Good riddance to the West’s Forever War in Afghanistan. We never should’ve immersed ourselves so deeply there in the first place.
The British Empire expended itself in those mountains. John Bull was compelled to retreat. Successors to those Afghans hastened the death knell of the Soviet Union by ignominiously chasing the bear back to Russia.
Yet seeing what a snake pit Afghanistan was, and ignoring Dwight Eisenhower’s quite prescient warning against any land war in Asia – a lesson we already should’ve learned from our Vietnam quagmire – the Fortune Sons who avoided, evaded, and deferred themselves from the pointless Indo-China carnage erroneously believed they’d improved upon the conquest and subjugation techniques of Imperial Britain and the Soviet Imperium as well as an earlier America.
I guess not.
No. Only the Chinese will “win” Afghanistan. We, however, will get the consolation prize of debating what went wrong and who’s to blame. Perhaps if we’d only been advised by the best and the brightest … again.
When President Biden announced the American withdrawal from the Afghanistan morass, I asked on social media why after nearly two decades of conflict in that region of South Asia we hadn’t cultivated, developed, or recruited another Ahmad Shah Massoud.
The “huh’s?” and “who’s?” resulting could’ve been thundering if anyone had been paying attention.
Clearly the first question ought to be who was Massoud?
Why, he was the only man Osama bin Laden feared.
Twenty years ago, Ahmad Shah Massoud led the Northern Alliance, an Afghan force which kept the Taliban at bay. His acumen and ability united several different and often opposed groups together in their regional fight against the Taliban.
Think of it. An Afghan possessing the skill to thwart the Taliban.
Massoud leading the Northern Alliance against the Taliban was a problem for bin Laden. Yes, bin Laden was a Saudi and really shouldn’t have had much sway in internecine Afghan affairs. However, bin Laden’s, oh, let’s call it dedication in the perversion of Islam impressed his Afghan hosts. And if that wasn’t enough, well, he did fight alongside the mujahideen against the infidel Soviets.
As none of our chickenhawks here in the West will ever know, skin in the game, especially if it’s your skin, earns and reaps immense respect, deference, and favors.
Unsettled as Afghanistan became after the Soviet withdrawal it in turn became a fine hidey-hole for bin Laden and al Qaeda. Lawless as much of the nation had become, the Saudi bandit king found pretty safe refuge from which to direct his organization’s operations. Sovereign states like Pakistan might’ve been more amenable to his message against us infidels. Yet with an adversary like India seething for any reason to attack and the likelihood of Western intervention should he conduct terror from within its borders, Pakistan, as inviting it was, could not host bin Laden without imperiling itself.
Ah, but, Afghanistan. Bin Laden must’ve looked upon Afghanistan as Doc and Carol did El Rey in The Getaway, a pulp classic written by Jim Thompson made into a 1972 movie starring Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw. El Rey was a thieves’ hideout and paradise … as long as the money lasted.
Wealthy, bin Laden needn’t have worried about money. The Taliban wasn’t into materialism and affluence, but devotion. And bin Laden demonstrated faith in ways which converted the most incontrovertible skeptic among his hosts.
The Saudi needed a lair from which to conduct jihad against the West. While numerous Taliban ought have professed anxiety about the blowback such would provoke, they nevertheless aligned with bin Laden come what may.
Established as he was, the Saudi properly gauged the West’s responses to nascent al Qaeda as weak. Or he regarded our attributes which we regard as strong ones as weaknesses.
Imagine bin Laden surrounded by his closest henchmen conjuring schemes by which to irredeemably bloody us infidels to the quick. Unfortunately for us, he was an engineer by profession, not some wild-eyed, frothing, bellowing imam or evangelical preacher.
Bin Laden was a rational fiend who twisted his considerable intellect towards the pursuit of memorable mass death. He was fastidious and planned meticulously. Massoud was an obstacle he saw clearly.
Of all, the Saudi knew best the West’s response would not be measured. We would become in his version of Islam … Crusaders.
Westerners have little-to-no idea how the Crusades still impact the Muslim Mideast. It’s like American Southerners who still harken back to the Civil War. Indeed, that is an apt example.
In the minds of many of the region’s Muslim residents the Christians who invaded and marauded through to Jerusalem remain freshly current. Long past moldered and rightly scarcely remembered by us, the Crusaders hold fast in the minds of Muslim Arabs resentful of the West.
When the time came for us to seek retribution, bin Laden knew he wouldn’t have to work hard to paint us as beyond loathsome infidels but Crusaders. With the Taliban, then al Qaeda allies, his “righteous warriors” would transform Afghanistan into a merciless cauldron that’d devour the unclean, impure invaders. Us.
Doubtlessly he hoped events would have us question our mettle. Our endurance. Our ruthlessness. Such never plagued him.
But Massoud did. He was already well known to those Westerners who must know something about the region, its players, its miscreants and malefactors. Months before the September attacks in fact, Massoud had given the West a heads up concerning bin Laden. No one today knows – or will admit – whether he was listened to politely then after some mild appraisal disregarded or simply ignored from the outset. Because after all we know better about those people than they do themselves, right?
Either way, bin Laden knew Massoud. Alive he would be the Saudi’s nemesis.
Again, when the time came for the West to draw retribution, bin Laden knew Massoud would occupy the entire list of military strategists capable of marshalling the Afghan portion of the West’s response. Only he could effectively lead Afghans.
The Saudi didn’t dawdle. He didn’t equivocate. He had Massoud assassinated two days before the attack. If this raised any alarms in the Bush II White House, they were quickly muted.
Besides having a martial prowess best suited to the terrain and its populace, Massoud would not have easily fit our lazy habit of turning foreigners into that country’s version of a “founding father” or “great patriot.” Love Afghanistan as he must’ve, Massoud wasn’t going to install any democratic template atop Afghanistan. That’s one of our horrible conceits – doing our utmost to delude ourselves into believing the world wants to be or should want to be just like us.
No. Not sorry. He wasn’t the Afghan version of George Washington. For one thing, unlike Washington, Massoud never owned slaves.
Had Massoud avoided assassination, been at our disposal for an efficient pursuit and capture or elimination of bin Laden, once the deed concluded he would not have looked favorably upon our lingering. As usual, we would’ve offered him and his nation many gifts. Each one of them with considerable strings attached.
Wily as Massoud must’ve been – after all the man was an Afghan warlord, one must literally kill and keep killing to reach and stay at the top of that gore-greased pole – what might’ve ultimately benefitted Afghanistan would’ve been a handful of beans against what we should’ve reaped in return.
Presumably the Bush II Administration still would’ve connived its way into Iraq. Something about not letting a crisis go to waste. If it unnerved Iran having “the Great Satan” on its western border inside Iraq, then boxed by us in Afghanistan on its eastern border could’ve driven Iranian authorities further round the bend.
Americans in a quiescent Afghanistan also ought have heightened Bad Vlad’s and his Kremlin Krew’s wariness. From those perches who knows what sort of destabilizing mischief the West could’ve fomented throughout the erstwhile Soviet’s former Central Asian republics?
Aware and disinclined to Afghanistan becoming a superpower’s “client” and how that could affect what passes for regional stability there, would Massoud have wanted his country crisscrossed by external intrigues? Not fucking likely. After all, there was no shortage of local intrigues through which to safely maneuver daily.
Massoud would’ve made his reasons so clear even we could’ve grasped them: “Afghanistan for Afghans.”