Wednesday, November 04, 2009
Refusing to Fight the Good War
And the one thing these Defeatists seem to embrace is that Afghanistan is the Graveyard of Empires. The term "Graveyard of Empires" is sprinkled throughout their defeatist articles. And it's a bunch of hooey. Afghanistan may well be a pit of a graveyard, but it is such almost exclusively for the Afghans who tried to keep their country from being easily conquered by Empire builders, starting before Alexander, who had no trouble taking the country, with the Achaemenid Persians, who ruled the area for over 200 years. Nor did it take the Mongol hoards of Genghis Khan more than a few weeks to take the whole place over. Nor did it take Babur of the Mughuls more than a matter of weeks in 1504 to ascend the Afghan throne. Even where the Empire guys have trouble, there was never a problem with taking over the country quickly with few casualties, it's the keeping it under the boot heel that's the problem. In the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839-1842), the British with just 20,000 men waltzed in and occupied Kabul, again in a matter of weeks. However, on January 1, 1842, General Elphinstone led 3,600 soldiers and 13,000 camp followers (mainly Indians) out of Kabul and on to utter ruin. Only a double handful reached Jalalabad and only one Brit, Dr. William Brydon, survived the ill advised retreat. As Napoleon had earlier discovered, a retreat from the occupied capital city in the dead of winter is a bad idea. This defeat is the primary source of the graveyard myth. It ignores the fact that there was a Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-1880) in which the Brits, with 40,000 troops, marched into Afghanistan because its leader was getting way to cozy with the Russians, whose Empire had expanded nearly to Kabul. The Brits defeated the Afghan defenders easily and, in May of 1879, the Treaty of Gandamak was signed, which ceded territory to the Brits and allowed them to control completely Afghan foreign policy, which ended Afghan trafficking with the eager to expand Russians. There was an uprising thereafter, which defeated in minor ways the British troops here and there, but which was ended at the Battle of Kandahar, after which the Afghans fulfilled their treaty obligations faithfully. The Brits left and the Afghans never bothered the British Empire again.
Oh, and the Soviets lost in Afghanistan too, after easily taking over the country. In a nearly ten year occupation (1979-1989), the Soviets killed perhaps as many as a million Afghans and made refugees of nearly five million. The Soviets lost about 14,000 and, oh yeah, the remnants of the Russian Empire when they retreated from Afghanistan; the Soviet Union dissolved beginning the same year. But that failure of the Soviet Union was long overdue and had been years in the making. The failure of the Soviets to gut it out falsely feeds into the Graveyard myth too.
We've been there more than 8 years now--there was no real insurgency for us to fight for most of the years after October 2001, when we and the non-Taliban Afghans had kicked out al Qaeda and its Taliban hosts easily and quickly, and the Taliban did not appear eager to return. Now they have returned in force and we apparently need to adjust our tactics and beef up the fighting forces, just as we did so successfully in Iraq about a year or so ago.
But let's agree to leave this Defeatism and the so-called Graveyard of Empire stuff behind. It's a false myth, and an affront to history. We can easily succeed in Afghanistan if our Commander in Chief would only exhibit even the slightest will to win and follow the advice of his hand-picked general. It's not too much to ask, for the right war, the just war, the necessary war Candidate Obama used to give so much attention to, is it?
UPDATE: I corrected the dates of the First Anglo-Afghan War which for some reason, probably bad typing skills, I had in the 20th Century (thanks, Mark). I added a word or two here and there as well.