BIG PICTURE: Ideological OverreachLiberalism’s Graveyard: Afghanistan Is Where Ideologies Go to Die

Published 31 August 2021

It used to be said the Afghanistan is the “graveyard of empires.” Sumantra Maitra writes that the U.S. failed 20-year war in Afghanistan will go down as one of the more consequential wars –a “paradigm-shifting event” — because Afghanistan proved to be the graveyard of ideologies as well: “Evangelical Marxism failed in Afghanistan, as did evangelical liberalism.”

Gerard Araud, the former French ambassador to the United States (2014-2019) recently tweeted that “Afghanistan will go back to its geopolitical destiny, being a buffer state and a marginal backwater. Any country which forgets it is doomed to fail.”

Sumantra Maitra, a national-security fellow at the Center for the National Interest, writes in The Critic that this most recent Afghanistan war may go down in history as one of the consequential ones – “quite possibly one of the most paradigm-shifting events this century.”

He adds:

Afghanistan throws open many more questions about contemporary social science than it provides answers for. It is the graveyard not just of empires – a rhetorical cliché even a neoconservative should grasp – but rather the place and the idea of the place is the graveyard of ideologies.

Afghanistan proved to be the death of the (supposedly irreversible) global march of progress and enlightenment. It is the surest example that time can be turned back by sheer force, and that History, in the Hegelian sense, is not directional but cyclical. Evangelical Marxism failed in Afghanistan, as did evangelical liberalism.


Practically all social science theories on counter-insurgency failed in Afghanistan. Twenty years of the military-NGO complex, panels after panels about the benefits of starting girls schools in Helmand, trillions of dollars in endowments, entire university departments, grants, scholarships, and several hundreds of theoretical papers later, it appears the only way to end an insurgency is not by winning hearts and minds, but by decimating the male population mercilessly and installing warlords; unless one is willing to occupy the land for over three hundred years in a hope of organic change from within that is, roughly the time it took from the last of the Greater Mughals to Nehru.


The Russians stabilized Chechnya, not by teaching Tolstoy but by killing Chechens and installing pro-Kremlin warlords. The Sri Lankans committed war crimes on a genocidal scale but managed to end the LTTE (Tamil Tigers) threat for good. One can debate the morality of these actions, or the fact that Afghanistan is at all strategically that important to us, the way Chechnya is to Russia, or Jaffna is to Sri Lanka. But the end result is in favor of amoral realpolitik. 


“That could have been grounds to halt or reverse the American withdrawal. There was little political pressure within America to bring the war to a speedy conclusion,” argued The Economist, staying true to its roots. Just why should working-class men from either Kent or Kentucky continue to die in a bid to ensure a sexual revolution in Kandahar was never quite clear. As it turns out, the rank and file of those men, just as their normie brethren, are deeply opposed to any more of such misadventures simply because their supposed intellectual betters have utopian ideas about human nature, society, and history. To the continued disappointment of liberals and Marxists, the masses are almost always reactionary and realist.

Afghanistan might have started as a war of vengeance by a wounded and humiliated hegemon, Maitra writes, but it “quickly morphed into a deeply ideological (and in some ways, theological) project of social engineering and permanent revolution by the ‘international community’.”

In theological conflicts, “The real facts are never here and now, they’re always hereafter. In Afghanistan reality asserted itself, and it has buried more lies than we can count.”