History Repeats Itself

According Simon Tisdall of The Guardian, "Afghanistan's election debacle has increased the crushing weight of intractable problems besetting western policymakers. Hopes that a successful Afghan presidential election would assist western efforts to secure, stabilise and develop the country recede with every percentage point that is added to Hamid Karzai's tally....Decisions on more specific proposals, such as raising US troop levels by 40-45,000 to well over 100,000 and pushing for more Nato troops, too, are now imminent."

Well, we are now exactly where Robert McNamara and Lyndon Johnon were in 1964 when they had to choose between either pulling out of Vietnam or getting more deeply involved. And just like in 1964, President Obama is now given a choice between either pulling out -- which would supposedly have unacceptable consequences -- or going in further, which will NOT achieve "victory" in Afghanistan.

The problem is that "victory" in Afghanistan has never been clearly defined. The objective in Afghanistan is neither territorial conquest nor regime change. So just what exactly would constitute a "victory" in Afghanistan? You tell me. If it means supporting an inept and corrupt clique indefinitely, then that would mean we would have to transform Afghanistan into a colony.

The choice is not between either bugging out or achieving victory. We must face the fact that no matter what we do, we will lose. The only choice is between either losing now with only 50,000 troops to pull out, or lose later after suffering a great many more casualties and having to withdraw over 250,000 troops. I say: cut our losses and get the hell out of there while we still can. When you're dealt a losing hand in poker, fold now and you lose only your ante instead of throwing good money after bad.   I am willing to bet the house that the present Afghan government will meltdown within one year. American policy makers are already contemplating an artificial "coalition" with so-called "moderate" Taliban elements. But wait a minute -- "moderate Taliban" is a contradiction in terms. There is no such animal, just like there was no such thing as a "moderate Nazi". As soon as a coalition with the Taliban is established, they will promptly liquidate their coalition partners just like the communists in Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia after WWII, just like Hitler after he was elected, and just like the Ayatollah Khomenei in Iran. Any takers for my bet?   With respect to the historic responsibility for the situation in Afghanistan, I disagree with Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal and others who says it was "the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan that laid much of the imaginative groundwork for 9/11" Wrong. It was the Clinton Administration's failure to support the government of Ahmed Shah Massoud which enabled the Al Qaeda-backed Taliban to take power and thus plan 9/11. If Massoud had been backed by sufficient clandestine aid (not requiring US troops), the Taliban would never have taken power, 9/11 would probably never have happened, and we would not have had to invade that country in 2001, and we would not be trapped in the quagmire now. Unfortunately however, back in the Nineties the End of History was proclaimed, and we were too busy enjoying peace and prosperity in our fool's paradise to bother worrying about ancient tribal warfare in that long-forgotten corner of the planet called Afghanistan. We all thought we would live happily ever after; that is, until 9/11/2001.

Comments 5 comments

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glassvisage 7 years ago from Northern California

Thank you for making this point in my own Hub. So many mistakes could be avoided by paying attention to history. Nation-building isn't a great foundation for such ventures, either. Well said.


John 6 years ago

OK. Good point taken. However, we cannot disengage with the region give the concerns/stake in Pakistan. So...what do we do? Leave to just come back in a few years?


alanbedford 6 years ago Author

John, the Clinton Administration "left" Afghanistan and then the Bush Admin. had to "come back" a few years later. However, the nature of al-Qaeda has changed since then, it is now franchised and multinational, it is no longer dependent upon a base in Afghanistan. The so-called friendly gov't of Karzai has not prevented al-Qaeda activities in other parts of the world. Pakistan is now the principal base of al-Qaeda. The war in Afghanistan cannot be "won" unless Pakistan is included in the theater of operations, just as South Vietnam was actually part of a wider theater including Laos and Cambodia.


Richard 6 years ago

Depends by what you mean "al-Qaeda". So many groups can claim connections, tight, tenuous, or mythical, and for so many different reasons, that "winning" becomes impossible. It's like trying to break the Mob when every corner thug claims a connection as a way of shaking down the local candy store. Even if there is a "win" in Afghanistan similar groups are based in Somalia, Yemen, and God knows where else, and bin Laden is merely their figurehead. Ever since Bush framed a war against a noun we've been looking at a complex social/religious/historical/economic issue in simplistic WW2 terms. Bringing in teachers, engineers, police, physicians, etc. along with the troops might have stabilized things in '01 (especially if Bush & Cheney hadn't lied about Iraq). This strategy worked in Malaya in the '50s. But now it might well be too late and a phased withdrawl the only answer, taking along of course those who supported us. (I see China is planning to mine copper there...let them worry about it.)

Incidentally, I was there in '73, had a week visiting the major cities and northeast area on an overland trip from France to India. Not very long, but later published college level teaching material based on my pictures and study of the place. I loved the country and have twice offered to return as a civilian advisor; the Pentagon program for such work has never been funded. Enough said.


alanbedford 6 years ago Author

I like your comments, Richard, but be careful about comparisons with Malaya; it's an apples-and-oranges thing. In any case, economic development and other forms of "nation-building" have not worked in Afghanistan. Billions and billions have been poured in there but they don't even have the basic infrastructure to execute the development programs. And the efforts to promote democracy have produced the Karzai electoral fraud which the US has ignored, yet another example of the hypocrisy of a foreign policy based upon "human rights" and "spreading democracy".

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