A bit about me first. As you may be able to tell from perusing other parts of my site, I am a conservative; a small c conservative. Not a member of a Conservative party. Just conservative. Law and order conservative. Kinda follow the rules conservative. (Speed limits exempted when I am on the open road conservative…). I am also very proud of my country most of the time. Our Founding Fathers did an amazing job in setting the framework for what we have today. Yes, I understand that men did almost all of the writing and debating as they constructed the framework to escape England’s control, but I have to believe that an awful lot of conversation at the family dinner table or even pillow talk contributed alternative viewpoints. At least I know it does in our house. I am also a veteran of the US Army. Not that I rushed right in to sign up or anything. I was drafted and served during the Viet Nam era. That was the only lottery I ever won…sigh. I ended up with a cushy job hanging around West Germany as cannon fodder for the Russian tanks amassed on the East German border in the early 1970s.
But back to our Shame in Afghanistan. Yes, I understand our country’s need to pursue the supporters of the murderers of 9/11/2001. After so much death and destruction we had to chase them to the four corners of our round globe. We did chase them, caught them and made most of them pay a serious price for their actions. Then we saw a perceived need to do some nation building in an area of the world we did not understand. Did we learn nothing from Viet Nam? Many Afghanis are well educated and world-wise. Many are not; they know of their own village and maybe the one next door. At least in the rural areas they are guided by tribalism as they have been for centuries. That rural tribalism contributed greatly to Russia’s humiliating loss years before we entered the Afghan stage. Were we not paying attention to that scenario? So we decided to “help” those poor people to escape the clutches of the Taliban, improve the living conditions of women and provide both girls and boys with an opportunity for an education, then live in freedom . Those were noble intentions indeed.
But we forgot or ignored a whole host of contributing factors. First, in the rural areas the older boys and girls were necessary contributors to the families’ economic survival. It was difficult to send them to school. Yeah, OK, necessary in the long run, but difficult in the short run. Second, because of centuries of tradition and rural life, many didn’t see the advantage of education, particularly for women. Third, the history of tribalism supplied the local villages with elders with an astute ability to chart the course forward that avoided the most difficulty. We watched as they cooperated with the Russians when they had to, then turned on the Russians when it was advantageous. The list of opportunities for us to fail goes on. And now we have raised the hopes of an entire generation of Afghan girls only to have those hopes absolutely crushed in the next several months.
We never got the majority of the population to grasp our vision of nation building. Maybe because they didn’t have the experience to grasp the concept. Maybe they didn’t have the skill set in enough people to make it work. Maybe their society didn’t lend itself enough to the concept at this time. And maybe they didn’t have the tools to make it work. Does this remind you of our mistake in Viet Nam? Remember the demonstrations from OUR OWN generation against the war? Remember the Green Berets seeking the hearts and minds of the local population? Why didn’t nation building work that time? Remember the nightly news showing helicopters trying to evacuate the Vietnamese who assisted us from the embassy rooftops in Saigon? Why did we think nation building would work this time? How are we going to stop our government’s nation building efforts the next time?
But back to Our Shame in Afghanistan. We have now given up and hauled a$$. I am so saddened by our loss of American military lives. The lost opportunity of those taken from us before their time. The huge hole in the lives of each member of their families. I think of the young wives or girlfriends whose plans have been forever wiped out. Then I remember the men and women who have lost limbs, been horribly burned, blown up or suffered so many other debilitating injuries. How do they put their lives back together after that? Are we going to make sure they get every bit of medical help they need? And finally what about the altered mental health of so many veterans? Will they get the services they need to return to society and live in personal peace? I doubt we will step up as a country after seeing so much missed opportunity to help the Viet Nam vets. I know of two veterans who served honorably in Viet Nam, came back seemingly in good health and later died early as a result of cancer due to exposure to agent orange. The same agent orange our government told them was safe to be near. The same agent orange we sprayed wantonly on the jungle as a defoliant while both our military and the local population were in that jungle. We even have no idea how we affected the Vietnamese children with the poison that our government said was safe.
Imagine what we could have accomplished if we had not spent billions on those wars. You can fill in your own favorite accomplishment. Could we have cured a few types of cancer by now? Could we have discovered and implemented substantial mental health treatments? Perhaps upgraded our real infrastructures? Or possibly created a functional, easy to use, available to all, public transportation system? (When I served in West Germany I used a public transportation system that could get you from any little podunk village to any other podunk village with ease.) Or maybe we could have avoided spending those billions and billions that have so inconveniently impoverished our grandkids?
But, again, back to Our Shame in Afghanistan. Finally. There are a lot of Afghanis who saw our vison of nation building. Some who hated the Taliban and wanted better. Many were well educated and multi-lingual. They saw hope. They put their lives on the line to help us help them. They worked with their own government (allied with us) for the betterment of their people. They worked as interpreters for our service men and women. Many even risked their lives to work on the front lines with our special forces. They saw the promise of self government, the advantage of their citizens to be educated and chart their own course. They saw the deep, demanding need to avoid the enslavement of the country’s women and girls. They worked with us when we asked. They took the leap of faith. We know who they are. Our government could have (SHOULD HAVE!) started to offer evacuation of them long before we announced our withdrawal. We could have arranged with our allies to help relocate those who wanted to flee before they were slaughtered. Instead, to satisfy some political promises made we hauled a$$. We left them there to face their own fate with the Taliban butchers.
Shame! Shame on us.
One thought on “Our Shame in Afghanistan”
This suggests a broader question: what drives American foreign policy? Is there a Grand Strategy? For instance, are the people who decide what we’re going to do in the world committed to building a Rules-Based Order? Or are they striving to get and maintain World Domination?
Maybe neither. Maybe there isn’t any Grand Strategy at all, but rather our foreign policy is just the accidental vector sum of various self-interested bodies: foreign governments (and their domestic supporters), the war industry, and others.
This view is spelled out in detail in a new book by Richard Hanania — too expensive for ordinary mortals to buy, but you can see his views here: https://richardhanania.substack.com/p/new-book-public-choice-theory-and