Fight or Fix: Afghanistan and other wars-of-choice
It is now generally acknowledged that after 19 years, Afghanistan is a failed war.
It is a failed war because it is a war, and the problem in Afghanistan called for a different solution…just like Vietnam. The problem called for a “Fix” instead of a Fight.
A Fix is a solution that gets at the essence of the problem…the meaning of the problem. Vietnam for example could not be “won”. It could have been “Fixed”, but this was not tried. The Fix would have been an American offer to help create a market economy, following through on Ho Chi Minh’s admiration for the American Declaration of Independence. In 1945, Ho Chi Minh proclaimed the independent Democratic Republic of Vietnam in Hanoi’s Ba Dinh square. The first lines of his speech repeated verbatim the famous second paragraph of America’s 1776 Declaration of Independence: “All men are created equal…” A prosperous market economy, supported by America, could eventually evolve into a more democratic society. Today, in fact, Vietnam has created its own market economy, dominated by small businesses acting independently, and is forecast to be the fastest-growing economy in the world[i][ii].
At the very pivot point of the Fight-or-Fix decision, the Americans chose Fight. There was no reason to do that. Decades later Vietnam has ended up in the Western camp despite America’s war that alienated its government.
In both these Vietnam and Afghanistan, the “Fix” option was overlooked. As a result, America’s most respected institution — the military — has failed to win the two salient military actions of the last 60-plus years: Vietnam and Afghanistan. It failed to achieve clear victories, or even its own stated objectives, over the course of, respectively, America’s deadliest and longest foreign wars.
Since 1900, there have been three “necessary” wars that were thrust upon America — wars where American choice was limited: World War 2, World War 1, and the Korean War. All the other wars since 1965 (when troops were officially sent to Vietnam), were wars America chose to fight. In well over half of the years since Vietnam (58%), America has chosen to be at war.
In Afghanistan the U.S. choice of ‘Fight’ forced the Taliban into a corner, because to them the issue is the Cause: a religiously-inspired country free from foreign influence. Today this prevents the current American client ‘government’ from claiming legitimacy and from encouraging citizens to ‘own the fight’. The citizens already ‘own the fight’, but they are fighting for the Taliban.
Why did the U.S. select “Fight” instead of opting to Fix the problem? Did America’s leaders even realize that choices — Fight or Fix — existed?
The U.S. went to war in Afghanistan to punish the people behind 9/11 attack. The attackers were in fact Saudis, striking for the Cause of Palestine. Osama bin Laden said that his only reason for 9/11 was to make the Americans realize there were consequences for America’s continuing destruction of Palestine through its unilateral support of Israel. This truth was too painful to announce in America, so they attributed the ‘cause’ to named “terrorism”. But terrorism isn’t a cause — it is a tool; a weapon. You might as well declare war on a sack of hammers. The cause that triggered 9/11 and the knee-jerk attack on Afghanistan was Palestine — which actually has nothing directly to do with Afghanistan, other than the Saudi supporters of Palestine were hiding there.
In the beginning of the conflict the Taliban recognized this and offered the U.S. a Fix: they would expel bin Laden and his supporters to a neutral country if the U.S. could provide evidence that he was behind the attack. Their offer was brushed aside — “We know he’s guilty”, said Bush — and now, some two decades later, the U.S. has finally realized that to exit from the conflict it has to accept the same fix as was originally offered to Bush! In another twist of irony, bin Laden was not even hiding in Afghanistan; he was hiding in a neutral country (Pakistan).
In the meantime the U.S. has spent $718-billion in Afghanistan since 2001, out of a total of $1.5-trillion it has spent in the region (including Syria and Iraq, but not including support for Israel). To this ledger needs to be added the uncountable grief of 2,400 American and 100,000 Afghan deaths.
It was all pointless, because the U.S. had no Cause to follow. The expensively-trained Afghan commandos, structured on the U.S. model, depended on U.S. air support, and when this was missing, they were surrounded by the Taliban and hunted down. The outposts the U.S. army built for the Afghans, for example, were built for American soldiers, not the Afghanis. Now they sit abandoned on the lonely hills, their only company being the silent ruins of the forts built by Alexander the Great.
This failure has only begun to show its effects. When the U.S. stops making the war payments, the client Afghan government will fold because it can’t afford to keep up the spending. It is already listed as the fourth most corrupt government in the world; a corrupt regime trapped in bankruptcy will be very ugly. The war has tarnished the U.S. military as well, which has drifted to reporting war indicators that are more misleading each year (Centre for Strategic and International Studies ). Again, Vietnam comes to mind.
But by attacking Afghanistan, the U.S. made war when it didn’t need to. Afghanis have been winning wars about national sovereignty and cultural pride since the time of Alexander. Ask Alexander where his campaign successes led…
Today the U.S. has been reduced to continuous statements that ‘progress is being made’…just as they did in Vietnam. And like in Vietnam, they continue to slide backward. Only about half of the country is now controlled by U.S. allies.
The military is not to blame for this. Just like in Vietnam, the military is a salute-and-get-it-done organization. It has to be. No general is empowered to criticize the civilian powers; doing so would only hurt the morale of the soldiers on the ground….making the war even harder to win. But at some point, the soldiers on the ground begin to distrust the generals — who were put in their unenviable position not-of-their-own-accord — and their effectiveness wanes. This happened in Vietnam.
If a situation is unwinnable, it may be because the civilian powers ignore the essence of the problem, cast aside a Fix, and turn to the wrong option, the Fight option. After the “Fix” decision has been ignored, they tell the military: ‘this is your objective: win this war…how are you going to do it?’. And the military will answer by its rulebook: “yes we will do it and yes we will win”. If you pour in more resources, you should win. Vietnam got up to 500,000 men before the truth hit home: they were still not winning!
The wrong choice was made, and it led to an unwinnable and unnecessary war. North Vietnam won the “Fight” option because its raison d’etre was predicated on the idea that Vietnam meant all of Vietnam. It was not going to lose. The only winning “Fight” option for the U.S. would have been to nuke and erase all of North Vietnam. That was not going to happen. Policy-makes like McNamara at that time had no idea that this spirit is what they were fighting…the U.S. leaders thought they could reach some kind of bargaining point where the North would quit, but for the North it was binary: win or die trying.
The right questions were not asked in Afghanistan and the war got started on the wrong premise. How many lives? How much money? Where else could these precious resources be used…?
Social fairness in the U.S.. perhaps?
Price Waterhouse Coopers, February 2017
Cost of Avoidable Wars
o Of the 55 total years involved since 1965, America has been in a major war for 58% of the time.
+ US Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie told Hussein that “We have no opinion on your Arab-Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait. Secretary Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction, first given to Iraq in the 1960s, that the Kuwait issue is not associated with America.” This we-aren’t-involved statement was reinforced for Hussein during a public Congressional hearing on Iraq, in which Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs John Kelly confirmed that the U.S. had no obligation of defending Kuwait from an attack.
Figures come from:
Neta Crawford, chair of the political science department at Boston University, in her Costs of War project, estimated the long term cost of the Iraq War for the United States at $1.922 trillion. This figure includes not only funding appropriated to the Pentagon explicitly for the war, but spending on Iraq by the State Department, the healthcare of Iraq War veterans, and the interest expense on debt incurred to fund 17 years of U.S. military involvement in the country
According to a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report published in October 2007, the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could cost taxpayers a total of $2.4 trillion by 2017 including interest.