By John Grant
Robert Kaplan is too much of an imperialist-military cheerleader for my taste. His 2005 book, Imperial Grunts, was an account of travels around the world reporting on the US military in all those 700-plus foreign bases. “I wanted to cut myself off from civilians as much as possible.” If one likes that sort of thing, it’s an excellent book about the “grunts” who fight US wars. Personally, after four years in the Army, including a stint in Vietnam, I prefer to prioritize civilian life as much as possible, since in this period of perpetual war, the voluntary military has become more and more elite-minded, to the point we’re grooming a military caste system.
Still, Kaplan’s New Years Day Times op-ed — — suggests a strain of realism has seeped into the man’s mind that it would be wise for the anti-war left to absorb. “When it comes to Afghanistan,” he writes, “Washington has been a city hiding behind its own walls of shame and frustration.” He even concedes he “mistakenly supported” the 2003 Iraq invasion. Not that Kaplan has the right answers about what should be done; he likely wants more of the same delivered more efficiently and ruthlessly. The point is, comments like this from a military cheerleader suggest the wheels may be coming off the empire and the antiwar left needs to be part of the coming dialogue.
Kaplan writes, “downsizing of the Afghan mission was probably inevitable,” and “it may soon be time for the United States to get out of the country altogether.” He would obviously do it differently than Trump. He does not mention Syria or Yemen in the op-ed, the latter a country he visited in the first chapter of his 2005 book. There, he concluded Yemen, a dirt-poor nation at the bottom of the oil-rich Saudi Arabian peninsula, was “one small country” and “vast” at the same time. Imagining other places like Yemen, including Afghanistan, he wonders: “How to manage such an imperium?” Today, he writes that US diplomats in Afghanistan are “trying to broker a diplomatic solution that allows the United States to draw down its forces without the political foundation in Kabul disintegrating immediately.” This reminds one of the rooftop helicopter scene from The End in Vietnam. Reading between the lines, here, this worldly pro-military writer seems to see the challenge for our declining imperium as how to avoid the shame and confusion of that scene in Vietnam. In what’s become a regular story inside the Times, yesterday, 27 members of the Afghan security forces were killed in raids by the Taliban. I’m seeing more and more expression in the mainstream these days on an end-of-empire theme.
It makes one wonder — in a metaphoric frame of mind — whether Donald Trump is our imperium’s Mikhail Gorbachev, a leader known in history for easing an empire through its decline. But, then, that may be insulting to Mikhail Gorbachev…
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