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BAD ALLIES = BAD OUTCOMES

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on May 18, 2022 at 12:12 am

For those born after 1975, America’s departure from Afghanistan marks the first humiliating retreat from a valuable ally.

But this is wrong.

In April, 1975, the South Vietnamese Army suddenly crumbled under an all-out offensive by North Vietnamese regular army units.

The United States—which had been been supplying military assistance to Vietnam since the Presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower—suddenly saw its worst nightmare come to life.

It had poured more than $120 billion into the conflict in Vietnam from 1965-73. At least 58,000  United States soldiers had died there. Another 304,000 had been wounded.

Map showing the partition of French Indochina following the 1954 Geneva Conference

Vietnam during the Vietnam war

User:SnowFire, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

The last American troops had left Vietnam on March 29, 1973. President Richard Nixon claimed that he had achieved “peace with honor.” The South Vietnamese Army was supposedly now trained by Americans to defend the “country” from attack by North Vietnam. 

Then came December 13, 1974—the start of the North’s all-out offensive.

The result: South Vietnamese forces melted away.

This was hardly surprising to American veterans of the war. Among them a favorite joke had been: “There’s a new batch of South Vietnamese rifles for sale. Never fired, and only dropped once.”

By April 30, 1975, Saigon, the capitol of South Vietnam, fell to the People’s Army of Vietnam and the Viet Cong.

Fall of Saigon

At home, watching TV, Americans felt shame as Army helicopters hurriedly lifted off the roof of the United States embassy. Numerous South Vietnamese desperately tried to climb aboard—only to have their hands stomped on by Americans equally desperate to get out before North Vietnamese forces reached them.

Now, 46 years later, Americans were seeing Air Force planes taking off from Kabul Airport, with hordes of Afghans desperate to leave the country, racing after them.

Said President Joseph Biden: “Over our country’s 20 years at war in Afghanistan, America has sent its finest young men and women, invested nearly $1 trillion dollars, trained over 300,000 Afghan soldiers and police, equipped them with state-of-the-art military equipment, and maintained their air force as part of the longest war in U.S. history.” 

Joe Biden presidential portrait.jpg

Joseph Biden

Just as the South Vietnamese Army had chosen flight instead of fight, so, too, did the Afghan Army—in just 10 days.

“One more year, or five more years, of U.S. military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country,” said Biden. “And an endless American presence in the middle of another country’s civil conflict was not acceptable to me.

“When I came to office, I inherited a deal cut by my predecessor—which he invited the Taliban to discuss at Camp David on the eve of 9/11 of 2019—that left the Taliban in the strongest position militarily since 2001 and imposed a May 1, 2021 deadline on U.S. Forces.

Related image

Donald Trump

“Shortly before he left office, he also drew U.S. Forces down to a bare minimum of 2,500. Therefore, when I became President, I faced a choice—follow through on the deal, with a brief extension to get our forces and our allies’ forces out safely, or ramp up our presence and send more American troops to fight once again in another country’s civil conflict.

“I was the fourth President to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan—two Republicans, two Democrats. I would not, and will not, pass this war onto a fifth.”

Republicans have since tried hard to blame the resulting chaos on Biden. But in doing so they deliberately ignore the role played by his predecessor, Donald Trump, in facilitating that rout.

As Biden noted, Trump had invited the Taliban to Camp David to discuss the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan.  Making this offer thoroughly disgraceful were two factors:

First: The date for this conference was on the eve of the 18th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of those attacks, was then living in Afghanistan under the protection of the Taliban.

It was the refusal of the Taliban to turn him over to American justice that led directly to the American invasion of Afghanistan in October, 2001.

Second: Pointedly uninvited to this conference were any members of the Afghan government, which—officially—the United States regarded as a valuable ally. 

There is a brutal lesson here that Americans have long refused to learn: Bad allies make for bad outcomes. Those who refuse to defend themselves cannot be bribed or forced to do so by others. 

Contrast the “I have to catch a plane” cowardice of Afghan soldiers with the courage of Ukrainian soldiers—and civilians—fiercely defending their country from Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked Russian invasion. 

During the assault by Russian troops on the capital of Kiev, the Biden administration urged President Volodymyr Zelensky to evacuate to a safer location and offered to help him do so. Zelensky refused, saying: “The fight is here [in Kiev]; I need ammunition, not a ride.”

Until Presidents and Congressional leaders learn to distinguish worthwhile allies from worthless ones, Americans will continue to waste lives and treasure on the latter.

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