On November 25, 2010, the occupation of Afghanistan by United States and NATO forces had already lasted nine years and 50 days. This date is a significant milestone, Jason Ditz of Antiwar.com points out, because nine years and 50 days is also how long the Soviet occupation of that country lasted. “That is how long the Soviet Union tried, and failed, to successfully occupy Afghanistan and install a pro-Soviet regime,” notes Ditz. “From their late 1979 invasion to their withdrawal in early 1989, Soviet troops struggled against an Islamist insurgency that eventually toppled the pro-Soviet Najibullah government and sent the Soviet Union itself spiraling into the depths of bankruptcy.”
In an interview in a January 1998 issue of Paris magazine Le Nouvel Observateur, President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski boasted of the role that the United States, and Brzezinski himself, played in “drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap.” The “official version of history,” that the United States came to the aid of Afghan rebels in 1980 in response to the Soviet invasion, is not true, he said. “The reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise. Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention … The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter. We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War. Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.”
The “Vietnam War” that was deliberately inflicted on the Soviet Union caused civil dissent and economic chaos that the Soviet Union, unlike the United States after its Vietnam War, did not survive. However painful and destructive the real Vietnam War was to the United States, though, its primary victims were the people of Vietnam. Just so, the primary victims of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan were not the Soviets, but the Afghans. By inducing the Soviets to invade Afghanistan in 1979, the United States was also giving the people of Afghanistan their “Vietnam War,” and the US repeated this crime by invading Afghanistan itself a little more than 9 years and 50 days ago.
Unlike the present occupiers of Afghanistan, who say that they can actually win where the Soviets failed, Ditz observes that by the time the Soviet occupation had lasted as long as ours, “the writing had been on the walls for many months.” The Gorbachev government had already been withdrawing troops. There was broad acceptance in Soviet society that the war had been an economic and moral disaster long before their last troops left Afghanistan on February 15, 1989. At this point, when the Soviets were cutting their losses, the United States is ramping up its doomed efforts and, in classic Orwellian doublethink, declares both that it is winning the war and that it will last at least another 4 years – and maybe forever!
Even while sharing a common border with Afghanistan, the USSR could not economically sustain its war there, and it is this drain of resources that is credited with bringing down the Soviet empire. American economists and politicians of both parties pretend that they can speak about the economic perils our country faces while ignoring the cost of our wars. To divert economic disaster, sacrifices need be made, all agree, but these sacrifices will come in cuts to schools, hospitals, roads, transportation – the entire civil structure of society, it seems, will be gutted to keep paying for this war. Optimism, exceptionalism and a blind eye to historical lessons, – those quintessential US traits – are dangerously evident as the Obama administration, and the US public in general, overlook an ominous milestone.
The Obama administration will soon be making public its “December Review” assessing the situation in Afghanistan. This assessment will not, apparently, confuse the issue with facts. “We have a policy in place,” said Deputy National Security Adviser for Communications Ben Rhodes to reporters on Air Force One during the president’s December 3 visit to Afghanistan, and the review is not meant to lead to major shifts in that policy. “This is a process which is diagnostic in nature,” Rhodes explains. It is interesting language coming from the White House. What can we make of a “diagnostic” procedure, to expand on the analogy, which is not intended to inform or effect a predetermined treatment? Doesn’t this constitute malpractice?
A “December Review” at this time, a month after our occupation of Afghanistan has exceeded the Soviet’s, is a good idea. Yet the review the Obama administration mandated has been rendered meaningless before it has even been published; it does not deserve much consideration. This December, however, is an auspicious time for all Americans to carefully review and assess the impact of the war at home and abroad and to demand real changes in policy. It is also long past time that Americans listen to the people of Afghanistan. On December 19, the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, based in Bamiyan, are calling for a “Global Day of Listening to Afghans.” This might be the true December Review that we need.
To find out more, visit the Global Day of Listening to Afghans page on the Voices for Creative Nonviolence website.