On the eve of our final and formal departure from Iraq, the GOP is shouting that the U.S. should have engaged in tougher diplomatic negotiations and insisted we keep a sizable force in-country.

The Obama Administrations has made great strides in acting with one simple idea in mind: Other Nations are Not the U.S. and Will Not Be Better if They Try to Become US.

Afghanistan provides a valuable illustration.

The War in Afghanistan began on October 7, 2001 as the armed forces of the United States of America, the United Kingdom and the Afghan United Front (the Northern Alliance) launched Operation Enduring Freedom. The primary drivers of the invasion was the September 11 attacks on the United States, and growing concerns about spreading Al Qaeda operations with the stated goal of dismantling the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization and ending its use of Afghanistan as a base AND Taliban actions involving assassinations of tribal leaders in the North of Afghanistaan coupled with the imposition of a radical minority view of Sha’ria Law.

The goals of the action being taken were clear:

a) From the U.S. perspective, go after and eliminate Al-Qaeda as a threat,
b) From the Northern Alliance point of view, drive the Taliban from power an restore local governance.

But from the first Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld et.al. added a goal:
The U.S. would remove the Taliban regime from power and create a viable democratic state.

Northern Alliance leaders while happy for the logistical, intelligence, transport, and intelligence support and for the action by specialized U.S. and British units, made it clear that that goal was not their goal.

By January 1, 2002 the war was over.

With less than 5000 U.S.troops, mostly Special Forces and Rangers, assisting, the much larger Northern Alliance forces, based out of villages and only massing when that would be most effective, the Taliban had been driven from most villages and removed from control in all of the cities. Al Qaeda had abandoned all its operational centers and had fled to the AfPak Border lands. THAT WAR WAS WON. BUT WE WERE ABOUT TO LOSE THE PEACE AND TRIGGER ANOTHER WAR.

Things went awry. Rather than pursuing AQ into Tora Bora and demanding Pakistani help with incursions into the AfPak no man’s land, the U.S. turned to nation building to create a permanent extension of U.S. power into Asia, just as it hoped to do in the upcoming Iraq War.

Following a Loya Jirga or Grand Council of all major Afghan factions, tribal leaders, and former exiles, an interim Afghan government was established in Kabul under Hamid Karzai an ethnic Pashtun of the Popalzai tribe.

The Problem: The Loya Jirga did not reflect the alliance that unseated the Taliban. The Council should have been dominated by the tribal groups of the Northern Alliance who were mostly rural, conservative Muslims and supportive of localized government. Instead the Council was packed with an urban alliance of wealthy individuals, mosly Pashtuns, aligned with the West and not by those who had won the war.

The Northern Alliance with its conservative, but not Taliban, Muslim clerical support wanted a symbolic head of state, favoring a restored monarch, and a small central government controlled by a parliament favoring village representation in Kabul.

In April 2002, while the country was under NATO occupation, Zahir Shah, the exiled king, returned to Afghanistan to open the Loya Jirga, which met in June. After the fall of the Taliban, there were now open calls for a return to the monarchy. Zahir Shah himself let it be known that he would accept whatever responsibility was placed on him by the Grand Council.

However the U.S. refused to consider this option and used its military presence and promised post-war economic relief to pressure him. He was obliged/compelled/forced to publicly step aside at the behest of the United States because of the many delegates prepared to vote for Zahir Shah and block the US-backed Hamid Karzai.

It was because of this U.S. pressure that Zahir Shah now claimed that while he was prepared to become head of state he did not necessarily believe that role to be as monarch: “I will accept the responsibility of head of state if that is what the Loya Jirga demands of me, but I have no intention to restore the monarchy. I do not care about the title of king. The people call me Baba (Father) and I prefer this title.”

He was given the ceremonial title “Father of the Nation” in the current Constitution of Afghanistan symbolizing his role in Afghanistan’s history as a nonpolitical symbol of national unity. He never was consulted or asked to act in any official capacity. The title of the ‘Father of the Nation’ dissolved with his death.

The U.S. had clearly backed those aligned with its own interests which was the urban and Western oriented Pashutuns. As a result the Northern Alliance disengaged from the Karzai-Kabul government declaring it inauthentic and unrepresentative


They have only cooperated with limited actions in support of their local priorities but not so-called “national” priorities. The Taliban has renewed its efforts and the U.S. has been pulled into a conflict that the former U.S.S.R. experienced in its own Afghan adventure in state building. I have every confidence that the Northern Alliance will be able to do what it did in 2002 when we leave. It is now well armed and well trained. What they lack is motivation. They will not fight for Karzai.

Despite his complete reliance on the U.S., Karzai is NOT a friend of the U.S. He is a loyal member of the Pashtun aristocracy who supports and is supported by the money that flows in from the West. Like similar regimes in the past, he says what is convenient¬, takes little risk, and always has a well financed escape in mind.

Not surprisingly, he is very disturbed that the U.S. is backing talks with the Northern Alliance AND the Taliban.

This is the Separate Peace he fears.

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Proud to be an Independent Progressive. I am a progressive- a one time Eisenhower Republican (from 1965 through 2004)who is now a Democrat. I live in a very RED STATE and am a community activist with a very BLUE AGENDA. I was a professor of history, and am now a researcher and gentleman farmer. My political positions are mixed - thus my preferred identification as a Progressive Independent. I am conservative on matters of military intervention, in regard to abortion, immigration, the public school system, gun rights, taxation, voter ID. But I am a traditional conservative, a Buckley, National Review, Eisenhower Republican..... I am a liberal on matters of health care care, funding education, taxation (yes one can be both liberal and conservative on this), civil rights, and alternative energy development/climate change.

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While I would like to blame Bush entirely for the mess in Afghanistan, our need to establish “Democratic Empires” started long before Afghanistan. Bush should have learned from the Russians but that is water under the bridge. Here is a piece written by Howard Zinn that I think you will find interesting. Especially the part about Justifying Empire.



The neo-cons didn’t want to learn, by any historical example. They were so sure their philosophy was the right one, that they would not listen or look to history to guide them. This whole idea of pre-emptive war is nothing but imperialism. They don’t want mere security for our nation, they want to dominate the world. I hesitate to get into Godwin’s Law territory, but this is exactly what the the Third Reich was all about. At least the NAZIs didn’t pretend otherwise.


I found this curious about who you didn’t mention in the article regarding the Northern Alliance. Namely, their biggest sponsor and strategic ally before our brief tango with them, and the one which still exerts the most influence (though you touched upon the hegemonic proxy war in your comment below).

Don’t think that doesn’t play a factor in our broader regional policy.

On a separate note, the King as a symbolic unifying leader might have been preferable, but we’d still be in the same mess now. I ‘m not aware if his son, Ahmad Shah Khan shares the same popularity or popular appeal as his father. I also don’t buy completely what his father said on face value, but maybe he was being sincere, I don’t know.

KQµårk 死神

You bring up allot of good points about what was done wrong in Afghanistan.

However, if you are suggesting returning to a monarchy could have stabilized the country by itself in 2002, I think you are flat wrong. If the coalition of tribes were so strong in Afghanistan they would have not let the Taliban get in power in the first place. I’m not saying Karzai is the long term answer but you’re making a huge presumption about the strength of the natural alliances in Afghanistan to hold up against the Taliban taking back the country again. If the US and the allies had left too early there was no way a stable Afghanistan would have magically appeared without a long presence of coalition troops no matter what government was put into power.

Your right our mission in Afghanistan was not the same as other “empires” so why does everyone compare this conflict to others where single countries wanted to permanently rule Afghanistan. Like the Soviet’s mission was to occupy and rule Afghanistan. The US and our allies have no such objectives which you even pointed out in your article. Many mistakes were made in Afghanistan but I don’t buy all the lazy minded memes that the effort in Afghanistan are like any other conflicts there.

The US’s (Obama’s) goals in Afghanistan are nothing like Bush’s. The US just wants a chance at a reasonably stable state there and not a perfect democracy anymore. Obama’s surge was about giving Afghanistan one more shot and then withdrawing which we are doing now. It will be up to the Afghans inevitably to establish their own country the way they see fit.

Who knows too much damage may have been done already by the Bush administration but you can never say the US and it’s allies did not try under Obama like Bush did not try.


FWIW, I support the idea of taking our troops our of Afganistan ASAP. I know there is still conflict, but I don’t know why it is still our fight. They have their new government, they should be able to stand up for themselves by now. We are not the world’s police.


The sad but true reality of all of this is that Rumsfeld, who made one disastrous decision after another as SoD, is the one who ordered troops NOT to pursue AQ and Bin Laden in Tora Bora.

What you present makes perfect sense if one’s goal was to successfully execute and complete a military operation. However, if one’s intent was to create an unending stream of money flowing to the military industry and having an ongoing military presence in the ME to control the region, then it wouldn’t make much sense.

And the latter was the controlling mindset of the Bush Admin. Not military success, enriching their crony corporations (including inserting themselves into the Iraqi oil business…which happened) and trying to project US power to shape the ME into the pawn of the US they wanted it to be.

So tragic, the horrific loss of life and injuries sustained, much of it due to the greed of selfish, soulless little men.


Nice article, Murph. I hadn’t known much about the NA before reading, so thanks for informing me. I guess I’ll have to do some research of my own a little later.

Anyway, I agree completely with your basic premise that the US attempt at “nation building” in Afghanistan, initiated by Bush and his cronies, has utterly failed. As you’ve made clear, this is because the nation they had in mind wou;d be more like a US base than anything else. Since this was the overriding concern, corruption and other problems have become endemic in Afghanstan.


Murph, good article!

Afghanistan has long been known for being the “graveyard of empires”, going back a few thousand years. It has been reported that no more than 20% of the population is literate. The country is essentially living in the Bronze age at best.

The United States is woefully lacking in taking the lessons of history into its consideration when policies are planned. This is just another case of that blindness and refusal to really look at the situation.

IMO, the Afghan people have not demonstrated a great desire for our form of democracy. They are a tribal people, accustomed to their own ways of dealing with their issues…sharia law, if you will. Of course, the Village Idiot and his ilk could never “get it” and insisted on pushing our idea of democracy on a people who are not in the least bit ready or able to participate in one. Perhaps that was just a part of Bush’s justification for the war…you remember, spreading democracy? Bush had to come up with a good excuse, especially after he let bin Laden escape from Tora Bora. But I digress…

There have been a number of talking heads from the right wing interested in establishing of a functioning democracy in Libya since the downfall of Ghaddfi. Libya, while certainly not extremely “modern”, is head and shoulders above Afghanistan. If we have our doubts about the rise of a true democracy in Libya, why on earth would we think that the same can be brought about in Afghanistan? This is ludicrous at best! As Lindsey Graham said, “there is lots of money to be made” in Libya…this is no doubt the most important part of the issue, not the establishment of democracy. I think they could really care less about it. Is there a great deal of money to be made in Afghanistan? That remains to be seen. I guess the MIC can sell weapons to Karzai. Now that would certainly strengthen democracy, don’t you think!

Of course, if Sec. Clinton is able to find a way to get us out of Afghanistan, President Obama will be dragged over the coals again and accused of “losing the war” as he has been over the withdrawal from Iraq. But this is the only logical thing for the US to do. We cannot afford to nation-build anywhere else but right here at home. Let the Afghan people take care of themselves. They’ve been doing so for thousands of years…without our help! Is it a perfect scenario with everyone voting for a centralized government? No, but let’s let the Afghans decide for themselves.

I don’t mean to be hard-hearted or cold about the plight of the poor in Afghanistan. Women’s issues are particularly alarming, with females treated like animals and little education, if any, available to them. But the Afghans themselves will have to come around to understanding that their economy will not improve as long as they disenfranchise 50% of their population. And that can be said for many Middle Eastern countries. We can lead this horse to water, but we cannot make those changes for them until they are ready to embrace them. IMO, they’ve got a long way to go!

Sorry for my rambling thoughts. Again, thanks for your article! Very interesting! 🙂


Emerald, do you think that Hillary will try to end the Afghanistan War as a legacy, since she has stated that she is leaving the Obama Admin after one term and supposedly, she’s ‘retiring’ from politics, but will remain active politically?

BTW, great reply!


Very interesting article, MTS3, and informative.

I am sad to say that I don’t understand much about Afghanistan, except for knowing that a similar war, with the help of the USA, helped break Russia and empowered the Taliban and created OBL and al-qaeda.
Or at least that’s my conclusion.

It’s obvious that Karzai has always been a puppet and has never been a friend to the US.

I’m so keeping my fingers crossed that Hillary Clinton can negotiate an end to the war and soon.