Tuesday, August 22, 2017


August 22, 2017

MY CORNER  by Boyd Cathey

What Are America’s Vital Interests in Afghanistan? 

Friends,
This morning I am reminded of a passage from that little book of sardonic humor, 1066 and All That (originally published in 1930).  Its full title is: 1066 and All That: A Memorable History of England, comprising all the parts you can remember, including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings and 2 Genuine Dates. It’s a very irreverent look at British history, a kind of primer characterized by those unique touches of British wit which manage to convey a skeptical view of the established history, but always with an underlying point, humorously made.
One such “good thing” comes in the section on Afghanistan—or was it Burma? The authors ask: “Why was there a THIRD Afghan War?” And the answer is: “Because there had only been TWO Afghan Wars!” The Brits had fought two wars in Afghanistan, 1839-1840 and 1878-1880, but then came a third in 1919, and all three times Britain ended up basically leaving the country as unmanageable and, in fact, ungovernable.  Certainly, with Imperial Russia extending its influence from the north in central Asia, various British governments believed they needed to protect and shore up their “northern flank,” the Northwest Frontier, separating greater India and Russian territories to the north. Afghanistan became the buffer, but it never actually came under direct British rule.
Sixty years later Soviet Russia attempted to impose Communism, or a form thereof, on the mountainous kingdom.  From 1979 until 1989 well over 100,000 front line Soviet troops attempted to pacify the Afghans, only to leave disastrously in 1989, tails between their legs…And, with more ominous portents for the United States, suffering a momentous defeat that helped directly precipitate the final death throes of the Soviet Communist state. Afghanistan, like Vietnam for the United States twenty years previously, had not only been a “killing field,” but had radically altered and depressed Russia and the views—and spirit—of its citizenry.
Interestingly, during the Soviet-Afghan War it had been the United States that supplied weapons to the Taliban fighters who, at that time, led the insurgency against the Soviets; they were pictured as “freedom fighters against Communism.” In effect, we were tacitly allied with them. Many of those same weapons are now being used against the American-supported government in Kabul and against the several thousand American troops stationed there.
As I watched President Trump deliver a difficult, even pained, speech last night on future American involvement in the Afghan hinterlands, I could not help but reflect on this desultory and unsettling history. I kept asking myself this question: “What is the vital interest of the United States in Afghanistan?”
I recall that after 9/11 the rationale for our involvement there was the presence of Al Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden, those responsible for the destruction of the Twin Towers, that immense terrorist attack on America and its citizens. Al Qaeda was involved in terrorism here, in the continental United States. And we were going to search them out there and kill them where they held up in their caves in the impenetrable mountain ranges of Afghanistan.  That rationale, at least, made some sense strategically from the point of view of national security. We were protecting our vital interests and responding to those who had committed acts of terrorism against our citizens, specifically in New York City. We went there to strike a death blow to Al Qaeda and take out its leader, Osama bin Laden.
But, what then, after Al Qaeda had transferred its center of operations elsewhere? Since the ignominious defeat of the Soviets and the initial American involvement after 9/11, the Taliban replaced Al Qaeda as the looming threat to a new Afghan government that is propped up by the United States and American arms. That situation was in large part the product of the globalist Neoconservative policy advisors surrounding George W. Bush. Just like in Iraq, or in Bosnia, and just as in other eventual failures in “nation building,” Afghanistan would become their latest experiment in imposing liberal democracy and all the fruits of representative government, women's rights, free elections, and, no doubt, eventually diversity, same sex marriage, perhaps even transgenderism, on the conservative Islamic Afghan tribes.
In fact, they had learned nothing from earlier failures; their globalist and democratic ideology, which the Neocons posited as “universally applicable” anywhere and everywhere, trumped all other considerations. And the result of that policy and of the studied indifference and lack of a policy during the Obama years brings us up to present and the very possible success of the Taliban in its efforts to overthrow the hapless “central government” in Kabul and expel the Americans—just as they forced 100,000 crack Soviet troops to leave twenty-eight years ago.
The Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda are by no means the same. The Taliban is not an international or global Islamic terror network; rather, its objective is an Islamic Afghan state which it would govern. As such, it presents no critically intrinsic or international threat to the United States on the scale of ISIS or Al Qaeda. No military man, no military leader, relishes the idea of “leaving a job undone.” In Afghanistan, since the Bush administration, the United States has more or less had two major objectives: assisting in the defeat of the Taliban, and propping up a new “liberal democratic” government in Kabul. While last night President Trump repeated his campaign promise that the United States was not in the business of “nation building,” he reversed himself and acceded to hawkish military and Neocon advisors regarding American involvement in “search and destroy” missions. Apparently Generals Mattis, McMaster, and others convinced him that approximately another 4,000 American soldiers are needed “to get the job done.”
But what happens if in, say, six or ten months time those same generals and advisors come back and say: “Mr. President, the 12,000 troops there aren’t sufficient enough to get the job done, we need to double that number.” Or, after the passage of an additional year, and their advice is that just maybe another 25,000 Americans might do the trick?  Does anyone remember the portentous decision that President Kennedy made when he committed the first few thousands of combat troops to stop international Communism in South Vietnam? And back then we were at least, arguably, facing a very real and very militaristic international threat from a global power that had stated that its goal was “to bury us.”
It is fine and well that we state upfront that we are no longer in the business of “nation building,” and also that Pakistan must cease its somewhat surreptitious support for the Taliban. Indeed, Pakistan is a key to Taliban success. But let us ask: Does not the halting, fitful decision announced last night, against the president’s instinctive judgment and his campaign promises, place us squarely on a slippery slope? Indeed, this morning I heard the ultra-interventionist par excellence, Senator Lindsey Graham, loudly praising the president to high Heaven for his decision to send more troops to defend “freedom,” “democracy,” “human rights,” the “equality of Afghan women,” that is, all the usual and accustomed ideology conveyed in the slogans of Neocon foreign policy. And just about any time Lindsey is for something, my antennae go up, and I am agin’ it.
And what happens, now, to the agenda so forcefully and clearly enunciated by Donald Trump during the 2016 election campaign? Does it fall by the wayside, superseded by another desultory, unwinnable and steadily enlarging war in a far off land mostly inaccessible and certainly uninviting to the vast majority of American citizens?
I pray that this time—on this occasion—that the president and his advisors are right. But history and constant experience argue strongly and convincingly that they are not.

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                                                         April 30, 2021   MY CORNER by Boyd Cathey   The Survival of Western Culture...