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Friday, August 13, 2021

A Myth Named Afghanistan

American soldiers would often show up at villages in rural areas of Afghanistan to win the 'hearts and minds' of the locals only to learn that they not only don't understand what America is, but aren't even aware that they're living in a country called Afghanistan.

And don't especially care.

Afghanistan is an imaginary country. Much like Iraq and Syria. These places have history, but the idea of a country is an external concept embraced by local elites who want centralized authority, but resisted by locals in rural areas.

The real Afghanistan is a collection of different ethnic groups and Islamic denominations, where tribe matters far more than nationality.

We "won" Afghanistan by backing an anti-Taliban tribal coalition. The strategy, much like the Sunni Awakening in Iraq, paid off because we provided air and military support to a viable tribal opposition.

The clean and effective victory was then ruined by trying to "modernize" and "democratize" Afghanistan.

We plowed billions into building a modern Afghan army. Just like the effort to build a modern Iraqi army, it was doomed.

The Afghans couldn't be trusted to fight alongside us or even alongside each other. The only kind of viable military force in a tribal society consists of people who trust each other fighting together using traditional raiding tactics.

The Afghan army collapsed in the face of the Taliban for the same reason that the Iraqi army collapsed in the face of ISIS.

We were trying to get people who don't think like us or live like us to fight like us.

That was never going to work.

A modern Afghanistan was worse than a client state. It was a Potemkin village of State Department and USAID workers funding female rock bands and American officers trying to get Afghans to act like they're in a modern western army. All that led to was Afghans feeling insulted and trying to kill Americans.

Afghanistan was a strange dream that Americans had. The Afghans never shared that dream. The moment we announced that we were leaving, the soldiers we had dressed up, abandoned ship. Every Afghan we had spent a fortune paying to participate in our production of a modern Afghanistan fled. The show was over, the paying crowd was leaving, and the Taliban smoothly took over everything.

Everyone except us understood that was going to happen.

The old Brits or Frenchmen who had lived through this same phenomenon in the fifties could have told us about it, but we wouldn't have listened.

And we still don't understand.

A tribal opposition to the Taliban will likely emerge. And we will likely fund them. That opposition may succeed in dividing the country. The warlords in the Taliban coalition and the opposition coalition will move back and forth as they did during our part of the Afghanistan war.

It's become fashionable to call Afghanistan an "endless war". But it's not our endless war. It's the endless war of the tribes, clans and families that make up much of the Muslim world. We didn't begin the "endless war" in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria or anywhere else.

It was foolish of us to believe that we could end it.

The difficult realities are those no one wants to hear.

There was never a solution to Afghanistan. Nation-building was never going to work And the odds are that after we've withdrawn, Islamic terrorists are going to set up shop and begin the cycle all over again.

Americans think in terms of solutions. Or at least we used to.

But cultural problems can't be solved. The War On Poverty failed for the same reasons that the War on Drugs failed. And for the same reason that our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan ultimately failed.

The Founding Fathers understood that we could solve our own problems. We couldn't solve those of Europe. We still can't.

But the flip side of the reality is that isolation only gets us so far in a world in which terrorists can hijack planes and fly them into buildings.

Or get their hands on nuclear weapons.

More than ever we think in binary and polar terms. All either one thing or another. Reality doesn't work that way.

We need to avoid being drawn into more nation-building folly, but there will come times when we'll need to militarily intervene to protect our interests.

Those interventions should be short and decisive. They should set a clear goal of destroying the enemy without then being drawn into a futile program of stabilizing and constructing a new system that we approve of on the rubble of the enemy.

That's foolish and doomed.

The temptation to stabilize a source of instability is geopolitically rational, but doomed by culture. The nation-builders were right that failing to stabilize Iraq or Afghanistan meant that we would get dragged back in. It already happened in Iraq, the odds of it happening at some point in Afghanistan are pretty good.

But that means we'll have to learn to live with an Israeli model of occasional brief interventions with low casualties rather than extended engagements. We are done with trying to replicate WW2 or Vietnam all over again. Or at least we should be.

This model doesn't really fix anything. It isn't any kind of solution. And as terrorists get closer to accessing more dangerous weapons, building their own drones and rockets, obtaining chemical, biological or nuclear materials through the same pipeline from North Korea to Pakistan to Iran, there may be a hell of a price to pay.

There were better decisions that we could have and should have made before and after September 11.

We didn't make them. And that means we are where we are. Our enemies are getting more dangerous just as we're getting weaker.

Everyone needs to adapt to a new reality horizon and work with the situation as it is. But that probably won't happen. Instead the debate will go back to being between the same old failed intervention model or the equally failed model of insisting that if we ignore the problem, it'll go away.

It won't.

The basic crisis is simple enough.

Islamic terrorist insurgencies are expanding. Demographics mean that there will increasingly be more of them than there are of us and they will seek, as the Nazis did, Lebensraum or Breathing Room, through migration or immigration, colonization or conquest. Either way there will be enemies without and within whose organization and capabilities will continue to increase even as ours decay.

A sane country would have responded to 9/11 by cutting off their sources of funding and weapons with brief and decisive campaigns targeting oil-rich states and the North Korea-Pakistan-Iran weapons pipeline.

Instead we spent our time chasing the terrorists and trying to rebuild their societies.

Wars that could have been won became unwinnable exercises in suicidal sociology. That choice may mark one of the turning points of our decline. And it came from a political culture that was unable to deal with real problems, only with ideological abstractions, run by men who thought entirely in terms of the ideas that they had absorbed in the past, and with no room left for questioning those ideas.

The only real lesson of Afghanistan is that we need to step out of the boxes and echo chambers and start seeing the world as it is, and evaluating problems and solutions the way we would tackle a broken chair or a toilet, not in ideological, but in practical terms.

If we can't learn that lesson, then we can always debate the sex of all the angels can dance on the heads of a pin while the Turks besiege our walls. History offers ample lessons for societies that can't learn from the past, the present, or the future.

We ought to learn them before the barbarians aren't just in Kabul, but on our own borders.

36 comments:

  1. The "solution" was about two dozen W-8 warheads on 9-12-2001. 🤷‍♂️

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are right. No one in power will listen. Why?

      I am a Vietnam veteran. The people in charge thought that the Vietnamese would be in awe of our power. On the ship going to Vietnam ( free of course) they showed documentaries that showed how primitive the Vietcong weapons were. A few soldiers thought "boy they must be really angry if they plan to fight against us with such primitive gear...."

      Your friend
      George Zilbergeld

      Your friend,

      George Zilbergeld

      Delete
    2. When hostages taken in Terhan, Iran, I was on small radio station, on air I said "we should go over there and bomb the hell out of them" Daniel said it better,Swift & Decisive!

      Delete
    3. Anonymous15/8/21

      >The "solution" was about two dozen W-8 warheads on 9-12-2001
      They already did it... cant remember the bush flight after few months of war ? he said mission accomplished. the war was won easily. but then what ? 20 years dropping random bombs on desert dunes, for what ? which benefits or success story to bring home ? bush said to withdraw. then obamba said again to withdraw. finally trump again said to withdraw. and now the withdraw take place. and still somebody thinking that carpet bombing is a working way to win war ? the soviet too failed the same way. the talibans had a spirit to fight, they were defending their land ? what the demoncracy exporters or "freedom" fighters were doing instead ? nothing, just testing weapons. whoever thought that exporting demoncracy was a good idea was terribly wrong, just another utopia like communism. i regret to say it, but at least biden administration did something right and usefull.

      Delete
  2. Anonymous13/8/21

    We won WWll simply because we crushed our enemies on the battlefield, with little or no regard to civilian casualties. The lives of our men, and the future of our way of life was paramount - full stop.

    We also had no idiotic ideas of woke. Sexual degenerates were not tolerated or accepted. There was no room for them in the deadly business of waging war.

    Until we can get back to the point of firebombing, nuclear weapons, and outright devastation of the people who threaten us, we will continue to be threatened

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We don't want to win wars anymore. We can't even define victory in terms of destroying the enemy.

      And so we never win wars.

      Delete
  3. Bet your ass that the white supremacist tack that the FBI/DOJ and military are taking is going to cost the lives of millions

    ReplyDelete
  4. The solution is called genocide.

    Not a happy place to go.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not happy, nor pleasant, but historically valid and effective

      Delete
    2. Not happy, nor pleasant, but historically valid and effective

      Delete
    3. Not happy, nor pleasant, but historically valid and effective

      Delete
  5. I remember telling a ship mate back when the Soviets went into Afghanistan that they were going to lose a lot of men and withdraw, that Afghanistan can't be controlled by outsiders. I knew this because I was a history buff. After 9/11/01 I expected our guys to be smarter and go in and kill Al Quaida and leave. I was wrong. I ended up involved and so did two of my kids who were still in grade school on 9/11. Don't any of our so called betters ever read a history book? Or Kipling?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They read, but they don't learn anything.

      Case in point, Milley citing the three-fifths compromise as an example of systemic racism. They know lots of history, but they don't actually understand any of it.

      The modern condition.

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    2. I had to look it up but Milley is a Princeton grad not a ring knocker. That might explain a lot.

      Delete
    3. Belmont Hill, Princeton, Columbia

      Delete
    4. The British tried this trick in the 19th Century. There was a well-placed and intelligent Public Servant who had visited Kabul and understood the situation there. He warned against invasion but was overruled by a pompous administrator who "knew better". A British force went in and all perished bar one person who was allowed to escape and report the debacle. I think the British then sent a larger force into Kabul to "teach" their opponents a lesson and then withdrew because they could not subdue the people.
      They should have stayed away but in the 2020's their politicians thought they could do it all over again.

      Delete
    5. the retaliatory expedition did send a message, but yes, it was one of a number of disasters

      you don't conquer tribal territories unless you're willing to settle themselves yourself

      grabbing urban centers and trying to rule through their rulers is ultimately futile

      Delete
  6. Anonymous13/8/21

    With the new wokeness, I'm afraid that we are unwilling to fight to win even on our own shores.... That will be the ultimate undoing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. we've already turned over our cities to gangs and racist thugs

      Delete
    2. Anonymous13/8/21

      ... and the schools.

      Delete
  7. We owned the day, the night.
    We owned the sky, the eyes thereof.
    We watched it all for 21 years, unblinking.
    Record opium crops year in, year out.
    Overdose deaths raged in Our heartland.
    OBiden's deploying the Class of 2021.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thank you! I've been watching writers who I respect babble on about how we're disgraced by this pull out. I know I'm not on the same page with a lot of people, but Biden made the right decision.

    There's no fixing Afghanistan. if for no other reason it's a medieval tribal culture infected with Islam, which is fundamentally anti-civilization, with the moral foundation of greed, hate, envy, lust and violence. Recommended reading, Sword and Scimitar: Fourteen Centuries of War between Islam and the West.

    Where does it say it's our job to keep their country stable? No one has been able to do it from the days of Alexander the Great. There's a reason Afghanistan is called the place where empires go to die.

    If you're a moral person you have to feel for their afflictions, but if you're a rational person you have to recognize there's nothing we, or anyone else for that matter, can do anything about it. It's their problem and if they can't fix it ....well....that's too bad, but either way, their mess isn't our fault, nor is it our responsibility.

    The mistake we made was redefining the mission. We went from a punitive mission against the Taliban, and an effort to get Ben Laden, into a mission social engineering. Those days are over, and Biden made the right decision to leave, I hope he sticks with it.

    Even a blind monkey can find a coconut once in a while.
    .

    ReplyDelete
  9. Anonymous14/8/21

    This monumental failure is symptomatic of the entire narcissistic American approach to the ME. The arrogant delusion to see any problem only through the prism of one's own reflection. This solipsism tries to define economic or social or political metrics to issues of cultural immiscibility with Western paradigms. It is utterly false and they think they are going to additionally bleed Israel in the process of their 'learning' experience. To hell with that. Let America bleed itself to death. Israel will survive without it.

    Jonty Dee

    ReplyDelete
  10. AislaPS14/8/21

    A magnificent, blindingly obvious account, so rare to have the truth laid out so clearly.
    Why the hell don't other people state things this baldly. So logical, all of this is inevitable.
    And knowable, predictable in advance too.
    From the Bible and up to the present. Same old problem.
    Heck, the Koran states it too.
    We now have a Biden and a Milley, assorted Cuomos and Schiff types.
    How did such vermin get their posts ...where the hell were we all?

    ReplyDelete
  11. I'm not so sure the barbarians are still at out border...there appear to be a good number of them already here and digging in. Sadly, it now appears that it's far easier to identify and root out racists and white supremacists - which we now know are behind every rock and tree and found throughout 'Whiteburbia'. They're a much softer target. Beyond that, expecting an Islamic country to suddenly see the light and willingly conform to Western political norms is, as Spock might have said, 'Illogical'.

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  12. Amen, brother. We need to revive the concept of the punitive expedition that has no purpose but to reinforce our national interests and retribution for acts against it. An attack, we go in, destroy things, overturn governments, kill as many of those responsible as we can find - and then we leave. "Here's your country back - f..k with us again and we will return."

    For a brilliant discussion and analysis of our military and its strategy, read the two-part offering by Anna Simons at:
    https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/finessing-primacy-some-military-considerations-subversion-does-us-part-one#comment-form

    ReplyDelete
  13. Anonymous14/8/21

    Excellent article, Mt. Greenfield. I think one of the reasons (of many) that it was a failure from the beginning is the fact that the upper echelon decided that our fighting forces should not be allowed to learn all they could about the enemy (the removal of Steve Emerson's lessons on Islam, for example). Nope, that was racist (or something). Can't possibly have our valuable military actually learn about the enemy...while the powers that be insist they turn away and ignore the horrors of the Baca Bazi Boys. I am disgusted by these people. Laura Root

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  14. I have been arguing for years that we need to revitalize the concept of the punitive expedition. In the event of an attack that affects our national interest, we go in and destroy things, overturn governments, kill everyone involved that we can find – and then we leave. “Here’s your country back – do what you want with it but f##k with us again and we will return.” We must accept other cultures as they are – we cannot remake them in our image of what they should be. But we can inspire them to act in ways that do not detract from our interests.

    For a masterful articulation of past and future issues with our military and the strategies that have become culturally ingrained in it, see the two-part piece by Anna Simons beginning here:

    https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/finessing-primacy-some-military-considerations-subversion-does-us-part-one

    ReplyDelete
  15. Anonymous14/8/21

    I have been arguing for years that we need to revitalize the concept of the punitive expedition. In the event of an attack that affects our national interest, we go in and destroy things, overturn governments, kill everyone involved that we can find – and then we leave. “Here’s your country back – do what you want with it but f##k with us again and we will return.” We must accept other cultures as they are – we cannot remake them in our image of what they should be. But we can inspire them to act in ways that do not detract from our interests.

    For a masterful articulation of past and future issues with our military and the strategies that have become culturally ingrained in it, see the two-part piece by Anna Simons beginning here:

    https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/finessing-primacy-some-military-considerations-subversion-does-us-part-one

    ReplyDelete
  16. Anonymous14/8/21

    I have been arguing for years that we need to revitalize the concept of the punitive expedition. In the event of an attack that affects our national interest, we go in and destroy things, overturn governments, kill everyone involved that we can find – and then we leave. “Here’s your country back – do what you want with it but f##k with us again and we will return.” We must accept other cultures as they are – we cannot remake them in our image of what they should be. But we can inspire them to act in ways that do not detract from our interests.

    For a masterful articulation of past and future issues with our military and the strategies that have become culturally ingrained in it, see the two-part piece by Anna Simons beginning here:

    https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/finessing-primacy-some-military-considerations-subversion-does-us-part-one

    ReplyDelete
  17. Anonymous14/8/21

    As the chicoms are supporting the Taliban I suspect the CIA will too but the guv will sell arms to both sides.

    ReplyDelete
  18. A 9th Century Culture requires a 9th Century despot to control and rule it.
    A 21st Century "civilized" solution will always fail.
    Iraq could only be held together by Saddam. Libya could only be maintained by a Qadaffi.

    If and when these cultures mature enough to WANT a Western Style Democracy/Republic, the people will rise up and claim it. Until then, its best to hold them as geo-political allies, but to also keep them at arms length when trying to impose our morals onto their society.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Anonymous14/8/21

    The previous comments give me hope. Effective
    understanding of the enemy does exist. Kerry-esque
    wrongheadedness and Obama’s American destruction by
    design must be eradicated. The vast majority of us
    have to recognize the enemy. War’s purpose is to
    destroy that enemy, not social work.

    Vaporize the warlike Muslims, then eradicate the
    ideology: holy sites, mosques, communities, leaders.
    If you need a plan, just copy their practices.
    You don’t have to be hateful. Just be thorough.

    Charlie

    ReplyDelete
  20. Great article, especially where you mention they don't even have an idea of Afghanistan.

    Actually, that's quite a 'woke' principle because it's recognising that we don't even understand how they think, and social engineering on our terms is like trying to build lego cities when the ground is made of Mechano (look it up if you don't have it in the US).

    Wokeness says the Taliban are just as good as us though, which is clear lunacy. These are people that will marry off their 10 year old daughters and execute people for religious infringements.

    Neo Liberal state building was never going to work when not even the building blocks are there. Those missing ideological building blocks for democracy are not universally accepted by all people everywhere. The idea of democracy needs the right mental soil to take root in.

    ReplyDelete
  21. they are savages. always have been and always will be. there is no such country , just a bunch of savage tribes that if they lack foreigners to murder will happily settle for murdering each other. i said back when 43 let the idiots in washington talk him into this nationbuilding bullshit in afghanistan and then iraq , nice idea. but you cannot make a chocolate pie of a pile of camel plop,no matter how much sugar you add. you cannot rebuild what was never built. you cannot teach them to be kansas republicans or make park avenue liberals out of people who eat cockroach boiled in ghee and do small boys and not call it homosexuality. but yet if they catch them doing it with an adult guy they behead them. go figure. when they act up against us, bomb the right people and things that matter to the rulers and let them think about doing it again. oh,and don't bring them here. they will just do little boys and stone the dogs and women.

    ReplyDelete

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