During the Vietnam War, Chairman Mao Tse Tung used to call the United States a “paper tiger.” The loss of that war to the Viet Cong left a lasting and humiliating impression on the United States’ high command.
It was this sense of humiliation and loss of power and prestige (the identical motivation that we now skewer Russia’s president for) that animated the so-called neocons to develop a determination to reinstate the primacy of the United States as the world’s principal, if not only world power.
This called for a military buildup that would intimidate any potential rival from the Eastern bloc as well as from other Western powers. Secondly, it called for a projection of actual military power into new theaters to demonstrate that we could bring unmatched and deadly force to any conflict.
In Iraq, Donald Rumsfeld deployed what he dubbed “the mother of all bombs.” And we occupied and rearticulated Iraq to suit our design — out with the Brotherhood and the Sunnis, in with the Shias. We projected our military might as well into Afghanistan, a place that has been called “the graveyard of empires.”
But we, with typical hubris, believed that what had happened to the British, the Soviets and other empires would not happen to us. We had the greatest military apparatus the world has seen since the Romans. (To burnish their credentials as used-to-be world powers, the British and French projected their power into Libya.)
Recent developments in Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Gaza and elsewhere signal the limits of our presumed hegemony, and what has been called “blowback.” And incredibly, thousands of child migrants from Central America have exposed the dysfunctional, paralyzed state of our government.
So is the U.S. a victim of its own overreach? It was the Soviets’ overreach in Afghanistan that possibly catalyzed its own dissolution. There are lessons to be learned from history!