Watching the news footage of the debacle unfolding at the Kabul airport in Afghanistan, I can’t help seeing it through a lens of historical déjà vu. US policy in China through WWII was aimed at training and equipping Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government so they could provide an effective counter to the Japanese in this theatre of war. The US beliefs were rooted in the absolute conviction that the Chinese would successfully fight for their own country if only they were properly armed and trained. They pumped billions of ‘lend-lease’ money into Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government while the many Chinese army conscripts could barely stand upright due to the effects of starvation.
In point of fact the communists were the only effective Chinese force fighting the Japanese during WWII and had to spend some of their time fight Chiang’s forces at the same time. Of course the US, that citadel of capitalism, wasn’t going to support communists like of Mao and continued to encourage themselves that Chiang was the salvation of China. Chiang, on the other hand, viewed the Japanese invasion as a temporary inconvenience that required little effort on his part as the sheer size of China and its population would prevent the Japanese from conquering the whole country. He just needed to bide his time and wait for them to fail. In the meantime, Chiang believed it would be highly desirable to encourage one set of foreigners (the US) to do the fighting against the other set of foreigners (the Japanese). As such, Chiang’s Nationalist government was only too happy to accept as much military equipment as possible but rarely wished to use it against the Japanese. They often stored it safely away for later use against their real enemies, the Chinese communists.
Throughout the war the US remained willfully blind to the reality of Chiang’s motives and his ability to fight on his own. When the war ended, the real fight began – between Chiang and the communists. Needless to say, the communists quickly overran China while the Nationalist government, with US support, fled to Formosa in a rout that seems eerily similar to that which we now see in Kabul.
If there was one thing the Japanese did accomplish in WWII it was to destroy the aura of European invincibility that was the lifeblood of colonialism. After WWII, many Asian countries developed a desire for self-determination. The communists in Viet Nam drove the French colonialists out, only to have the US slip into their place, thereby inheriting the war in which the French had failed. Rather than give up colonial ambitions and Vietnam to the communists, the US began supporting another group of corrupt, inefficient and ineffective dictators. When the war began to look endless, it was decided that the South Vietnamese only needed arms and training to hold back the commie horde. Well, we know how well that worked. I’m old enough to remember seeing the news clips of the last rescue helicopter flying off the roof of the US embassy in Hanoi, shortly before the communist Viet Cong solidified control of Vietnam.
And now we see the same fruits of similar policies in Afghanistan. When the Russians were trying to hold the country as a puppet regime, the US was supplying the Mujahideen with arms. When the Russian occupation failed, the US slipped in to support a government that would support western ideals so the Russians began arming the Taliban. The west rushed in to support another idiot puppet government and, when the war began to look endless, they decided that if they supplied the Karzai government with arms and training, the western friendly Afghanistan government would be able to control the Taliban on their own… does this sound familiar?
A few things we need to ask ourselves. We in the west do love democracy, women’s rights, inclusion, free market systems and a host of other wonderful things. We assume that everyone in the world not only wants these things, but they’re ready and anxious for them. History, on the other hand, might lead us to think that these assumptions are wrong – they may not be welcomed or even possible in many countries at this point in time. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not keen on Taliban ideals. In my view the world is better off without bloodthirsty religious fanatics, whatever their creed. But the Taliban has won the war and they can’t have done that without support both externally and internally. Perhaps there are vast numbers of Afghans that don’t care who is ruling them. In order for the Taliban to prevail, there must be many Afghans that support the Taliban. All we in west see are those who oppose the Taliban and we really have no way of knowing how much of the population they represent.
The Kabul airport is now crowded with that group of Afghans that have no desire for a life in a rigid theocracy with beliefs rooted in the Middle Ages. They have developed a somewhat more westernized view and they know it’s not going to interface well with the new regime. If the west has no room for these people as immigrants, they we have dismally failed them.
However, it is just as important to ask if we in the west have also failed to recognize that there may be a lot of Afghans who prefer home rule by the Taliban to rule by proxy from the west? China, Vietnam and Afghanistan ought to serve as stark examples as to why we need to avoid pouring vast military resources into wars on rather infertile soil.
Afghanistan – AS THE SONG GOES: / When will we ever learn?