Monday, August 16, 2021

Afghanistan, Redux. The Blame Game Begins

The fall of Afghanistan to medieval-thinking Taliban extremists has sprouted another round of “The Blame Game.” No self-respecting Westerner wants to shoulder any guilt for the debacle, but the inevitable outcome should be equally shared by Democratic and Republican presidents. The futility of our investment in Afghanistan was plainly in sight more than a decade ago when I wrote on September 22, 2009, “Déjà vu, Afghanistan.”

“During my lifetime I never thought the U.S. would replay the Vietnam War.

“It was reported in the last two days that the top military commander in Afghanistan has warned that without more troops our involvement there ‘will likely result in failure.’

“With each military escalation and request for more troops to fight in Afghanistan, with each revelation that the regime we are propping up is corrupt, with each ruthless act of terrorism against their own people perpetrated by a seemingly vigilante group of extremists clad in turbans and loose-fitting clothes instead of black pajamas, with each description of a terrain of combat not receptive to the type of war our military can easily fight and win, where our air power is potent yet ultimately impotent and occasionally even heartbreakingly catastrophic to innocent civilians, with each passing day that a Democratic president fears he will be accused of losing a war he didn’t start and so feels compelled to send in more soldiers, I fear, I fear for the soul of our nation and for the lives of our youth…

“As difficult as it is to admit, let’s confront the fact that our nation has more pressing needs at home. We need to save millions of lives by investing in better medical care. We need to improve millions of lives by investing in better education. We need more and better trained policemen. Firemen. Teachers. Social workers. We need to spend more money on our citizens, not on Afghanis who don’t want our way of life.”

If you’re having a hard time grasping how we could have gone so astray in Afghanistan, let me recommend to you a 1963 novel by James A. Michener, “Caravans.” Though fiction, “Caravans” provides an insightful view of the patchwork loyalties of Afghani war lords and the failure of the country’s leaders and populace to embrace modern, Western, principles and advancements. (FYI, “Caravans” is available as an audio book.) 

If you’re of a more visually oriented mind, catch a screening of “The Man Who Would Be King.” Based on a story by Rudyard Kipling, set during the late 1800s in what is purported to be a remote section of Afghanistan, the 1975 movie starring Michael Caine and Sean Connery is a romp that peels back layers of warlord warfare and the arrogance of Westerners who believe they could rule this mountainous, tribal country.

Few Westerners could have imagined the Afghan army, trained and supplied by America for 20 years at a cost of more than $2 trillion and 2,400 lives of U.S. servicemen, would disintegrate as quickly as it did over the last week. But then, few fully appreciated how transient the loyalty of the average Afghani trooper and his commander was. 

They cared more about surviving than the fate of their country or their fellow countrymen, especially the women who will be forced to return to living in a 21st century Dark Ages.