Afghanistan: what might have been.
Burt Likko says we have no legitimate claim to Afghanistan, using the example of Peter the Great, waging war on the old boyars of Russia.
I question this business about being Invaders in Afghanistan. The United States had excellent reasons for deposing the Taliban regime. We have good reasons to be there now. If it is now losing the war for hearts and minds, America has never really come to terms with the enemy it faces or its supposed friends in Pakistan.
Well, all that will be sorted out by the historians.
Afghanistan is nowhere near ready for a democracy. It won’t be ready for fifty years. The USA should have known this when it invaded. All the little niceties of democratic rule are highly evolved: at its core, democracy is a sort of polite anarchy and once the two words were synonymous. What Afghanistan needed first was security, simple and brutal. We never really earned the respect of the people because respect begins with fear. This is a society where dog fighting is the national sport, an indescribably brutal people, hardened by two full generations of anarchy.
Why won’t the Afghan Army fight? Because they were all sick and malnourished as children. It’s just that simple. They’re weaklings and it’s not their fault. The Afghan Army gets the dregs of the society, even the Taliban pay better wages to their troops. Anyone with any sense now fights for the Taliban or does their bidding.
Why can’t we do better in Afghanistan? Heroin is a mighty engine of profit and the Americans have done nothing to stop it. We have, in effect, created a new Narco State with Islamic overtones. When we leave, Afghanistan will become a well-heeled enemy every bit as serious a threat as the Mexican mafiosi. Not only will Afghanistan fail but it will bring down other regimes in its wake. It will corrupt Pakistan, correction, will further corrupt Pakistan.
Iran has the worst heroin problem in the world on a per-capita basis with over 1.2 million addicts. About one-third of those are HIV/AIDS positive. Afghanistan has become a very bad influence in the area: its heroin reaches everywhere in the world now, including our own addicts. We could have nipped that in the bud, to use an unfortunate metaphor, by giving the Afghans better seeds, buying up the opium and converting it to morphine for use everywhere in the world.
Here’s what we should have done: start with children. Small boys and girls, orphans and the destitute. There are plenty of children to work with after a war. Get them before puberty, around eight or nine. Raise them in the Agoge system, as the Spartans did, little clusters of children, not as harshly as the Spartans did, but with the same goal, to create a cadre of educated people, eventually governors of their own people.
The Taliban have their madrassa groups teaching their children Arabic by rote, we would have the Agoge teaching English and the languages of Afghanistan, a corps of children raised together without the idiocy of the tribal warfare which dominated their parents’ lives. They’d know each other since childhood. Our own troops would help raise these children. Those children would be grown men and women by now and they would have been our hearts and minds.
They would have been our Janissaries. We didn’t have the sense to realize there never was any option to waging war on the Taliban. We could have used the Taliban’s own techniques to win that war.
Well, it’s lost now and there’s no going back for a mulligan.