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No, Afghanistan Is Not the End of American Power

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U.S. Marines react during a Ramp Ceremony for service members killed in action during operations at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 27, 2021. (U.S. Central Command/Handout/Reuters) Our defeat there was a blow, but by every significant measure, the United States still stands alone.

It’s hard to imagine more humiliating images than what we’ve seen in Afghanistan in recent weeks, from the hasty evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul to the chaotic scenes outside the airport.

Our surrender to a band of AK-47-bearing guerrillas after 20 years has, understandably, occasioned autumnal thoughts about American power.

Even the Soviet Union, on the cusp of full collapse, managed to get out of Afghanistan in good order and leave behind a government that endured for several years.

What does it say that we couldn’t match that?

Writing in The New Yorker, Robin Wright says the pullout may serve as “a bookend for the era of U.S. global power.” Allister Heath, editor of the Sunday Telegraph, argues that “the botched exit is merely the latest sign that the American era is ending.” Francis Fukuyama says the images in Kabul “have evoked a major juncture in world history,” although he thinks “the end of the American era had come much earlier.”

There is no sugarcoating our defeat in Afghanistan and the abject position we put ourselves in during the final days. The withdrawal is a blow to our counterterrorism capabilities, our prestige, and our geopolitical position.

For all of that, though, no one in the world has the formidable advantages of the United States, which still outstrips everyone else, including China, on every material metric that matters.

Great powers don’t go away easily. The British could be forgiven for thinking that it’d be all downhill after losing their American colonies in a long war joined by their traditional rivals France and Spain. Instead, British imperial power had not yet peaked.

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