Saturday, August 21, 2021
We are hearing a chorus of shock at how fast the Taliban took control of Afghanistan a few weeks after the US withdrew its combat forces. By contrast, it took almost 2 years for the South Vietnamese government to fall after the US withdrew. In both cases, we had no understanding of their culture and were propping up an unpopular puppet government.
An argument was made that the invasion of Afghanistan was more justified than the Vietnam war was because the Taliban harbored al Qaida when they attacked us on 9/11. The Taliban did offer to hand Osama bin Laden et al. over in return for showing them the evidence of their involvement in the attack. It was rejected out of hand by the Bush administration. We will never know sincere this offer was. If Bush had complied with the request and the Taliban had reciprocated, thousands of lives and trillions of dollars could have been saved.
Polls have shown that the average Afghan never heard of the 9/11 attacks. They only knew that we were attacking them 12 years after we supported them against the Soviet Union. After we launched our invasion in 2001, the Taliban melted away just as quickly as they retook the country. In the meantime, we launched our invasion of Iraq and turned it into yet another breeding ground for terrorism. The Afghanistan papers discussed above showed many of the same private doubts by U.S. political and military leaders that they had in Vietnam but they kept pushing ahead in both cases and lied to the public.
Vietnam should have taught us the limits of US military power. It is meaningless without popular legitimacy. The Vietnamese and the Afghans used many of the same tactics against us that we used against the British in the American Revolution.
Concerns about how women will be treated there are legitimate. We should remember that it was only 101 years ago that women won the right to vote in this country after many years of disappointment and struggle. In the Victorian era it was considered obscene for a woman to expose here ankles. These things were eventually changed without dropping bombs on people. There are far fewer hard feelings when it works out that way.