On this edition of Parallax Views, what does President Joe Biden’s decision to withdrawal troops from Afghanistan mean in the context of America’s history with war and foreign intervention? Joining us to discuss this and the history of U.S. foreign policy in Afghanistan is the Watson Institute’s Stephen Kinzer, author of Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq. This conversation was spurred on by Kinzer’s April op-ed in the Boston Globe entitled “In Biden’s pledge to withdraw from Afghanistan, the prospect of turning an imperial tide”.
We begin by delving into the origins of how Stephen Kinzer developed his thinking on foreign policy, which in contrast to the D.C. consensus, emphasize restraint and skepticism towards the supposed effectiveness and benefits of imperial adventurism and foreign interventions. From there we delve into the origins of U.S. imperial ambitions and the American Exceptionalism that fuel those ambitions. In this regard Kinzer discusses an early intervention into the Philippines as well as detailing how the ethos of America’s right to rule informs an understanding of historical that is to the detriment of learning history’s lesson.
From there we dive into the deep history of America’s foreign intervention into Afghanistan following the events of September 11th, 2001. Kinzer notes how Afghanistan has fought foreign invaders many times over the course of centuries, and then takes us back to the overthrow of the Shah of Iran in 1979 and the Soviet-Afghan conflict of the Cold War. We go on to discuss the role of the CIA in the Soviet-Afghan conflict by way of its support of the mujahedeen and how this relates to the genesis of the Taliban. In this regard Kinzer responds to criticism that critics of U.S. foreign policy are “conspiracy theorists” who believe that the U.S. created jihadist militant organizations like al Qaeda. We also take some time to discuss how Operation Ajax, the covert operation that overthrew the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953, may also arguably create a domino effect of decades-spanning, far-reaching consequences that would eventually. Moreover, Kinzer discusses pushback against criticisms of the U.S. role in the growth of jihadist terrorism vis-à-vis accusations that such criticisms are based on conspiracy theories claiming that the United States directly created al Qaeda. In addition, Stephen Kinzer discusses the role of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan’s ISI (intelligence services) in this area as well.
We conclude the conversation by delving into the importance of Biden’s statements concerning withdrawal and that Afghans must decide their future rather than Americans. Additionally, Kinzer discusses how we are moving towards a multipolar world and how a combination of foreign policy restraint and better domestic policies at home will actually benefit not only our national security but the well-being of ourselves and other countries more than continued foreign interventions. Moreover, Kinzer makes notes of how the American people, if not the beltway itself, are now embracing a more restrained vision of America’s role in the world that stands in contrasts to D.C. stalwarts like Robert Kagan and Samantha Power