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Afghanistan, China and beyond: Eisenhower’s Domino Theory revisited

Written By | Sep 3, 2021
China, Afghanistant, Eisenhower, Domino Theory

Open source image of Chinese flag

WASHINGTON: In the decades of the cold war, the justification for intervention in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos was to pursue a policy of “containment” against the spread of Communism. President Dwight D. Eisenhower coined the phrase which was repeated continually in reference to the USSR, and the rise of the Chinese communist government-the CCP. During the decisive battle between Viet Minh and French forces at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower called it the “falling domino” principle. 

In Eisenhower’s view, the loss of Vietnam to communist control would lead to similar communist victories in neighboring countries in Southeast Asia.

The term “domino theory” began to be used to express the importance of South Vietnam to the United States, as well as the need “to contain the spread of communism throughout the world.”

While the formal structure of the Soviet Union broke down in the late 1980s, the Chinese communist government continued to gain in influence, economic strength, and leverage.  China may not have had direct control in Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, and other Asian countries right after the Vietnam war, but China’s economic, political and social interposition in the region can be viewed more clearly in 2021.

China has steadily and quietly created “alliances” and allegiances in Central Asia, North Korea, Africa, the Middle East, sections of Central and North America-including Canada and the USA.

China has gained leverage in all aspects of Canadian and American society. They play the cumulative, long game.

Pax Talibana?

The Taliban just announced that China is their friend, partner, and “closest ally”.  They have held joint meetings openly since July 2021.

Taliban officials have declared China as their closest ally in the international community, with the insurgent group holding the country in “high regard.” They believe that Beijing is “ready to invest in and reconstruct” Afghanistan and described them as their “principal partner.”

The Belt Road Initiative (BRI) could be beneficial to Afghanistan with its promise of infrastructure, mining projects, and “soft program” financing including health and education projects emphasizing the sciences and engineering.

Stability in Afghanistan is a prerequisite for the development and success of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a major segment of the BRI.

China has invested billions of U.S. dollars in the construction of roads, special economic zones, and ports.

However, due to geographic conditions and tensions with India in Kashmir, the Chinese city of Kashgar in the Uighur region, has only tenuous connections with the BRI corridor.  Certain projects are facing significant delays.

“In southern Pakistan, China is developing the port of Gwadar, which is to become a major hub for energy. However, to be profitable, the new port needs to serve as a terminal for natural gas from Central Asia, through Afghanistan. But transportation or pipelines could not be planned in a war-torn country.

With a “Pax Talibana” in Afghanistan, both China and Pakistan can envisage new infrastructure facilities that may connect Gwadar to Central Asia. Once those networks are built, Gwadar will also become much more attractive to foreign investors, especially from the Gulf Arab region, as they have until now, shown some reluctance to invest in Gwadar because of a lack of prospects.”

Controlling the narratives

The Chinese government is likely going to advance a narrative of U.S. decline and Chinese ascendance. China will be able to draw a stark contrast between the chaos of U.S. withdrawal and what it states is the “destructive” role of U.S. power, in comparison with the opportunities that China “will bring to the table”.

While the past and present in Afghanistan might be tragic, China will present a possible future of economic development and hope—if the Taliban does what China wants. At least this is what China is tempting them with at the moment.

In all likelihood, China will also turn a blind eye to the purges the Taliban conducts on its own citizenry.

Likewise, the Taliban will not interfere with the Chinese internment camps and treatment of their own Muslim population in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.

“Chinese authorities in the western region of Xinjiang have been rounding up women and men — largely Muslims from the Uighur, Kazakh and Kyrgyz ethnic minorities — and detaining them in camps designed to rid them of terrorist or extremist leanings since 2017.

More than 1 million Uighurs and other minorities from Xinjiang are believed to be held in internment camps, where they are forced to study Marxism, renounce their religion, work long hours in factories and face abuse, according to human rights groups and first-hand accounts. Beijing says these “re-education camps” provide vocational training and are necessary to “fight extremism.”

From the outside, it seems an unlikely and unstable partnership for the extremely religious Islamic Taliban, ISIS-Khorasan (K), Al Qaeda and the Haqqani network to be working together to govern Afghanistan with the support of the communist, atheist Chinese government.

However, a deputy leader of the Taliban, Sirajuddin Haqqani, son of the Haqqani network founder, Jalaluddin Haqqani, is a bridge between the two largest factions within Afghanistan. He has also been dealing with the Chinese in criminal activities for years.

ISIS-K has support from elements in both Iran and Pakistan and was officially recognized in 2015.

This faction specifically uses dramatic violence to push their agenda bombing girls’ schools, attacking hospitals (including maternity wards) kidnappings, and public torture.

Shahab al-Muhajir is the new leader of ISIS-K energizing this group and planning daring raids, assassinations and missions such as the one to free Taliban and Haqqani prisoners in Jalalabad (in August 2020). Their role is as enforcers of the new “Caliphate of Afghanistan”.

When the “new Afghan government” public relations spokesmen state they are forming a more “inclusive government” they are not talking about the western progressive ideas of “inclusivity”.  They are referring to including all the most radical and violent Islamic terrorist groups, criminal networks, and allies such as Iran, Pakistan, and China.

The new Islamic Republic of Afghanistan will be trying to prove to their own coalition that they are not “soft on Sharia law,” that they are capable of military might. All while presenting themselves to the international community as a “new version” of the previously known, loathed, and feared Taliban and Al Qaeda. They have sophisticated media, memes, and a cutting-edge public relations department designed to control the narrative both internally and internationally.

Calls for the expulsion of foreign forces

In the past week the “Domino effect” seems to be in play in the region. Iraq is demanding all US and other foreign forces leave their country. On Tuesday August 31, Iraqi Shiite militia leader Hadi al-Amiri urged  “all foreign troops to leave Iraq by the end of the year.”

The newly installed Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi saying,

“America’s military defeat must become an opportunity to restore life, security, and durable peace in Afghanistan.”

It is unlikely that developments in Afghanistan will alter Iran’s level of support for proxies in Syria and particularly Iraq; backing proxies is already a strategic priority for Iran.

Russia is still involved in the region and is concerned about the outpouring of Afghan refugees to its own borders.

“Russia has carried out military training exercises in Tajikistan, which it said are designed to help secure the border with Afghanistan, and Russia has made clear it opposes any new U.S. troop presence in Central Asia.

A military presence in Syria in support of President Assad by Russians continues, though they present their efforts as humanitarian. Promoting the return of “Syrians to Syria” after the brutal ten years of war, Syria has been a training ground and shelter for various violent extremist groups.

Celebrating “Victory”

Hamas and Hezbollah are re-grouping and inciting violence against Israel with renewed vengeance, especially via Gaza. Both Hamas and Hezbollah officially celebrated the “victory for the Taliban” and officially congratulated the Taliban in Afghanistan.

“Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Lebanon’s Shiite militant group Hezbollah, said that what is unfolding in Afghanistan “is a portrayal of America’s full defeat and the U.S. demise and failure in the region.”

The leader of the radical Palestinian Islamic Hamas movement, which rules the Gaza Strip, congratulated the Taliban’s leader on the “demise of the U.S. occupation.”

In northern Syria, a statement by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the al-Qaida affiliate there, said “the Taliban victory proved no occupation can last forever”.

In Pakistan, the leader of Jaish-e-Mohammad, Mohammad Azhur, used the group’s publication to cheer the Taliban victory, saying “it will inspire mujahedeen, or holy warriors, the world over to continue their struggle for Islam.”

The group’s fighters took credit for the 2019 attack in the disputed Kashmir region that killed 40 Indian soldiers. Bringing the nuclear-armed neighbors to the brink of war.

Abu Haniyeh, an analyst based in Amman, Jordan saying

“The perceived defeat of U.S. forces in Afghanistan by a radical group is reverberating among frustrated individuals around the world and will have widespread ramifications in the coming years”.

“It gives hope for extremist groups the world over.”

The tragedies resulting from the chaotic withdrawal of American troops from Kabul, leaving behind thousands of American citizens and local national allies, serve as a trigger for a sinister new “Domino effect” for the Islamic terrorist clusters in place all over the globe.

The next phase of “containment” will be crucial for effective deterrence against calls for a brutal jihad.


About the Author:

Joanne Patti Munisteri lives a ‘different’ life that has taken her around the world.  She works as a contractor in the fields of education, health, research, analysis and training. Joanne is a certified Combat Analyst and Social Scientist. She was part of the Human Terrain System (HTS) with the US Army, training at Ft. Leavenworth. She earned her Bachelor of Science from Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and her graduate degree from Massey University in New Zealand. She received her Diploma in Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine from the New Zealand School of Acupuncture and TCM in Wellington, New Zealand.

Joanne continues to be rostered on the US Department of State Specialist programs and with USAID. Her technical writing has been published in Small Wars Journal, Real Clear Defense, Journal of Traumatic Stress Disorders and Treatment, Research Gate and the New Zealand Herald. Her non-fiction book, “Traveling Off the X” will be published by Defiance Press in October 2021.

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Joanne Munisteri

Joanne Patti Munisteri lives a ‘different’ life that has taken her many places in the world. She works as a contractor in the fields of education, health, monitoring and evaluation, curriculum design, analysis and training. Joanne is a certified Combat Analyst and Social Scientist. She was part of the Human Terrain System (HTS) with the US Army, training at Ft. Leavenworth. She is a graduate of Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, Massey University and the New Zealand School of Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine. Her non-fiction book, “Traveling Off the X” is published by Defiance Press. Her personal website is: