Thoughts by Richard Bleil
In 1988, Rambo III was released. The premise of the movie was that the super-soldier must rescue his friend and colonel from Afghanistan after he had been captured by the Russians. By then, the Russian-Afghanistan war was already in its ninth year, having launched in 1979. The colonel, having been tortured, gave a lecture to the Russians about the pride of the Afghanistan people, explaining why they could never be conquered. In 1989, after ten years of war, Russia withdrew its forces. In 2001, the United States began its war in Afghanistan.
Republican President George W. Bush launched the war under the auspices of locating and capturing Osama Bin Laden, claiming there was evidence that he was hiding in Afghanistan. He was not. I don’t recall Bush ever really giving any evidence that he was there, but the reality is that, even if he was, the US was more than capable of evading or destroying Afghan air defenses, getting him, and getting out. Unfortunately, George W apparently never saw Rambo III.
After twenty years of war, over two trillion dollars, and well over twenty thousand us casualties and three thousand US deaths, President Biden (Democrat) did what President Trump (a Republican) had promised. He finally pulled the US out of Afghanistan. In a matter of weeks, the Coalition government collapsed, and the Taliban are again in control of the nation. Currently (as of the writing of this post a few days early), the US is in operations to evacuate Americans and Afghans who helped the coalition.
I remember having lunch with two of my friends in 2001, both Republicans, who cheered the war. I remember the claims that US troops would be welcomed as liberators, and there was a smattering of news stories about warm welcomes. Unfortunately, Afghanistan is not so much a nation as a loose collection of warlords, each controlling some small part of the nation and each with their own military and agenda. Did we defeat them? Sure, we took out the closest thing they had to a central government, but we could never control the entire nation. The best we could do was create a “green zone” where our presence was high enough that military activity was limited to terrorist attacks. We never won the hearts of the people, and we never had control which was evident when, like Russia, all we saw coming out of the country was a continuing stream of our own casualties.
The economics of the war was never reasonable. We were dropping million-dollar bombs to destroy tents and in an attempt to collapse some caves. How long can such a war be sustainable? The rapid collapse of the coalition government, of course, is being blamed on Biden, but for many years it was clear that this interim government could never survive because it never had the support of the people. I said it to my friends back then, and I’ll say it again: you cannot bring freedom to a people at the point of a gun.
I wish I knew what we accomplished. I guess we did capture some oil, which seems like a bad reason for war. Osama was eventually captured in Pakistan by, get this, evading their air defenses, getting him, and getting out. Yes, there was political fallout, but little more. The Taliban was in charge of Afghanistan when we first invaded, and they’re in charge again. Are there human atrocities under their rule? No doubt. They are terrorists, after all. I guess we bought a two-decade delay in Taliban atrocities so we could engage in twenty years of our own. While I hope that last sentence was a mere play on words, I’m not convinced it is. For a time, in fact, the US was becoming well-known for waterboarding and exporting captives to nations that openly tortured them for us, so we could keep our hands “clean”.
George W. managed to get us embroiled in the war in Afghanistan, Iraq (2003 – 2011), and I swear there was another one in there. But I’m tired of war. The last troops we pulled out of Afghanistan weren’t even alive when the war began. This is a true legacy of shame, especially when the Afghan lessons could have been learned by watching a movie that turned out to be both dumb and prophetic at the same time. Maybe, if we’ve learned anything, it’s to stop being the international police force. The idea of experienced and competent politicians is to increase US influence while keeping us OUT of war. I feel badly for the people of the Afghanistan nation, but I don’t blame Biden. He just ended a war that George W. should have never started. Let’s hope that the forever wars are coming to an end. Forever.