If You Want To Defeat The US In War, Be Patient

If You Want To Defeat The US In War, Be Patient


Leonard Zwelling

For a few of us, 9/11 was never an act of war. It was not perpetrated by a national army. No one who committed the murders was in uniform. The guilty were treated as enemy combatants, not as soldiers. 9/11 was not an act of war. It was a crime.

For the most part, in the United Sates and in most countries of the world, crimes are dealt with by the police, not the army. In 2001, if the United States wanted justice for those killed on that horrible day, it was only going to come through a police action, identification of the guilty, their capture and a trial. Very little of that occurred.

Instead, the leadership of the country at the time first tried to eradicate the base of operations for Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and then shifted its attention to Iraq which had nothing to do with 9/11 at all. In other words, the Bush Administration made a series of foolish decisions and committed blood and treasure to a lost cause (imposing democracy on Afghanistan and Iraq), and locked future administrations into either continuing the initiative or pulling out. Until now, no one was really able to pull out although Obama tried in Iraq.

In the spring, President Biden committed the U.S. to leave Afghanistan by 9/11 of this year and the predictable ensued. Now the Taliban knew when the only force holding them back would be gone. They waited until the Americans were leaving and they pounced. It is clear at the time of this writing (August 14) that it is only a matter of time until the Taliban reimpose Sheria Law on the country, enslave women, and bring Afghanistan back to where it was on 9/11/2001. When are we going to learn?

If you want to understand what happened in Vietnam, all you need to do is go. It is very obvious that the Americans had interceded in a civil war and that no amount of bombing or troops in-country was going to stop the north from taking over the south, consolidating the country under Ho Chi Minh, and becoming the economic success it is today despite it being one of the few truly Communist countries in the world. The Viet Cong waited us out. So has the Taliban.

Mr. Trump was right in making clear that his view of foreign policy was what was good for America. Going to Vietnam was not good for America and stopped nothing. 58,000 Americans and countless Vietnamese died there and nothing changed. The cost in blood in Afghanistan has been less than in Vietnam, but not nothing and Afghanistan is now America’s longest war. And we are about to lose. What’s the lesson?

First, understand why you are invading another country. It took Pearl Harbor to get us fully into World War II. We were openly attacked by a foreign government. This was not the case on 9/11. We were attacked by terrorists and if any foreign government was involved it might well turn out to have been Saudi Arabia. That is still under investigation. Who financed Al Qaeda? Did we invade the wrong country? Who are our enemies really?

Second, we could not win a war in Vietnam and we could not win one in Afghanistan or in Iraq. The United States has to be far more careful in picking its fights and more certain of winning. In these three locales we picked poorly.

Finally, leadership makes a difference. In Vietnam, Lyndon Johnson virtually squandered all the good his administration had done by continuing a needless war based on poor information from untrustworthy people. The same was true in Afghanistan and certainly in Iraq. We never had a reason to go into Iraq and Bush 43’s own father figured that out.

But make no mistake, Mr. Biden owns Afghanistan and if there is another terrorist strike that emerges from that country, he will be blamed. I hope the White House, the State Department and the Defense Department have a strategy for making sure that we can keep a close eye on the Taliban. My guess is that there will be a humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan. Many will die. People who helped us out in country will not be able to get out and will be slaughtered by the Taliban. Any progress made by the women of Afghanistan will be lost.

And, unlike President Biden, I think there will be scenes of helicopters taking off from the American Embassy in Kabul with our diplomats and too few Afghanis who helped us. It is another tragedy. It is another Vietnam. Vietnam was Johnson’s downfall. Afghanistan will be Biden’s.

2 thoughts on “If You Want To Defeat The US In War, Be Patient”

  1. https://dgibbs.faculty.arizona.edu/brzezinski_interview

    The Brzezinski Interview with Le Nouvel Observateur (1998)

    Translated from the French by William Blum and David N. Gibbs. This translation was published in Gibbs, “Afghanistan: The Soviet Invasion in Retrospect,” International Politics 37, no. 2, 2000, pp. 241-242. For article full text, click here.

    Original French version appeared in “Les Révélations d’un Ancien Conseilleur de Carter: ‘Oui, la CIA est Entrée en Afghanistan avant les Russes…’” Le Nouvel Observateur [Paris], January 15-21, 1998, p. 76. Click here for original French text.

    Note that all ellipses appeared in the original transcript, as published in Le Nouvel Observateur.

    Question: The former director of the CIA, Robert Gates, stated in his memoirs that the American intelligence services began to aid the Mujahiddin in Afghanistan six months before the Soviet intervention. Is this period, you were the national securty advisor to President Carter. You therefore played a key role in this affair. Is this correct?

    Brzezinski: Yes. According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahiddin began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan on December 24, 1979. But the reality, closely 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 [emphasis added throughout].

    Q: Despite this risk, you were an advocate of this covert action. But perhaps you yourself desired this Soviet entry into the war and looked for a way to provoke it?

    B: It wasn’t quite like that. We didn’t push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would.

    Q : When the Soviets justified their intervention by asserting that they intended to fight against secret US involvement in Afghanistan , nobody believed them . However, there was an element of truth in this. You don’t regret any of this today?

    B: Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter, essentially: “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 that was unsustainable for the regime , a conflict that bought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.

    Q: And neither do you regret having supported Islamic fundamentalism, which has given arms and advice to future terrorists?

    B : What is more important in world history? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some agitated Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?

    Q : “Some agitated Moslems”? But it has been said and repeated: Islamic fundamentalism represents a world menace today…

    B: Nonsense! It is said that the West has a global policy in regard to Islam. That is stupid: There isn’t a global Islam. Look at Islam in a rational manner, without demagoguery or emotionalism. It is the leading religion of the world with 1.5 billion followers. But what is t h ere in com m on among fundamentalist Saudi Arabia , moderate Morocco, militarist Pakistan, pro-Western Egypt, or secularist Central Asia? Nothing more than what unites the Christian countries…

    Additional Sources:

    The memoirs referred to in the interview are Robert M. Gates, From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider’s Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), pp. 143-49. Written by a former CIA director, this book first revealed the covert support for the Mujahiddin, prior to the invasion.

    Washington Post correspondent Steve Coll downplays the significance of the CIA operation. He presents declassified documents from Brzezinski that express deep concern about the Soviet invasion. According to Coll, the documents “show no hint of satisfaction” from Brzezinski, regarding the invasion. Note, however, that Brzezinski’s 1983 memoirs clearly do imply some satisfaction regarding the Soviet invasion (Coll neglects to mention this).

    See Steve Coll, Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (New York: Penguin, 2004), pp. 50-51, 581, footnote 17; and Zbigniew Brzezinski, Power and Principle: Memoirs of the National Security Advisor, 1977–1981 (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1983), p. 429.

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