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An Old Debate Wrapped in New Clothes

The traditional opponents in the Afghanistan/America debate have once again taken their place: buildup versus withdrawal. However, recent news reports lack any historical perspective of America’s presence in Afghanistan dating to the Cold War. Details of Washington politics are not sufficient to inform the public about the war in Afghanistan.

Begun as a proxy war between the U.S.S.R. and the U.S., the Afghanistan conflict has been a dumping ground for Marxist, capitalist and jihad ideologies as well as their common enforcement mechanisms: automatic weapons and explosives.

Karl W. Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to the oh-so-troubled “state” of Afghanistan, is now advising President Obama against troop increases given the amount of corruption he sees in the current Karzai government. Meanwhile, Obama’s security team, including Secretaries Clinton and Gates, support sending 30,000 additional troops.

That there was only jubilation on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, even though it coincided with Obama’s rapidly approaching moment-of-truth on Afghanistan, demonstrates that the media are blind to history.

The fall of the Berlin Wall was instrumental in the development of America’s policy toward Afghanistan, which had been until that moment to make the Soviets pay for their Asian adventurism. The event rekindled the very debate we are still having: buildup versus withdrawal.

Buildup did not win, but certainly neither did withdrawal.

Once the Soviet Union dissolved, the American CIA remained in Afghanistan supporting Pakistan’s regional interests by funneling arms through Pakistani intelligence to anti-communist rebels.

Today the CIA is most likely on Karzai’s side since (a) this is the official American position and (b) his brother is a paid informant.

According to Steve Coll’s 2005, Pulitzer-winning Ghost Wars, the Karzai family supported the Taliban for reasons of political exigency. Now that position is surely untenable given that he has American backing, but the point is that alliances in these circumstances have been as inconstant as the wind.

Belief that the Afghanistan question can be answered without a little history on the table will not, in the most meaningful sense, produce any lasting results.


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