As America mulls our Afghan options, let’s also look for patterns in our past overseas interventions: We staged coups for the Shah of Iran and South Vietnamese generals. Panama’s Noriega cashed CIA checks for decades. In the 1980s we sent Saddam $40 billion — making Iraq the third-largest recipient of $US’s.
Funding Afghan Mujahideen worked out well; but not following with humanitarian aid helped cause the power vacuum filled by the Taliban. And, when we abandoned our bases in Somalia (like the Soviets before us), we left that country one of the most heavily armed per capita places on the planet — warlords sitting on multi-million dollar piles of U.S./U.S.S.R. Cold War weapons.
For half a century, where-ever we’ve experimented with nation-meddling, we return later carrying M-16s. But if the solutions were military, we’d have solved them: Our Defense budget often exceeds the military expenditures of all other nations combined. When we invaded Iraq our defense spending was nearly 200 times theirs. In Afghanistan we were the richest country attacking one of the world’s poorest. Yet we began and will end this decade fighting there.
The Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts have cost us more than $1,000,000,000,000 and 5,000 U.S. Armed Forces fatalities. We need to know what we’ve gained for that blood and treasure, and how much more we intend to spill and spend.
Our armed services are extraordinarily skilled at accomplishing missions, when clearly defined. “Topple Saddam,” we said; two weeks later, their reply: “Done.”
So let’s clearly define a mission, and watch them work. “Get Al-Qaeda” is a good one. Maybe better: secure the reconstruction of schools, roads, hospitals and economies destroyed by the bombs. Our military leaders have accepted increasingly humanitarian roles for U.S. forces; so should our political leaders.
The Viet Cong in Vietnam and Sandinistas in Nicaragua scared us. But once we left those countries, neither posed much threat. For decades now, our battles have been less with communists and terrorists than in countries where we’ve supported illegitimate regimes. Only months before we invaded Afghanistan, the U.S. sent the Taliban $43 million in war-on-drugs dollars. Perhaps the real threat there is us propping up yet another corrupt, abusive authority — yet another current friend and future foe. So, a question: Who committed the rampant fraud in the 2009 Afghan Presidential elections?