“Graveyard of Empires” Claims Another Victim, by James Corbett
9:14 am on August 16, 2021
So what’s really happening in Afghanistan?
The simplest answer to that question might be: Nothing unexpected. After all, the country is called “The Graveyard of Empires” for a reason.
First, the history lesson: Situated on the main land route between Iran, Central Asia and India, Afghanistan has for millennia been recognized as a key square on the geopolitical chess board. The country has been subject to periodic invasions and conquests by various civilizations—the Macedonians, the Mauryans, the Greco-Bactrians, the Indo-Scythians, the Mongols, etc.—for thousands of years. In fact, control of Afghanistan continues to be recognized as the strategic lynchpin of any would-be world empire in the modern age, with Zbigniew Brzezinski having defined the “Eurasian Balkans” in which Afghanistan sits as the pivot point of global geopolitics for the 21st century.
In the 19th century, Britain came to see Afghanistan as a valuable buffer between the Russians and the crown jewel of the British Empire: India. This led to a century-long covert proxy war for control over the country known to history as The Great Game and resulted in not one, not two, but three wars between the British Empire and the Emirate of Afghanistan. Spoiler: it didn’t end well for the British.
In the late 20th century, Afghanistan once again became the victim of a dramatic invasion (and a witness to the eventual retreat) of a major world superpower. This time, it was the Soviet Union’s turn to fail to subdue the notoriously ungovernable country, drawn in by America’s campaign to stir up “some agitated Muslims” and restore order to a politically turbulent country. Ten years later—after the CIA had engaged in the largest (acknowledged) covert operation in history and overseen the birth of Al CIAda in their attempt to “bleed” the mighty Soviet Empire to death—the CCCP’s mighty army was marching back to Moscow with their tails between their legs.
Now it’s America’s turn to suffer the same fate. Almost exactly 20 years after rolling into the country (for completely fictitious reasons and on completely spurious grounds), they are now exiting the country in disgrace. And so, from a purely historical perspective, we can say that this chaotic ending to the American Empire’s Afghanistan adventure is not unexpected.
We have to understand that Afghanistan was invaded for a number of overlapping geostrategic, military and economic reasons. In no particular order, these reasons include:
- securing a key transportation corridor from rich Caspian Sea oil and gas reserves;
- gaining access to a trillion dollars of untapped mineral wealth in the country;
- protecting the poppy crop, which the Taliban nearly eradicated under its rule and which now produces 85% of the world’s opium; and
- providing a military foothold in a chaotic and—with the rise of China’s Belt-and-Road Initiative—increasingly strategic area.
All of which makes this “withdrawal” all the more puzzling. Why is Biden pulling out at all? All of the geostrategic and economic imperatives that prompted the invasion 20 years ago are still in play today; in fact, given China’s growing influence in the Central Asian region, it’s arguably even more important for America to have a military deployment on their doorstep than it was in 2001.