THE longest war in the United States of America’s history is not going according to plan. The US army, however, does not accept this reality which is actually quite clear. The generals always blame their failure or lack of progress on the paucity of resources. Humiliation is difficult to swallow when the US calls itself the world superpower and its army prides itself as being the world’s best.
If the objectives could not be achieved with 150,000 troops, how can they do it now through Operation Resolute Support with 13,500 troops — more than half of them American soldiers who stay at the rear? Can another 3,000 make a difference? J. William Fulbright in his book The Arrogance of Power says, “There is a kind of voodoo about American foreign policy. Certain drums have to be beaten regularly to ward off evil spirits.”
The Russians stayed in Afghanistan for nine years and lost 15,000 soldiers. They had to leave and left behind a surrogate government which also succumbed after three years. This is no good lesson for the US as it was Russia’s experience. The total fatalities of the US in the last 16 years have been over 2,200 — the vast majority of soldiers killed in action.
The US wants peace no doubt, but on its own terms: total surrender.
True, they have paid more in treasure and less in blood. But the loss in treasure they can sustain. It has made little dent in their economy.
The pain of waging wars around the Muslim world has not yet reached the common American man. Afghanistan is a good ground to try newly produced or not yet tested ordnance like the ‘Mother of all Bombs’ dropped in April. Has it made any difference to the resolve of the Afghan Taliban?
The US wants peace no doubt, but on its own terms, despite the fact that its war machine has not brought it anywhere near the objective. The objective is to establish itself in Afghanistan and lord over the region. It routinely blames Pakistan for its troubles and repeats the catchphrase ‘to do more’.
It is said that the path to peace in Afghanistan is through Islamabad. Sadly, we consider this as measure of our importance in regional and international affairs. Pakistan may be involved in the Afghan imbroglio as much as India is, but the US never said that the path to peace starts from New Delhi and goes through Islamabad.
The US troubles are not going to end even if India and Pakistan both disinvest in Afghanistan. The US needs to be told loud and clear that the responsibility for peace in that country squarely rests on its shoulders. This is quite apparent. Osama bin Laden is dead; the Taliban have declared that they will never host anyone who is a threat to any other country; they have also declared that they will come to the table if the US announces that its forces will leave the country. As a nation it is their inalienable right to demand that.
The American problem stems from optimism, and not its ‘pragmatism’. War is politics by other means. The end is to achieve a lasting peace. America in any war wants total surrender.
That is the behaviour they displayed in the Second World War. After the Casablanca Conference in 1943, President Roosevelt demanded “unconditional surrender” by Hitler in his press conference after the moot.
Unconditional surrender was not discussed during the moot. According to historians, it was a costly mistake. This gave the Nazi propagandists their best arguments for last-ditch resistance. It made the underground German resistance against Hitler very weak. The war could have ended with less bloodshed.
Similar behaviour was displayed in the Pacific theatre. The use of the atomic bomb against a
prostrate and defeated Japan in the closing days of the war was completely unnecessary. Japan was totally surrounded and blockaded. Its surrender was a matter of time and it had already made its intention known to discuss peace.
But America had one goal and one alone: total surrender, no conditions asked. In every negotiations after the war there has to be conditions.
In Afghanistan too there have to be negotiations and conditions to end the war. The aim should be that the end of war should lead to lasting peace.
A reflection from a prison cell by the German general Kliest ought to be emblazoned above every doorway in GHQs around the world, “The general mistake was to think that military success would solve political problems. Indeed under the Nazis we tended to reverse Clauseweitz’s dictum and to regard peace as continuation of war.”
The writer is a former civil servant and former minister.
Published in Dawn, July 9th, 2017