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How to Prevent Future Afghanistans - A Good Sense Guide

Mel Carriere is not a political commentator, nor does he want to be one. He is simply taking a break from reality to discuss the news.

The tired boys come home at last.  No shame on them, they were the victims of uninspired policy.

The tired boys come home at last. No shame on them, they were the victims of uninspired policy.

Good Sense Just Ain't That Common

Let me just begin this little diatribe by saying I don't like writing about politics. It's been a while since I wrote anything political online, and there are a couple of reasons for this.

First and foremost, politics just doesn't pay, for me. My political articles typically get very few hits. It seems every blogger has a soapbox, and my pieces about pertinent issues vanish into the obscurity of thousands of others. But I have decided to go forward anyway, realizing there have already been probably millions of articles published on America's embarrassing pullout from Afghanistan, and it is highly likely somebody else has already posted an opinion nearly identical to that which I am about to write. We used to say in the Navy that opinions are like a**holes, everybody's got one, and I'm certain that maxim achieves its maximum effect around this topic.

Secondly, I like to stay out of politics because, sooner or later, you're going to s**t on somebody's sacred cow, and set off a s**tstorm that will blow back in your face. Politics are like religion, it is a field that has very little to do with reality, and a lot to do with faith, since the study of human behavior is highly subjective, and can't be reliably measured, much less predicted. As such, political belief systems are based on blind ideology, not on fundamental truths derived through carefully weighing the facts. Therefore, talking politics with hard-headed people typically launches a holy war against me. So I have taken my lumps, and learned to stay out of politics, when I can. But sometimes I can't.

The US withdrawal from Afghanistan is one of those situations where I can't. Don't get me wrong, I'm not unhappy we left the country - we couldn't stay there forever, and it was only a question of when, not if, we were going to get chased out with our tails between our legs, just like we did in Vietnam. Unlike others, I am not surprised that the collapse was as quick and thorough as it was, I saw it happening from day one. Despite the stain to our reputation the utter failure of this intervention has caused, I'm not disappointed we brought our soldiers back home, where they belong. What I am unhappy about is that we went there in the first place. One would think that a century of military intervention in other nations' internal affairs would have taught us a thing or two by now. Obviously it did not, and hence, you will notice that I subtitled this piece A Good Sense Guide, not A Common Sense Guide. Good sense just ain't that common.

Instead of 20 years of expensive war, could we have gotten in on the ground floor with Taliban turbaned heads?

Instead of 20 years of expensive war, could we have gotten in on the ground floor with Taliban turbaned heads?

They Want A New Drug

I try to refrain from writing about Politics, mostly because I disavow adherence to any ideological belief system, subscribing only to the adage that ideology is mental murder. Still, I find the Afghanistan invasion and its aftermath such a deplorable waste of lives and money that I had to get my opinions off my chest, lest they suffocate me. My wife knows better than listen to my rants, my children run out of the room when I wind up, so somebody has got to lend me an ear, lest my heart explode right there in the thorax, leaving the awful mess of a 230 pound gorilla to haul off to the morgue. So I suppose I am going to unburden my opinions on lucky you.

A few nights ago, while deeply ensconced in my favorite think tank, the shower, it occurred to me that it would have been a lot less expensive, in terms of American lives and American money, if we had just paid off The Taliban back in 1996, when they first captured Kabul, rather than denouncing them as backward religious wackos who set the clock back on history a few hundred years. There were a few wiser heads who proposed engaging with, rather than opposing their takeover, but they were not taken seriously. One assistant secretary of state who advocated this approach was laughed off in the Asian Press as Lady Taliban.

Right now you're probably shaking your fists and accusing me of proposing collaboration with murderous, fundamentalist wack-jobs, but think about it. If we had gotten in on the ground floor with the Taliban from the beginning, we could have opened up shop on the irresistible narcotic of American foreign aid. Instead of the 2 trillion the Afghan war eventually cost us, with absolutely no return on investment, we could have dished out something a lot smaller, say 5 billion a year. I agree that it is folly to suppose much of that money would have made it into the hairy pockets of needy Afghan goat herders, but even in the wrong hands, it would have paid dividends in several respects.

First of all, when people start sucking the sweet teat of American goods and services, they tend to play ball, they tend to fall into line, they tend to do anything to keep the fix flowing into their veins. Once you have people on your financial leash, all you have to do is yank the chain a little and they sit obediently upon their haunches. Oh, you want to let terrorists use your country as a base of operations - Sorry, we can't have that. You withdraw the candy dish a little, and they come begging back, promising to behave. You want to stone women accused of adultery in the streets? You better check that s**t, or we're going to reel the money back in before you can get its tasty little hook between your teeth.

Am I suggesting that by feathering the nests of Taliban bigwigs we could have kept them from human rights abuses, perhaps turning them into cookie cutter copies of American democrats overnight? Absolutely not, but we could have controlled the more overt, brutal atrocities they committed against women and non-Muslims, and we could have wormed our ideals into the Afghan psyche a little better than dropping 500 pound bombs on goat tents did.

Of course, many of you out there are going to look at this from a purely black and white, ideological perspective. Mel, that's just wrong. What you are proposing is appeasement, and we don't do that - it's not the American way. We don't negotiate with terrorists, blah blah blah. The fact is, we do negotiate with bad buys, we support autocrats all around the world. As long as they are our autocrats, calmly sucking at the teat and not interfering with the security or business interests of American citizens, we leave them alone. But once they start saluting the flag of our enemies we get butt hurt, and want to bomb them.

I propose that, instead of using bullets and high explosives, why not try beating them into submission with money and goods? American money and goods are a lot more satisfying than those of any of our rivals. Russia, China and Iran can't supply anything that we can't supply better, we have a lot better swag in our birthday party bags than they do. Get them hooked on our smack and you'd be surprised how they cheer when Old Glory passes by.

Like Custer's Last Stand, the American intervention in Afghanistan demonstrates how failed policy leads to disaster.

Like Custer's Last Stand, the American intervention in Afghanistan demonstrates how failed policy leads to disaster.

American History Revisited, And As Usual, Ignored

I have been meditating upon the projection of American power throughout the world for two reasons. First of all, getting our butts kicked in Afghanistan has dominated the news, and I can't avoid thinking about it. Secondly, I have lately been reading a book by Stephen E. Ambrose called Crazy Horse and Custer, recounting the parallel lives of two military leaders who faced off on a fateful day in southern Montana. One of them was George Armstrong Custer, a civil war hero and renowned Indian fighter, the other Crazy Horse, an Oglala Sioux leader who was among the smaller percentage of die hard, live free or die warriors that resisted white expansion on the Northern Plains.

Because both resulted in shameful, embarrassing defeats, we can draw obvious parallels between Custer's failed 1876 campaign, and the Taliban's successful resistance of American occupation. More interesting, however, is the difference between the two conflicts. The Sioux eventually all went onto the reservation, whereas once US troops were withdrawn, the Taliban quickly took back all the territory they had lost. The Native Americans suffered defeat in spite of winning a major victory in the field, and their conquest alludes to an alternate, less costly path to the projection of American interests, one that still echoes successfully through American foreign policy today, when permitted to.

I am not going to debate the morality of white expansion across the plains in this article, I will focus instead on the cold application of national interests. Toward that end, there are two approaches that can be used to obtain the cooperation of sovereign nations, one militaristic, the other non. Crazy Horse and Custer reveals that in the case of the Great Plains tribes, the first approach worked, the second led to embarrassment and disaster.

Hollywood would have you believe that the US soldiers on the Great Plains were instrumental in bringing the natives to their knees, but the history revealed in Ambrose's book speaks otherwise. In the first place, the US cavalry sweeping the sparsely settled expanse of the west could rarely even find their opponents to fight them. The plains were an endless ocean of grass that the Sioux and Cheyenne were quite adept at navigating, being able to find the resources there to sustain themselves, whereas the United States Army depended upon vulnerable supply lines. In the cases the two sides did meet in battle, the Native American forces did not foolishly expose themselves to superior American firepower, but would stay out of reach of enemy weapons and attempt to lure the invaders into an ambush, on ground of their own choosing. This tactic led to overwhelming victories in battles at Fort Phil Kearney in 1866, and the much better known Battle of Little Bighorn, "Custer's Last Stand," immortalized in art and film. There, all five companies of men under the immediate command of Custer were killed by Sioux and Cheyenne warriors, exploiting their home field advantage. The same geographical edge rang true on the southern plains as well, where the Comanches rode circles around their modern, well-equipped opponents.

What finally brought the High Plains tribes into submission was growing dependency upon the white man's goods. Long before the Buffalo were nearly exterminated, bringing the specter of starvation before the last, hard-core holdouts, Native Americans were already developing a sweet tooth for white confections. Coffee and sugar were particular favorites, meaning migrants along the Oregon trail would frequently have to pay their safe passage in these coveted treats. There were wiser politicians in Washington who recognized that rendering tribute in this fashion - supplying goods to the natives and increasing their dependency upon them, was a better, cheaper alternative to fruitlessly chasing them across a landscape where they could disappear at will, then reappear out of nowhere, to devastating effect.

This was the approach that ultimately brought the Sioux and other western tribes onto reservations, followed by the unimpeded expansion of American economic might from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Mexico to Canada. For the most part, since America emerged from isolation in the twentieth century to become a world power, this policy has also been implemented across the globe, to great success. From time to time, however, US politicians forget the painful lesson taught upon a chalkboard of blood on the Little Bighorn, resulting in catastrophic disasters like Vietnam and Afghanistan.

Crazy Horse under construction in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Crazy Horse under construction in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

War Hawks vs. The Dove of Peace, Two Species Compared and Contrasted

You may think I am rather Machiavellian in advocating this approach to cultivating the pro-American stance of developing nations, but in my view, it is futile to argue ethics in the realm of foreign policy. Countries are like people, who always act toward their own advantage. No matter who controls the government, Democrat or Republican, the United States is going to seek to further its own security and prosperity. Cultivating our less powerful neighbors to become reliant upon American goods and services, to secure their cooperation on the international stage, is simply cheaper and more practical. It is a more good sense approach than attacking them is.

If we insist on quibbling over ethics, let's start with the ethics of warfare. I don't think any sane individual could dispute that, unless undertaken to defend a country's sovereign territory, war is the most immoral act humans engage in. It results in widespread death and property destruction. It is an economic and ecological disaster. Furthermore, when undertaken to subvert the political will of another nation, it rarely, if ever works. Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and now the United States - three of the most powerful nations in history, each tried to subdue Afghanistan. Each failed, and each failed because the Afghans are an independent, tenacious, pugnacious people, whose subjugation means staying there forever. None of these mighty superpowers could afford to do that, and none of them wanted to.

Another problem some will see with this approach is that it seems cowardly, it smells like handing over extortion money to bad guys, paying ransom to hackers so they won't attack your computer systems. I look at it more as an investment. Giving foreign aid to other countries to ensure their tranquility also means opening up a door to commerce with them. In this way, American businesses peddling their wares overseas secure at least a partial return upon investment, and the citizens of the country being paid off realize financial gains as well. Yes, let's be real, the aid money probably greases the palms of a corrupt few, but when war is the alternative, a few billion, compared to a couple trillion, makes this decision a no-brainer.

No use crying over spilled milk, but I think this method could have also worked in Vietnam. If we had gotten to Ho Chi Minh first after the French pulled out, it's possible he would have fallen into our hands, instead of the Russians and Chinese. Vietnam wouldn't have turned into a democracy, but that particular brand of dictatorship might have been given a more appetizing label. Instead, we recoiled in disgust over the word communism, and sent troops instead of treasure. After a decade of American blood and resources spilled in Indochina jungles over a naughty word, we then pulled out defeated.

As it turned out, Vietnam is our natural ally. China is making a power grab for the South China sea, and because there is no way this small nation can defend itself from the big bully up north, they now rely upon the United States for security of the seas. Since the economic embargo ended in 1994, American ships make port visits to Da Nang, American citizens visit on commercial air carriers, and the past animosity between the two countries appears to have been forgotten, as people on both sides of the big pond become fat, dumb, and happy, as they should be.

The conclusion I draw from these historical episodes is that good old-fashioned American imperialism doesn't have to be carried out at the point of a gun, it can be done at the point of a bank note. You can shriek at me from your pulpit all you want, but this big boy will never believe that bombing Baghdad, Kabul, or Hanoi is making the world safe for democracy. In reality, it's just pissing people off who might otherwise be our friends.

Vietnam and Afghanistan demonstrate how limited involvement transforms into large scale invasion. Their sad narratives also reveal our country's collective historical amnesia, and show how avaricious men take advantage of public outrage to successfully lobby for war, in order to line their own pockets. Both of those fights were avoidable, we could have made successful human-rights inroads in both countries without sacrificing our prestige, and certainly without sacrificing any of our young lives. Instead, like Custer, surrounded by hostiles on that fateful hill above the Little Bighorn, we rejected good sense, armed ourselves with self-righteous fervor, then charged straight into the enemy camp, without first checking all horizons for the disaster that lurked ahead.

Comments

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on August 29, 2021:

Thank you Meg. Yes, and the masses have been brainwashed into thinking they have to cling to an ideology that is outraged by words like commies and lefties. I am glad we have common ground on this issue. I really appreciate you dropping in.

DreamerMeg from Northern Ireland on August 28, 2021:

Not only do "avaricious men take advantage of public outrage to successfully lobby for war, in order to line their own pockets.", they also use propaganda words, such as "communist", "commies". "lefties" and similar words to create public outrage, that they then use to lobby for what they want. Totally agree with your article.

Mr. Happy from Toronto, Canada on August 27, 2021:

"the US has its hands in too many people's pies that it is probably too complicated to pull itself out of that mess now" - Yes, You guys have over 200,000 soldiers deployed outside of the Americas. My question is: if those soldiers were to be brought back to the States, would those 200,000 be unemployed, wondering around the streets aimlessly? That would not be good either. So, all this should be taken into consideration if we are to stop senseless wars.

"There are no winners in wars. There are only survivors" - A First Nations Elder.

All the very best!

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on August 27, 2021:

Thanks Mr. Happy. I mostly agree with your comments about imperialism. But the US has its hands in too many people's pies that it is probably too complicated to pull itself out of that mess now. All I'm saying is that if you're going to be imperialistic, do it the smart way.

Cheers to you too. I really appreciate you cropping by.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on August 26, 2021:

Biden said that he is going to use a surgical strike to take out the terrorists, not a massive military operation. Good idea, but prudence won't make the war hawks happy.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on August 26, 2021:

Wow, right after I wrote my comment I read this morning’s (Australia time) and saw about the suicide bombings at the airport. I imagine no more troops will be leaving for awhile with a need to try to hunt down those responsible. Nothing seems to go as planned.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on August 26, 2021:

John, last I checked it was at 13 views, so viral is a Iong way off. In light of what happened today I was tempted to take everything back, but I guess these horrible attacks just strengthen my point that it's better not to get mixed up in these messes in the first place.

I think limp wristed is better than getting your wrist lopped off, messing around in fights where you have no business. Problem is, the current administration didn’t pick this fight (Bush), didn't negotiate the withdrawal (Trump), but is still taking the blame for the fiasco. Biden is stuck in a no-win situation.

I tell you what, I'll become President of the US, you become Prime Minister of down under land, and together as allies we'll solve all the world's problems.

I really enjoyed your comment. It gave me a chuckle when I needed one.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on August 26, 2021:

Mel, firstly, thank you for writing this article that many of us wish we had but possibly didn’t have the guts to, or maybe just were unable to do so as eloquently as you. Looking from the outside in I have always been reluctant to get involved in the politics of other countries (unlike the US government) so I usually just keep my opinion to myself and seethe quietly in the corner.

Why oh why do people not learn from the mistakes of history? I hope, unlike Custer, this is not America’s last stand. One thing that has me worried, and is difficult to expand on here without writing a whole other article is how this withdrawal may actually strengthen China’s already strengthening grip on the world. Whereas, the USA is now being seen as rather “limp wristed.”

Anyway, thank you for showing that “good sense” is out there. When are you running for President? I do like your alternative approach to ‘how better to control the world at a fraction of the cost’ method.

Take care, and I am sure you can more than handle any adverse comments. I hope this article goes viral in fact.

Mr. Happy from Toronto, Canada on August 26, 2021:

"cheaper alternative to fruitlessly chasing them across a landscape where they could disappear at will, then reappear out of nowhere, to devastating effect." - Yes indeed. That is why to this day we have unceded territories from Florida to here in Ontario, where I live. Many Native people just vanished in the wilderness and could not be brought to a formal surrender to this day (just like the Taliban/Pashtuns). Anyone who takes their time to talk to people Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory today, realize that even though, they are in what some people call Canada, Wiikwemkoong is not Canada by any stretch of the imagination. Those are Native people, on Native land. So, to be honest bribing goes far but not with everyone.

"The conclusion I draw from these historical episodes is that good old-fashioned American imperialism doesn't have to be carried out at the point of a gun, it can be done at the point of a bank note." - How about no Imperialism? Imperialism creates gigantic long-term problems. We are still struggling with effects of imperialism which I actually wrote about today. Sudan was invaded by Belgium, Egypt, France and Britain. The civil wars there continue to this day. Palestine was given to the Jewish people by Great Britain because Great Britain held the Mandate for Palestine. The conflict goes on and on and on. What we see today in Afghanistan is also a result of Great Britain, which created the borders/countries of India and Pakistan. The Taliban are Pashtun people who live in Afganistan but also in Pakistan because Great Britain put a imaginary line called a border, right through their territory. Well, that is never going to work and of course Pashtun people from Pakistan will cross that imaginary border and help their own tribal members. Who can possible think otherwise?

@#$% Imperialism! I'm so sick of it. My people fought-off the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. No good ever comes from Empires in the long term. They just create more and more hostility among people.

Anyway, I'll stop my blabbing. Thanks for the article. Cheers!

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on August 26, 2021:

Thank you Pamela. You bring up a good point I neglected to mention. The Taliban just inherited a lifetime supply of bullets and bombs they can use to make mischief. But even now, we should be thinking about ways we can control them economically, to get the last laugh through the skillful application of the almighty dollar. I don't think the Afghani people have any love for the Russians, they could be amenable to becoming respectable, and falling under our influence.

I appreciate you dropping in.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on August 26, 2021:

You may be right, Mel. That would have been better than the mess we now see. This withdrawal was done exactly ass backwards. Why didn't we get the Americans out first? I'm not sure how this tale ends, but probably not well.

The Talaban now has a lot of goods (rifles, ammo, helicopters, etc.), which I am sure they will make good use of as they implement Shira law.

I hope we stay out of all countries from now on! We should have never gone into this one. This is a good article, Mel.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on August 26, 2021:

Thank you Bill. I'm kind of hoping for some heated comments, but I don't know if anybody will be paying attention, or if it's just me letting off steam. But I am gratified that you dropped by with your support, reminding me there are some wiser heads out there, though I don't know if they will prevail, even after this long laundry list of failures.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on August 26, 2021:

Oh God, Mel, get ready for some rather heated comments.

But not from me. I happen to agree with you, and I've said the same thing from the very beginning. We cannot continue to send troops into these countries to fight for years with no attainable goal. It's lunacy. You are absolutely correct that we can control their leashes with money much better than we can with bullets. I'm just plain tired of this shit.

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