Saturday, December 03, 2005

Afghanistan - History Lesson Bush Should Have Learned

Juan Cole posts a thoughtful study on the ramifications of the Iraqi Invasion at Truthdig. In it he covers the history of Saddam's war against the Shia in Iran, the First Gulf War, and the foreseeable events now unfolding. Summation - the eventual conclusion to the war will be an Iranian Shiite Theocracy in Iraq.

In comments, reader Tom Janzen suggests three possible reason for Bush's dogged insistence on the war. One, the existence of intelligence unknown to anyone outside the administration (now known to be a myth). Two, that there were political reasons not discloseable to the public (oil deals, empire building). Let's assume conspiracy theories are mythical as well. That leaves us with number three, "the Bush Administration simply did not know what it was doing, was so incompetent it had no way to assess or desire to understand the most probable outcome, and the decision was taken soley on unexamined ideological/religious grounds." (Forever more to be known, not as the Peter Principle, but the Katrina Complex).

It was at this point that I began to wonder about event from history which might have proven helpful to the administration, had they chosen to be so introspective, and one literally leapt out at me - the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan. Let me start by saying I know and accept there are major differences between the two, most notably the recruiting, funding and training of anti-Soviet guerilla forces by the US, UK, Saudi and Pakistan. Although, as many of Osama bin Laden's Al Qaida members are former mujahideen, maybe this isn't such a difference after all.

When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, they no doubt anticipated an easy victory and successful takeover of a country torn by years of tribal infighting (yes, major difference; Iraq had a strong dictator, but years of fighting Iran and the US had left him poor and desperate). Several years later the Soviets found themselves fighting a major insurgency, better armed than expected, more determined and growing. The Soviets controlled only Kabul, the capital, while 80% of the country was divided among tribal and guerilla interests. Ten years after they invaded, the Soviets were forced to withdraw amid mounting international pressure, the deaths of a million of Afganis and 15,000 Soviet troops, at the cost of millions, billions of Rubles. A succession of failed governments gave rise to the Taliban, that seized control in 1994, proclaimed Islamic law and provided a training ground for Islamic fundamentalist radicals under the leadership of Osama bin Laden.

After the events of 9-11, when it became clear that al Qaida was responsible and hiding in Afghanistan, the United States went to war against the Taliban and the terrorist they were shielding. It did not take a year for American troops to understand the difficulties faced by the Soviet army years before. While they were able to defeat the Taliban in Kabul and place a government in the capital, much of the country remains unstable and Osama bin Laden has never been captured.

Iraq is not Afghanistan, or Vietnam, or Hitler's Germany, but lessons learned in each of these instances (our misunderstanding of Arabs and Islam, misjudging the vested interests and abilities of local people, not fighting a war on two fronts) could have been invaluable to the administration before they invaded Iraq, had they any desire to learn them.