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HomeGeopolitical CompassWest & Centeral AsiaAfghanistan Was a Ponzi Scheme Sold to the American Public

Afghanistan Was a Ponzi Scheme Sold to the American Public

Author: Alan Richards and Steven Simon 

Affiliation:  Professor Emeritus at UCSC, Robert E. Wilhelm Fellow at the MIT Centre for International Studies

Organization/Publisher: Foreign Policy

Date/Place: September 2, 2021/USA

Type of Literature: Opinion Article

Word Count: 3693


Keywords: US Exit Afghanistan, House of Cards, Ponzi Scheme, Bagram Air Base.


The article states that as the political struggle ended, who lost Afghanistan gets gorier with the jumbled exit from Kabul. Intense images of chaotic activity at the airport emphasize this concern. Nevertheless, the authors emphasize that withdrawal could never have been systematic, as critics inconsiderately infer. An orderly, carefully prepared exit was structurally impossible.  To comprehend the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, it is advantageous to grasp the US-built Afghan state as a Ponzi scheme; it was all a house of cards, and, at some level, everyone knew it. Emphatically, anyone who was familiar with the US government’s own inspector general accounts over the past 10 years would know. For those ignorant of the Madoff scandal, a Ponzi scheme is a sequence of falsehoods, with little or no accurate basis, that are sold to investors as brilliance. It relies on a frequent infusion of new funds. When it becomes hard to get new and continued backing, or when significant investors begin to withdraw, others notice, become skeptical at first, then panic, and finally withdraw their money and, as in a bank run, the rush for the exits ensues. In similar fashion, once Afghans understood that the United States’ exodus was real, they would know it was all over, and if they had been cooperating they would now panic. Some critics claim that if the US had upheld Bagram Air Base and other facilities, then a methodical departure might have been possible. This argument is faulty for two reasons. First, it was precisely the evacuation of the bases that made the US departure credible. It is notable that other countries whose governments do not have a standing for inefficiency, such as Germany, are also experiencing problems and for similar reasons.  The sad fact is that history offers valuable few examples of orderly withdrawals by defeated occupying powers. The French departure from Algeria, the United States from Vietnam, Britain from India, and Portugal from Africa are just a few examples. As the world reflects on the messy US withdrawal from Afghanistan, it behooves everyone to remember that an orderly departure is just a theoretical concept, like a frictionless plane—useful as a thought experiment but with no real-world existence. 


By: Maryam Khan, CIGA Research Associate



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