Sunday, January 3, 2010

"We Have Lost This War"

In Can the West avoid Russia's fate in Afghanistan?, the (London) Times Online is publishing a fascinating account of a conversation between a British and a Soviet veteran of the current and the Soviet wars in Afghanistan. Here is one excerpt, with the Russian (Auslev) speaking initially:

“The longer the war, the more resistance will last. You need to understand that the Taliban are not terrorists. They may use terrorist tactics, but they are a part of the Afghan people. You must acknowledge that your forces are now fighting with a section of the population, just as ours did.” . . .

The mujaheddin could never defeat the Russians in military terms. “No Soviet garrison or major outpost was ever overrun,” said Lieutenant-General Boris Gromov, the last commander of the 40th Soviet Army in Afghanistan and its last soldier to leave the country.

But the Russians could never keep long-term control of areas they seized — a problem the coalition has become painfully familiar with. In a 1986 memo that could mostly have been written today, the Soviet army’s chief of staff stated gloomily: “After seven years in Afghanistan there is not one square kilometre left untouched by the boot of a Soviet soldier. But as soon as they leave the place, the enemy returns and restores it all the way it used to be. We have lost this war.”

There is no point in arguing with Auslev whether the Taliban are "terrorists". The larger point is that they are natives. Are they native terrorists? It may be a distinction without a difference.

The comment that no Soviet garrison or outpost was ever overrun is exactly the same truthful point made by "hawks" in Viet Nam about the U. S. effort.

I had a patient who was Navy SEAL medic in Viet Nam. He told me the following story. The medics vaccinated a village. When they returned, they found a lot of one-armed people. The V. C. had amputated the arms of all those who had agreed to be vaccinated.

Please read the entire article. It basically makes the case that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was made because the U. S. (read, CIA) was in the process of "flipping" the government to be pro-American.

If you are further interested, consider reading James Michener's book Caravans. He describes the U. S. and the Soviets sparring in Afghanistan decades ago.

It's a verboten topic that I know nothing about, but it is passing strange that two American "assets" in the 1980s, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, became enemies justifying endless wars in the "aughties"? Can it just be coincidence?

Absent the "War on Terror" or whatever it's called in this administration and the Iraq War, the U. S. economy would be in much better shape. The ECRI looks for good growth for perhaps a couple of quarters but more cyclicality than we have been used to the past quarter century. While we hope for the best in the 1984-type conflicts on the fringes of empire, we need to be prepared for chronic sapping of our wealth and esprit.

The historic victories first in WW II and then over Communism (plus Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War) each led to historic bull markets. The current conflict(s) are/is like a tapeworm; we can live with it but it makes us anemic. Can the Soviet experience in Afghan-land really be escaped? Can our debt-heavy economy soar for long? And even if it can, when will stockholders be rewarded properly, with good dividends to reward long-term holders of the stocks?

Here's one final headline not guaranteed to fill you with hope about what's happening in Afghanistan:

Afghan parliament rejects Karzai's cabinet nominees:

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has suffered a humiliating setback to his authority after parliament rejected two-thirds of his nominees for a new cabinet, including the only woman and a warlord. Only seven out of 24 nominees were approved by more than 200 lawmakers in a secret ballot on Saturday, throwing Afghanistan into new political uncertainty just weeks ahead of an international conference on the war-ravaged nation. . .

Those voted down included warlord Ismail Khan, nominated for the post of water and energy minister, widely seen as a reward for supporting Mr Karzai during the fraud-tainted August presidential election that returned him to power.

We sort of know against whom we are fighting in Afghanistan. But who are we fighting for?

Copyright (C) Long Lake LLC 2009

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