Presented by Dipali Mukhopadhyay, Humphrey School of Public Affairs
Since September 11, 2001, the United States and its allies have involved themselves in matters of governance abroad, not out of an altruistic commitment to the spread of liberal democracy, but, rather, as a function of concerns about the presumed nexus between weak statehood and globalized violent extremism. Those campaigns – of which Afghanistan is the paradigmatic case – have proved profoundly challenging, their failings often ascribed to the weakness and corruption of new regimes meant to usher in stability, democratic politics, and liberal governance. I employ the case of the post-2001 Afghan government, the first object of intervention in the so-called war on terror, to challenge this near-axiomatic characterization. I argue that state-building in the shadow of counterterrorism is an unprecedentedly constricting form of intervention in which a regime’s venality is not a bug but, rather, a feature that stems from the exceptional limits interveners place on the very regime they claim to embolden. The recent calamitous withdrawal of the last of U.S. forces from Afghanistan - and its aftermath - can be understood as a function of this neo-imperial form of intervention as well.