro-Iran destabilizing elements taking advantage of the chaos to create even greater terror networks against Western interests.

The so-called Shi'a crescent stretching from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon and the Mediterranean shores, with the primary emphasis always on Iran, had become the region of concern for the security of Europe and the United States. But nowhere did we see Israel mentioned as the true motivating force behind this portrayal.

All that notwithstanding, if America's real best interests were being served by following through with these, as it proved to be, truly horrendous involvements, no pragmatist or believer in realpolitik should ever complain. In the realm of realpolitik, the empire does what it deems necessary to remain an empire, and covers the unpleasant and publicly objectionable aspects of it by resorting to believable deniability, hypocrisy and creative deception. But what if these involvements, which include wars of aggression, breaching of international laws, assassinations, political interference in other nations' affairs, and draconian, inhumane economic sanctions, etc., prove to be against our own best interests, but serving those of other entity or entities?

A recent article appearing in The Guardian, explores the economic windfalls for the defense industries and various NGO contractors and lobbyists related thereto, in the two-decades-long and seemingly unending war in the Middle East. But, again, there is no mention of the foreign elements or lobbies that benefit even more from protracted chaos and conflicts in that region.

The Israel angle:

There is no question that Israel's security and economic wellbeing, as well as its political invulnerability against international condemnations for its violations of inhumane policies at home, and open, and often admitted, acts of aggression, sabotage and assassinations abroad, have been guaranteed by the United States. Why? What a silly question to ask! How could we not protect our best friend and ally when we see banners of "Death to America/Death to Israel" paraded in the streets of Tehran? With a dangerous enemy, i.e., Iran, Israel is facing an existential threat, especially if the Islamic Republic develops nuclear weapons.

Questioning that phony narrative has been very skillfully made to sound as unpatriotic as criticizing the United States for defending itself against foreign terrorism. That is precisely why our nationwide mass media and our representatives in Congress never question the merits of this expensive and counterproductive, long ongoing enterprise.

Let's not get into the discussion of whether Israel is, has been, or even deserves to be, America's trusted best friend and ally in the Middle East. What's done is done and there is no reversing it in our lifetimes.

Nevertheless, America's foreign policies in the Middle East have long been Israel centric. The established premise has been that Israel shares its interests and values with the world's most powerful empire, the United States. And, it matters little whether that is a laughable presumption or not. What we hear all the time is that Israel is the beacon of freedom and democracy and the Western civilized ways, surrounded by people that intend to destroy it!

If supporting and protecting this little brother entails America's support for regional tyrants and dictators, or pouring arms into the region and encouraging instability, internecine wars, famine and destruction, so be it; but as long as the empire's own interests are being served. History shows us that this is how empires survive and prosper.

A recent article by Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J. S. Davies in the website 'Antiwar.com", the link below, deserves readers' attention here: How Can America Wake Up From Its Post-9/11 Nightmare

At one point in their article they quote the former Nuremberg prosecutor Ben Ferencz, who said in a speech in 2011 that "a democracy can only work if its people are being told the truth.

Was the venerable Ben Ferencz sober when he uttered those words?

What would happen when an empire abandons what makes an empire a dominant global power through any and all means at its disposal; when democracy becomes a true liberal democracy; when truths replace feel-good hypocrisies and deception; or when promoting prosperity, peace and harmony among all nations of the world replace exploitation through endless wars? When empires grow wealthy, fat and too comfortable, liberalism and utopian idealism set in, ultimately leading to complacency and the symbolic turning of the other cheek, so to speak.

And, that is when the not so wealthy, fat and comfortable empires, such as China, assume the role of the dominant global empire, and history begins to repeat itself again.

So, my advice is: just be careful what you wish for!

About the author:

Kambiz Zarrabi has devoted the last thirty-some years teaching, lecturing and writing about US/Iran relations. Previous to his retirement, his career included working as geologist/geophysicist in the oil and minerals exploration industries with American and Iranian firms and in the private sector. His tenure included serving at Iran's Ministry of Economy as the Director General of Mines in the late 60s and early 70s. He received his college education at the University of California in Los Angeles, graduating in 1960.



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