Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Afghanistan: 3 Unlearned Lessons

leave a comment »

Robert Wright writes at Nonzero Newsletter:

. . .  Unlearned Lesson #1: The presence of a foreign army can strengthen the enemy by expanding its popular support.

In Vietnam, the United States underestimated the enemy’s grassroots support by misunderstanding the enemy’s nature. Many American officials saw the Viet Cong as fundamentally an incarnation of Communist ideology—and to some extent as a creation of outside Communist powers. They failed to see that it was in large part an incarnation of nationalism, of longstanding resistance against Western powers—first France and now the United States. So they didn’t appreciate that the presence of American troops was a kind of fuel for the enemy.

This misunderstanding was a central theme of Frances FitzGerald’s 1972 book Fire in the Lake. The book won a Pulitzer Prize and was a New York Times bestseller—which you’d think would be enough to keep FitzGerald’s point circulating for a long time.

Not long enough, apparently. In Afghanistan we again failed to see how a foreign military presence could energize nationalism and expand the enemy’s base. In a way our failure to get this picture is understandable; the Taliban seemed first and foremost a religious organization, and to the extent that it had a secular identity, that identity seemed rooted more in Pashtun ethnicity than in Afghan nationality. But such is the galvanizing power of a foreign army—especially one whose drones occasionally kill civilians—that unlikely carriers of a nationalist torch can wind up carrying it.

I didn’t totally get this until I listened to a recent edition of Aaron Mate’s Pushback podcast. Daniel Sjursen, a retired Army officer who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan and has taught at West Point, told Mate that “we kind of made the Taliban… What we ended up doing by our very presence was forming them into the national resistance organization they always wanted to be.” The Taliban became “the only game in town” for nationalists; the Taliban could say, “I’m a real Afghan. I’m a nationalist Afghan. Those people in Kabul, they’re working with the Americans.”

Sjursen added, “And we never got that. We thought that, well, more militarization will fix the problem of militarization being the problem.”

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2021 at 6:47 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: