Thanks to Our Military Debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan, America's 'Superpower' Status Has Officially Ended
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The NDN was fully developed only beginning in 2009, when it belatedly became clear to Washington that Pakistan had a potential stranglehold on the American war effort. Involving at least 16 countries and just about every form of transport imaginable, the NDN is actually three routes, two of them via Russia, that funnel just about everything through the bottleneck of corrupt, autocratic Uzbekistan.
In other words, simply to fight its war, Washington has made itself dependent on the kindness of strangers -- in this case, Pakistan and Russia. It’s one thing when a superpower or great power on the rise casts its lot with countries that may not be natural allies; it’s quite a different story when a declining power does so. Russian leaders are already making noises about the viability of the northern route if the U.S. continues to displease it on the placement of its prospective European missile defense system.
But the more immediate psychodrama of the Afghan War is in Pakistan. There, the massive resupply operation is already a major scandal. It was estimated, for instance, that, in 2008, 12% of all U.S. supplies heading from Karachi to Bagram Air Base went missing somewhere en route. In what Karachi’s police chief has called “the mother of all scams,” 29,000 cargo loads of U.S. supplies have disappeared after being unloaded at that port.
In fact, the whole supply system -- together with the local security and protection agreements and bribes to various groups that are part and parcel of it along the way -- has evidently helped fund and supply the Taliban, as well as stocking every bazaar en route and supporting local warlords and crooks of every sort.
Recently, in response to American air strikes that killed 24 of their border troops, the Pakistani leadership forced the Americans to leave Shamsi air base, where the CIA ran some of its drone operations, successfully pressured Washington into at least temporarily halting its drone air campaign in Pakistan’s borderlands, and closed the border crossings through which the whole American supply system must pass. They remain closed almost two months later. Without those routes, in the long run, the American war simply cannot be fought.
Though those crossings are likely to be reopened after a significant renegotiation of U.S.-Pakistani relations, the message couldn’t be clearer. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in those Pakistani borderlands, have not only drained American treasure, but exposed the relative helplessness of the “sole superpower.” Ten (or even five) years ago, the Pakistanis would simply never have dared to take actions like these.
As it turned out, the power of the U.S. military was threateningly impressive, but only until George W. Bush pulled the trigger twice. In doing so, he revealed to the world that the U.S. could not win distant land wars against minimalist enemies or impose its will on two weak countries in the Greater Middle East. Another reality was exposed as well, even if it has taken time to sink in: we no longer live on a planet where it's obvious how to leverage staggering advantages in military technology into any other kind of power.
In the process, all the world could see what the United States was: the other declining power of the Cold War era. Washington’s state of dependence on the Eurasian mainland is now clear enough, which means that, whatever “agreements” are reached with the Afghan government, the future in that country is not American.
Over the last decade, the U.S. has been taught a repetitive lesson when it comes to ground wars on the Eurasian mainland: don’t launch them. The debacle of the impending double defeat this time around couldn’t be more obvious. The only question that remains is just how humiliating the coming retreat from Afghanistan will turn out to be. The longer the U.S. stays, the more devastating the blow to its power.