Afghanistan Really is the Graveyard of Empires

Abandoned Soviet tanks litter the Afghan country side.

On Sunday, March 11, 2011, the world’s news sources reported a story about an American soldier leaving his post, walking a mile to a small Afghan village and, while residents were asleep in their beds, shooting 16 people, including 9 children. As of this writing the consequences of the soldier’s action is not known. But given the overwhelming violence that erupted following the recent mistaken burning of some Korans we can’t be surprised if more anti-American violence fills the streets of Afghanistan’s villages and cities.

The growing sentiment is that America needs to reassess it’s goals and policies regarding further involvement in Afghanistan and hasten the departure of American troops. Even such stalwarts of the right as Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum today issued public statements questioning further American presence in what has historically been called, “The Graveyard of Empires.”

The idea that Afghanistan played a role in the demise of the British and Soviet empires has been a subject of debate between those who want to continue our presence there and those who are pushing for a speedier withdrawal. Since much of what is said today is influenced by the events of 9/11 and America’s war against al-Qaeda I thought it would be interesting to look at some of the literature that predates Bin Laden’s attack on the World Trade Towers.

While not claiming to be an authority on the history of Central Asia, I have read enough to know that many an imperial army has found the unruly tribes of Afghanistan more than they bargained for. Alexander the Great caught an archer’s arrow there, Genghis Khan and his Mongol hordes weren’t tough enough, the Mughal Empire of the 16th Century took a few licks before deciding they’d be better off setting up shop in what we now know as India, and both the Brits and the Ruskies have left with their collective tails tucked.

In a pre-Bin Laden world, history tells us that Afghanistan is not a place where an outsider would want to make long-term reservations. President Bush sent American forces into that piece of real estate, I’ll not call it a nation since it has never met the prerequisites for such, for all the right reasons. Afghanistan was from where we were ambushed. The problem is, just like Bush the Father had warned, we didn’t have a specific plan and an exit strategy. We went in with guns blazing and 10.5 years later, we still don’t know why we remain nor how to get out.

A moderate television pundit asked the question recently, I we stay in Afghanistan to achieve a victory, what would have to occur for us to say we had won? Would we have to be able to say, we’ve destroyed al-Qaeda? Well, we have. Would we have to destroy all the Taliban? Well, we haven’t and we can’t. Would we have to be able to say we have installed a stable and honest democratic government? Nothing even close resembles such. Would we have to say, “The Afghan people love, appreciate, and respect America?” Well, I think the next 48-hours will answer that in the negative.

What we need to do is forget about any face-saving concept of victory and admit we stayed too long at the dance and get our arses out just like all those who went before us. Whatever Afghanistan is it’s what it has always been and little America does is going to change that. If our national goal is to further bankrupt our treasury and spill the blood of our children then we can achieve that. Unfortunately, however, that’s about all we have and can hope to do.

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