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Monday, October 26

The Graveyard of Empires

I will read foreign news websites as a matter of course in order to build up a more comprehensive view of the news than the pablum offered up by the American cable news networks. I ran across a speech given back on October 24th by Paul McGeough, a senior reporter for Australia's Sydney Morning Herald.

In the speech, Mr. McGeough has some unkind but prophetic things to say about our war in Afghanistan, and the title of the article gives the basic thrust of his argument - that the Afghan insurgency has come back, more virile and more vicious than ever, and is more widespread now.

And all thanks to us and our allies.

McGeough cites a report submitted by a Colonel K. Tsagalov dated August 17, 1987, only 18 months before the commanding general of the Soviet forces in Afghanistan was the last Russian to leave that country. He points out the eerie similarity between ColonelTsagalov's report and the declassified situation report given by our commander there, General McChrystal.

McChrystal points out that the Taliban have once again become a dominant force in the country and the Kabul government's writ runs thin in spots. We went in promising big things - prosperity, freedom, democracy - and we haven't delivered.

I'll repeat that.

We went in promising big things - prosperity, freedom, democracy - and we haven't delivered.

I can think of two reasons why we have failed to deliver on our promises - and I will be repeating myself from posts I have thrown out here in the past.

One, we failed to learn from the experience of others. Alexander of Macedon tried to subdue the tribes, and failed. In the 1800s the British and Russians, in the course of the Great Game, tried and failed (the British tried about three times, as I recall). In 1979 the Soviet Union tried it, and admitted defeat in 1989. Not for nothing is Afghanistan sometimes called "the graveyard of empires."

Two, we took our eyes off the ball. We had the Taliban leadership and Osama bin Laden trapped in the Tora Bora Mountains near the Pakistani border, and we allowed them to escape into friendly territory. Why? Because the Bush Administration listened to Vice President Cheney and the neoconservative Project for a New American Century (PNAC) and decided that we needed to invade Iraq - on the flimsiest of pretexts, may I remind you, gentle reader.

General McChrystal's recommendations for thousands more troops and billions more dollars in aid might have worked - back in 2002 or 2003, as Mr. McGeough points out. One anecdote cited comes from a supposed Taliban prisoner who purportedly said, "The trouble with you Americans is you have watches – we have time.”

We gave them that time, through the previous Administration's criminal negligence and outright fraud, perpetrated upon an American nation too distracted by Bright Shiny Things to care that our money and our people were being fed into a hopeless sausage grinder of a war. All the Taliban have to do is wait us out, because the longer we stay, the more we are seen as an occupier and oppressor. More and more Afghans will consider oppression at the hands of locals to be preferable to oppression at the hands of foreigners.

I'm now going to bring up a rather ugly story.

If you're of a Certain Age, like I am, you'll get this story right off.

It's the story of Br'er Rabbit and the Tar Baby. And YES, I know it's rather hideously racist - bear with me.

The point that was made in the story is that the more the Rabbit fought the Tar Baby, the more hopelessly trapped he became. He was only saved by tricking his enemies into hurling him into the briar patch, because only then could he extricate himself.

The choice being given to the Obama Adminstration is a simple one - the Tar Baby, or the Briar Patch. Because one way or another we have to extricate ourselves from this mess. The current death toll of US and Allied troops in Afghanistan is 1,469; we must grasp the nettle (another briar patch metaphor) and extricate ourselves. Our economy cannot sustain the continued effort, and a growing segment of the American people are no longer willing to stand for it.

Now, the consequences.

President Obama will take a massive hit to his popularity, but he doesn't seem to care much about that anyway so it's a non-issue. We will likely retain a covert presence along the Afghan-Pakistan border for years to come in hopes that Mullah Omar and Osama come out of hiding so we can kill them. President Karzai and the Afghan National Government will likely fall amid a rash of executions and at least one pogrom. The 2010 bi-election and the 2012 Presidential election might go against the Democrats unless the economy improves.

But we will have extricated ourselves from Afghanistan.

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