Watching the events unfolding in south Asia gives me heartburn. As if our sustained collective blindness to our government’s mismanagement of a ragingly unnecessary war wasn’t enough, …
Watching the events unfolding in south Asia gives me heartburn. As if our sustained collective blindness to our government’s mismanagement of a ragingly unnecessary war wasn’t enough, we’ve had to suffer through bumbling politicians and their military advisers’ tragic misjudgment of what it takes to get out.
The good Lord knows they had plenty of examples to follow, if they’d only read their history.
Back before we got into the Afghan misadventure, a brilliant and eminently practical man I once worked with, Milt Beardon, wrote a think piece for Foreign Affairs titled “Afghanistan, Graveyard of Empires.” In it, he strongly advised against the Afghan invasion.
He was spitting into the wind, of course, since at the time we wanted revenge. Sept. 11 sent reason out the window: We would destroy al-Qaeda and its Taliban protector.
Well, that didn’t happen. Instead, it’s come out rather like Milt and others who knew the Afghans predicted ... except much worse.
Two trillion taxpayer dollars and 22,000-plus American casualties. That kind of worse. Two hundred and forty thousand Afghans (many of them civilians, too many of them children) also had to die.
To accomplish, what? We had more or less created a monster in al-Qaeda, and we did manage to squash it down to about the size it was when we began arming it (as part of our covert war against the USSR).
As for the rest?
No one wants to think our soldiers — our superb fighting force, our brave men and women — fought and died for almost nothing. No one in their right mind would want to suggest that our soldiers, our military, fostered and furthered a totally corrupt regime — essentially gave away American taxpayer money year after year after year to Afghans who used it to build condos in Florida, buy luxury flats in London and staff mansions in Germany. No one wishes to believe that those same Afghans conspired with the Taliban in the takeover or were among the first to flee, others among them now clawing for places on U.S. transports.
But that’s the nature of a country that has seen more invasions per century than most of the rest of the world put together. As Milt’s title suggested, one invading power after another has come a cropper in Afghanistan. Just study the Mongols or the Mughals, consult stories of Tamerlane or Alexander the Great or, more recently, consider Soviet and British misadventures.
The Afghan tribes are famous fighters and even more famous temporary appeasers. They bend. They profit. They bite the hand and break the backs of their conquerors.
At least our retreat, so far, has not resulted in the massacre that accompanied the ignominious British withdrawal which cost the British Raj an entire army and some 12,000 civilians. All they wanted, in the end, was to get out. The Afghans, though, had other ideas and killed them right down to the last man, woman and child. That retreat also showed the subcontinent that the British could be defeated and sped the day they lost their empire.
Then came the Soviet debacle. We helped by working with the Afghans to speed them on their way and in the process repeated history by bringing down another empire — the Soviet one.
Like Milt said ... no good ever comes from taking on the Afghans.
Now, we’re faced with the fallout of our own bit of an historical rewind. At least, unlike invaders before us, we have no empire to lose. For us, if we’re lucky, the Afghan debacle will simply further erode our superpower status.
There’s another lesson in this, right? And it’s us, the American people, who need to learn it — not just from the Afghan misadventure but from Iraq, from Vietnam, from Korea, from all the so-called “little” wars that have drained our resources and killed our brave soldiers in past decades.
Yes, it’s us. You and me, American taxpayers.
We’re the ones who pay for overseas adventures. We’re also the ones blessed with and cursed by a great military machine — an asset our politicians seem irresistibly drawn to use.
Look at the numbers. It’s not taxes for social projects or infrastructure that are killing us. It’s taxes to pay for an inflated military machine to use in wars against the world’s underdogs and little guys.
We can be better than that. Can’t we?
As taxpayers, as voters, as citizens, it’s our job to keep our politicians’ hands off the Pentagon and their fingers off the trigger.
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