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Good Night, Afghanistan

A calm and cool American president announces a small withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, less than 10% of the total number, in an expression of caution that masks the limits of empire.

In an address remarkable for its brevity, President Barack Obama essentially announced success, lectured Afghanistan on its responsibilities to secure its territory, and noted upcoming troop withdrawals.

Anyone who has lived through past U.S. wars abroad has heard similar statements before, but I doubt they’ve heard what Obama said before: that the U.S. is “not an empire.”

That’s surely news to dozens of countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, which have had their leaders chosen, armed or replaced on American whims.

This is not the end, but it is the beginning of the end.

And it ends not that differently from that of the former Soviet occupation, albeit slower, for both empires were drained of wealth and will.

In the wake of the earth shaking economic fall of late 2008, the U.S. was left with limited resources. Also, recent polls have shown that support has been dwindling for the continuing war effort.

With an election coming, among dramatically high unemployment levels, military draw downs might re energize disaffected Democratic voters.

The President suggested Al Qaeda’s crippling and the Taliban’s humbling the latter being brought to the bargaining table.

But the Taliban is far from humbled. For just a month ago they hit one of Afghanistan’s largest cities, immobilized it for 30 hours, and attacked important military and governmental targets with ease.

Using suicide bombers and small arms, several dozen men hit the governor’s palace, police headquarters, the transportation police headquarters and several military buildings.

One observer of the strike in Kandahar said shell casings hit the streets like “hail after a storm.”

Kandahar is more than a big city: it’s the biggest in southern Afghanistan and a major NATO base.

One Kandaharian asked, “How are they able to occupy nearby buildings and stage themselves so they can shoot on the governor’s office and N.D.S. department? (NDS is the Afghan intelligence agency – its CIA) Answering  his own question, Kandahar’s Mohammed Umar Sathi suggested, “Either the security forces are incompetent, or they have no coordination among each other.”*

The Taliban are itching for the hour of American withdrawal, at which time will come a reckoning.

Empires, like individuals, can tire.

It was not for naught that Afghanistan has been called, “the graveyard of empires.”

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