We assembled the most incredible, technologically advanced alliance the world has ever seen, … and we are being defeated by an insurgency” Matthew Parris in The Times today.
Yes, and what is worse, it happened before. President Biden was uncomfortable with the Vietnam parallels but they are precise. You do not beat determined but unconventional forces with a conventional army or with B52s. They disappear into the hills, regroup and come back to hit you when they choose to.
You also do not win when your own public turns against you. The cumulative effect of body bags and military funerals is understandable revulsion. The war for the hearts and minds of parents and spouses of the fallen, and of the public at large, was lost as the futility of the enterprise became daily more obvious.
It was not the Taliban that perpetrated 9/11 and the terrorists were not Afghanis . The Taliban did not do a Pearl Harbour. The justification for attacking them was weak. The same had applied decades earlier to the Vietcong. We never learn.
John Kennedy’s inaugural speech cast America in the role of moral policeman: “We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty”. It was stirring stuff but it was wrong. Korea was fresh in the memory as a fiasco, Vietnam rumbling to become another one. Might may be Right sometimes. But not if you have no post conflict plan – that was Iraq as well as Afghanistan.
Harold Wilson kept Britain from being dragged into Vietnam on America’s coat tails. Sadly Tony Blair failed to do the same. So Afghanistan became our tragedy too. They died in vain
Addendum: I have just discovered this interview that William Dalrymple gave about Afghanistan ten years ago ! Essential viewing.
One thought on “It’s humiliating and tragic to say they died in vain, but it’s true”
The western allies have a long history of failed interventions. Not just Vietnam which started, as these things always do with ‘military advisers’ entering a country. The Vietnamese people simply fought to free themselves from colonial oppression and corrupt Western-backed regimes that had no legitimacy.
It was the Truman Doctrine in 1947 that began the process. Long before Kennedy’s speech that was actually directed solely at Cuba and Fidel Castro.
The Trueman Doctrine’s stated purpose was to counter a uniformly held belief of Soviet geopolitical expansion during the Cold War. It became the foundation of American foreign policy and is still basically followed today. It led in part in 1949, to the formation of NATO.
It was wrong-headed then and is wrong-headed now. It was part of US cold-war anti-communist paranoia.
The Soviet Union then showed little interest in expansion. Stalin simply wanted to ensure the security of the territorial gains Russia had made after World War 11. Who could blame him for that? Russia was invaded and lost 25m people. The allies had made an agreement and he was going to make sure they kept their word.
I would argue that Putin since has been engaged in attempting to recover what was lost after the collapse of the Soviet Union and restoring the postwar entitlement of mother Russian. I am not justifying his actions but pointing out that these things always come from the baggage of history.
Attempting to apply the Truman Doctrine to Islamic states such as Afghanistan or Iraq was always going to end in appaling defeats and waste of life and treasure.
America and the western democracies need to entirely rethink NATO. Ditch the Truman Doctrine and adopt foreign policies that reflect a changing world. The relevant power shifts that have occurred in the last fifty years makes that an imperative. That requires politicians with intelligence commitment and the vision thing. When I look around the current leadership of the western allies, I see a complete void.