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The Real Afghan War: How an American Fantasy Conflict Created Disaster in Afghanistan


The Real Afghan War: How an American Fantasy Conflict Created Disaster in Afghanistan

Anand Gopal

[This essay is taken from chapter five of Anand Gopal’s No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes and appears at TomDispatch.com with the kind permission of Metropolitan Books.]


The ‘modern’ western notion of ‘intelligence’ in the model of having control power over all of the ‘externalized costs’ of the economic model translates into a number of basic reflections of what is wrong with it and schizophrenic.
First, it hides in plain sight the fact that the construct is based on ignorance. Then an entire ‘domino effect’ of secrecy, the need for advertising media to continue to maintain the ‘plausible deniability’ of not only that ignorance but all that does legitimately exist in order to keep the construct in motion and grow. Perhaps it could be called an RNA model of cancer as institutionalized retardation and poisoning.

I think of the word ‘respect’. Etymologically it means to look back, to have reference to. It is the capacity to stand in the confusion and destruction generated by such a construct, consider what is needed for health of life and identify, collectively the ways and means to engage life.

The jirga, the idea of consulting and working with respected elders is a treasure know to every healthy human social configuration. Respect and love that consciously practices discernment attending to the living connection from the elders spanning out to the families that love the land and produce food, all the skills and healing of injuries spanning the web - a model that is the opposite of domination. A model of sentience.


Foreign policy formulated through the high altitude bomb sight of a B-52, with all the clarity of detail you’d expect. Not. As true as this account seems, and no reason to doubt it, I see another possibility. Manufacture the illusion that there really was an existential threat emanating from Afghanistan, sustain the emotional prodding of the 9/11 attack. The policy of military adventurism was decided before 9/11, and if we weren’t killing people and blowing things up then we weren’t really doing anything there, were we? That explains why Bush quickly abandoned the non-war in Afghanistan and invaded Iraq. Much better TV, and a real army to boot. The rhetoric coming out of Washington is so extreme because if the “truth” really starts to unravel there won’t be anyone left standing.

But maybe that’s wishful thinking, and a solid majority, not just of Americans, accept and embrace that this is how the world must work. Just waiting for the next player to make the next move. But we’ve seen how this ends many times before. Empires are built on hubris as well as cruelty. In the pragmatic life of the Afghans before the Americans I suppose they could not imagine a dominant warlord as clueless as the Americans. The truth is they really meant nothing in the eyes of the occupiers, and weren’t important in the game the empire was playing.


Gopal, like so many other critics of the war, doesn’t question the validity of its premise, only what has led to its “failure”.

This is the same mentality that many who opposed the Vietnam War evinced at the time – not that militarism was inherently illegal and immoral, but that it wasn’t “done right”.

That’s a primary reason that “the Vietnam Syndrome” proved so fleeting. Without a grounding in an understanding of the aims and objectives of imperialism, it only takes “a new Pearl Harbor” to ignite the flames of “righteous” conquest anew.

New villains, or the revival of old ones, are being injected into the public’s bloodstream to ward off this latest outbreak of “war fatigue”

And the failure to look beyond “mistakes” and “blindness” to question the true rationales of the American Imperium will play a major part in just how effective that vaccine will be.