It is a war that has been dragging on for more than a decade, and things are not going well for a government that had depended upon American troops for its survival. According to a New York Times dispatch, its main hope is to “hang on till the end of the fighting season without major collapses.” The government’s forces “are struggling to maintain a stalemate: an at-least token government presence” in parts of the country once held by American combat troops.
Desertion rates are high and getting worse, and government troops suffer from low morale and poor leadership. Corruption is rampant both in the military and in the civilian leadership, making ordinary soldiers wonder just what they are fighting for. And a faltering Army led by incompetent generals appointed for the political connections rather than their military abilities goes from one battlefield disaster to another.
Some have put their hopes into a political settlement. “The fighting this year has put increased pressure on [the President of the] struggling government, even as he has succeeded in opening initial talks with the [enemy] in the hope of beginning a formal peace process. For both sides in the war, battlefield results will govern how strong a hand they can bring to the negotiating table.”
Despite the deteriorating military situation, things are far from lost. “Generals and politicians are expressing confidence that the [country’s] military — officially reported at 353,000 strong — will be able to hold, despite heavy losses that a Pentagon report anticipated would ‘increase in the next several months.’”
This story sounds oddly familiar. But from where? Richmond, March 1865? Berlin, March 1945? No, any reader should obviously recognize this was Saigon in March 1975. The North Vietnamese Army had been probing South Vietnam’s fragile defenses for months. But as the demoralized ARVN began to crumble, the Communist forces easily overran critical defensive lines and quickly and decisively captured Saigon and victoriously ended the war.
Well, no again, sort of. All of the above is from a story in the Times, dateline Kabul July 22, 2015 “Afghan Security Forces Struggle Just to Maintain Stalemate.” As I read this story, I began to think to myself, this all sounds so very familiar. And in fact it is. We have been here before, 40 years ago. And yes, history does not repeat itself exactly, but certain patterns have a tendency to recur. For example, puppet governments with no will to fight and facing a determined and disciplined adversary that collapse as soon as their patron leaves the scene.
The United States was entirely right to invade and occupy Afghanistan in 2001. The Taliban government had given sanctuary to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda before its deadly attack on America and obstinately refused to hand them over after 9-11. And our troops proved that nobody on Earth can withstand the might of the U.S. military.
But having overthrown the Taliban regime, we extended our mission to trying to remake Afghanistan. It is not such a great exaggeration to say that we’ve been trying to promote girls’ soccer in a country where almost the entire population thinks women have fewer rights than goats. Afghanistan is one of the most backward societies on the planet, and it is a fool’s errand to try to drag the Afghanis, screaming and kicking, into the modern world.
Most Afghans are not especially eager for a return of Taliban rule and its medieval barbarism. But nor are they especially eager to stand and fight for 18th century ideals of liberty and freedom, much less 21st century notions of gender equality. If 30 percent of Afghan men cared as much for liberty as they care for their goats or their daughters’ virginity, the Taliban could be routed in a single fighting season. But there are practically no such men in Afghanistan.
The women of Afghanistan are going to bear the brunt of the Taliban’s fanatical brand of Islamic government. And it is incredibly sad to contemplate the savage oppression they will undoubtedly suffer. But if their own fathers, husbands, brothers and sons are indifferent to their fate, I see no reason why young men and women from Arkansas should go there to die on their behalf.
I hope I am wrong, and that when faced with the brutal reality of what Taliban rule means, Afghanistan’s corrupt bureaucrats will stop stealing, its Army will find the will to fight, and that eventually the Taliban will agree to a negotiated peace. I have little confidence in any of these three things happening. And when Kabul falls, it will have about as much impact on America as the fall of Saigon did, which is to say close to zero.
America is right to vigorously defend its national security interests anywhere around the globe. And we should come to the aid and defense of peoples who want liberty and are willing to fight for it. Afghanistan is not one of those places, and our only national security interest is that benighted country not become a refuge again for international terrorism. And for that, a few flyovers every so often by one of our B-52s should be sufficient to remind Mullah Omar that whatever he may want to do in Afghanistan, he has one very serious obligation to the United States.