I’m fascinated by all of the hand wringing over what is taking place in Afghanistan. Further, I’m even more baffled by our current administration’s assessment that it would be at least a year before the Taliban would be able to exert control over the nation when in fact it was within days. How could they not know? The answer is simple—they don’t study history.
The fact is while there are many non-parallels with the Vietnam war – a centralized North Vietnamese government being the foremost example—history says the operation in Afghanistan was never—I repeat—never going to be successful in transforming a tribal state into something that resembled a government modeled after the west. Never.
While there were a number of factors that led to the fall of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam war, the fact remains that Ho Chi Minh was successful in not only expanding the North Vietnamese government, but breaking the spirit of the South Vietnamese army as well as exposing the corruption of said government as well. For the Vietnamese, freedom from being ruled by another nation was paramount, and they didn’t care if it was Ho Chi Minh or someone else; they simply wanted to be free from foreign influence as they’d been ruled by the Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese before the French marched in after the Second World War. This very fact, despite the presence of the United States military in South Vietnam was enough to lead to the fall of Saigon immediately as the famous helicopter on the roof of the American embassy departed. The Vietnamese people were not interested in what we had to offer.
All of the brainiac college professors, doctoral thesis creators and military experts failed to understand one primary motivation when it comes to nation-state building and government creation: The people of said nation must wish for the created government to function and be successful. They have to be willing to fight and die for it or else it has no chance to survive, unless buoyed by the presence of the American military or some other such force.
Further, over-reliance on a force such as our military for the installed government’s survival is much like brackets for a new sapling, needed to ensure the tree grows straight. If those brackets are removed too soon, the tree bends with the wind, growing crooked. If the brackets stay on in perpetuity, the sapling comes to depend on them and never grows a strong trunk. In the case of Afghanistan, it was the latter, at the cost of American blood and treasure.
Afghanistan was never going to be able to fend off the Taliban. The people didn’t have the will to do so no matter how long we stayed, how much money we poured into their military development, or how many American lives were lost. The people simply did not and don’t have the will to stand up for themselves. History has shown us a people without the willingness to fight for themselves and their own self preservation will capitulate to those with greater motivations in every instance. This has been true throughout all of human history, so why should it be different now? The will to be must be stronger than the outside force that threatens it. For the Afghan people, it simply isn’t there and it is the height of hubris to suggest we could have changed that without convincing the Afghan people their freedom must come from deep within them.
Geography played a huge role in this as does the tribal tradition that is strong in Afghanistan, something the west still doesn’t understand decades after the Vietnam war or even after the First World War as the Middle East will attest. It really doesn’t take special insight or a Harvard Ph.D to get this concept, just simple, plain common sense, which seems to be in rather short supply in our government and among those in the “think tank” community.
What is happening in Afghanistan was an inevitability and the Taliban knew it which is why they simply bided their time until we no longer would be willing to stay. Then, as they knew they could, they marched forward, barbarity being their calling card, and the Afghan army, trained and equipped by the United States, melted away leaving our heartlessness being their calling card, along with abandoning our equipment—paid for by the American tax payer—equipment that will now be used to bolster the Taliban, or Al Qaida or maybe even the Pakistani Army.
Yes, it was a failure of the Biden administration in terms of withdrawal procedures, but this situation was going to occur no matter when we left. It is simply the destiny of the Afghan people to be ruled by the Taliban because they don’t have the heart to fight it out for themselves. It’s really that simple. Any other attempt to rationalize, justify or otherwise comment on the matter is silly and not rooted in reality or historical precedence.
Is it sad? Torture is always sad as is the deprivation of one’s right to live in peace. What I find sadder yet is that the Afghan people in the form of their military, simply gave up the ghost with barely a whimper, and the Afghan people refuse to stand up to those that would relegate them to the distant past. Instead, we see people, mostly men, riding atop armored vehicles and smiling, a testament, and China telling the world they’re ready to acknowledge the new Taliban government—a strategically smart move to gain even more allies and territory. America? Rumors persist of bribing the Taliban with billions of dollars to allow our people to leave the American embassy peacefully, along with the threat—one that really doesn’t bother the Taliban, of not becoming members of the International Community.
A people will get what they tolerate from an outside force or from their own government. They will even be wiling to endure the unendurable until such time they no longer can. Jefferson told us this in the Declaration of Independence.
For some, that time never comes as they are willing to take whatever it is, forever, as long as they can survive. Soft despotism is insidious in its drive and relentless in its pursuit of power. Overt despotism is plain and plays on the fear of those it would enslave—the sting of confrontation being avoided at every turn by their victims. Both wind up in power and both induce tyranny.
Are you listening America?