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This paper places contemporary American military policy in Iraq and Afghanistan within a broader historical context. Contrary to most scholarly literature that places the two countries in different socio-political categories, American interventions have contributed to a substantial convergence of their power structures. The resilience of the Iraqi “shadow state” began to erode during a debilitating conflict with Iran and was irreparably damaged during the First Gulf War. Politico-military elites increasingly detached from central power networks began to assume crucial functions in their respective areas. Efforts to destabilize the Soviet presence in Afghanistan also increased the power of regional warlords. Contemporary military interventions by the United States have deepened processes of local empowerment at the center’s expense by supporting a variety of armed formations outside state control. Rather than subsuming society to a central authority, American actions have further fragmented these societies by dispersing the means of violence.
Mesrob George Vartavarian is a lecturer in the Department of History at the University of Southern California. He received his BA and MA from UCLA and his PhD in History from the University of Cambridge. His recent publications include “An Open Military Economy: The British Conquest of South India Reconsidered, 1780–1799” in Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient and “Warriors and the Company State in South India, 1799–1801” in South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies.