The Strategic Blunders That Gave Us Defeat in Afghanistan
More than one blunder is required to screw things up as badly as the U.S. has done in the war with the Islamo-Fascists -- a war that has been waged against this country for over forty years. All the talk in the corporate media of “20 years of war” is a lot of folderol. And the idea that the debacle in Afghanistan is an endpoint is even more ridiculous.
The war started in November 1979 when Islamists invaded the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran, and with the support of the incipient religious dictatorship of Ayatollah Khomeini held 52 Americans hostage for over 400 days. In the 22 years between then and September 11, 2001, the American government never mounted a successful attack on Islamo-Fascist terrorists. Because of that, the U.S. was identified as weak by its enemy.
Strategic Blunder #1 - Since 2001 the U.S. Failed to Understand the Enemy.
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” -- Sun Tzu, The Art of War.
The enemy in the current war is a shifting alliance of Islamo-Fascists who almost always have state sponsors. Those sponsors have been Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. In the case of the Saudis we don’t know how highly placed in the Saudi royal family were the terrorist supporters.
In keeping with the above principle from The Art of War, the first question any strategist should ask is, “What is the enemy’s center of gravity?” The second question is, “How do I destroy that center of gravity?”
In the current Forty Years War, no President since 1979 has even attempted to answer these most basic questions. President George W. Bush had the best opportunity after the attacks on September 11, 2001. He failed. His administration discouraged the use of the term “Islamism.” I prefer the term Islamo-Fascism because it emphasizes the political nature of Islamism. It is based on a religion, but it is a totalitarian system of government dictating how a society is organized and the everyday behavior of individuals.
Bush failed to distinguish the religion from the Islamo-Fascist movement. He mouthed platitudes of Islam being “a religion of peace.” When one considers the history of jihad that spread the religion by the conquest of about half of Christendom in the 800 years leading to the fall of Constantinople, a blanket statement that Islam is “peaceful” is misleading, if not absurd.
There are over 1.7 billion adherents to Islam. Even if only one percent of them are Islamo-Fascists, then the enemy is 17 million strong. How do you fight them? The best answer is to attack the state sponsors by providing them with a choice: cut off support or face ostracism from the civilized world and, if necessary, punitive military action.
Strategic Blunder #2 - Islam Does Not Allow Any Space for Civic Government.
Sharia is the supreme law in an Islamic society. David Pryce-Jones wrote in The Closed Circle, (2002): “In Islam, state authority and religious authority have always gone together. Nobody so far has been able to devise some way of separating them and thus laying the foundation for a civil society.”
That insight into Islamic culture was ignored when the U.S. State Department wrote a constitution for the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan that granted supremacy to Islamic law. That same State Department then promoted feminism, gender studies, and everything you would find on the typical college campus in the United States.
In just under twenty years the Americans attempted to foist upon a collection of tribes, all of them Moslem, a western-style national government. There has never been a successful central government in Afghanistan, much less a western-style government, and there isn’t now.
Strategic Blunder #3 -- The Cultural Basis for Democratic Government Takes Decades If Not Centuries to Form.
You don’t need to know anything about Islam to understand this blunder and avoid it. You just need to know the number of years between the Magna Carta (1215) and the Glorious Revolution (1688) and the number of years between the Glorious Revolution and the U.S. Constitution (1787). It took the English almost 475 years to proceed from feudal government to parliamentary government. Then it took the English colonists in America almost 100 years to proceed from parliamentary government to constitutional government.
When there is no historical tradition in either Afghanistan or Iraq for representative government and when both had been under the heel of Islamic rule for almost 1,400 years, why should a government based on western civic institutions be all that appealing? George W. Bush and the neoconservatives never asked, much less answered, that question.
Strategic Blunder #4 -- The Large Footprint Presence in Afghanistan was a Mistake.
Afghanistan is a collection of tribes. Their national pastime always has been making war on each other. When Americans went into the country in the Fall of 2001, it was a “force” of CIA operatives and soldiers from the Special Operations Command who joined up with the forces of the Northern Alliance to drive the Taliban out of Kabul. The Taliban and their al Qaeda allies fled to Pakistan and the warm hospitality of the ISI (the Pakistani intelligence service). The ISI had been supporting Islamists in Afghanistan during the preceding 20 years.
If the safe haven of Pakistan was going to be neutralized, the U.S. needed to intimidate the Pakistanis. That was difficult since Pakistan has nuclear weapons. Alternatively, the U.S. could get out of Afghanistan -- with the promise to return with bombers if the country again harbored Islamist terrorists.
Putting U.S. troops into Afghanistan encouraged the “us versus them” mentality of too many Afghanis. An attempted cultural revolution to bring the country into the late 20th century only made it worse. The infidels were always going to be viewed as invaders.
Strategic Blunder #5 -- Pulling out Air Support Doomed the Afghani National Army.
During the Obama Administration, Afghanistan became the “good war” in contrast to the war in Iraq. So Obama expanded the fighting in Afghanistan with tens of thousands of troops. Eventually domestic politics required that the burden of fighting be totally shifted to Afghani forces. In subsequent years they suffered over 50,000 fatalities in fighting our common enemy. The idea that the U.S. with about 2,500 killed in action had carried the entire burden of the war is just not true.
What is true is that American generals modeled the Afghani Army on a western army with a dependence on close air support. In 2021 Biden and his toadies at the Pentagon abandoned the Bagram air base in the middle of the night. They also pulled out all the American contractors who maintained the planes and helicopters the Afghanis used for close air support.
I don’t have to go into the details of the totally inept evacuation from Kabul to prove that the alleged President Biden made a disaster out of a difficult situation. He did it all to have a photo op on September 11, 2021. He lived down to the assessment by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates that Joe Biden has been wrong about every foreign policy issue in the past four decades.
We will live with the consequences of Biden’s blunders and those of his political generals for many years. The U.S. Army took from 1975 to 1991 (the First Gulf War) to recover from Vietnam. Ronald Reagan deserved credit for restoring the American military. We can only hope that this generation’s Ronald Reagan will be elected in 2024 and that it won’t be too little, too late.
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