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OP-ED: Where will America fight the next war?

  • Published at 09:11 pm August 24th, 2021
Troops keep watch at Kabul airport REUTERS

The hegemon will want to quickly prove it is not in irreversible decline. China and Russia remain permanent enemies

Two years ago, ex-president Jimmy Carter said this about his own country: “We are the most warlike nation in the history of the world.” He maintained that in the 242 years of existence (until 2019) of the US republic, only 16 were marked by peace. Truly damning. 

The then-president Donald Trump had telephoned 94-year-old Carter the day before to discuss his worries about the growing power of China.

Carter, in a speech to a church congregation, rhetorically asked: “Since 1979, do you know how many times China has been at war with anybody? None, and we have stayed at war.” He went on to explain that while China had methodically and patiently gone about building its economic strength, America had frittered its wealth and leadership on fruitless, forever wars.

Even Carter’s record is not unblemished. He had allowed his national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, to destablilize Afghanistan to invite a Soviet invasion and thus justify support for Mujahideen forces. As president, he had also begun the nuclear build-up, which Reagan took over and made an attempted hostage rescue operation in Iran. However, in his term of office, peace reigned. 

The later 1700s and entire 1800s saw the genocide of indigenous peoples across the continental land mass, but also wars with Mexico, China, the Philippines, along with the “internal” civil war of the 1860s.

The early 1900s saw invasions of Central America, mopping up operations in Beijing, the occupation of Haiti, the Dominican Republic. America entered World War I despatching its armies to Europe. Its troops ploughed deep into Russia in the Civil War of 1918-20 against Lenin’s communists. Then there was World War II, during which and after it directed the right-wing nationalist forces in China against the communist revolutionaries until 1949. 

The Korean War followed in 1950, Lebanon later that decade. It attempted an invasion of Cuba after Castro had toppled the nasty dictatorship of Batista. The 60s were known for Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, till the mid 1970s.

Around all these were coups and destabilization campaigns against foreign governments.

I am sure you can find “gap years” or “sabbaticals,” depending on your definition. You might search for “good wars” against “bad wars.” 

Do you smell gangrene? 

We have learned that the war (defense) companies have made a financial killing in these wars. They seem to be a part of a nexus of companies, contractors (mercenaries), corrupt politicians, and former military officers reaping enormous wealth. How is it that the Afghan army did not get paid properly when $2 trillion were expended on war in their country?

This smells like imperial decline where the national interest is subsumed by the greed of a select few.

It still spends $750 billion every year on war (it calls it defense). China spends $250 billion, which works out at one-twelfth, in terms of per person.

Fleeing the northwest frontiers of the British Raj, it is surely casting its eye on the south east of the old empire. Myanmar is a key crossroads, tempting to tweak the Dragon in near Yunnan by supporting ethnic armies such as the Karen. 

Thailand and Laos are seen as way too close to China as well. Losing the drug harvests of Afghanistan might mean a revamping of the Golden Triangle in Southeast Asia, a return to the late 1960s and 1970s.

Latin America, especially oil-rich Venezuela, is never far from sight. A Ukraine-Russian didn’t take off earlier this year but you never know the next time. 

The big one is the Taiwan Straits, carrying ultra high risks but where the US Navies will feel “it is their turn to shine.” 

The US public is unlikely to stomach mass aerial bombardment, nor a ground invasion. Naval operations are a plausible path to follow, commencing with interdiction of trade flows.

One is likely to see more effort in supporting insurgencies in Balochistan (both in Pakistan and Iran). The Horn of Africa could be worth a watch: A vulnerable zone of armed instability from Ethiopia to Yemen, downstream from the Suez Canal. 

There already seems to be a haphazard attempt to patch together a “northern alliance” in the Panjshir Valley. A by-product would be throwing sand in the gears of the proposed Chinese BRI extension, where Afghanistan would become the crossroads of Eurasian trade, not empires. 

How about Xinjiang? Here is where the Taliban promise China not to allow terror attacks from Afghanistan. 

Nato (ie Pentagon) policy was, and remains, the containment and collapse of China and Russia. Afghanistan is thus a cataclysmic defeat. America has been humbled and ejected from the heartland of Asia. It will try to get back in, there and elsewhere. Don’t ask if or why. Ask when and where. 

Farid Erkizia Bakht is a political analyst. @liquid_borders.

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