I Wonder How Long Before Obama Will Be Reciting The Speech Gorbachev Gave Babrak Karmal To Hamid Karzai
I've been spending some time talking with Democratic congressmen understandably nervous about how to confront the Afghanistan problem. None of the ones I talk to are for the war, of course, but some are reluctant to oppose Obama, who, they all seem to have convinced themselves, really is trying to do the right thing and does have a plan to get out in an orderly and timely fashion. They may have convinced themselves, but they haven't convinced me.
The congressman I talked to yesterday doesn't talk that way and doesn't think that way-- and it's hard for me to think of him as "nervous" about anything. As I've heard him say before, he's been shot at on more continents than most people have been to, and his doctors once gave him a couple months to live because of a lethal cancer. Today Eric Massa, a lifelong naval officer from a military family, is one of Congress' leading lights opposing the occupation of and escalation in Afghanistan.
He was on the professional staff of the House Armed Services Committee, and when he was asked to prepare a white paper on the feasibility of invading Iraq, he started it with a statement claiming it would be the worst strategic blunder the United States had ever made. He told me today that he feels Obama is going down a similar road. I've been reading Seth Jones' In the Graveyard of Empires, and Massa's assessment didn't take me by surprise... not even a little. Let me share a little of Jones' background material on the catastrophic Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. The Russians' experience in the '80s sounds very much like what I was reading in the NY Times this morning. This is today:
In five days of fighting, the Taliban have shown a side not often seen in nearly a decade of American military action in Afghanistan: the use of snipers, both working alone and integrated into guerrilla-style ambushes.
...The Marine who was killed was struck in the chest as he ran, just above the bulletproof plate on his body armor, the Marines said. The others were struck in a hand or arm. (The names of the three wounded men have been withheld pending government notification of their families.) ... Whoever was firing remained hidden, even from the Marines’ rifle scopes. “I was looking and I couldn’t see them,” said Staff Sgt. Jay C. Padilla, an intelligence specialist who made the crossing with First Platoon. “But they were shooting the dirt right next to us.”
This is a couple decades ago, when the U.S. was deliberately using the Afghans to destabilize the Soviet Union and give them their very own Vietnam experience:
The mujahideen, with ISI assistance, relied on two of the oldest tactics of warfare: the raid and the ambush. Soviet conscripts referred to the Afghan mujahideen as dukhi, or ghosts. Since the Soviets were vulnerable to guerilla warfare, the local troops slowly picked them apart in rural areas through a campaign of sabotage, assassinations, targeted raids and stand-off rocket attacks. As Mohammed Yousaf acknowledged, "Death by a thousand cuts-- this is the time-honored tactics of the guerilla army against a large conventional force. In Afghanistan it was the only way to bring the Soviet bear to its knees; the only way to defeat a superpower of the battlefield with ill-trained, ill-disciplined and ill-equipped tribesmen, whose only asset was an unconquerable fighting spirit welded to a warrior tradition."
In rural areas the situation worsened over time for the Soviets as mujahideen forces gained popular support and control. The Soviets never committed the forces needed for a purely military conquest of the mujahideen, and, according to one assessment, they would have needed more than 300,000 troops to attain even a small chance of controlling the mujahideen... The Soviet troops alienated local Afghans.
What fools! Imagine an occupying force alienating the locals! Who could ever do something so foolish? Thank God all that accidental killing of women, children and other noncombatants doesn't count-- nor do those pesky predator drones that seem to have shot up every Afghan wedding since around the time a drunken Dick Cheney blasted 78-year-old Harry Whittington in the face.
Initial Soviet assessments of the war were optimistic, but by 1985, Soviet leaders had become increasingly concerned. At a Politburo session on October 17, 1985, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev read letters from Soviet citizens expressing growing dissatisfaction with the war if Afghanistan. At the same time, Gorbachev also described his meeting with Babrak Karmal in which he said the Soviet Union would pull its troops from Afghanistan.
"Karmal was dumbfounded," Gorbachev noted. "He had expected anything but this from us, he was sure we needed Afghanistan even more than he did, he's been counting on us to stay there for a long time-- if not forever."
This is why Gorbachev believed it was essential to repeat his message. "By the summer of 1986, you'll have to have figured out how to defend your cause on your own," Gorbachev continued to Karmal, who was beside himself with shock. "We'll help you, but with arms only, not troops. And if you want to survive you'll have to broaden the base of the regime, forget socialism, make a deal with truly influential forces, including the Mujahideen commanders and leaders of now-hostile organizations."
Gorbachev's ultimatum was grounded in good intelligence, and Soviet military assessments were bleak. Sergei Akhromeyev, the Soviet deputy minister of defense, told the Politburo: "At the center there is authority; in the provinces there is not. We control Kabul and provincial centers, but on occupied territory we cannot establish authority. We have lost the battle for the Afghan people."
So have we-- and the sooner President Obama realizes that and deals with it, the sooner the killing and devastation will end. And who knows, maybe we'll stop wasting the billions and billions of dollars that are going for nothing whatsoever, except to make war profiteers even richer.
This is the video of Eric Massa speaking on the floor of Congress which we have up on the Blue America page No Means No: