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?
Or invade Afghanistan and get into a quagmire like we’re in? Maybe they are that stupid.
Better them than us.
The war in Afghanistan has cost $228 billion (costofwar.com), so far. And we seem to take one and a half steps back for every step forward.
So why are we there?
The real answer is, we’re embarrassed.
The sole superpower in the world defeated by semi-literate, religious wackos from medieval times? Hey, we proved that we could succeed where the Russkies failed! Thus demonstrating our superior superiority! Except we haven’t, quite yet, and if we withdraw, we’re failures like them and if Obama pulls out the Republicans will label the Democrats weak war-losers for another 50 years!
That's the same reason the Russians stayed. The same reason we stayed in Vietnam. The fear of admitting a mistake and the fear of the domestic political consequences of that admission.
How do we get out of Afghanistan?
Get Osama bin Laden.
Nobody seems to remember, but this whole thing started with a small gang who hijacked planes and flew them into the World Trade Center and who hoped to commit more such heinous acts. They were led, we’ve been told, by Osama bin Laden,
We asked the Afghans for bin Laden. The Taliban were willing to turn him over to another country for trial, but not to the United States. So we invaded.
Even before we commenced hostilities, the goals had shifted; to launch a global war on terrorism, and specifically, to invade Iraq.
Let’s go back to basics.
Osama bin Laden conspired to commit mass murder. He deserves to get got. That’s a legitimate target and a legitimate mission.
It’s hard to believe that for $20 billion or $40 billion or $228 billion, with all the resources of the United States armed forces and the intelligence services of all the Western countries, we can’t get him. If that’s what we want to do.
In any case, it is an achievable objective. Making Afghanistan a stable, democratic, Western-friendly country, instead of a narco-state, or an oppressive theocracy, or a divisive collection of squabbling tribes, is probably not.
President Obama should call in his generals and intelligence chiefs and say, “Get this guy." If they can’t, he should fire them like President Lincoln used to do, until he finds the General Ulysses S. Grant who can get the job done.
If they can’t do it, then yes, the entire U.S. military and intelligence establishment is a failure.
If they can do it, it’s a success.
It makes the essential statement that has not been made all these years, that America cannot be attacked with impunity.
Then we can withdraw. Without embarrassment.