“We can defeat the Taliban.” McChrystal
Like Judas of old,
you lie and deceive
A world war can be won
you want me to believe.
Masters of War,
General McChrystal told the Senate on Dec. 1, “We can defeat the Taliban. I think that is absolutely achievable.”
We have the best military in the world—the best trained, best equipped, best supported—and it’s still not going to be good enough to defeat the Taliban.
If there is one lesson that history taught loud and clear in the 20th Century it is that conventional forces cannot defeat a guerrilla insurgency
if it has the support of the local population.
The people in Afghanistan have a long history of defeating invaders, from
Genghis Khan to the British Empire to the Russians. They watch them come in, step back, harass their supply lines and then bleed them to death with a thousand cuts. The Russians should have understood that. That’s how Russia defeated Napoleon’s army in 1812. We should understand that. It’s how we defeated the British in 1776. Have we forgotten that “the shot heard round
the world” was fired from behind a tree?
But modern guerrilla warfare is most clearly defined by Mao Zedong’s military strategy against Chiang Kai Shek. After the defeat of the Canton
Uprising in 1927, and the slaughter of over 5,000 communists and revolutionaries, and being under siege in the border region governments they’d established in Hunan Province, Mao and the Chinese Communist Party, in 1934, decided the only strategy they could sensibly adopt was a strategic retreat.
Their Long March took over a year and traveled more than 8,000 miles. If they stayed in one spot too long, Chiang Kai Shek’s Nationalist Army
would come and annihilate them, but if they kept on the move their forces were stronger than any feudal landlord or gangster warlord. In every village the peasants greeted them as liberators. Typically, they would call
a meeting of the village and let the peasants determine the fates of the landlords and gangsters who had ruled them for centuries. The Red Army lost every battle, but by 1949 they won the entire nation. They traded time for space.
They let the Nationalists invade and occupy the major cities and railroad stations. They encircled them and drew a noose around them.
Another way of looking at that experience (and our own in Afghanistan) is that Chiang Kai Shek was playing chess, and Mao was playing Go. In chess you train your major pieces on the center of the board. Generally, whoever controls the center of the board will control the game. In Go, or Wei Ch’i as it’s known in China, there are no major pieces. All stones are worth the same. You take turns placing them on the board. The object is to control territory and to surround and eliminate your enemy. If you can build your stones so there is space in your center, then your stones will live. If you can surround your opponent so he has no way to connect to an open center, then you capture his stones and win his territory.
It generally doesn’t work very well when the right wing tries to imitate this strategy. There’s something about right-wing thugs that doesn’t win the hearts and minds of the local peasantry. The Contras in Nicaragua and the paramilitaries in Colombia had a reputation as terrorist death squads.
Mao said a guerrilla must live like a fish in water. The people are their sea. If the people reject them, then they die. So, most of their energies are spent doing political work, education and organizing cooperatives.
This was true for the civil wars in China and Cuba, but wars of imperialist aggression are slightly different. The civil war in China was interrupted with the invasion of the Japanese. The Red Army agreed to a truce with the
Nationalists and worked with them, but in many instances the Nationalists betrayed them and collaborated with the Japanese. Chiang Kai Shek had the same strategy with Mao as Churchill and Roosevelt had with Stalin. They agreed to an alliance and promised to help, but held back hoping the communists and the fascists would kill off each other. This was a fatal blunder because it soon became clear that it was the communists that were
fighting the fascists, and, therefore, people naturally believed that it was the communists’ right to run the government. That’s why there were so many left-wing governments in France and Italy after the War. That’s why Tito was the national hero of Yugoslavia.
In Afghanistan, there’s no need for political education. Everyone knows the drill. The foreigner comes in; the young men go up into the hills; they harass and attack the enemy; they get support from their families in the villages; and eventually the foreigner gets tired, goes broke and goes home; and the young men are treated like heroes. This war, like every war, is being sold as vital to our national interests.
What do they have in Afghanistan that is vital to our national interests?
They have only two things of value in the country: the Khyber Pass and opium. The Khyber Pass is the route through the Hindu Kush mountain range. It’s the preferred route to deliver natural gas from Turkmenistan, through Afghanistan to Pakistan and India. Unocal and other U. S. oil companies want to control that Pass, not to bring that natural gas to the U. S. but so they can mark up the price of natural gas when they buy it from Turkmenistan and sell it down the line to clients in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. It has nothing to do with our vital national interests. And,
yet, our troops and our treasure are sent to defend it.
The natural gas goes from west to east, and the opium travels from east to west, but even the opium doesn’t reach American shores. It is made into heroin and either travels through Pakistan around Iran, through Iraq to Turkey and then to Europe, or it goes back through Turkmenistan to Turkey and Europe. The Taliban had effectively eliminated the production of opium during their short regime. Today, thanks to the hard work of the CIA, our great allies—the opium warlords and Hamid Karzai’s brother, opium production in Afghanistan is back up to 93 percent of the world’s total.
Is protecting that part of our vital national interests?
There is one thing in Afghanistan that we want, and that is Osama bin Laden. He’s either in Afghanistan or close by in Pakistan. He was a principal in a plot to murder almost 3,000 Americans. He should be brought to justice.
Immediately after 9/11 he said he would submit himself to the judgment of an Islamic court. We should take him up on that. We should encourage an Islamic court to convene and hear evidence and render judgment on his participation in that horrendous act.
But sending more troops will in no way bring us closer to peace. The patriotism and the courage of U. S. troops is not in question, but Tennyson’s conclusion over a century ago still haunts us today: Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred. ‘Forward, the Light Brigade!’
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldiers knew
Some one had blunder’d:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die, Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred.