If I were to give an analysis of the failures in Afghanistan, what credibility would I have? I have never fought there, never been there, I know few Afghans. I prefer to listen to generals who commanded and soldiers who were on the ground, and to Afghans.
The result of the Fourth Afghan War has been much like all the others: the army went in, defeated the enemy, drove them from Kabul and put down rebellions relentlessly, then went home, and left the crazies to reassert themselves.
The previous Afghan Wars were to keep the Afghans from troubling India , maintain a buffer to keep the Russians away from India and ensure future compliance from the Emir, without interfering with his treatment of his own people.
This time round the objectives were outwardly similar. Firstly it was to stop Afghans and their ‘guests’ from pouring out of their valleys to attack the West. Secondly, unspokenly, the Russians were to be kept out (though they were not likely to try it: they still have their hands burnt from the Soviet occupation in the 1980s). A friendly Emir or whatever other ruler might be installed was more difficult.
The commentaries keep coming in from those who were there. A repeated theme is that the soldiers were there to keep down an insurgency that could just slip into the next valley and wait for years, and to assist the Afghan Army, while leaving a native government to work without guidance. Unguided as it was, the Americans expected the Afghan government to work like a Western central government. It could never be that though: a country with no culture of democracy or limited government could not become a model liberal democracy, and a country with no tradition of centralised rule could not abide one nor know how to run one.
A theme from many commentators has been that the Taliban never retreated – they ran their own local governments, and very effectively (and very brutally) by all accounts. If the writ of central government could not run beyond Kabul, then ordinary Afghans can be forgiven for calling on the Taliban to assist them.
An accusation made by the rebels against the Kabul government was that it was an American puppet – but it was never that. The government was a harsh, Islamist government; just not as harsh as some wished. It would have been better for the Afghans if their government had been a puppet, just as ordinary Indians in past days were thankful if their brutal rajah was guided and moderated by a British Resident. Instead of just holding strongpoints by rifle and bayonet and deferring to Kabul, It would have been better if the Western allies had nurtured traditional governors in the villages and valleys. Without effective local chieftains or councils people will go to the nearest alternative. Where a farmer has a dispute with his neighbour, it would once have been resolved locally, not relying on a distant, impotent and corrupt national government. It is no wonder if they went off instead and paid the local Taliban.
The Americans can always be accused. Their army went in having watched Rambo films: the British army in contrast had read Kipling. The Americans might have assumed, as they did in Iraq, that with an old government swept away, the people would spontaneously choose a benevolent, liberal government of selfless politicians. As in Iraq, that is shown to be criminally naïve.
On the planners’ desks should have been Thomas Hobbes, not De Tocqueville.
- Despoticall Dominion, How Attained
- In fear of Jahannam
- Man to Man is an arrant Wolfe
- Dissolution Of Common-wealths Proceedeth From Imperfect Institution
- To the Extinction of their Democraty
- The Noble Savage, Caliban, and Hobbes
- By Thomas Hobbes:
- In The Shadow Of The Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World by Tom Holland
- By George Orwell:
- By Jordan Peterson: