Kemmeter Column: Afghan war repeats US mistakes
By GENE KEMMETER
The United States is pulling out of Afghanistan, officially by the end of August, after 20 years there, the longest war in U.S. history. The war has also cost U.S. taxpayers more than $6.5 trillion dollars, the third most expensive in history.
News stories indicate that the Taliban are overrunning areas held by the Afghan troops, prompting some politicians to question whether the removal of U.S. troops might be premature because the action will create a Civil War.
At the same time, the U.S. is trying to help an estimated 70,000 Afghans, who helped the U.S. effort during those 20 years, leave the country and bring some of them to the U.S. to escape likely execution at the hands of the Taliban and other groups that are considered extremist.
Unfortunately, the history of the U.S. has been to go into countries to “help” them because they have been overrun by forces considered unfavorable to the U.S. and its support of democracy. The involvement has engaged the nation in long-lasting skirmishes that ultimately result in the U.S. abandoning their efforts after the extensive loss of American soldiers and many others to wage the war.
U.S. leaders decided the war had been going on long enough, and it was time for the Afghan government and people to assume control of their country.
The U.S. has supposedly trained the Afghan army and provided the latest in weapons and military equipment. But has it really grown the army and police forces in that nation to bring a democratic government to fruition?
U.S. troops left Bagram Air Base at the beginning of the month, and reportedly failed to inform Afghan authorities when they were leaving. As a result, Afghan troops had to chase looters from the base. Other news reports indicated Afghan troops were abandoning positions and fleeing to neighboring countries as Taliban forces claimed to control 85 percent of the country.
Throughout the years, U.S. leaders have failed to learn from previous experiences that they can’t impose a democracy on other nations. A democracy has to come from the heart and soul of each individual nation.
The U.S. can teach other nations about democracy, but it also has to inspire the residents of that nation about the benefits each person receives from individual freedom and rights, and how each person has to participate in that democracy to make it better. That inspiration has to be instilled in people that have never experienced it for generations.
Creating a monarchy or an autocratic government is much easier. Only a single leader and a handful of supporters are necessary to govern. Then the citizens need to follow what they are told to do. Those citizens can live the rest of their lives doing what they’re told to do and can stay out of trouble if they do just that.
The U.S. knows from previous engagements that those who supported the U.S. and were left behind were imprisoned or executed. Those left behind have lived in acute danger and need outside assistance.
In Afghanistan, many girls and women have been educated according to American standards,learning to read, write and function in jobs previously held only by men. Now those girls and women likely face persecution or death.
The U.S. has a horrendous track record in trying to build democracy around the world. The most tangible successes came at the end of World War II when the European countries, Japan and other nations turned to a more democratic government while also retaining vestiges of monarchies or prior governments.
Since then, the U.S. has intervened in several countries to stave off the slaughter of civilians, only to pull out of the country until another potential slaughter occurred. Efforts to change the government started out successful, but the country soon reverted to autocratic rule, restarting the cycle.
In the future, the U.S. is probably going to debate intervening in a country, and it needs to study its history and that country’s history fully before taking action. Any intervention means the U.S. will have to establish a plan to take care of the natives of that country who assist U.S. troops during that intervention.
And the U.S. needs to understand, changing a country’s thoughts about government and customs takes more than a decade. It takes generations.