If you aren’t yelling STOP IT ALREADY! at the headlines surrounding the collapse of the Afghan government, then you haven’t been paying attention, not to the grim news out of Afghanistan but to the last 76 years of American war policy. That’s every American war since the end of World War II.
Sure, Republicans are going to blame President Biden and Democrats for losing Afghanistan. That was going to happen no matter how orderly the American withdrawal. Democrats will blame ex-President Trump for legitimizing the Taliban and setting a timetable for the complete withdrawal of American forces. That’s just politics in America at least since the Republicans decided that the Democrats “lost China” in 1948. Everybody’s afraid of being accused of losing some country or other that is not ours to lose.
Slowly or not, the truth will out about Afghanistan. The truth will be that America’s military leaders didn’t think the Afghan government could hold out without American military support and that corruption lay at the heart of Afghanistan. It is a fantasy to think that in another 30 or 60 days the Taliban and the Afghan government would have reached a political settlement that didn’t leave the Taliban running the country. If we and the Afghans hadn’t defeated the Taliban in 20 years, why would you think the Taliban were going to fold up their tents and settle for merely being included in a coalition government?
The truth will be that neither Barack Obama, Donald Trump or Joe Biden thought the war was winnable. The only real question is, did George W. Bush and his two henchmen, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld really think it was winnable? In fact, did they ever have a real plan for what would happen in Afghanistan after the Taliban were ousted and fled to Pakistan where they were protected by the Pakistani secret service (and that was no secret to anyone). If they had a plan, it failed. If they didn’t, what were we doing there aside from striking back at somebody, anybody for 9/11?
Did our military really have no idea how inadequate the Afghan army was? It was no army at all. It was a Potemkin Village of an army, all shadow and no substance. If they didn’t know, then maybe they should all be cashiered. We’ve done nothing but heap praise on the US armed forces from at least 9/11 on. But, really. What have they accomplished? I’m not talking about the the men and women who actually did the fighting. I’m talking about the military general staff, the generals, who have made rosy predictions to congress and press briefings about our wars for decades only to be demonstrated to be fools.
Do you remember that Bush 43 and Rummy got rid of generals who didn’t agree with them when it came to planning for the war in Iraq? Please read Robert Draper’s “How to Start a War”. Bush wasn’t interested in hearing any intelligence that didn’t buttress his argument for going to war in Iraq. (Trump wasn’t the first president to politicize intelligence?) Draper also convincingly argues that Bush & Co. had no interest in post-war planning for Iraq. Bush, got what the war he wanted but the rest of us got stuck with the bill (and money is the least of it). I remember lots of people saying when there was no WMD found, “Well, at least we got rid of Hussein,” never bothering to recognize that we killed or caused to be killed more Iraqi civilians than Hussein ever did, not to mention the Americans who died.
I could go on and on about Iraq but I won’t. I do, though, want to look back on the past 70 years.
I’ll grant you that the Korean War was a partial success. If it was intended that we just push the North Koreans back above the 32nd parallel, then it was a success. However, that wasn’t what we did. We wanted to defeat the North Koreans and, maybe, wanted to pull the Chinese in and thrash them. So the Chinese came in and did some thrashing of their own and we reached a settlement that has proved contentious at best and very dangerous at worst. Not to mention locking up some 25,000 troops permanently in South Korea.
Should I forget about Vietnam? We had supported Ho Chi Minh and his desire to oust France from Vietnam during World War II. After the war, we encouraged England and the other allies to free their colonies. DeGaulle and the French, however, got Eisenhower to abandon the decolonization effort in Vietnam and began to finance the French fight to maintain their colony after DeGaulle threatened to establish closer ties with the Soviet Union. We went from underwriting the French war effort at 15% of their costs to somewhere between 75 and 85% of their costs by the time of the collapse of their forces at Dien Bien Phu. No matter how reluctant JFK or LBJ were to get involved, they stuck it out, afraid of “losing Vietnam” and we replaced the French in fighting a war that no one, no president and no general actually thought we were going to win. They were right. We didn’t win it.
While I’m on the subject of Vietnam and Afghanistan, let us not forget the famous War on Drugs. Vietnam was a large supplier of heroin and opium to the world. So was Afghanistan. The CIA allowed their allies in Vietnam, particularly the Hmong, to continue growing and exporting the drugs and, in fact, even allowed at least some drugs to be transported in CIA aircraft to America. In Afghanistan, the
Taliban survival and the bribery of soldiers and Afghan officials, was, in part, made possible by our failure to eradicate the drug industry. That was true also in Central America and South America where the CIA transport of drugs into the US helped fund the Iran-Contra mess. And what was the real cause of Bush 41’s war in Panama that resulted in the ouster of General Noriega? The rumor was that war also about drugs, that Noriega was interfering with our favored drug runners.
I could go on with more. Bush 41’s Iraq War was a success in that he had limited goals and stopped when he reached them. As for the Cold War? Yes, mostly a success. We out persevered the Soviets, although the long term results are more questionable. Putin’s foreign policy doesn’t seem much different than the Soviet’s or, for matter, the Tsars.
And there’s still more but I’m out of space. So let’s stop here: We won the war in Grenada. Hooray for us.
Michael Saltz is an award-winning, long-time, now retired, Senior Producer for what is now called “PBS Newshour.” He is a resident of Hillsdale.