18 January 2009

Kabul might feel like Saigon in 1973

The following was written more than two days ago, but I was unable to post it because my internet access card, which are sold here in Bishkek to allow dial-up access through the telephone lines, malfunctioned. That’s about all it takes for me to appreciate how dependent I have become on the internet for news and interpersonal communication.

Reading Chalmers Johnson’s Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, I am even more convinced that to enter Afghanistan now, as I am about to do in less than a week, is akin to arriving in Saigon, Vietnam, just before the Vietnamese finally expelled the American forces of military occupation in 1973. Similar to Vietnam, I believe the U.S. government will exit Afghanistan having failed to achieve its mission, in this case the destruction of Al Qaeda and its bases of support and the restoration of security to the fractured Afghan nation.

In the face of this failure, I expect the U.S. government and its apologists will deploy all the forces of cultural production at their disposal to convince the world, but most especially the U.S. public, that it left voluntarily and victoriously, or at least “with honor,” having done the best it could to bring the blessings of civilization to a decidedly inferior people. But unlike Vietnam, I am not convinced the U.S. nation-state will regain any semblance of the global economic dominance that many American perceive as an immutable truth. O, the nation will survive but its imperial reign, as Johnson convincingly argues, will almost certainly be crushed by the weight of a staggering national debt and the impossible costs of maintaining a bloated global military-industrial colossus.

If we can momentarily suppress the giddiness many Americans feel entitled to savor with the forthcoming Obama inauguration, then it is apparent that there is little political will—or for that matter, legal ability—to roll back the imperial presidency that has been forged since World War II. The constitutional separation of powers that once distinguished our form of government no long exists and any possibility of an easy restoration of that balance was destroyed over the last eight years by a criminal presidency with the willing participation of Congress and the acquiescence of a majority of the American public. No one can predict the future with certainty, but, when combined with the economic challenges facing our nation, I find it difficult to imagine how that damage can be undone in the lifetime of anyone alive today.

Postscript: I may use the first chapter of Nemesis, “Militarism and the Breakdown of Constitutional Government,” in the U.S. Politics and Government course I will teach this semester at AUAF.