Today 6:34 AM
Gee, who could have predicted this Afghanistan debacle?
I’ll tell you who: Half the panelists at a debate over the future of Afghanistan that was held in 2009.
The debate was organized by Intelligence Squared U.S., a nonprofit dedicated to restoring “critical thinking, facts, reason, and civility to American public discourse.”
The premise being debated was “America cannot and will not succeed in Afghanistan/Pakistan.” (video link below.)
Arguing in favor of that proposition were three realists with military and intelligence experience. Arguing against were three idealists with lofty hopes for what the U.S. could accomplish with the proper mixture of wise American guidance and military force.
The winners were the idealists, at least according to a poll of the audience. But last week the Taliban got to vote. The realists won that one.
The collapse of the Afghan government was entirely predictable, said one of the realists. Pat Lang is a former Vietnam Green Beret who has more than 20 years experience in intelligence gathering in the Mideast. (Check his blog.)
During that debate, he offered a pessimistic view about what the U.S. could expect to accomplish in the Muslim world.
“We have to stop thinking of improving the lives of the average Afghan and start talking about protecting the people here,” he said.
The idealists were appalled at this apostasy.
“We all agree we can succeed,” said one. “Do we have a reason to be there? Can we find the right strategy to succeed? I think we’ve answered that question.”
They didn’t. But last week we got our answers. No. And no.
The solution the idealists proposed was to build an Afghan army that could stand up to the Taliban.
But another realist, retired Army officer Ralph Peters, argued that U.S. troops did not share that optimism about the Afghan army.
“We can’t get them to fight,” Peters said. “Our troops are afraid of being shot in the back.”
Like Lang, Peters insisted the U.S. should have stuck to targeting the people who attacked us on 9/11.
“We’ve been at this for eight years and we have had great successes in targeting Al Qaeda,” said Peters. “But I do not agree we’re going to succeed in counterinsurgency.”
He got that right. The insurgents have now overrun the army we spent so much time and money creating.
This is a classic in the annals of failing to learn from history, said Lang when I phoned him.
“We seem to be replaying the role of what Kipling called ‘the fools who try to hustle the East,’” he said.
American foreign policy has been a nonstop disaster for the past 14 years thanks to the influence of those thinly disguised Trotskyites known as “neo” conservatives. During that time I have made it a practice to consult only hard-nosed realists about the folly of “liberating” the very people who hate us. Read the results.
One of their many miscalculations came in 1842, and it offers an ominous parallel to our current troubles there.
As in our case, the British had little trouble occupying the capital city of Kabul. But keeping it was another matter. Before long the locals were inflicting so many ambushes on the British that they decided to evacuate.
The Afghan tribesman agreed not to attack the 16,500 British soldiers and citizens on their 1,000-mile march to the Arabian Sea. But they broke their promise. They killed or captured 16,449 Brits. Just one was left to tell the tale.
History repeats itself. Again we’ve got a promise of safe passage from our enemies. The Taliban has promised to let American citizens get to the airport that represents the escape route from Kabul.
But the Taliban has us in the same situation the Brits faced 179 years ago, said Lang.
“The danger here is they’ve got 20,000 men surrounding the airport and we’re gonna have 7,000 men with no heavy weapons,” Lang said. “They could just change their mind and attack and overrun the airport. This is a disaster.”
It is indeed. President Biden is getting some well-deserved blame. But both parties are responsible.
Back in the Obama administration, the Democrats succumbed to the sunny optimism of those who thought the Afghans would be happy to have the U.S. reorder their lives.
But it was Republican George W. Bush who declared in his second inaugural address that it was “the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.”
Kipling, who was born in India, would have seen the flaw in that logic, said Lang.
“Kipling was a brilliant man who understood the people of the East,” said Lang. “We’re fools who tried to hustle the East.”
After almost 20 years of this folly, that seems undebatable.” Mulshine