In Afghanistan, Americans were the fools who tried to hustle the East | Mulshine

Today 6:34 AM

Afghan refugees
Afghan citizens pack inside a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III, as they are transported from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021. (Capt. Chris Herbert/U.S. Air Force via AP)AP

By Paul Mulshine | Star-Ledger Columnist

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.

The realists vs. the “neo” conservatives

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.

Back in the 19th century, Rudyard Kipling aimed that barb at his fellow Brits who believed they would be welcomed as modernizers by the people of places like Afghanistan.

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

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41 Responses to In Afghanistan, Americans were the fools who tried to hustle the East | Mulshine

  1. Pat Lang says:

    The Marxists who surround the addlepated Biden can inform themselves about me at the wikipedia page on me and in my memoir listed therein. One wrote to me this AM. Ludicrous.

  2. Eric Newhill says:

    Col. Lang,
    I watched that debate many years ago. I thought you and Peters made compelling cases, of course I have always been biased toward your point of view, but still……

    I was sadly amazed when the audience voted the neocons as the more persuasive. Who were those people (the audience)? Swamp critters? Wannabee swampies from universities?

  3. walrus says:

    Col. Lang,

    Of course you are right but what gets my goat is that the treasury and State Department have just invited the Taliban to hold our people hostage by freezing Afghan National Bank accounts and drawing rights with the IMF!

    Are we that dumb or is there some masterful strategy that I don’t understand?

    What will it take to close the airport and keep it closed? I would have thought a dozen MANPADS and half a dozen 82mm mortars?

    • Fred says:

      That Taliban can’t use a western bank or – God forbid – get drawing rights from the IMF!

      Thanks walrus. I needed a laugh today. I wonder if anyone on here can tell us which ‘banks’ the Taliban have been using for the last 20 years? They sure seemed to do okay without the IMF.

      “What will it take to close the airport and keep it closed?”

      Why would they want to end the television spectacle of the Democratic Party’s incompetence in leading the USA by doing such an idiotic thing?

      Oh, look, Just In Time to change the narrative, there is a ‘bomb threat’ in D.C. Will wonders never cease. Speaking of wonders does any police force in America know what happened to the bombers who planted exploses at the RNC and DNC offices on 1/6? Yeah, didn’t think so.

      • Barbara Ann says:


        Presently it does seem that the Taliban favor the PR spectacle of the US evacuation being possible solely thanks to their benign grace. Austin & Milley’s presser made it blindingly obvious that that is exactly the situation. It was excruciating to watch.

        Col. Lang is right to point out that the forces on the ground appear ill prepared with a plan B. My guess is airport aprons are not exactly ideal terrain for infantry to weather an artillery bombardment, should it come to that.

        • Pat Lang says:

          Barbara Ann

          The airport can be closed by fire from the high ground. “Hope for the best, plan for the worst.’

        • TTG says:

          I see no evidence of the infantry at the airport digging in. Is that a lost art in the modern Army? At one time, an infantry unit would dig in overnight, including all crew served weapons. There would be interlocking fields of fire and preplanned fires, including FPFs, for all mortars. Our mortars could cover those hills to the north of the airport. By now there should be overhead cover for those fighting positions. Of course, that was when we were soldiers rather than warriors. Wielding a pick and shovel appears to be beneath a warrior.

          • Pat Lang says:


            Rommel wrote in “Infantrie Greift An” that the spade is mightier than the sword. Shall we tell them how to do this?

          • TTG says:

            The gold standard established in the mid-70s was the DePuy fighting position. If a young 2LT couldn’t lay out an effective platoon defense of well constructed and mutually supporting fighting positions, he would be canned. We had no personal armor, only entrenching tools. Every company maintained an oversized pioneer tool kit. If this is no longer being taught, we are truly screwed.

  4. Fred says:

    On a bright note the unvaxxed masses aren’t dropping dead of Covid in Kabul, or the Souther border; yet Biden and the left continue to ram that down our throats. They don’t want this to end, they want a disaster to allow yet another fundamental ‘change we can believe in’ reform of our governmental structure.

    • Deap says:

      If only Biden-Harris had been able to mandate social distancing among the crowds at the Kabul Airport, there would have been open pathways for the US citizens to find passage to Biden’s empty and waiting planes.

      Blame Obama for recently celebrating crowds in closed spaces are hip and fun.

  5. Deap says:

    Add Peter Hopkirk to the reading list about The Great Game, and what it could of or should have taught us.

  6. BillWade says:

    Perhaps it’s because I was in the vicinity at the time (and liked them), I was very supportive of our efforts to get as many Laotians, Cambodians, and Vietnamese out as possible. I have no such feelings for the Afghans, they laid down their arms, let them live with it.

    • Pat Lang says:


      I, too, am indifferent to the fate of the general run of Afghans.

      • LeaNder says:

        Pat, if I may?
        “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.”

        Where did he, assuming he did not misunderstand, you, get that number from?

        20000 armed by the US of A indirectly vs 7000 directly?

        • Pat Lang says:


          It is everywhere in the media and press. I think you should go and see for yourself. You can be an ambassador from the Bundesrepublik. You can fly in on one of the German evac flight. BTW, nitwit, the great majority of Tullab are armed with foreign small arms. The heavy stuff that they captured from the ANA will be manned by the surrendered.

        • Pat Lang says:


          Look at the terrain. Look! Look!

          • Harlan Easley says:

            Colonel Lang,

            Are you referring to the heights above the airport? Airport appears to be encircled by a horseshoe shape of hills/mtns if I am looking at the map correctly.

            Do you believe the Taliban may or are moving heavy weapons to these locations? I assume these weapons would be the ones they confiscated from us if let behind in the Afghan “army”. I’m sure they could muster these men to use the weapons in exchange for their life. In case they change their mind and decide to help expedite the withdrawal.

  7. Deap says:

    Ahmed Rashid is another author to put on one’s summer reading list for both retrospective and prospective analysis of this volatile region:

    When the US “left” Afghanistan the first time to follow our pursuits in Iraq, he felt there was a compelling story about this region that still needed to be told – oil pipe politics, the Taliban and shady relationships with the Five Stans. Several other books followed to current times.

  8. Just one? Not at all — Harry Flashman slithered through.
    A good read — historically well sourced

    In fairness to the Brits, they learned their lesson and dealt with the Afghans in the future by a combination of bribery and occasional punitive raids.

  9. Deap says:

    Woke US military who announces climate change is our biggest global threat, happily jumpstarts its new mission sending this part of the world back to the 9th century.

    Victor Davis Hansen is not surprised the 300,000 strong Afghan military did not choose the side that proudly hung the rainbow flag from its Kabul Embassy:

  10. blue peacock says:

    While George Bush may have felt that it was his mission to transform other parts of the world to become Switzerland, IMO, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al on the GOP side of the Party of Davos, and Biden, Hillary, etc on the Democratic side of the “Great Reset” party, knew well what “nation-building or “fight them there so we don’t have to fight them here” actually meant in reality. A Swamp Racket.

    Obama & Trump also knew well. Both increased Big Government spending across the board by borrowing trillions from future generations.

    The Party of Davos by and large are filled with delusional social change mindsets. The destruction they have wreaked everywhere over the past few decades is plain to see. The only thing confounding is the American people with the legacy of individual liberty as a founding principle – the only nation in world history with the principle that citizens have been endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights and governmental power must be enumerated and restricted – have voluntarily ceded their sovereignty.

    A millennia from now as people study this period, they will surely ask, what happened to the American people a scant couple centuries after their founding on such potent principles to voluntarily give up their sovereignty to a transnational fascist elite?

  11. Leith says:

    Your opposition in that debate were idiots.

    LtCol Nagl should have known better. But I suspect he was trying to justify his COIN book and the opinions in it.

  12. Deap says:

    Snowflakes in Biden’s White House, who never knew a hint of defeat nor a bad word spoken in any part of their previously sheltered lives, are in shell shock as the rapid Afghan defeat collapses their world around them.

    California woke pre-schools never play Musical Chairs now, to avoid the trauma of having to compete for remaining empty chairs, as the game move on to its single chair conclusion.

    I loved the competition of that game and I recall we all laughed when we lost out, admired the final victor and tried to learn from the winning techniques. It was raucous good fun for all. But no more in woke California, nor apparently those who passed muster to work in the Biden White Hot-House.

    It is always a cynical moment in a child’s life when they realize there is no Santa Clause, or that Daddy Biden was, is and will always be a dog-face pony liar.

  13. akaPatience says:

    Some say the US hasn’t won a war in many years because the point isn’t to win but to enrich the MIC and its stockholders via endless wars. And now, reporter Lara Logan has told Tucker Carlson the current perhaps ostensible debacle in Afghanistan is also by design – that the US could’ve easily stopped the Taliban takeover by destroying supply lines, etc., etc., etc. She says because of the NSA’s omnipotent spying capabilities it’s laughable for some to claim this has been an intelligence failure – Taliban movement and communications have been known all along – and that this messy outcome is planned.

    Well, I have a hard time trying to understand WHY the US would want advanced technology and weaponry to fall into the hands of the Taliban and their pals in Pakistan. Is the current US ruling class is SO corrupt, craven and evil that this apparent chaos is in fact “by design” and meant for the ultimate benefit of China, as some people think? It’s difficult for me to grasp that this messy withdrawal has been “by design”, difficult to agree that just because the NSA has such superior spying capabilities that it naturally follows the rest of government can and will execute its duties optimally to avoid what seems to be a policy blunder and ignominious blot on the Biden Administration – and those before it who argued for prolonged war, “nation building”, etc. in the first place.

    AND YET, is it mere coincidence that at this very time investors are being advised to triple their holdings in China? Are our political and military leaders who now appear to have egg on their faces so well bought off that their egos can endure any current humiliation? Maybe so, I don’t know.

    • Sam says:


      One need not be a military strategist or supply chain expert to know that the military should not be withdrawn until all the people and materials have been shipped out along with sensitive documents. As Col. Lang, TTG and others have noted it was asinine to exit Bagram before all that happened.

      The fact that didn’t happen shows what a shitshow DC bureaucracy has become. From Katrina to this and everything in between.

  14. Sam says:

    “The fiasco in Afghanistan is a grave blow to America’s standing

    And much of the blame lies squarely with Joe Biden” The Economist

    Biden losing corporate media. 😂

  15. Richard Morchoe says:

    Kipling wanted us to take up the “White Man’s Burden.”

    No comment, but to ask how that’s working out?

    • Pat Lang says:

      Richard Marchoe

      “Take up the White Man’s burden—
      Send forth the best ye breed—
      Go bind your sons to exile
      To serve your captives’ need;
      To wait in heavy harness
      On fluttered folk and wild—
      Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
      Half devil and half child.”

      Have you not read this poem? You are a wise-assed ignoramus.

      • Richard Morchoe says:

        I admit to the character deficit of all too often doing things by half.

        It has been a long time since I read the poem or heard it recited, so I have read it again now.

        It is probably half-assed or wise-assed of me, but maybe it’s time to put down the white man’s burden and think of our republic first.

        There is nothing in Mr. Mulshine’s column I disagree with.

  16. walrus says:


    Your incredulity is misplaced: “ That Taliban can’t use a western bank or – God forbid – get drawing rights from the IMF!

    Thanks walrus. I needed a laugh today. I wonder if anyone on here can tell us which ‘banks’ the Taliban have been using for the last 20 years? They sure seemed to do okay without the IMF.”

    The Taliban will play both sides of the aisle, like they did before. They will want to be legally recognised as the Afghanistan Government even as they despise our Western civilisation. They will want Afghanistan’s seat in the U.N. and all the despised Westfalen trappings, like the IMF. New York apartments don’t come cheap.

    They are financially and technically sophisticated devils at the leadership level, not ignorant rag heads. Don’t you understand why we lost?

    • Fred says:


      I understand clearly why the Taliban drove all the corrupt politicians out of Afghanistan and convinced their Pashtun breatheren within the Afghan armed forces to change sides, flee or otherwise desert. I am very sorry your feelings were hurt by my pointing out that the Taliban managed all their gains to date without access to the IMF or western banks. Yes they’ll play both sides just like everyone else. As to the final line, Please take the racist “rag head” comment you wish to stain me with and shove it. If you don’t understand my meaning ask , don’t slander me with your condescending presumptions.

      • Walrus says:

        Fred, how do you know the Taliban “managed all their gains to date without access to the IMF or Western banks”?

        My point is that the Taliban are a lot more sophisticated, organised and capable than you (and perhaps the State Department) seem to think and they do have aspirations that we carefully frustrated in the late 1990’s.

        Do we now apply more sanctions, keep them out of SWIFT, the IMF, etc and force them into the Russian, Chinese and Iranian orbit? Do we watch while the Russians and Iranians run oil pipelines through Afghanistan to India and Pakistan as well as highways to Chinese Port developments on the Indian ocean? ……and incidentally ramp up the heroin trade and terrorism?

  17. Deap says:

    2014 video clip – Sen John McCain scorches Obama’s choice of Tony Blinken for Obama’s administration – dangerous and incompetent. Is he the one who pulled Biden’s strings on this debacle? Apparently Blinken always wanted out of Afghanistan and he finally got his way – two days ago. Except he forgot to get Americans out of Afghanistan, just his own embassy staff got to safe harbors and the heck with the rest of the world

    If indeed this precipitous evacuation can be traced back to Secy of State Tony Blinken calling the shots, McCain’s treacherous legacy needs a re-write. Story is Biden demanded a choice had to be made – fund protecting Bagram AFB or fund protecting the Kabul Embassy, but there would not be money for both – so guess who probably sacrificed Bagram and all the remaining military equipment to the Afghanis.

    An investigation, please. Used to be beware of Greeks bearing gifts; now it is beware of anyone with the first name Tony – two examples of dangerous and incompetent staring us in the face right now. Tony Blinken and Tony Fauci.

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