As I was perusing the Guns & Patriots web page today I came across a piece by Lt. Col. Oliver North. He was discussing the Afghanistan withdrawal in terms of what the risks were vs. the gains that we’ve made–in particular, since the most recent surge. In the end, he argued that the gains will not go to waste despite the early pullout, because the motivation of Afghan volunteers in the local and national forces goes beyond the desire to defend their homeland: they also want the education that comes with their training. This has benefitted them tremendously, as well.
I think Col. North could have done more to support his point, and he could certainly have provided more details, rather than simply mentioning the illiteracy rate in Afghanistan and telling an anecdote about a recruit and a book. Yet he did get me to think about the implications here: whether or not we achieve our highest objectives, we are leaving a legacy that stands in stark opposition to our enemies’ approach.
The question is, what kind of legacy will that be? And how will it affect the future of Afghanistan? Thus far, we’ve trained some 160,000 Afghan National Army recruits, with the goal of adding another 100,000—all from the ground up. By “from the ground up,” I mean that we taught them to read, write, and shoot. Such a foundational influence has to amount to something, right? Previously, they were under Taliban rule, which is quite the opposite of everything our mission has swept in. Maybe that will create more heartache in the end. Maybe it won’t.
Alas, as Pete Hegseth described in his “Afghanistan: First Impressions” update, despite our efforts the Taliban still wield a heavy hand in most areas, not because the people don’t desire a more stable country, but because their government cannot give them one:
The fact is, at the ground level, the Taliban are usually much more effective at providing swift, if harsh, (and fair, as perceived by the people) justice. In short, the Afghan government is being “out-governed” by the Taliban.
So although the Afghan people have been influenced in ways that should work against the Taliban, none of that can effectively counterbalance the considerable pressure and influence the group still wields. What positive impact can we have if people don’t have the ability to absorb it, and keep it around long enough to integrate it into their culture—or at the very least, into their hopes?
This gives us additional reason to consider the “shining city on a hill” theory, which holds that the example of America is meant to inspire others to seek the same freedoms we embrace. We’ve done our part in inspiring Afghanistan, I’d say, and further still, we worked to create the conditions such that they might follow our example of self-governance. And yet it still hasn’t fully taken root. The situation is still too new, and the people are still fighting the same forces that prevented freedom from catching on.
Will everyone seek out freedom on their own, after seeing our example? In places like Afghanistan, that can be impossible without America’s help. With the strength of the evil that drives the last oppressive regimes in the world, will it take the first shining city to heed their cries into salvation? Or failing that, will it take a chance?
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Back to education being a point of hope for our legacy. I respect Col. North—really, I do. But in this issue I’m going to have to disagree that the tools we’ve provided are adequate. An educated population won’t necessarily ally with us – Russia and China are the largest examples wherein education can be used against us, and Egypt is the latest example of a university student revolution that rejects our influence entirely. If anything, the Taliban will now have an even more cagey population to manipulate if we let Afghanistan fall to their rule . . . again. Before, we gave them weapons. Now, we’ve given them the foundations to become . . . Libya. Except with heroin money instead of oil.
Oh yeah, and that trillion dollar mineral resource find from last year.
So while Col. North is trying to remain optimistic about our gains in Afghanistan, the reality on the ground is what it is. On one hand, education has been a driving factor toward positive revolution in a population. On the other hand, the environment it is developing in imparts more concern than confidence.
The price of failure now is much worse than it was before we left. Now, we’re leaving behind a more trained and educated Afghan population for the Taliban to use for their purposes if we fail. It’s Afghan culture to side with the winner in a conflict—and, looking at the government we’re leaving behind in Afghanistan, it’s only a matter of time before the Taliban “out-governs” Kabul itself.
Pardon my French, but we really can’t “half-ass” a war if we want to achieve our original objectives rather than giving our enemies even bigger toys to play with.