In February 1989, Soviet General Boris V. Gromov in dramatic fashion, exited his armored vehicle and walked the remaining distance across friendship bridge into Uzbekistan, becoming the last Soviet troop to leave Afghanistan. “There is not a single Soviet soldier or officer left behind me,” said General Gromov, “Our nine-year stay ends with this.”
By Christmas 1991, Soviet Veterans of the Afghan war would no longer be Soviets, as the empire collapsed in swift and spectacular fashion, ultimately breaking into 16 separate nations. The loss in Afghanistan was a crushing public relations blow for the Soviet government. The Soviet politicians as well as their citizens suffered a catastrophic loss of faith in their system. Defeat had followed them home.
What does a Soviet defeat in Afghanistan in 1989 have to do with the United States in 2017? Perhaps a great deal, as wars create psychological as well as political consequences in addition to the butcher’s bill.
In 2001, following the attacks of September 11, the U.S. launched air strikes followed by a ground invasion against the Taliban government and remaining elements of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. The architecture of aggression was near flawless, as air power, special operators, and a relatively small amount of ground troops controlled the country by years end.
By January 2002, B-52s patrolled the skies overhead, Daisy Cutters (predecessor to the M.O.A.B. bomb) had been dropped on Taliban caves, and special operators had heard dazed and demoralized Al Qaeda members, pleading on handheld radios not to be hit again, by aircraft they would never see or hear, just before enemy radios fell eternally silent.
March 2002 found the Taliban decimated, and Al Qaeda operatives not killed or captured were on the run. The real “shock and awe” was in Afghanistan.
Victory in Afghanistan was indeed achieved within the first six months of combat operations.
Then why did we stay and end up with the longest war in American history, unable to exit the “graveyard of empires”?
The answer lies with our ruling elite. Those who make U.S. policy from our departments of State to Defense, believe mistakenly in the divinity of democracy. Like a catechism for the faithful, all planning, security, and scenarios for acceptable outcomes in our wars, must first pass through the prism of the all-powerful ballot.
Evidence of this fallacy could be witnessed in U.S. policy towards Syria’s civil war from 2012-2017. Because Assad is an unelected dictator, American aid and arms were funneled to “rebel” groups linked to both Al Qaeda as well as ISIS. Essentially, our government spent billions of dollars committing treason against itself, as it supported groups with links to the same terrorist elements who drove planes into our buildings on 9/11. Not to mention, risking a nuclear showdown with Russia in the process. A more schizophrenic foreign policy would be hard to replicate.
So because victory requires democratic stability, Afghanistan is unwinnable. Ultimately for an acceptable outcome in terms of pre-Trump U.S. policy, you would have needed the people of Afghanistan to secure their own freedoms, but Afghans are never going to fight and die for the ideals of liberty in a Jeffersonian sense.
Afghans will proudly fight for self-rule or to expel a foreign invader, a la Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, the British and Soviet empires, but they will not be picking up there AK-47s and joining the Jihad to promote free speech, gay rights, or one man one vote.
Citizen and candidate Trump’s initial instincts on our longest war were correct, as this tweet from 2013 shows. “Let’s get out of Afghanistan. Our troops are being killed by the Afghanis we train and we waste billions there. Nonsense! Rebuild the USA”
But for President Trump, this will not be possible anytime soon.
For when we leave Afghanistan, scenes reminiscent of the last chopper out of Saigon will be splashed across screens and newsreels worldwide. It will be called a stunning defeat for American ideals and power. The anti-Trump media will giddily celebrate the foreign policy “failure” of the President.
Afghans who sided with U.S. forces during the occupation, along with their families, will be targeted for assassination, a heartbreaking scenario, but inevitable.
It would be these images of slaughter, and further loss of U.S. pride that would hurt the Trump, and therefore the America first agenda.
President Trump should hold the line in Afghanistan for now, perhaps into a second term. No foreign policy calamity created by previous administrations should be allowed to usurp the American people’s mandate of November 2016.
Voters who turned blue states red for Donald Trump, were demanding secure borders, a balanced budget, a rebuilt military less constrained by political correctness, and Americans put first again on trade.
A Trump Presidency further bogged down, would not be able to achieve any of these ends.
The Trump administration already being thwarted by a Russia crazed media, and blocked by turncoats in its own party, is wise by not adding any more distractions to the mountain of already constant distractions.
In the meantime, because American honor is at stake, the President should also initiate a thorough screening process to vet those Afghans who stuck with us during our soon to be decades long stay, and give them an option for safety here at home when the day comes that the U.S. exits, and the serpent of political Islam fills the vacuum.
And although America’s first line of defense against Jihadists is found in our immigration policy, Afghanistan remains a magnet for Islamic radicals, and therefore an ample proving ground for our warriors.
Those who believe that a total withdrawal from Afghanistan is an unshakable tenet in making America great again, might be wise to accept that the former may indeed derail the latter.
The prospect of having a second American century through America first policies is fragile, and the clock is ticking, while it was the Philosopher Plato who made the melancholy observation that “only the dead have seen the end of war”.
Tony and his wife Melissa, son Houston, and chocolate lab Layla reside in San Antonio.
You can find Tony on Twitter @tonyarterburn
Latest posts by Tony Arterburn (see all)
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