The Hollow Empire

While no one was looking, the US lost the war in Afghanistan. The announcement that joint operations involving US/NATO forces and Afghan military and police personnel will cease — “temporarily” — went down with a whimper, not a bang. Since the whole purpose of our continued presence in that country is supposedly to train the forces of Afghan “President” Hamid Karzai, the entire rationale for the war just fell apart, and isn’t it funny — as in funny-weird, rather than funny-ha-ha — that nobody noticed?

Well, not really: we’re in campaign mode, and neither major party presidential candidate is much interested in the subject of a war we’ve been fighting for over a decade, at a cost measured in the trillions (aside from the incalculable human misery). Mitt Romney is mum, and the President has more important matters to consider. Since Romney’s foreign policy team favors a policy rejected by the overwhelming majority of the American people, it’s no wonder their candidate has little to say about it. As for Obama: remember when he and his platoon of “national security Democrats” were telling us Afghanistan was the “good war”? Now that its goodness seems to have dissipated with voters, the administration would rather not remind Americans how much Obama deepened that particular quagmire.

As for the voters themselves: the same people who told pollsters they supported the war in the earlier part of the decade are now telling the same pollsters they want out. The American attention span has been getting shorter over the past decade, and if only we can get them to the point of being bored with the next war before it begins, we’ll be — literally — ahead of the game.

Speaking of losing while no one was looking: whatever happened to Iraq? Oh yes, now I remember: it became a satellite of Iran just after the US presence was officially — albeit not actually — ended. In a country where nearly 5,000 American soldiers died in a war to export “democracy,” the elected vice president is on the lam and death squads roam the streets — no, not our death squads this time.

This is yet another disaster not to be noticed or even mentioned by our political class — including not only the politicians but also the news media and the commentariat that make careers out of covering up for and sucking up to Official Washington. The policy wonks, the Approved Pundits, the publicists and professional agitators of the left and the right — when will we hear a peep out of any them about these dismal and costly failures? After the election? My guess: never.

And that’s just how the War Party likes it. They don’t want anyone asking uncomfortable questions about future wars, especially the looming conflict just around the next corner. (Turn right at Election Day, and head straight to Tehran.) But my question is broader, and it’s this: when was the last time the US actually won a war?

No, no, I don’t mean Grenada, fer chrissake: I mean a real honest-to-goodness all-out bang ‘em up war, with an opponent who had at least a fighting chance. Before the recent spate of attempted conquests, there was Vietnam — a flat out defeat: and Korea — a draw. On a smaller scale, none of the “anti-communist” insurgencies we sponsored in the 1980s in Nicaragua and El Salvador succeeded in producing anything but trouble for us and untold misery for the inhabitants of those unfortunate countries — all in all, our efforts in Central and South America during the cold war era amounted to the Bay of Pigs writ large.

In order to tout a war that can be counted as an unambiguous American victory we have to go all the way back to World War II. However, even this undoubted military triumph had its Pyrrhic aspect. Since it launched us on an interventionist course that landed us where we are today — teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and hated around the world — the original Good War was, arguably, the great-grandaddy of all the defeats to come.

Conservatives credit Ronald Reagan and “Star Wars” for supposedly “winning” the cold war, but we didn’t win a single battle in that fifty-year global conflict. In reality, the Soviets defeated themselves — in the economic realm, where their centrally-planned economy proved inadequate to the task of providing basic necessities, and on the battlefield in Afghanistan, where they were beaten by the same forces that threw out the British and have finally defeated us.

If the US is an empire, as anti-interventionists (and the more honest interventionists) describe it, then it is a hollow one. Our much-vaunted military might is a myth. We haven’t won a war in over sixty years: what is supposedly the mightiest war-making machine on earth has been out-fought and out-maneuvered by a rag-tag bunch of Taliban bandits and two-bit local warlords. They call us the “hyperpower” — a role which seems to mean we’re at the constant beck and call of our allies, all of them employing very active Washington lobbyists. Bedeviled by our friends, reviled by our enemies, and envied (and resented) by all, America has no friends in the world — only clients, dependents, and targets.

To top it off, we’re out of money — and the US economy, the engine and motive power of the Last Superpower’s alleged invincibility, is showing signs of structural instability. If the whole edifice collapses tomorrow, who will be surprised?

As Washington’s lords and ladies bask in the unreal glory of America’s imperial delusion, and look forward to yet another exciting coronation ceremony this winter, the peasants with pitchforks are gathering in the shadow of the castle, their voices rising above the ordinary din generated by our chattering classes. The American people are waking up to the reality, even if our elites are not, and it is a rude awakening indeed. Fired, foreclosed, and fed up, they have had it up to here with the pretensions of our would-be Napoleons and world policemen in both parties. They don’t understand why we’re shipping billions — billions! — of our tax dollars overseas, to Libya, where they’re killing our diplomats, to Egypt, where they’re trying to burn down our embassy, and to Israel, where they’re trying to blackmail us into fighting yet another war on their behalf.

When will it end? It’s a race between the growing anger out in the hinterlands and the growing debt that is destroying our economy. As to which will reach the boiling point first — heck, I’m not Nostradamus, just a humble internet columnist.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].