If the invasion of Afghanistan had been a success, we would not still be fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. If the invasion of Iraq had been a success, we would not be fighting there.
Two invasions of practically defenseless countries with obsolete weapons and decaying infrastructures have to be termed failures. Both the civilian leadership in Washington and the military’s officer corps share the blame.
The people in Washington, infected with fatal arrogance, thought of a clever scheme: We will bribe the criminal gangs known as the Northern Alliance to do the actual fighting, and we’ll use our special forces to laser-paint Taliban targets for our aircraft. It worked, as far as it went. The Taliban had no air defense at all.
Osama bin Laden, however, was smart enough to bribe one of our Northern Alliance allies to leave the back door open at Tora Bora. That’s how he escaped into Pakistan. Six years later, we still have not captured or killed him. Chalk up another failure.
The big mistake the Washington hotshots made was not understanding the history and culture of the two countries they decided to attack. They were thinking "liberation"; the people were thinking "occupation by foreigners." I haven’t googled mankind’s complete history, but offhand I cannot think of any instance where occupiers were welcomed by the native population.
Even when the native population hates the existing government, as was probably the case in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the period between the time the people are glad and the time they want the occupiers to leave is quite brief. Most occupations have gotten in trouble by overstaying their welcome.
The officer corps seems to have forgotten the lessons of Vietnam and become obsessed with high-tech gadgetry. These gadgets and their computers were designed for war against other conventional forces. Going guerrilla doesn’t even the odds, but it certainly cuts into the effectiveness of the gadgets. With a little luck and stealth, a hungry, barefoot boy with an AK-47 can kill a well-equipped, well-trained soldier. Booby traps, now called improvised explosive devices, have been killing soldiers for a long time now.
The great blunder made by Donald Rumsfeld was to not realize that a light force can defeat a conventional force with obsolete equipment, but it can’t manage a successful occupation. Because we were so short of manpower, not only did we allow the whole country to be looted, we left enough unguarded ammunition dumps to supply the insurgents for years to come.
The Washington hotshots also failed to realize how deep the enmity was between the factions. The Shi’ites have always been ruled by Sunnis in Iraq, and the Sunnis, a minority in the population, were either put into power by the foreigners or shot their way to power. Being a majority only works when you have fair elections and can enforce the results.
The Shi’ites fear a Sunni coup, and the last thing in the world they are going to do is integrate armed Sunnis into their army and police force. Our American officials might be nave enough to believe they will, but from the Shi’ite standpoint, it would be suicidal based on their historical experience. And from the Sunni point of view, a coup is exactly what they have in mind. They are not going to accept permanent rule by the Shi’ites.
Sooner or later, the American people will realize we don’t have the brains or the grit to run a world empire. When our political leaders try, they make fools of themselves. Business and commerce are our forte, and that’s what we should stick to. Let somebody else play Caesar.
Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.