“Back in 2001, the Bush administration identified two objectives for its response to the attacks on the Twin Towers and Pentagon. First was suppression of international terrorism, explicitly al-Qaeda. Second was a cynical exploitation of the outrage as a pretext to deploy American might, to secure control of the region.” Max Hastings in The Times
Whilst the objective of the Iraq war in 2003 was openly “Regime Change” in the very early days after 9/11 the objective for the American (and Allied) military action in Afghanistan two years earlier was more limited – the pursuit of Al- Qaeda , especially, it’s leader Osama bin Laden. As the Taliban, the de facto Government of Afghanistan, refused to hand over bin Laden in effect regime change became the goal – as it was to be later in Iraq.
“Regime Change” is the foreign policy part of an ideology often referred to as “NeoConservative”. NeoConservatives believed that military power can legitimately be used by America and other democracies to target anti-American/Western regimes especially those with “leftist” or ideological Islamic militant governments/dictatorships in control.
Historically the Regime change imperative is sometimes traced back to President Wilson who “wished to make the world safe for democracy” and more recently to President Kennedy who in his inaugural address said “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
Both Wilson and Kennedy were Democrats so we are in theory well away from any Hard Right Neoconservatism. But we could in the past definitely observe an underlying political bias in the US in favour of “liberty” and against anti democratic forces. The American organised Bay of Pigs failed invasion of Cuba in 1961 was anti Fidel Castro who was a self-proclaimed Marxist-Leninist. But Castro was in reality a liberty-denying dictator for whom power was far more important than ideology – as it usually is.
The nobility of Kennedy’s words looks less so when you look at the reality. Was there “liberty” in the Soviet Union. Of course not. Did the US “pay any price, bear any burden” to establish it ? No again. The war remained “Cold” – the survival of the human race required that it did, though the Cuban Missile Crisis was a close run thing.
Sanctions can be effective as can western military expenditure in part designed to bankrupt the “enemy” who hasn’t the capability economically to match it. The West did force the end of the USSR in this way, but Russia remains a liberty-free zone. As, of course, does its fellow world power China.
The “deployment of American might”, as Max Hastings calls it, ensured back in the 1940s that Europe became free from tyranny, or at least the Western part of it did. But this selectivity left Eastern Europe under the yoke, albeit a different yoke. Since then it’s been mostly downhill. From Korea, via Vietnam to Afghanistan and Iraq American military intervention has been disastrous. If the NeoCons had had their way Iran would have joined this list.
Will the ignominious defeat of the US and Britain in Afghanistan force a change of tack and finally put the Neoconservatives back in their box? It should. Meanwhile it’s China which is quietly establishing a hegemony. It won’t be long before we see the Chinese bearing not Arms but Gifts in Afghanistan. The two countries actually share a common border in Afghanistan’s Wakhan Province. Not many people know that.