Monday, December 29, 2014

The Withdrawal Method

I can't recall whether, back in late 2001, I made any smart-arsed comparisons between the imminent invasion of Afghanistan and the failure of the Soviet Union's occupation of that nation.  It's precisely the kind of dick thing that I would do, so I imagine that I did.

Anyway, I was halfway through writing a line-by-line comparison of the two wars, to mark the purported end of the American occupation of Afghanistan Nato security mission, when I concluded that it'd be quicker and easier simply to list the differences between them rather than the similarities.

The inital stages of both invasions seem to have been quite different, for instance.  The Soviet Union was asked to intervene by an illegitimate government of incompetent local proxies whom it then spent the war propping up, while also repressing resistence by a bunch of poorly-armed militiamen and cave-dwelling terrorists on the thin pretext of ending Afghanistan's civil war.

The US, meanwhile, invaded on the thin pretext of chasing a bunch of poorly-armed militiamen and cave-dwelling terrorists, before installing and propping up a thoroughly legitimate government of incompetent local proxies and making it ask the US to intervene, while also attempting to repress a vicious insurgency. 

Additionally, it's worth noting that the Soviets attempted to impose a half-arsed version of their own communist political system upon Afghanistan, instituting huge economic and social programmes that directly caused many of the Afghan people to rise in open rebellion against the occupation.

The US on the other hand opened up the Afghan economy, assisted in the creation of a half-arsed variation upon Jeffersonian democracy, and helped institute huge economic and social changes that were violently opposed by Afghan murderers and criminals.

The Soviets responded to Afghan resistence with mass incarceration, executions, torture and massive bombing campaigns.  The US responded to terrorist atrocities by arresting thousands of people suspected of involvement in criminal activities and subjecting them to enhanced interrogation, and with surgical airstrikes on suspected extremist strongholds and wedding parties.

Domestically, the Soviets' system of state repression was able to suppress any kind of anti-war opposition of consequence by forbidding a free press and public demonstrations of dissent.  The people of the USSR were only ever told that their government's cause was right and just, and that their enemies were motivated by evil. 

No such oppressive systems were necessary in the free capitalist world, where private and public news sources are permitted to publish such materials as they choose without restraint.  Thus the people of the United States were told that their government's cause was right and just, and the evil motivations of their enemies were detailed by a free press, with the end result that no anti-war opposition of consequence ever emerged. 

In the USSR, military casualties were hushed up.   In the free world, military casualties were given widespread press attention, provided they had owned a cute dog or been married to a hot woman.  The USSR prevented dissent by hiding the war's casualties away in crumbling medical facilities.  The free world put injured soldiers on prime-time television and launched charity drives to help pay for their medical care.

In the end, the USSR ended its needless aggression against Afghanistan after being driven out by people who hated them and everything that they stood for, and were willing to sacrifice scads of their own lives to rid their nation of foreign occupiers.

The US now theoretically withdraws from its vitally important security operation having been prevented from achieving many of its laudible goals by murderers, yet still feeling intense pride at its many achievements.

Like I say, I can't recall whether I ever predicted a repeat of the USSR's Afghan follies but if I ever did, I hereby apologise for my foolishness.

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On a side note - I've been playing a bit of the strategy computer game Rome: Total War recently.  Having become Emperor and conquered most of the known world, I sent an army deep into Scythia on a whim - there's nothing worth attacking up there but I did it anyway, for want of anything better to do.  

The Scythians aren't particularly good warriors but my army, far from reinforcement or resupply, was slowly ground down by repeated assaults.  With little hope of achieving anything of note and growing bored with the enterprise, I disbanded the army and turned my computer off. 

I'm not sure why that anecdote sprung to mind in the context of the ISAF occupation of Afghanistan but it did, so here it is.

5 comments:

organic cheeseboard said...

I've nothing much to add to this - it's spot on. Only thing to add is that I do think it's had an effect on the British public's attitude to war - all the hero-worshipping of soldiers has, I think, led to people being much more unwilling to approve of their deployment in this kind of unwinnable, open-ended war.

Off topic, I see that Denis Macshane is on Twitter today claiming that lots of his friends have bought his prison diaries book for their kids since 'it could happen to anyone' (as opposed to them feeling sorry for his pitiful sales - his book is currently being outsold on Amazon by the 61-page, £12.99 'Yorkshire Catholic Reformatory, Market Weighton' (published in 1996)).

I love this 'could happne to anyone' line - he's right, in the sense that misacarriages of justice can and do happen all the time. But he's wrong, in the sense that he knowingly committed systematic fraud over a number of years - he pleaded guilty - an offence which carries a prison sentence as its penalty. So what happened to him could only really happen to someone guilty...?

flyingrodent said...

...all the hero-worshipping of soldiers has, I think, led to people being much more unwilling to approve of their deployment in this kind of unwinnable, open-ended war.

I'd like to think that this is the case, and the public have cottoned on to the idea that soldiers are real people with lives and families who shouldn't be chucked into wars like confetti.

Sadly, there might still be a bit of work to do on humanising the people in the countries we invade, but it's a start.

So what happened to him could only really happen to someone guilty...?

Entertainingly, continuing to deny your crime plays very badly with parole boards throughout the land. Although this seems not to have been a hindrance for our poor, put-upon Denis.

Asteri said...

There is better from James Bloodbath with the "Progressive case for Fracking" (no blatant rip off of Ollies "The Liberal Case for Invading Iraq" then). We learn that destroying your own environment and ignoring public opposition is worth it if you can give Putin the finger.

I think the Decent ignorance of economics and (foreign affairs in general) is displayed here. It's the Saudi's who are responsible for low oil prices and economic warfare is much like a drone that wipes out Pakistani villages to kill one Taliban - its not a precise weapon and countries Decents approve of are likely going to be the collateral damage.

Ken said...

the Soviets attempted to impose a half-arsed version of their own communist political system upon Afghanistan, instituting huge economic and social programmes that directly caused many of the Afghan people to rise in open rebellion against the occupation.

My memory's not what it was and I'm too lazy to check but my impression is that this happened under the pre-invasion revolutionary government, whose more radical policies the post-invasion government/the Soviets rowed back on.

flyingrodent said...

Ken - I think you may be right about that, although it does knacker the symmetry of my comparison a little.