Why Should We Get Out of Afghanistan? Because Imperialism Is a Fool's Game
Should we get out of Afghanistan?
Yes. Here’s why.
Imperialism, in general , is a tough business.
Influence, dominate, manipulate, sure. But an occupation is a different story. It can only succeed in a state that is contiguous, as Chechnya is to Russia and Tibet is to China. Success demands utter ruthlessness: secret police, assassinations, the murder of civilians, and leveling neighborhoods and sometimes entire cities. Open societies like ours find that hard to tolerate.
Good intentions – reform, rebuild, bring democracy, modernize, civilize, liberate, pick up the white man’s burden – don’t turn the trick.
There is a classic sequence. A rebel group commits violent acts. The occupying power reacts with force. This alienates the population. If it doesn’t, the rebels push until they get the reaction they need. The rebellion grows.
Imperial occupations have become geometrically more difficult since the Second World War. The more ethnically, religiously, and culturally different the occupiers are from the locals, the worse it gets. It doesn’t matter if the foreign power is there "by invitation," as the Russians were in Afghanistan and the United States was in Vietnam.
Afghanistan, in particular , is a tough place to run an occupation.
Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire in six months. Then it took him three years to conquer Afghanistan. He only settled things by taking an Afghan bride, then moving on.
In the 19th century, at the height of its imperial power, Great Britain fought two wars against the Afghans. The first time, the Afghans destroyed an entire British army. The second time, the English attained a limited victory. They put a puppet on the throne, who gave them control of Afghanistan’s foreign policy (to keep the Russians out), but otherwise withdrew from the country.
In 1978 an indigenous Marxist group took power in Afghanistan. Its goal was to modernize: liberate women, change marriage customs, abolish usury and cancel farmers’ debts. These things upset many of the Afghan people and an insurgency began.
Early in 1979, the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan asked the Soviet Union for help. The Russians were obligated by a treaty, and with some reluctance, sent advisers. The situation deteriorated, and at the end of the year, Soviet troops entered the country.
The Russians were tough. The Russians were ruthless. They carpet-bombed, bulldozed, and planted land mines. Over 1,000,000 Afghans died, 1,200,000 were disabled, 3,000,000 were maimed or wounded, and 5,000,000 fled the country.
Six hundred and twenty thousand Soviet troops served in the Afghan War, 80,000-104,000 at any give time. Fourteen thousand died, 496,685 were wounded or contracted serious illnesses, including 115,308 cases of infectious hepatitis.
The Soviet Union withdrew, defeated, 10 years later.
That was followed by a civil war, which the Taliban won.
Why, then, don’t we get out of Afghanistan?
-Estimated number of Al Qaeda members now operating in Afghanistan, according to the U.S. national security advisor: 100
-Number of U.S. troops who would be stationed there if General Stanley McChrystal’s leaked request were granted: 120,000
--Harper’s Index, November 2009
So that doesn’t quite make sense.
How about, if Afghanistan goes (where?), then Pakistan goes! And Pakistan has nukes! And that’s really important! But when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, and Mullah Omar hosted Osama bin Laden, Pakistan was actually more stable.
Christopher Hitchens says we need a presence in Iraq and Afghanistan to contain Iran! Hah! Take that!
The answer is, Huh? Wah?
Iran was at war with Iraq from 1980-'88. It had at least 1,000,000 casualties and an estimated 300,000 dead. Is Iran likely to do that again?