On Monday, there was a flurry of coverage over a speech by President Hamid Karzai, the nominal leader of Afghanistan in which he declared that the United States was coordinating with the Taliban to demonstrate the weakness of the Afghan government and thus justify the continuation of our military presence there. Mr. Karzai must have been smoking some of the dope that his half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, had been peddling prior to his assassination a couple of years ago. Shortly thereafter an Afghan policeman opened fire on American soldiers killing another four men.
It’s time to go. No it is way past the time to go – to leave Afghanistan. I don’t mean to announce a timetable for leaving; I mean to back up the lorries, destroy what cannot be easily recovered and get the hell out.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, then Sen. Barack Obama was highly critical of the war in Iraq. He said that we were fighting the wrong war and that it was the war in Afghanistan that we should be fighting and that we must win that war. It was all campaign rhetoric and we should have known that. Mr. Obama had absolutely no foundation for making such assertion. He was a community organizer and his knowledge of foreign or military affairs was less than zero. He said it simply so that his opposition to the Iraq war did not paint him as yet another liberal Democrat “surrender monkey” like virtually all of his predecessor candidates. He knew nothing of Afghanistan, its history or its strategic value. He simply had to point to a place to fight so that he could appear to be courageous.
Mr. Obama never had any intention of winning the war in Afghanistan – nor in Iraq. He continued the military presence in both countries not to win but simply to not lose – the same strategy employed by Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon in Viet Nam. Like his predecessors dealing with Viet Nam, Mr. Obama has wasted the lives of thousands of young men and women for personal political appearance. During the Viet Nam war, those young men and women were my friends, colleagues and generation – all gone for nothing other than their bravery and the trust they placed in men and women who betrayed them at every turn. Now these young men and women are the peers of my children. And while the original purpose may have been noble and necessary, the continuation has devolved into foolishness and now just callous treachery.
Let’s re-examine the reasons for invading Afghanistan and Iraq. Afghanistan was in the hands of the Taliban – a brutal theocracy that was intent on living in the Eighth Century complete with filth, poverty, torture and slavery. It granted safe haven to Osama bin Laden and his merry band of international terrorists (al Qaeda) whose war on Western civilization was noted primarily by its focus on murdering innocent civilians. The attack on the Twin Towers in New York City was hatched, planned and prepared by Mr. bin Laden and al Qaeda while in Afghanistan. The Afghani government not only refused to turn over Mr. bin Laden and others but reveled in their success and the loss of lives on September 11, 2001. The attack on Afghanistan was not only justified but necessary to safeguard the country from future terrorist activities. The successful invasion drove the Taliban from power, destroyed its military capability, and forced al Qaeda into caves along the Pakistani border where its communications network and supply system have been severely compromised – now particularly by the use of armed drones. The mistake was, having achieved a military victory, we opted for “nation building” assuming that a civilization that had not advanced beyond feudal tribalism in over thirteen hundred years was equipped or even desired Western style democracy. That was President George W. Bush’s mistake and whether it was embraced by Mr. Obama or not, it has been continued for over fours years with the attendant loss of life by American service men and women. There is no strategic value to Afghanistan nor any historical ties or friendships. Afghanistan only came to our attention as a way to harass the Soviet Union during its failed occupation (and nation building).
We would have been far better served to have gathered in the remaining military leadership of Afghanistan – most of whom were no fans of the Taliban – and tell them that we were leaving but that if the Islamic terrorist faction once again took root in Afghanistan we would return with the same deadly force and destruction that we rained down on them during the initial invasion. The governance of the Afghani people would have been left to them so long as they no longer threatened other countries. Decisions on foreign aid and assistance would await a demonstration of their choices in governance.
Instead, today, thousands of lives have been lost in order to prop up a corrupt and criminal regime. We are no further along in our relationship with the Afghani people than we were at the moment of the Taliban ouster. We will leave in another year having achieved nothing except the additional loss of American lives and we will watch Afghanistan lapse into its perpetual tribal feudalism.
Iraq and Afghanistan were not in the same situation but the same mistakes were made. It makes little difference whether Saddam Hussein possessed or was developing weapons of mass destruction. There was more than sufficient evidence that he had developed chemical weapons and had used them on the Kurds thus demonstrating the will and the capability of doing it again. There was also more than sufficient evidence that Mr. Hussein had an active and aggressive nuclear program and that he desired to possess and potentially use nuclear weapons. The evidence of the continuation of that nuclear program was sufficient to convince the Bush Administration, an overwhelming majority in the Congress, the British, the Israelis, and a host of other Western countries. Mr. Hussein had previously engaged in a border war with Iran, and had invaded Kuwait. He was supplying terrorists throughout the Middle East and giving sanctuary to a variety of high profile terrorists. No mistake was made in invading Iraq – Mr. Hussein needed to be removed for the safety of this country and others.
The invasion was a textbook success. In short order, Mr. Hussein’s military forces were decimated, his communications capabilities were crushed and his industrial capabilities of supplying his military forces were destroyed. The vast majority of Mr. Hussein’s military leadership was either killed or captured and Mr. Hussein was driven into hiding (and eventually captured and executed). At this point, just like in Afghanistan we had achieved our legitimate military and security goals. Once again, Mr. Bush made the mistake of attempting “nation building.” While Mr. Obama claims that we have ended our role in Iraq, thousands of troops remain in harms way and the country continues to rush headlong into a civil war between the Sunnis and the Shia.
Unlike Afghanistan there was a strategic value to Iraq – a value beyond its oil. Iraq proved to be a challenger to Iran’s dominance of the Middle East. Mr. Hussein’s army was fully capable of repelling the theocratic extremists next door and, by its presence and hostility, to force Iran to consider the dangers of other military ventures which would leave their border vulnerable to Iraq. We could have recognized that strategic value by having called together their professional soldiers and police and delivered the same message that I suggested for Afghanistan – the decisions on the future of Iraq are left to the Iraqis and we will not interfere unless they once again threaten our security or that of their neighbors. Foreign and military aid will be determined by their choices of governance.
But we failed in both instances. While the decision to engage in “nation building” may have begun with Mr. Bush who was determined to succeed, it has been made worse by Mr. Obama who is ambivalent about succeeding and seeks only to avoid being blamed for a loss. It is of little consequence to those who have died in the wake of their mistakes.