In my lifetime America has fought three major wars: Korea, Viet Nam, and the War on Terror. The first two wars were started by Democrats and ended by Republicans. The War on Terror, on the other hand, was started by a Republican and has just been ended by a Democrat. As Grandpa would say, “a be gezunt” (read: that’s that.)
I don’t want to be hard-hearted. I know that Afghanistan has a loyal ally in our defense against Islamic terrorists. The country has also been a loyal and willing supplier of opium to the West. In fact, more opium gets shipped out of Afghanistan to countries like France and England than what is shipped from anywhere else.
Other than dope and a lot of aid money from the United States and the U.N., the country doesn’t really produce anything that anyone else needs. There are allegedly big, untapped mineral reserves, but they remain untapped. Half the country’s inhabitants live under the World Bank’s poverty line and the per-capita GDP is way down near the bottom of the list.
I’m not even sure that when you get some distance away from the capital city, Kabul, that there’s any real country known as Afghanistan at all. Much of the country, particularly in the North and West, is considered ‘tribal territories,’ where such mundane things as law enforcement, education and health care may exist and may not exist.
I still don’t really understand exactly what the Russian invasion of Afghanistan was all about in 1980, other than the fact that Osama bin Laden was involved with the rebel forces and Tom Hanks made a clever movie about how we sold weapons to the rebels called ‘Charlie Wilson’s War.’
But what that movie underscores are that while the media is saying that Joe has ended a 20-year war, that’s only if you define warfare as requiring boots on the ground. As far as I’m concerned, giving another country or another militant faction within a country expensive weapons to help them fight someone else is being involved in a war.
When did Russia invade Afghanistan? Try 1979. Which is why we boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympic games in Moscow. ‘Operation Cyclone,’ as it was called, was a CIA program which cost more than $20 billion to arm and train the mujahideen resistance against the Russians, and it also started in 1979.
So, we have been fighting a war in Afghanistan not for twenty years, but for more than thirty years! And if we were ever privy to classified documentation held by the CIA and State, I’m willing to bet that our involvement in Afghanistan probably stretches further back.
Take a look at this map:
Now take your finger and trace a line from the border of Turkey and Azerbaijan all the way across through Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and into Nepal, a more or less the same distance as from New York to Chicago. Now if you want to drive from New York to Chicago the fastest and easiest way, you take I-80 out to Youngstown, grab I-480 up through Cleveland, move onto I-90 and in another eight or nine hours you’re in the Second City.
Want to get off the highway and get something to eat? There’s a Big Mac or some other fast-food chain right off every exit of the Interstate. Decide that you’ll take your time and stay somewhere overnight? Every other exit has a Best Western or a Holiday Inn. Back in 2001 I drove all the way across the country from San Francisco to Boston and I could have eaten the exact, same foods at every meal and slept in the exact, same kind of room, with a clean bed, every single night.
Want to try driving the same distance from the border of Eastern Turkey to Peshawar in Northern Pakistan? Peshawar happens to be the place where Osama bin Laden stayed hidden until he was killed in 2011. Why was he hiding out in Peshawar? Because Northern Pakistan, like Northern Iran, Northern Iraq, and Northern Afghanistan are usually referred to as the ‘tribal territories,’ which means that, practically speaking, there’s no government functioning in these regions at all. Or at least no government like the kind of government that functions in Western countries that have been mucking around in Afghanistan for almost two hundred years.
Western interest in Afghanistan first became an important issue in 1830, when the British sent troops into the region to prevent what they believed was going to be an attempt by Russia to seize control of the area and then invade the Raj. The contest between Russia and Britain to secure this territory became known as the ‘Great Game,’ and resulted in continuous military activity from then up to the present day.
Once Russia became the Soviet Union and squared off against the United States, Afghanistan became just another one of the multiple regions where money, arms and political influence flowed into the country from both sides. Would it be fair to say that the United States has had a strategic interest in Afghanistan since the end of World War II? The American concern for keeping Afghanistan in a friendly orbit was for sure reflected in the country’s first Constitution, which was promulgated in 1973. This document, which is a dead letter in most of the country, particularly those ‘tribal regions,’ clearly indicates that America’s Afghan ‘war’ is almost fifty years old.
In 1910, the United Nations issued a report which found that 36 percent of the country’s population lived in ‘absolute poverty’ and another 37 percent existed just above the poverty line. Over the previous eight years, Afghanistan had received more than $35 billion in outside aid. Where do you think that money came from? From the Afghans who have somehow gotten out of the country and immigrated to the United States where they now own delis in many college towns? Yea, right.
I am hoping against hope that Joe’s decision to abandon Afghanistan will be the first, but not the last time he decides that the United States needs to stop investing military troops and money in ill-gotten strategi gains. Currently we have more than 1,000 military installations beyond our own shores. Why do we have any at all?
Does the country which has a breathtakingly huge arsenal of the most powerful and destructive weapons ever produced need to even keep men and women in uniform to protect us from what Grandpa called the chayas (read; crazy people) who go running around those tribal zones?