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Is the Afghan conflict the U.S.' Waterloo?

Posted: November 20, 2009 3:49 p.m.
Updated: November 22, 2009 4:55 a.m.
The axiom that the world’s destiny is in the hands of bankers and industrialists is never more evident than in wartime. The lords of capital and the cannon merchants thrive on the menace of conflict and the conduct of war. They prosper when the first shots ring out. No sooner do hostilities cease than they itch for another war, another opportunity to pillage the national treasury.

And so, military transports will keep bringing home body bags and flag-draped caskets. Posthumous medals will be cast to honor young people who die — or commit suicide when the nausea of blood, gore and the futility of unwinnable wars overcomes them.

Bugles will play taps and 21-gun salutes will ring out in the grief-filled stillness of a hundred cemeteries.

And, now dubbed the focal point of the “war on terrorism,” Afghanistan, remote, immense, wild and inhospitable — “the graveyard of empires” — will continue to thwart efforts to pacify, domesticate and democratize by military means an enclave throbbing with xenophobia and religious fervor.

It was in 330 BCE that Alexander the Great, trying to conquer Afghanistan, faced his fiercest battles and greatest losses. He gave up after four years.

The first and second Anglo-Afghan War ended in a disastrous defeat for the British, first in 1842, then in 1879.

The Russians invaded Afghanistan in 1979. They endured a nine-year conflict involving catastrophic losses in men and material.

Five years after invading Afghanistan, they were bogged down in a guerrilla war of increasing intensity. They failed to reduce the insurgency or win acceptance by the Afghan people. Instead, Afghan resistance grew bolder and gained unanimous popular support.

Fighting gradually spread to all parts of Afghanistan. Soviet airfields, garrisons and lines of communication were ultimately disabled.

A “sanitized” document released by the U.S. Directorate of Intelligence tallies Soviet losses at “roughly” 25,000 casualties, with 600 helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, and thousands of armored vehicles and trucks destroyed.

“We estimate casualties in the Afghan Army at about 67,000 and insurgent casualties at some 40,000, not including civilian sympathizers,” according to the intelligence document.

The Soviet program to transform Afghanistan into a reliable client state failed. So did efforts at media indoctrination of Afghans, most of whom are illiterate, suspicious of all foreigners, religious and wed to unshakable ancestral values. Temporary loyalties and sporadic truces were obtained through bribery and deception — a subterfuge the U.S. has admitted to using — then lost.

Napoleon’s vast army’s debacle on the frozen steppes of Russia in 1812, history agrees, was the result of a fundamental error in judgment: A formidable juggernaut is no match for the courage, selflessness, mettle and patience of a dedicated, patriotic people, no matter how outnumbered they might be.

In exile on Elba and reflecting on his losses before escaping, reconstituting an army and taking on the Duke of Wellington, Napoleon quipped, “A leader has the right to be defeated, but never to be surprised.” He was both surprised and soundly defeated at Waterloo.

More than a century later, a mediocre painter and a megalomaniac — Adolf Hitler — who chose surprise over the prophetic nature of history, emulated Napoleon and invaded Russia. And “General Winter,” the same redoubtable and invincible strategist that decimated France’s Imperial Army (Napoleon lost more than half a million men) and the heroism of Russian troops made short shrift of the Führer’s best units.

The mighty Wehrmacht was not equipped for winter warfare. Frostbite and disease caused more casualties than combat. The dead and wounded had already reached 155,000 in the first three weeks of fighting. By the end of the offensive, more than 1.5 million German soldiers had perished.

The war in Afghanistan, while vastly different from the Napoleonic and German campaigns against Russia, will be lost owing a dynamic common to both: The U.S. is fighting against well-organized, disciplined and dedicated patriots who know and control the terrain and who, like quicksilver, scatter and disappear into the innumerable chasms, furrows and crevices that cleave that country’s vast mountainous terrain. Unwavering and deeply rooted religious convictions, a passionate love of country and an abhorrence of foreign influences, which they regard as insufferable meddling and subjugation, give the Afghans added leverage.

The proposed doubling of U.S. troops in Afghanistan will please the bankers and military contractors to no end. It may retard but cannot forestall an inevitable and humiliating defeat.

Dead or alive, Osama bin Laden has been elevated to symbolic eminence. Dead or alive, his message and his mission continue to inspire and galvanize Muslims around the world. It is only when the U.S. awakens from its mythical delusions of grandeur and moral superiority, and sees the world through less myopic and arrogant eyes that the world can relax long enough to chance what could be the beginning of a meaningful dialogue between a nation long perceived as an imperialist bully and the rest of the world.

W. E. Gutman is a veteran journalist. He lives in Rosamond. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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