Sultan Knish Blog
It's no coincidence that some of the most explosive Taliban violence coincides
with the first phase of withdrawal from Afghanistan. The successful attacks on
top Afghan officials are about more than just Taliban boldness and their need to
establish credit for driving us out, but also about changing loyalties.
Obama has made it clear that Karzai has no future,
and that means that a growing realignment is happening in Afghanistan. With two
sides to choose from, one that is on the way out, and one that is on the way in,
a new tide of support is flowing away from the American backed government and to
Much the same thing happened in the early days when the
Allied assault smashed the Taliban and made it clear that they had no future. As
the war dragged on, warlords and tribal leaders changed sides, and collected
money and weapons from both sides. Now that we are preparing to leave, they are
going to be lining up on the winning side.
Afghanistan is the Muslim
world at its most elementally tribal with fewer of the mock civilized interfaces
between the Westerner and the ragged edge of the frontier than are found in
Pakistan or the Middle East.
The Taliban took power there in the same way
that Mohammed once did in the Arabian desert, by packing together ruthless
brutality and a fanatical religious ideology. Their coalition was based on naked
power and terror. Ours was based on foreign aid, elections and soldiers digging
wells. It's not that we never had a shot, but that we were trying to impose
order on what is really a permanent state of chaos.
Even before the
choppers have begun taking off, the chaos is reclaiming the land. The Islamists
will return, celebrate their victory, and fall into another civil war. Without
foreign troops there to target, they will not be able to count on the same level
of aid from the Muslim world. Which will move the clock back to before the
Kabul will hold out for a while, but eventually it
will fall, and all the NGO's, the girls we taught to read, the elections and the
laws will all go back under the Burqa. A counter-Taliban force will remain and
the fighting will continue. Though the new conflict will now extend into
Karzai is not a dead man yet. If he survives every betrayal
that comes his way, he may still hold out for years. And American advisers and
arms shipments may still keep flowing his way. More likely we will try to
replace him, and even more likely we will fail. The story will play out the same
way that it did in Vietnam and the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. Not
because it was foretold, but because we lost sight of what the mission
The same mission creep took hold in Afghanistan and Iraq, that has
taken hold in most of our wars. We stopped fighting to destroy an enemy and
began trying to win the hearts and minds of the population. No longer as a
means, but as an end.
Instead we believed that by exporting our system, we
could implement a state of stability. Transform Afghanistan from a collection of
villages and hovels run by gangs and large families into something more modern.
The effort was doomed to fail. Afghanistan is not a modern state. It isn't a
state at all. Like most of the Muslim world it's a patchwork of families and
clans with borders and a flag stuck on top. To run it, is a matter of managing
The Taliban are celebrating the victory of their system over our
system. But how could it have been any other way. Afghanistan is not an entity
in and of itself. Its ties to Pakistan and Iran meant that the Taliban would not
go away until the Pakistani and Iranian regimes did. We could have cut the
supply lines, but that is something we chose not to do in Korea. We haven't done
it in Iraq. And that turned the Taliban into the proxy armies of Iran and
elements of Pakistan.
This particular mistake is one that we have kept
making over and over again in every war from Korea on up. The Cold War mentality
of refusing to be drawn into larger conflicts has bled us and gotten us into
unwinnable conflicts against guerrillas who are cannon fodder for their masters.
We rack up kill ratios against the cannon fodder, who retreat and regroup,
accept fresh supplies from their backers, recruit more peasants, and come back
at us again.
Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Four wars and the same
lesson that General McArthur was drummed out for trying to get through Truman's
thick head, has still gone unlearned. After almost a 100,000 dead, we still
suffer from a political and military leadership that refuses to understand that
the micro-conflict is unwinnable without either confronting the puppet masters
or driving out the civilian population who provide shelter and manpower to the
Losing Afghanistan won't help. But then we never had
Afghanistan, what we had was an alliance with a coalition as enduring as two
year old's attention span. What we had was the delusion that we could change the
Muslim world by carpet bombing them with democracy and the trappings of
civilization. But our drive for democracy was based on a fundamental error. We
had not taken into account that the difference between us and them, was not that
we had voting booths, and they didn't. But that we were civilized and they
How can we possibly learn the answer, when we keep asking the
wrong question. Afghanistan was the wrong question. And the answer is the
Taliban. But the right question wasn't how do we stabilize Afghanistan, it was
how do we find the people who did this to us and teach them and their backers an
There was a brief shining moment when we
understood that this was the question. When it was "You're either with us or
against us" and "Give us Bin Laden's head". When politicians seemed to have
reverted to the common sense approach of the man on the street. But then the
experts took over. And the question became one of reconstructing Afghanistan in
the name of some greater good. Now the Taliban are giving the final answer to
The only true moral of war is that you shouldn't begin one
that you aren't going to fight to win. And we didn't fight to win. We fought for
hearts and minds. And now when the troops go, we will discover how little those
hearts and minds were worth all along.
The end of our Afghan experiment
is approaching. We leave behind not democracy, but more caches of weapons and
equipment, and boot prints in the sand. Armies have come to Afghanistan before.
And gone. And had we stayed on mission we could have gone out winners. Instead
the deaths of thousands of Americans become a footnote to Obama's reelection
I highly recommend the Sultan Knish Blog for its hard hitting comments. Worth checking often.