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How Bad Will Things Get in Afghanistan?
National Insecurity Questions That Won’t Be Asked in the Presidential Debates
by FRANKLIN C. SPINNEY

For reasons that were quite clear well before the Afghan “surge” began (see here and here), America’s Afghan adventure is now ending without achieving its goals. The prospects for a civil life in Afghanistan are likely to become even more remote than they were before we intervened.  Indeed, some experts think the ground work has been laid for an even more destructive civil war than that which occurred after the Soviets left Afghanistan with their tail between their legs in 1989.  Only time will tell how bad things will be, but it is a virtual certainty that events will be ugly and murderous.

One would expect a healthy accountable democratic government, intent on learning from its errors, would be inclined to seek an understanding of how it got itself into such a mess.

For example, will there be soul searching lessons-learned exercise by a military that repeated most of the strategic and tactical blunders it made in Vietnam. To wit: it dumbed down strategy into a mindless attrition strategy driven by body counts and assassinations in the name of winning hearts and minds.  It substituted high-cost contractor-intensive technologies for low-cost tactical smarts in a guerrilla war.  It over-relied on air power and killing from a safe distance.  It allowed its reactive obsessions with force protection to the displace tactical initiative of small unit commanders.  And perhaps most decisively, it relied on a fatally flawed grand strategy to quickly create a huge, materiel-intensive, indigenous army out of whole cloth, trained and equipped in the US military’s image.  Don’t expect to hear any questions about these issues in the Presidential debates.  And don’t expect to see any serious introspection by a military – industrial – congressional complex (MICC) intent on perpetuating its lucrative business-as-usual.

Will there be an accounting at home for our complicity in causing this human disaster?  US complicity in the Afghan nightmare reaches back more than thirty years to the Carter Administration’s successful efforts in the summer of 1979 to sucker the Soviets into invading Afghanistan.  The idea was simple, according to President Carter’s national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski: Fan the fires of Islamic extremism (with the help of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan) in Afghanistan to increase the Soviet leadership’s paranoid fears about a spillover of religious unrest into the Soviet Central Asian republics.  The leadership’s obsessive fear would increase the likelihood of a defensively motivated preemptive Soviet invasion, and in so doing, would enmesh the Soviet Union in a Vietnam-like quagmire.  Zbigniew Brzezinski bragged about this gambit in an interview with the French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur in 1998. When asked if he regretted having supported Islamic fundamentalists or giving arms and advice to future terrorists, Brzezinski’s responded: ‘What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?’ [1]  Unfortunately Brzezinski’s stirred up Moslems have become obsessively important to Democratic and Republican interventionists alike, but don’t count on any soul searching questions about how this happened in the next two presidential debates.

There is another subject that seems to be verboten in the US media but ought to be addressed in the Presidential debates, because it is virtually certain to haunt whoever is President over the next few years: Just how in hell are we going to extract our forces and equipment from Afghanistan?  And how much is it going to cost?

Unlike the Soviets, the United States does not have a short, easy land route out of a quagmire created by Brzezinki’s stirred up Muslims.  If you think the looming Afghan Dunkirk is a new or unforeseeable military problem, ask Alexander the Great how much he had to bribe the Pashtuns to let him exit Afghanistan thru the Khyber Pass. The answer to the questions surrounding our exit from the quagmire includes a bill that should be calculated in the currency of lives lost or ruined, materiel worn out or left behind, and dollars, especially the increases in the budgets that will be demanded by the Pentagon to replenish its lost and worn out equipment.

One the other hand, one subject we might hear in the Presidential debates is an argument over who will be the bigger macho man as the United States pivots its security strategy toward East Asia (i.e., China).  This pivot has the great advantage of being a convenient cover for the Pentagon — really the MICC — to sweep Afghanistan’s lessons under the table and continue high-cost business as usual.  Who knows, with a little luck, maybe we can start a new Cold War with big budgets and no fighting, because we have just about reached the end game in our exploitation of “stirred up Moslems” as a means to pump up the defense budget.

Franklin “Chuck” Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. He be reached at chuck_spinney@mac.com

Notes.

[1] How The Us Provoked The Soviet Union Into Invading Afghanistan, Le Nouvel Observateur (France), January 15-21, 1998, p. 76, translated from the French by William Blum.  Robert Gates confirmed this caper in his 1996 memoire, for a good summary, see Chalmers Johnson’s Abolish the CIA!  An excellent summary of this episode in the context of the Carter’s other policies, including the those relating to the oil question, can be found in Harry Targ, The thirty years war: The United States in Afghanistan, The Rag Blog, December 27, 2009