Listening to that wonderful Monday speech by our New Fearless Leader, I was reminded of the last and best book by the late Barbara Tuchman: “The March of Folly”. Her thesis is that human folly is an under-studied aspect of human history.
She defined folly as a self-destructive policy or strategy, pursued for an extended period of time across years, and multiple changes of governments, and which persists in the face of repeated warnings and mounting evidence of the depth of the folly.
Her opening chapter was a hoot, a broad historical review of examples. Then she studied, in detail, three in particular: the final six Roman Popes who eventually forced a guy name of Marin Luther to rebel, then the self-destructive British policy towards their American colonies, from the end of the 7 Year’s War through to Cornwallis’ surrender, and finally, US policy and follies in Vietnam from the 1950’s to the 1970’s. All three ended in disaster for the self-deluded.
Were she still with us, a fourth chapter could be written, already, concerning Afghanistan.
And Donnie is doubling down on the folly, just as our good host on these boards recently said that he tends to do. It’s one of the consistent, predicable habits that he exhibits, that opponents can exploit. Which is sad. But I digress.
The Great New Policy, so far as I can tell, consists of three major planks:
- “Take the gloves off”, “Fight to win”, which translates to “Kill more people, faster”.
- “Pakistan shall immediately change its policies and practices”, and
- “India will be invited to help develop Afghanistan.”
OK, let’s check this out.
The first plank assumes there is some definition of “victory” as WE understand it, that can be achieved in a complex civil war within an Asian nation. Despite the presence near the Head Cheese of one Gen. McMaster, the Army’s favorite historian of Vietnam, this plank ignores the central lesson of Vietnam – that American notions of “victory” are rarely translatable to the ground within Asian nations, especially fouled-up ones, with their own local definitions of their own conflicts. Confusion over that simple word “victory” was a central element of our Vietnam Folly.
It also assumes that the people of Afghanistan will tolerate a long-term peace among themselves. This ignores the reality of what that “nation” really is, a hodgepodge of at least four hostile tribal groups, with different languages, whose central entertainment is to plan their next betrayal-and-revolt. They’ve been at it, literally, for millennia in those hills. Alexander the Great dealt had to deal with it, in his day. His solution was to march onwards to India, and ignore them. He was smart to do so.
The speech barely mentioned that our NATO allies, ALL of them, have also been involved in Afghanistan. And it assumes they will remain involved, as the body counts soar again, even as the Donald has already ruined his own standing and leverage with all of those allies – and already insulted all of them, about Afghanistan in particular.
The second plank assumes that the Pakistani Army, the only institution that matters in that country, is willing to change their decades-long policy of harboring, financing and training violent thugs, and then cease their low-level but constant warfare-by-proxy against not only Afghanistan but also Iran and India. And they are to do this, “immediately”. The folly in that word alone, was simply amazing.
The ISI, their military intelligence section, basically invented the “Taliban”. They harbored UBL in a house just 740 meters from the south gate of their military academy, in the home town of the Army of Pakistan. They protect the exiled head of the Taliban, in a compound in Quetta, and have ever since we invaded Afghanistan in 2002. They wage war-by-proxy constantly. But they will now change such policies, “immediately”. Righto.
The third plank assumes that this Pakistani cooperation and new-found peaceableness will happen, while we encourage their major enemy India to become more deeply involved in developing Afghanistan, behind them. Righto, again! THAT guarantees that the second plank is a non-starter. Look at a map to see why.
Closer relations with India, for us, is a great idea. We really did ally with the wrong side in the 1950’s, between India and Pakistan, while the old USSR supported India. We got the loser’s prize, an alliance with a new “nation” set up on a foul basis from the beginning, which went downhill from there and is horribly dysfunctional as a society and government. But that fouled-up ally now owns nukes. And those nukes are held by their field generals, in four army groups that face India, on a non-defendable long border.
There is no viable path to any American notion of “victory” in Afghanistan without fundamental changes in Pakistan, our dear and long-term ally. And those are to occur “immediately”.
A fundamental element of any folly is “bad assumptions“.
This Great New Policy is based on a slew of them.
And again, this folly will get more Americans killed too. And lots of Afghanis.