On Afghanistan

As readers of this blog may have realized, I have been more active in posting items on the blog’s Facebook page, rather than writing thoughts and observations here. There is a good reason for this omission – and it has a lot to do with the core reasons why I engage in the political discourse and study it so much. 

Since the middle of August, I have been watching with great interest the activities in Afghanistan as the United States military has been pulling out, and our military operations there end. Many days during the pullout, I would read and find articles that helped frame the activities – citing sources such as Lawfare Review, the review of the day by historian Heather Cox Richardson on her Facebook page as well as a swath of news from sources ranging from National Review to the Atlantic. 

But so much information was put out there that it was even hard for me to keep focused on what the real issues were. And then you add in the daily activities from the evacuation – the bombings killing 13 US Marines, the human suffering happening with people climbing over the gates of the Kabul Airport, and to the unknowing eye, this seemed totally over the top. 

While we did abandon US equipment in Kabul, we didn’t need to toss it overboard into the South China sea after the fall of Saigon
PC: “050516-M-3509K-001” by manhhai is licensed under CC BY 2.0 Copy

With me, though, I looked at it as a “compare-contrast” to my extensive study of the collapse of governments in the modern era. It was the focused study of the fall of Saigon in April 1975 that led me, eventually study and earn both my degree and master’s degree in Political Science from the University Of Hawaii. 

Eventually, with this interest, I started studying many other falls of governments in the modern era, starting with the Fall of the Imperial government in Iran in 1979, the total collapse of both armed and civil control of Mainland China to the Communists between 1946 and 1949, the fall of the 1970-1975 government of Cambodia in 1975, and to a bit lesser extent, the end of the Soviet Union in 1991. 

So in watching what was happening at Kabul with the withdraw of forces, a lot of what was happening there started to slot into other historical events, some with an eerie level of similarity. For instance:

Shah of Iran's tomb
Some deposed leaders get the chance to go home after death. Some don’t, one example is the Shah of Iran, buried in Cairo.
PC: “Shah of Iran’s tomb” by scotted400 is licensed under CC BY 2.0
17 April 1975 - Khmer Rouge fighters celebrate as they enter Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia (AFP)
Amrican equipment left over from a collapse of an allied army by the enemy is many times repurposed, Here the Khmer Rouge is riding into Phnom Penh on a Chevy or GMC truck.
PC:“17 April 1975 – Khmer Rouge fighters celebrate as they enter Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia (AFP)” by manhhai is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Talking about year zero, one last thought about how the issue of Afghanistan is being portrayed by both the media and political pundits with a bias. As mentioned in a recent broadcast of “Pod Save America” the fact that any historical analysis of American action before 9/11was eliminated is quite disturbing. In their episode entitled “The Media’s Afghanistan Amnesia” broadcast on 8/23/2021, the hosts said, 

“[Spencer Ackerman’s book about the war on terror] gets into this too. After nine 11 history started the minute after the nine 11 attacks for us and American exceptionalism meant that we were a force for good in the world. And the people that attacked us were evil and Susan Sontag and other people who tried to like talk about the complexity of the U S relationship to Afghanistan, Pakistan, the middle east, the fact that we supported the Mujahideen when they were fighting it’s the Soviets were run out of town, were, were drummed out of the conversation. And even when like meet like state department officials, like Richard Armitage would go and try to meet with foreign leaders in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan, they would try to talk to them about the complexity and the history of the place. And he said, there’s a quote in one.” 

The conversation continued in which this statement encompassed a lot of what is going on at an intellectual level, “I refuse to hear context. It always starts today. Every new day is the beginning of history.”

Sir Winston Churchill, The Roaring Lion
Winston Churchill also is credited with the quote from George Santayana

(Transcript provided by Podscribe)

Not just with Afghanistan, and the actions of Americans there, but with COVID and a host of other rigmarole things, eliminating historical context and thinking this is the first time ever anything has happened is both intellectually bankrupt and dangerous. As Spanish philosopher George Santayana said, 

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.