The Rumsfeld strategy that toppled the Taliban over a decade ago was brilliant and innovative: special forces on horseback using GPS to call in unmanned drones. They will analyze it in staff colleges around the world for decades. But what we ought to be analyzing instead is the sad, aimless, bloated, arthritic, transnationalized folly of what followed. The United States is an historical anomaly: the non-imperial superpower. Colonialism is not in its DNA, and in some ways that speaks well for it, and in other ways, in a hostile and fast-changing world of predators and opportunists, it does not. But even nations of an unimperialist bent have roused themselves to great transformative “cleaning processes” within living memory: The Ottawa Citizen’s David Warren wrote this week that he had “conferred the benefit of the doubt” on “the grand bureaucratic project of ‘nation building’ . . . predicated on post-War successes in Germany and Japan.”
It wasn’t that long ago, was it? Except that, as Warren says, the times are “so utterly changed.” It seems certain that, waging World War Two today, the RAF would not carpet-bomb Dresden, and the U.S. would not nuke Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And, lacking the will to inflict massive, total defeat, would we also lack the will to inflict that top-to-toe “cleaning process”?
Ah, well. Kabul is not Berlin or Tokyo. As long as wily mischief-makers are not using it as a base for global mayhem, who cares? To modify Bismarck, the Hindu Kush is not worth the bones of a single Pennsylvanian grenadier, or “training officer.” Afghanistan is about Afghanistan — if you’re Afghan or Pakistani. But, if you’re Russian or Chinese or Iranian or European, Afghanistan is about America. And too much about the Afghan campaign is too emblematic. As much as any bailed-out corporation, the U.S. is “too big to fail”: In Afghanistan as in the stimulus, it was money no object. The combined Western military/aid presence accounts for 98 percent of that benighted land’s GDP. We carpet-bomb with dollar bills; we have the most advanced technology known to man; we have everything except strategic purpose.
That “crusader fort” image has a broader symbolism. The post-American world is arising before our eyes. According to the IMF, China will become the dominant economic power by 2016. Putin is on course to return to the Kremlin corner office. In Tehran, the mullahs nuclearize with impunity. New spheres of influence are being established in North Africa, in Central Europe, in the once reliably “American lake” of the Pacific. Can America itself be a crusader fort? A fortress secure behind the interminable checkpoints of Code Orange TSA bureaucratic torpor while beyond the moat the mob jeers “Die, die, foreigners”? Or in the end will it prove as effortlessly penetrable as the “secure room” of the Afghan Interior Ministry?
— Mark Steyn, a National Review columnist, is the author of After America: Get Ready for Armageddon. © 2012 Mark Steyn