And both its soldiers and its enemies know it:
During lunch, as my hosts casually pointed out the site of the holly-oak barrier and other places in the village where the British had been massacred in 1842, we compared our respective family memories of that war. I talked about my great-great-uncle, Colin Mackenzie, who had been taken hostage nearby, and I asked if they saw any parallels with the current situation. “It is exactly the same,” said Jagdalak. “Both times the foreigners have come for their own interests, not for ours. They say, ‘We are your friends, we want to help.’ But they are lying.”
“Whoever comes to Afghanistan, even now, they will face the fate of Burnes, Macnaghten and Dr Brydon,” agreed Mohammad Khan, our host in the village and the owner of the orchard where we were sitting. Everyone nodded sagely into their rice: the names of the fallen of 1842, long forgotten in their home country, were still common currency here.
“Since the British went, we’ve had the Russians,” said one old man to my right. “We saw them off, too, but not before they bombed many of the houses in the village.” He pointed at a ridge full of ruined mudbrick houses on the hills behind us.
“We are the roof of the world,” said Khan. “From here, you can control and watch everywhere.”
“Afghanistan is like the crossroads for every nation that comes to power,” agreed Jagdalak. “But we do not have the strength to control our own destiny. Our fate is determined by our neighbours….”
The following morning in Jalalabad, we went to a jirga, or assembly, of Ghilzai tribal elders, to which the greybeards of Gandamak had come, under a flag of truce, to discuss what had happened the day before. As Predator drones took off and landed incessantly at the nearby airfield, we chatted over a pot of green tea.
“Last month,” said one tribal elder from Gandamak, “some American officers called us to a hotel in Jalalabad for a meeting. One of them asked me, ‘Why do you hate us?’ I replied, ‘Because you blow down our doors, enter our houses, pull our women by the hair and kick our children. We cannot accept this. We will fight back, and we will break your teeth, and when your teeth are broken you will leave, just as the British left before you. It is just a matter of time.”’
“What did he say to that?”
“He turned to his friend and said, ‘If the old men are like this, what will the younger ones be like?’ In truth, all the Americans here know their game is over. It is just their politicians who deny this.”
“These are the last days of the Americans,” said the other elder. “Next it will be China.”
Americans who still contort their minds and imaginations to justify their foreign empire are ignorant of history and blind to historical patterns. Now what was obvious to a few skeptics like me is becoming increasingly obvious to everyone around the world.
The collapse of the Soviet Union led to an unwarranted hubris on the part of Americans, particularly the pro-empire ruling class, because the “Morning in America” of the 1980s was a false dawn funded by credit expansion, not genuinely increasing wealth. In retrospect, the retreat from Vietnam and the Iranian hostage crisis appear to have marked the true inflection point.