Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Prophet Tom Clancy

I started rereading Tom Clancy's The Hunt For Red October, one of his best back before he started churning out just awful, predictable books before his death. It was written in 1984, some years before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the death of the Soviet Union. It later became a popular movie but not a terribly good one, thanks in part to Sean Connery trying to talk with a Russian accent in his Scottish accent (a close second in cringe to him trying to sound Irish with a Scottish accent) and the presence of uber-liberal Alex Baldwin, a casting choice that apparently irritated Clancy.


It doesn't get much play in the book but it does warrant several glancing mentions that this fictional story was happening in the middle of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, an occupation that lasted a decade (1979-1989). The occupation resulted in some 14,000 Soviet fatal casualties and tens of thousands more wounded. It also led to a perception of weakness and was a source of smugness among Americans who knew we were aiding the mujahideen. The Soviets were bled for a decade and in the end retreated from Afghanistan. The Soviet Union collapsed shortly thereafter. I was struck by a statement Clancy penned early in the book from his main protagonist, at that time CIA analyst Jack Ryan regarding Afghanistan.
“Sir, the truth is that Moscow moved in there by mistake. We know that from both military and political intelligence reports. The tenor of the data is pretty clear. From where I sit, I don’t see that they know what they want to do. In a case like this the bureaucratic mind finds it most easy to do nothing. So, their field commanders are told to continue the mission, while the senior party bosses fumble around looking for a solution and covering their asses for getting into the mess in the first place.” 
Wow, that sounds familiar. A misguided occupation of Afghanistan with no clear objectives but sustained by bureaucratic inertia and a fear of looking weak. The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan lasted a little less than 10 years. The U.S. occupation is entering the 16th year with no sign of a "victory", no actual objectives that anyone can name and the looming reality that when we eventually leave, the Taliban will take right back over and things will go back to how they were. The same Taliban as an aside that grew out of the mujahideen that were our buddies when they fought the Soviets but now are our enemies. Ironic, no?

Staying in Afghanistan because we don't know what else to do and can't figure out a way to leave without losing face is criminally incompetent. We are on our third administration overseeing this fiasco with no sign of a change in policy. On the bright side there have "only" been around 2,000 fatal casualties for U.S. troops which is a lot better than the Soviets losing 14,000.

Afghanistan has often been referred to as the graveyard of empires or where empires go to die. The British learned this. The Soviets learned this. We apparently are refusing to learn the same lesson. Every day we stay there bleeds our nation a little more and accomplishes nothing. It is high time for someone to have the courage to realize and say out loud that we have no mission in Afghanistan, no discernible objectives and no way to "win" when we don't even know what winning means. President Trump needs to be the maverick he ran as being and get us out of Afghanistan. We should not sacrifice even one more American life in the pursuit of an unknown goal. Osama bin Laden is dead, the Taliban are ascendent yet again and we need to wash our hands of that country.

The only real question left is how many more American kids will die in that desolate wasteland before we finally leave.
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