Watching the horrendous chaos that is taking place in Afghanistan, it’s easy to sprint into finger pointing about “what went wrong” in our drawdown and removal of troops from this embattled region where “Empires Go to Die.” This is not a “Biden failure.” Bush got us there, Obama kept us there, Trump capitulated through failed “deal making” with the Taliban, and Biden is simply throwing in the towel, long after our fighters were knocked out.
The history of failures by nations with the “good intentions” of helping the Afghan people to be “free from tribal and extremist rule” goes back centuries. The recently updated WIKI history of the region makes it clear that this isn’t a remotely new outcome. “Some of the invaders in the history of Afghanistan include the Maurya Empire, the Greek Empire of Alexander the Great of Macedon, Rashidun Caliphate, the Mongol Empire led by Genghis Khan, the Timurid Empire of Timur, the Mughal Empire, various Persian Empires, the Sikh Empire, the British Empire, the Soviet Union, and most recently a coalition force of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) troops, the majority from the United States, which entered the country in the first-ever invocation of NATO’s Article 5 “an attack on one is an attack on all” following the September 11 attacks in the United States. A reduced number of NATO troops remained in the country in support of the government under the U.S.–Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement. Since American withdrawal in 2021, the Taliban has regained control of the capital Kabul and most of the country. Afghanistan official name changed to Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”
But if you look at the full history, it becomes clear that the reasons for failure are the same, because the tactics used by all, have a predictable outcome. In short, “Conversion through Invasion and Occupation” is a recipe for failure.
What is the real solution? And more so, does the current failure point to the need for a drastic change in United States and greater world policy?
I think so.
We have been here before. We have “lost” before. Korea. Vietnam. And countless less notable excursions into Africa and “lesser” countries of value to our commercial/fiscal interests are black marks on our foreign policy.
The price tag is huge. Not only in human lives lost, but in treasure spent. We have seen what ignoring Eisenhauer’s warning about creating a military industrial complex has wrought.
The logic behind invading and occupying a country, in order to save it for the “Free World” is beyond crack-brained and short-sited. The amounts of tax-payer money thrown at these ventures, with little regard for logic and common sense, borders on criminal malfeasance.
Looking at the numbers in our two most obvious global defeats, Vietnam certainly stands out for the sheer number of lives lost, others hopelessly ruined and traumatized, at costs that are never fully calculated.
The Vietnam War costs exceeded $168 billion or $1.2 trillion in today’s dollars. That included $111 billion in military operations and $28.5 billion in aid to South Vietnam.
Remember that balance of expenditures.
Compensation benefits for Vietnam veterans and families still cost $22 billion a year. Surviving spouses qualify for lifetime benefits if the veteran died from war wounds. Veterans’ children receive benefits until age 18. If the children are disabled, they receive lifetime benefits. Since 1970, the post-war benefits for veterans and families have cost $270 billion.
And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of costs for mental health treatments over decades, for PTSD, Agent Orange, and other causes for the need of long-term treatment.
While it can be argued that the loss of life to our military and support contractors were far fewer in Afghanistan (Vietnam 58,ooo deaths, 150,000 injured, compared to 6,294 military and contractor deaths in Afghanistan and 20,000 wounded), the fiscal costs were more than double.
The military costs alone, are estimated at close to $2.6 Trillion. Add to this at least another $2 Trillion in added health care, long-term mental health, disability benefits, and death benefits, and you have totals that significantly exceed the much-debated budgets for infrastructure, covid recovery, and clean energy.
How much of that figure was spent on “aid” to the Afghan people? Not remotely close to the small percentage spent in Vietnam. Even more telling, were the kinds of projects completed by our military/contractors, most of which were poorly designed, and now lay in the ruble.
But, is the war “over?”
Not even close, if you are a taxpayer.
It is estimated that United States Taxpayers will be paying up to $6.2 Trillion in interest payments alone, on the debt incurred by this “experiment in Democracy,” which was done almost entirely on “credit.”
HOW ABOUT A DIFFERENT SOLUTION?
How about we start spending money on helping, improving, and lifting up countries that are wracked with hunger, horrible infrastructure, poverty and illiteracy?
Time and time again, we hear stories about the reasons that people in these countries turn to becoming part of the “rebel army,” in regions of civil strife. And, it is almost always driven by the same thing; desperation.
If your conditions are desperate, and your country has been invaded by a foreign army, whose actions seem counter to those of your culture…choosing sides becomes relatively easy.
Just like Vietnam, the war was almost impossible to win, because there was no clear-cut enemy. Our casualties were not from “traditional wars,” (like WWII) where uniformed, easily recognized combatants stood apart and fought. This isn’t even the kind of “Desert Storm” war, where we could see the enemy from above, and easily take them out with drone strikes and air support, as they ran haphazard through the desert.
The “enemy” in this war won by the use of terrorist tactics, using IEDs, sniping, and mobile rocket attacks. We built easily recognizable outposts, that did little to protect our military and contractors, and made it easy to isolate them from the people they were there to “rescue.”
How about trying “reconstruction” before you invade, decimate and occupy a country you are trying to “rescue?”
Reconstruction plans for Japan and Germany after WWII, cost taxpayers a combined $153 Billion in today’s money. And today, they are clearly two of our greatest trading partners and allies. Our economies are interdependent. The thought of war between us is absurd.
What does Afghanistan have to offer?
The running joke of course is that it is still one of the largest suppliers of opium for heroine and other opioid-based drugs. But they have far more to offer.
According to most recent estimates, Afghanistan has over 1,400 mineral fields, containing barite, chromite, coal, copper, gold, iron ore, lead, natural gas, petroleum, precious and semi-precious stones, salt, sulfur, talc, and zinc, among many other minerals. Gemstones include high-quality emerald, lapis lazuli, red garnet and ruby. According to a joint study by The Pentagon and the United States Geological Survey, Afghanistan has an estimated $1 trillion of untapped minerals alone.
Gosh. Seems like a good opportunity to trade, lift up their economy, create internal wealth, and otherwise give them some great motivation to stop fighting. And, it also seems our other economic enemies (Russia and China among others) are keeping channels of support, trade and diplomacy open.
Easy? No. But it is a far more common-sense approach to peace, than invasion, occupation and cultural manipulation.
Start investing in people. Start spending on uplifting the downtrodden places of the world…even if they don’t meet our “Anglo Saxon, Judeo Christian” standards as “savable.” Help them to thrive. Stop telling them that our way is the only way.
It’s time for different “solutions.”