Alfred McCoy, How Washington Lost the Ultimate Drug War

May 7, 2021
Posted in Blog
May 7, 2021 Editor

Alfred McCoy, How Washington Lost the Ultimate Drug War

The True Meaning of the Afghan

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May 6, 2021

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photo above: Afghan War Kills 3 Children a Day: Report | Common Dreams News

WN: The folly and futility of American Empire Wars know no bounds. This applies to Canada too and the West in general–all bundled together by greed, fear, will to domination, xenophobia, and arrogant incompetence. Democracy?–not a chance!

After 13 years in Afghanistan (2001-2014) Canada has nothing to show for it except many dead Canadians, and many more suffering from “moral injury” PTSD (see below)–with untold innocent victim Afghan casualties–and don’t forget the children! And after 20 years, America, the apotheosis of sheer incompetent arrogance vis-à-vis the entire world, tucks its hapless though brutal tail between its legs yet again and withdraws (even then though not really–see here about its sleight of hand) once again occasioning the tragically, overwhelmingly deserved Vietnam syndrome/Saigon nightmare. When will we ever learn?–Pete Seeger:

excerpts:

Shouldn’t we be amazed? After all, for almost 20 years, the U.S. military has been supporting, equipping, training, and building up the Afghan military to the tune of more than $70 billion. The result: a corrupt mess of a force likely to prove incapable of successfully defending the U.S.-backed Afghan state from the Taliban once our troops are gone — that is, by this September 11th.

I mean, what were the odds? All too high, I’m afraid, given the U.S. military’s record in Afghanistan and elsewhere in these years. (Think about the collapse of the American-trained and armed Iraqi military in the face of ISIS in 2014.) In fact, for those of you who are old enough, a few Vietnam War-era bells should already be ringing as well, given the fate of the South Vietnamese military, supported in a similar fashion, once the U.S. pulled out of that conflict.

As the American war in Afghanistan winds down, perhaps the only question is: Who’s been on what drugs all these years? It’s a subject that TomDispatch regular and author of In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power Alfred McCoy takes up in his always striking fashion today. In fact, he offers us a unique look at the Afghan War as, in so many senses and at so many levels, both a drug and a drugged war. In the process, he gives the very word “withdrawal” new meaning. In his treatment of America’s disastrous Afghan War, he also offers a hint of the striking analysis to come in his new imperial history of the world, his latest Dispatch book due out this fall, To Govern the Globe: World Orders and Catastrophic Change. Tom


The Taliban’s fighters have already captured much of the countryside, reducing control of the American-backed Afghan government in Kabul, the capital, to less than a third of all rural districts. Since February, those guerrillas have threatened the country’s major provincial capitals — Kandahar, Kunduz, Helmand, and Baghlan — drawing the noose ever tighter around those key government bastions. In many provinces, as the New York Times reported recently, the police presence has already collapsed and the Afghan army seems close behind.

If such trends continue, the Taliban will soon be primed for an attack on Kabul, where U.S. airpower would prove nearly useless in street-to-street fighting. Unless the Afghan government were to surrender or somehow persuade the Taliban to share power, the fight for Kabul, whenever it finally occurs, could prove to be far bloodier than the fall of Saigon — a twenty-first-century nightmare of mass flight, devastating destruction, and horrific casualties.

With America’s nearly 20-year pacification effort there poised at the brink of defeat, isn’t it time to ask the question that everyone in official Washington seeks to avoid: How and why did Washington lose its longest war?

First, we need to get rid of the simplistic answer, left over from the Vietnam War, that the U.S. somehow didn’t try hard enough. In South Vietnam, a 10-year war, 58,000 American dead, 254,000 South Vietnamese combat deaths, millions of Vietnamese, Laotian, and Cambodian civilian deaths, and a trillion dollars in expenditures seem sufficient in the “we tried” category. Similarly, in Afghanistan, almost 20 years of fighting, 2,442 American war dead, 69,000 Afghan troop losses, and costs of more than $2.2 trillion should spare Washington from any charges of cutting and running.

With America’s nearly 20-year pacification effort there poised at the brink of defeat, isn’t it time to ask the question that everyone in official Washington seeks to avoid: How and why did Washington lose its longest war?

First, we need to get rid of the simplistic answer, left over from the Vietnam War, that the U.S. somehow didn’t try hard enough. In South Vietnam, a 10-year war, 58,000 American dead, 254,000 South Vietnamese combat deaths, millions of Vietnamese, Laotian, and Cambodian civilian deaths, and a trillion dollars in expenditures seem sufficient in the “we tried” category. Similarly, in Afghanistan, almost 20 years of fighting, 2,442 American war dead, 69,000 Afghan troop losses, and costs of more than $2.2 trillion should spare Washington from any charges of cutting and running.

The answer to that critical question lies instead at the juncture of global strategy and gritty local realities on the ground in the opium fields of Afghanistan. During the first two decades of what would actually be a 40-year involvement with that country, a precise alignment of the global and the local gave the U.S. two great victories — first, over the Soviet Union in 1989; then, over the Taliban, which governed much of the country in 2001.

Canada and the War in Afghanistan: Although the Taliban were removed from power and the al-Qaeda network was disrupted, Canada and its allies failed to destroy either group, or to secure and stabilize Afghanistan. More than 40,000 Canadian Armed Forces members served in the 12-year campaign. The war killed 165 Canadians — 158 soldiers and 7 civilians. Many Canadian veterans of the war in Afghanistan suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. (See too this post that discusses the most severe form of PTSD: “moral injury.”)

During the nearly 20 years of U.S. occupation that followed, however, Washington mismanaged global, regional, and local politics in ways that doomed its pacification effort to certain defeat. As the countryside slipped out of its control and Taliban guerrillas multiplied after 2004, Washington tried everything — a trillion-dollar aid program, a 100,000 troop “surge,” a multi-billion-dollar drug war — but none of it worked. Even now, in the midst of a retreat in defeat, official Washington has no clear idea why it ultimately lost this 40-year conflict.

Secret War (Drug War)

Just four years after the North Vietnamese army rolled into Saigon driving Soviet-made tanks and trucks, Washington decided to even the score by giving Moscow its own Vietnam in Afghanistan. When the Red Army occupied Kabul in December 1979, President Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, crafted a grand strategy for a CIA covert war that would inflict a humiliating defeat on the Soviet Union.

While the U.S. bombing campaign raged through October 2001, the CIA shipped $70 million in bundled bills into Afghanistan to mobilize its old coalition of tribal warlords for the fight against the Taliban. President George W. Bush would later celebrate that expenditure as one of history’s biggest “bargains.”

Almost from the start of what became a 20-year American occupation, however, the once-perfect alignment of global and local factors started to break apart for Washington. Even as the Taliban retreated in chaos and consternation, those bargain-basement warlords captured the countryside and promptly presided over a revived opium harvest that climbed to 3,600 tons by 2003, or an extraordinary 62% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Four years later, the drug harvest would reach a staggering 8,200 tons — generating 53% of the country’s GDP, 93% of the world’s illicit heroin, and, above all, ample funds for a revival of… yes, you guessed it, the Taliban’s guerrilla army.

Stunned by the realization that its client regime in Kabul was losing control of the countryside to the once-again opium-funded Taliban, the Bush White House launched a $7-billion drug war that soon sank into a cesspool of corruption and complex tribal politics. By 2009, the Taliban guerrillas were expanding so rapidly that the new Obama administration opted for a “surge” of 100,000 U.S. troops there.

By attacking the guerrillas but failing to eradicate the opium harvest that funded their deployment every spring, Obama’s surge soon suffered a defeat foretold. Amid a rapid drawdown of those troops to meet the surge’s use-by date of December 2014 (as Obama had promised), the Taliban launched the first of its annual fighting-season offensives that slowly wrested control of significant parts of the countryside from the Afghan military and police.

By 2017, the opium harvest had climbed to a new record of 9,000 tons, providing about 60% of the funding for the Taliban’s relentless advance. Recognizing the centrality of the drug trade in sustaining the insurgency, the U.S. command dispatched F-22 fighters and B-52 bombers to attack the Taliban’s labs in the country’s heroin heartland. In effect, it was deploying billion-dollar aircraft to destroy what turned out to be 10 mud huts, depriving the Taliban of just $2,800 in tax revenues. To anyone paying attention, the absurd asymmetry of that operation revealed that the U.S. military was being decisively outmaneuvered and defeated by the grittiest of local Afghan realities.

At the same time, the geopolitical side of the Afghan equation was turning decisively against the American war effort. With Pakistan moving ever closer to China as a counterweight to its rival India and U.S.-China relations becoming hostile, Washington grew increasingly irritated with Islamabad. At a summit meeting in late 2017, President Trump and India’s Prime Minister Modi joined with their Australian and Japanese counterparts to form “the Quad” (known more formally as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue), an incipient alliance aimed at checking China’s expansion that soon gained substance through joint naval maneuvers in the Indian Ocean.

Within weeks of that meeting, Trump would trash Washington’s 60-year alliance with Pakistan with a single New Year’s Day tweet claiming that country had repaid years of generous U.S. aid with “nothing but lies & deceit.” Almost immediately, Washington announced suspension of its military aid to Pakistan until Islamabad took “decisive action” against the Taliban and its militant allies.

With Washington’s delicate alignment of global and local forces now fatally misaligned, both Trump’s capitulation at peace talks with the Taliban in 2020 and Biden’s coming retreat in defeat were preordained. Without access to landlocked Afghanistan from Pakistan, U.S. surveillance drones and fighter-bombers now potentially face a 2,400-mile flight from the nearest bases in the Persian Gulf — too far for effective use of airpower to shape events on the ground (though America’s commanders are already searching desperately for air bases in countries far nearer to Afghanistan to use).

Please click on: True Meaning of the Afghan “Withdrawal”

Editor

Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.

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