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Are We Actually Going To Bring Russia Back Into The Afghanistan War?

Posted by DownWithTyranny on November 27th, 2010

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

If Russia’s Soviet Union-destroying war against Afghanistan started on Dec. 27, 1979 and ended, ignominiously, on Feb. 15, 1989, guess who’s been looking for the light at the end of the Salang Tunnel as long as the Russians? Earlier this week, in a NY Times OpEd, Worse Than Vietnam, Robert Wright pointed out that the U.S. War in Afghanistan, already the longest war in our nation’s history, passes another milestone today: we’re eclipsing the amount of time the Soviets were mired in that hellhole. Happy anniversary. It’s cost about $345 billion so far, not counting the billions of dollars it will cost to treat the soldiers whose physical and mental health is being destroyed on a daily basis. It will reach over a trillion dollars by the time we get out of Dodge– with nothing whatsoever to show for it but two shattered countries– theirs and ours. The Wall Street Journal reminds us that we just keep increasing what we spend in Afghanistan monthly:

Between 2009 and 2010, the average monthly cost of the Iraq war fell $1.8 billion to $5.4 billion, a 25% drop. But increased spending in Afghanistan ate up that savings– and a bit more. Monthly costs rose $2.2 billion to $5.7, billion, a 63% increase… In Afghanistan, where the military has built up additional infrastructure to accommodate the surge units, the average cost per service member is expected to rise to $694,000.

Wright’s main point, though, isn’t about the cost. It’s about the tragedy. “The Afghanistan war,” he writes, “is as bad as the Vietnam War except for the ways in which it’s worse.” He points out that although the Vietnam War killed far more people and was far more destructive in human terms, “strategically it was just a medium-sized blunder. It was a waste of resources, yes, but the war didn’t make America more vulnerable to enemy attack.”

The Afghanistan war does. Just as Al Qaeda planned, it empowers the narrative of terrorist recruiters– that America is at war with Islam. The would-be Times Square bomber said he was working to avenge the killing of Muslims in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And Major Nidal Hasan, who at Fort Hood perpetrated the biggest post-9/11 terrorist attack on American soil, was enraged by the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

And how many anti-American jihadists has the war created on the battlefield itself? There’s no telling, but recent headlines suggest this admittedly impressionistic conclusion: We’re creating them faster than we’re killing them. And some of these enemies, unlike the Vietcong, could wind up killing Americans after the war is over– in South Asia, in the Middle East, in Europe, in America.

Hawks sometimes try to turn this logic to their advantage: It’s precisely because our enemies could remain dangerous after the war that we have to deny them a “platform”– an Afghanistan that’s partly or wholly under Taliban control; Communists weren’t going to use Vietnam as a base from which to attack America, but we saw on 9/11 that Afghanistan can be used that way.

Actually, we didn’t. The staging ground for the 9/11 attacks was Germany– and some American flight schools– as much as Afghanistan. The distinctive challenge posed by terrorism is that the enemy doesn’t need to occupy much turf to harm us. (For a good deflating of the various catastrophe scenarios that would supposedly unfold after American withdrawal from Afghanistan, see this handy list of myths about the war, part of a highly sensible report published recently by the Afghanistan Study Group.)

Both the Vietnam and Afghanistan wars were fought in the name of a good cause. There was indeed a hostile force that had to be kept at bay– communism and terrorism, respectively. And in each case the mistake was overestimating the intrinsic power of that force.

In the case of communism, this mistake became vivid to me in 1990, when I walked into the finest department store in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), went to the home appliance section and saw no washing machines but only stacks and stacks of washboards. Our enemy had wed its fate to an economic system that was bound to drag it further and further behind us. All we really had to do was stay vigilant and wait for it to self-destruct.

So too with jihadism; Al Qaeda’s ideology offers nothing that many of the world’s Muslims actually want– except, perhaps, when they feel threatened by the West, a feeling that isn’t exactly dulled by the presence of American troops in Muslim countries.

There are, of course, people who say that it wouldn’t have been enough to let communism self-destruct. This view, which credits Ronald Reagan with turning up the heat on the Soviets in Latin America and Afghanistan, has a grain of truth: imposing costs on a crumbling economic system can hasten the crumbling.

But look at the price we paid for slightly accelerating the inevitable. In Afghanistan, we now realize, our proxy war against the Soviet Union– our support of the mujahedeen– helped create Al Qaeda. In retrospect, this was a kind of segue between the cold war and the war on terrorism, and it illuminates that crucial difference between the two: when you’re dealing with state-based communism, nonessential intervention is wasteful; when you’re dealing with non-state-based terrorism, such intervention can be actively counterproductive.

It doesn’t look like al Qaeda and their Taliban allies are interested in a negotiated settlement unless that settlement is for foreign forces to withdraw… period. That whole ruse with the impostor negotiator was about British wishful thinking, not diplomacy. Diplomacy, on the otherhand, has actually started the process of NATO bringing Russia back into the Afghanistan War! No, I swear I’m not joking:

It’s never worked before– and it’ll never work this time. Are our strategic planners ignorant or stupid? Or brimming over with hubris? Or do they have something entirely unrelated up their sleeves? I’m afraid that with Alan Grayson effectively targeted and removed, there’s no one in Congress with the will or the ambition to ever find out for us. Oh well…

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