While reflecting on the dangers of “success” in Afghanistan, Tom Engelhardt writes:
On the basis of our stated war objective — “[W]e cannot allow Al Qaeda or other transnational extremists to once again establish sanctuaries from which they can launch attacks on our homeland or on our allies,” as General Petraeus put it in his confirmation hearing at the end of June 2010 — success in Afghanistan means increasingly little. For al-Qaeda, Afghanistan was never significant in itself. It was always a place of (relative) convenience. If the U.S. were to bar access to it, there are so many other countries to choose from.
After all, what’s left of the original al-Qaeda — estimated by U.S. intelligence experts at perhaps 300 leaders and operatives — seems to have established itself in the Pakistani tribal borderlands, a place that the U.S. military could hardly occupy, no matter how many CIA drone attacks were sent against it. Moreover, U.S. intelligence experts increasingly suggest that al-Qaeda is in the process of fusing with local jihadist groups in those borderlands, Yemen, Somalia, North Africa, and elsewhere; that it is increasingly an amorphous “dispersed network,” or even simply an idea or crude ideology, existing as much online as anywhere in particular on the ground.
In this sense — and this is the only reason now offered for the American presence in Afghanistan — a counterinsurgency “success” there would be meaningless unless, based on the same strategic thinking, the U.S. then secured Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and a potential host of other places. In other words, the U.S. military would have to do one thing the Bush years definitively proved it couldn’t do: impose a Pax Americana on planet Earth.