Now that America has fully withdrawn from Afghanistan, we should all pause, reflect, and ask ourselves why trillions of dollars were wasted and why thousands of lives had to be lost, all so that the Taliban can return to power after they were hustled out of power twenty years ago. Moreover, when the Soviets left Afghanistan in February of 1989, the Soviet-backed government in Afghanistan at that time managed to last another three years until rebel groups took the country in 1992, which was the year that the Soviet Union had officially collapsed. In contrast, the American-backed government in Afghanistan lost its war with the Taliban insurgency in ten or eleven days. What does that say about American power projection around the globe in comparison to the Soviets or even the British before them?
In sum, the American experience in Afghanistan and the Middle East was a combination of a modern-day crusade, a superficial and vain “Flight of Fancy” to borrow from Andrew Bacevich, a killing spree in order to test weapons and gadgets (almost 50 percent of American exports are weapons), and a Hollywood stunt underpinned by an orientalist outlook that is reflected in the likes of “Lawrence of Arabia” or “Rambo” or “Indiana Jones.” The energy and money spent on that stupidity could have been invested in the American people in order to help them adjust to a globalized world and in turn prevent the political crisis and social strife that the Trump movement has generated. Short-sighted adventurism and mania leave us dealing with long-term consequences that are hard to resolve.
“Democracy” and “Women’s rights” were also sham pretexts for plain adventurism and mania. Democracy cannot exist in a tribal society with low literacy rates, and you cannot turn a housewife from Kandahar into a renaissance thinker or romantic philosopher. Now that the adventurism and mania has come to an end, the goal for American leaders and policymakers is nothing other than avoiding hitting rock bottom and preventing the type of economic, political, and social crisis that the British and the Soviets experienced after their experiences in Afghanistan, which is considered to be “The Graveyard of Empires.” If the British and the Soviets — with all their cultural and social sophistication — couldn’t avoid a crisis after their experiences in Afghanistan, then what makes the United States think that it is an exception to the rule?
Students of politics, international relations, and specifically U.S. foreign policy have to ask themselves what the “drivers” are for U.S. foreign policy at any given time. We are now at the end of the third stage of the overall history of U.S. foreign policy, which is the stage of American global hegemony. The driver for the initial stage of U.S. foreign policy was an inward focus to develop economically and socially in order to reach peer power status with European powers. This stage was called “isolationism.”
After World War ll, the isolationism stage ended and the “containment” stage coinciding with the Cold War took place. The driver for this stage — namely, “containment” — was fear and paranoia vis-à-vis the former Soviet Union. After the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1991 or 1992, the third and final stage of American foreign policy began, and this stage can be characterized as the stage of American global hegemony. The drivers for American foreign policy during the age of global hegemony were arrogance and hubris after winning the Cold War, along with a thirst for adventurism and mania. And the goal for this policy of global hegemony was total control and domination over the world.
But the results of the policy of American global hegemony over the course of the last three decades were the resurgence of the Taliban, Iran’s increased role in the Middle East, the resurgence of Russia, and the rise of China. Afghanistan’s president — whose government was backed by the international community for the last two decades — fled the country even before foreign troops could fully withdraw, and the Afghan government lost the country to the insurgency in the span of ten or eleven days, which only adds to the tragic-comedic nature of the situation. The question now is what takes the place of American global hegemony from an American policy standpoint. Will it be an economic, political, and social crisis as it was in Britain and Russia after their experiences in Afghanistan? Or will the United States enter into a fourth and final phase of American foreign policy that is characterized and driven by a transformation into a social-democratic society like other Western European countries and Scandinavian countries, whereby social services for the American people and the social welfare of Americans are the top priorities.
Now that America’s military endeavor in Afghanistan has ended, analysts and observers should track whether economic and scientific indicators demonstrate a trend towards either crisis or transformation in the United States. It can go either way, and it is important for analysts and observers to track the way things are headed over the course of the next few years. But if we take the post-Afghanistan experiences of Britain and Russia as precedents, we can conclude with some confidence that the U.S. is headed towards an economic, political, and social crisis.
Perhaps many Americans are too distracted or numb to come to terms with the reality that America’s longest war — which lasted a grueling twenty years in Afghanistan — was also the worst public investment ever made in the history of the United States. American taxpayer money went into a twenty-year enterprise and investment to build a central government, a military, and a civil society in Afghanistan, only to see all of it go down the drain in the span of ten or eleven days. Imagine if you were a private citizen and you spent twenty years on a private enterprise, only to see it vanish in the span of ten or eleven days. That’s how one can sum up the whole Afghanistan enterprise in a nutshell. Not to mention the social strife and tumult that all these engagements and wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East brought on a domestic level. Many people overlook the connection between foreign policy and domestic policy. We went from the calm and optimism of the Clinton era to the mania and corruption of the Bush era where two wars were ignited for no reason and a financial crisis was engineered from the top. During the Obama era, the Middle East went up in flames. Trump brought all the karma back home and people in America were on edge and stressed out for four very long years under Trump.
American history is a peculiar and unique subject because for one, America is a country that is only about 245 years old. America is an infant compared to other countries and civilizations which have existed for centuries or millennia. Also, virtually all Americans have immigrant roots. There are very few Native Americans left. For the most part, our origins and roots as Americans lie elsewhere. Michael Lind, an American historian, arguably sums up American history better than any other American historian that I have ever read. Lind argues that American history can be summed up into five distinct stages: green environmentalism, isolationism, global hegemony, populism, and social democracy.
Based on Lind’s evaluation and assessment of American history, we are now at a transition point between populism and social democracy. Although the transition from populism to social democracy has proven to be a difficult one, shifting America’s focus away from Afghanistan and the broader Middle East — in addition to shifting the American foreign policy paradigm away from military hegemony and towards diplomacy and friendly engagement with other countries — will ease the transition towards internal economic and social development for all Americans and thus social democracy in the United States. The transition from populism to social democracy in the United States will not only be a boon for Americans, but it will also prove beneficial for people all around the world because what happens in America affects the entire world. After decades of doom and gloom, there is still reason to be hopeful for a brighter future for all of humanity. As the French Philosopher and Writer René Guénon wrote:
“Those who might be tempted to give way to despair should realize that nothing accomplished in this order can ever be lost, that confusion, error and darkness (in other words, the corruption, greed, hypocrisy, hedonism, heartlessness, lack of love, lies, and warmongering of modern people) can win the day only apparently and in a purely ephemeral way, that all partial and transitory disequilibrium must perforce contribute towards the greater equilibrium of the whole, and that nothing can ultimately prevail against the power of truth.”
America’s involvement in Afghanistan also has the following three lessons for developing nations and for people of color:
1) Don’t take the bait from the corrupt “international community” with its dollars and goodies and “recognition.” They’ll make you soft with their dollars and goodies, and then they’ll abandon you and throw you to the sharks before you know it. In the end, it is better to be isolated and safe than to drown in a sea of corruption and chaos.
2) Make sure your development strategy is endemic and grassroots, and if possible, draw on your diaspora for help. It doesn’t matter if you lack the money that the “international community” has. And if your diaspora community doesn’t want to help, then let them be. They can rot in whatever western country they live in. But your development strategy has to be endemic and grassroots if you plan on playing ball with Uncle Sam and the rest of them.
3) Power is more important than anything else in international affairs. And power is psychological and spiritual, not financial or material.
Power (the ability to control or influence the actions and thoughts of others) is the basic currency of international affairs. And as Machiavelli said, power is employed through one of either two means, namely, fear or love. Western culture (way of life) and hegemony over the last 500 years has been predicated for the most part upon fear. But if you overcome the fear, you win the game. Life is a game. It all depends on having the mental, psychological, and spiritual fortitude to overcome fear and win the game of life.
America’s attempts at global control and global hegemony — as well as its attempt to conquer Afghanistan in the 21st century — can perhaps be analogized to Rome’s policy of global control and global hegemony in addition to its conquest of the Kingdom of Israel at around the beginning of the first millennium A.D.; Both Israel and Afghanistan happen to be lands of significant religious importance, whereas America and Rome are empires that are largely anthropocentric and humanist in their outlook and world-views.
In both the cases of American and Roman global hegemony and imperial conquest, what resulted was a dire situation and a mass exodus of those who were conquered. As the Israelites were scattered around the world due to both corruption within their own kingdom and the Roman conquest of Israel, Afghans are also scattered around the globe due to both Afghan corruption and American imperial conquest. When Afghanistan’s president fled his country before foreigners could leave, it demonstrated the corruption that pervaded that society. Clinging onto dollars and foreign aid isn’t a viable strategy to build a country or a society. After all, the Inca built an empire without any concept of money. Better to be isolated and safe than to drown in a sea of corruption and chaos.
Also, because of corruption, the Israelites — according to religious scriptures and texts — have been cursed by the Prophets and Saints of their time. In the case of the Israelites, it was David and Jesus who placed the curse on the Israelites. “Cursed and scattered” are their predominant traits due to corruption. The same can apply to Afghans in this day and age. But in reaction to a policy of global control and hegemony, a voice of conscience arose from within the empire at the peak of empire, in spite of the fear and paranoia that shaped the psyche of society. What ensued after a voice of conscience arose was diminution of global control and global hegemony over a period of time.
In sum, it took just one person with a conscience at that time to induce the reversal of the policy of global hegemony, and it will perhaps take only one person with a conscience in this day and age to reverse the policy of global hegemony as well. What results from the reversal of a policy of global control and global hegemony is freedom and the dispersal of power throughout the international system, which in turn fosters equity, fairness, equilibrium, and thus peace in the international system.
Eschatology (postmodernism, the study of the end of human history, and the study of the afterlife) and soteriology (the science of salvation) apply more now than ever before. And with the promises of divine scriptures and texts, there are certain events — two of them being more profound than the others — which we have to prepare for, lest we are caught flat-footed or unaware. The expectation is that in turn, these events will augur a prolonged period of global order and peace.
“Mahdism” — or the belief in a “Mahdi” or Messianic figure who emerges in the postmodern age — is the glue that keeps together what is otherwise a divided Islamic community that now encompasses the entire globe. But the belief in a Messianic figure who emerges in a postmodern age — with the postmodern age having already begun sometime in the first or second decade of the 21st century — is not unique to Islam. Rather, the belief in a Messianic figure emerging in a postmodern age is also part of the Judeo-Christian creed and Hindu creed.
Thus, “Mahdism” is the hallmark feature of our postmodern age from both a philosophical and religious standpoint. And folks from a variety of religious communities remain steadfast in their belief that all signs point to the emergence of such a figure at any given moment. Modernity may or may not take these signs into account. But the signs are there for observation, and it is hard to deny these signs. Nevertheless, once this figure arises, the belief is that global order and peace can be realized and eventually there will be a prolonged period of global order and peace as human history reaches its conclusion.
Along with the rise of European colonialism approximately 500 years ago came the rise of anthropocentrism as the predominant ontological state and preponderant intellectual and social discourse. Before the rise of European colonialism, the predominant ontological state and discourse on a global scale for about 300,000 years was theocentric in nature. Islam is perhaps the only religion and intellectual tradition that preserves a theocentric ontological state and discourse in what is otherwise an anthropocentric world. As a result, Islam is now the world’s fastest growing religion, and it will become the world’s largest religion in a matter of years. As the expression goes: “Without God, all is superficiality, superfluity, and vanity.”
Religion — which is the countervailing force vis-à-vis the bloodthirst and greed of modernity and the world system — has one aim or goal, namely, gnosis. And gnosis equates to the knowledge and understanding of the divine essence, known as “Tao” in the Chinese tradition and “Dhat-e-ilahi” in the Islamic tradition. Without the divine essence, nothing would exist. And the embodiment of the divine essence is the “Spiritual Pole,” known as “Qutb” in the Islamic tradition. The “Spiritual Pole” possesses both knowledge and understanding of the divine essence, and he is highly cosmopolitan and internationalist in his outlook and worldview.
There is one Spiritual Pole for every era, along with four thousand Saints (“awliya”) who are scattered across the globe and who also embody the divine essence. When a Spiritual Pole or Saint passes away, they are replaced with another one, and this cycle continues until the end of time. Some Spiritual Poles and Saints are known to the people of their time, but some are not. In fact, some Saints are unaware of their own Sainthood. Some people are unaware of the Sainthood of a Saint when they encounter one, but some people do recognize a Saint and his or her Sainthood when they encounter one.
In sum, the Spiritual Pole and the Saints preserve the divine essence on earth until the end of time. That is their main purpose for being on earth and for existing, namely, to preserve the divine essence on earth until the end of time. But there are essentially two schools of thought when it comes to how Spiritual Poles and Saints are chosen or brought into being. One school of thought contends that Spiritual Poles and Saints are chosen by predestination, while the other school of thought contends that a person can become a Spiritual Pole or Saint through free will. Both are credible schools of thought or theories, but the preponderant school of thought or theory is the one based on predestination. Without the existence of the Spiritual Pole and the Saints, there would be no divine essence on earth, and as a result everything would cease to exist. That is the philosophy and raison d’être of religion in a nutshell, in contrast to the aimlessness and confusion of modernity and the world system as it stands.
Moreover, despite the misconceptions and misinformation about Islam, the ultimate purpose of Islam is the cultivation of love, peace, and social harmony. As the Holy Quran states: “Those who believe and do good works, God will appoint for them love.” (Surah Maryam, Verse 96); Thus, with the outrageous volume of information that is produced every second in this day and age, we must refrain from jumping to conclusions about people and about issues such as Islam and go back to the basics of engaging in dialogue, reading, and research. Arguably, the more people engage in dialogue, read, and research, the less Islamophobia there will be in the world. And in turn, there will perhaps be a greater embrace of what is otherwise the world’s most misunderstood issue, namely, love.