Thursday, July 15, 2010

Afghanistan: Graveyard of Empires?

UPDATE:  Institute on Governance features a conference on Afghanistan.
Irshad Manji has an interesting analysis of the "Graveyard of Empires" meme and the potential for failure of General Petreaus's new gig. She seems to think that the tribal mentality will out smart the General.  Like most sources guilty of repeating this old canard, she cites only the Soviet experience and the Brits, the two most recent examples of "failure" in Afghanistan.

I've been a student of history for most of my life and this business of Afghanistan being the "Graveyard of Empires" has always struck me as a bit short on knowledge of the long trail of Asian history. So I went looking.  Here's what I found:

Afghanistan, the Graveyard of Empires - Really?

The author cites no fewer than ten empires that have enveloped the lands now called Afghanistan and beyond, including both the Soviets and the Brits. What he finds is that virtually none of them, including the later two, lost their empire due to Afghan resistance.  I've already touched on the real reason for the Soviet Union's withdrawal here.

Those ten empires are:

The Achmaenid Empire (550-330 BCE)

Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE) (The Afghan city of Kandahar is said to be named after him.)

The Sassanid Empire (224-651)

The Ummayad Caliphate (661-750)

The Ghaznavid Empire (963-1137)

The Mongol Empire (1206-1358) (See my discussion of them here.)

The Timurid Empire (1370-1526)

The Safavid Empire (1502 - 1736)

The British Empire (1583-1945)

The Soviet Union (1917-1991)
There's a band of the earth's surface that stretches from North Africa to the Mongolian Pacific coastline that has been a virtual corridor of both conquest and trade since the dawn of history. It is along this trail that the most ancient of humanity's civilizations developed, at either end and at several spots in between. The influence of this region on the history of the world cannot be over estimated.  Even Columbus's journey to the Americas was inspired by the quest to find an route to China that bypassed the hostile tribal territories between Europe and the Far East.

To suggest that Afghanistan was somehow not stomped upon and conquered by any previous marauding hoards is to admit one's ignorance of history.  And besides, the USA has no interest in building an empire.  Their only interest is in defeating the Taliban for good and helping the Afghan people. And to suggest that the Afghans do not want the same thing is stultifying. I prefer to get my information from Terry Glavin, one of the founding members of  the Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee, for the real scoop. The Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee, by the way, is a treasure trove of information about and by the Afghan people.

And speaking of Empires, did you know that when the Brits arrived in India, a good part of the Indian sub-continent was already subjugated to another empire, the Mughal Empire, whose rulers were descendants of the Mongol Empire and the Timurids, themselves a leftover from the Mongols.  And China was ruled by a dynasty started by Kublai Khan, one of Ghengis Khan's sons - the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368).


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Blogger Indigo Red said...

I think the judgement that Afghanistan is the Graveyard of Empires is a Euro-centric one. If so, which seems reasonable, then the problem for the occupying force was one of supply line security. Coalition forces have supply line difficulties today as all material must be shipped through hostile and enemy territory with the controllers of said territory being paid millions of dollars not to attack.

The successful attackers of Afghanistan were more closely related in cultural habits and were able to live off the land and several were fellow Muslim empires so they weren't so objectionable as Western infidels.

In my judgement, without absolute control over our supply lines, we cannot succeed in Afgahnistan in the long run. This is where transporters and replicators would be a great advantage.

July 16, 2010 12:02 am  
Blogger Louise said...

I don't know about that. Alexander the Great and the Mongols weren't culturally similar.

I hope you're wrong. It seems to me the war was under resourced from the beginning. Iraq seems to have drained the supply. Notwithstanding the recent shakeup of generals and what not, with The One in charge now, it's probably not going to get much better. But if anyone can win it, it will be General Petreaus.

Also, if my prediction about Iran comes true, that regime will collapse before the end of the year, which could change the entire dynamic of the region. Have you ever checked out The Spirit of Man blog and For a Democratic Secular Iran Secular Iran (they are in my blogroll). Michael Ledeen is a good source, too.

July 16, 2010 1:00 am  

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