Divide et Impera, Conclusion

Afghanistan is not a nation, much less a nation- state.  It is patchwork of hostile ethnicities and regions engaged in  endless conflict, alternately lapsing into a cold, or blowing up into a hot, war. It is one Pashtun tribe against another, Pashtun against Uzbeks and Iranians, and Uzbeks against Iranians, old guard corrupt mujahideen against idealistic Taliban, and, overall, Shia against Sunni. I know too little about the place to speak with any more authority than the CIA experts who permitted a Jordani- an triple agent to blow them up, but even that little is more than I wish to know.  Returning veterans have said they find our Afghan "allies" as revolting as our enemies, and, from what I can gather, pedophilia and homosexual rape are routine pastimes, like bowling or having a beer with your buddies in the good old U.S.A.  One friend told me he went to bed each night and woke up each morning with but one thought: "I don't want to have my legs blown off for these people."

Military men have told me that General McChrystal is an excellent officer, but his job—subduing Afghanistan—is not only impossible: It is not worth the doing. Two misinformed and ignorant American presidents have sent their countrymen to die in the rocks and stones of Kabul, protecting the right of child-molesting warlords to grow the opium that is poisoning the soul of Europe and America. Yes, we shall lose face in withdrawing. This is something that Messrs. Cheney and Rumsfeld might have thought about before going in, something that President Obamas advisors might have considered before beefing up the mis- sion. So far the government admits that our own First Afghan War has cost about $300 billion and 1,000 lives. The whole of Afghanistan is not worth a red cent to the American people, much less the life of one American helicopter pilot. It is time to cut and run.

*    *    *

That was my conclusion ten years ago, and I made several observations before and after in speeches, Chronicles, and in the Daily Mail.  There is really not much more to be said, though I intend to summarize some of my arguments in a forthcoming podcast, as soon as my voice is strong enough.

In a nutshell, US foreign policy since the end of the Second World War, has not been conceived or conducted in the American interest but as a speculative ideological enterprise in which the goals have been hazily described as stopping the spread of Communism, spreading democracy, promoting a revolution for human rights, liberating women, and promoting a New World Order.  One might pardon some petty vulgarian in a private's uniform, if he were to ask his sergeant"

"What's in it for me?"

If the United States were to have a concrete objective, such as conquering and ruling North Vietnam, then our military and political leaders could be evaluated on a simple criterion for success:  Did we win?  But when imbecilic criminals like Eliot Abrams and his stooge Col. Oliver North are allowed to foment civi war in Central America, we can never speak of winning or losing, victory or defeat, only of managing conflict and evolving understanding,

Imagine a sports team or industrial firm managed under such circumstances.  Oh yes, if you want to take the low road, we did have some problems in the area of hitting and runs.  At the end of the 9th inning, the Yankees were ahead 12 to 3, but we had tightened our infield and the batting coaches have been giving instructions on a new grip, and do not forget that the installation of artificial turf means that when we do start getting hits, the Yankee fielders, if there has been some drizzle, will be more likely to fumble.

When George W. Bush decided to invade Afghanistan, it was supposed to be with the two -fold objective of nabbing Osama bin Laden and getting even for 911.  We did not come close to arresting Osama, and if anyone in the Bush administration wanted to punish a national government for fomenting anti-American terrorism, we would have invaded Saudi Arabia, arrested the Bin Laden clan along with the Saudi royal family, shut down their terrorist ideology schools in America, and taught them the price a hostile nation would have to pay for killing Americans, no matter what bribes they were paying to members of Congress and the ruling administration.

As I have been saying for over 50 years, the lessons of Korea and Vietnam are not the lessons they apparently teach at our great service academies.  The first lesson is that we do not send American servicemen (and women) into combat unless we have defined and communicated what our objective is.  I still don't know why we were in Vietnam, and my friend Admiral Stockdale did not know either.

The second lesson can be summarized in the homely American expression:  Fish or Cut Bait.  If you are sending Americans into combat, send them into win a war by the normal rules.  Don't attempt to confuse the military objectives by imposing political rules.  As the  Beatles might have sung, "You say you wanna a fight a war, well you know, we don't wanna rule the world."  No?  Then don't  engage in wars of empire if you have no intention of ruling your conquered subjects.  If you really don't want to rule the nations you attack for obscure reasons, then leave then the Hell alone.

Anyone who has read any of what  I have written on American foreign policy knows I am opposed to imperialism on several grounds, but what some fail to grasp is why I do not oppose with the same fervor the imperialist wars of Rome, France, and Britain.  The simple answer is that Rome, France, and Britain were playing to win, and when they did win, their subjects often ended up much better off.

I am not saying I would approve of American imperialism, if we could once get our act together and conquer Mexico and the rest of Latin America--the necessary first step for any American Empire--but that at least we would as citizens would have some idea o what we were fighting for and what victory meant.  As it is, we fight only to ravage and spoil whatever good things might be in the possession of Afghans, Iraqis, Serbs, Vietnamese and the countless other victims of our "Fish but don't catch, cut bait but keep casting" strategy.

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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

22 Responses

  1. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    Meanwhile, America is becoming Afghanistan.

  2. Robert Reavis says:

    Thank you Tom for reposting this. I have no idea why I think Mr Biden is more pitiful than the more culpable instigators of our countries demise. Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, (a smaller bush again), Obama, Trump, and now “little joe.” and their handlers.
    360 homicides in Chicago alone last year and 365 so far this year. Add Houston, Atlanta, LA, New York, and St Louis into the count and Mr Van Sants assertion of the various war zones becomes a sad statistical fact.

  3. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    America is certainly–or rather has been, certainly–losing whatever qualities made it desirable, but in regressing into the thug-controlled lawless violent of baboons, are we becoming like Afghanistan? I cannot say, since I have never been to Afghanistan. On principle, I should tend to say, “No.” The Afghanistan we know from bits of history–from the time of Alexander the Great until–the early 20th century–was certainly a region of bizarre and conflicting tribal cultures, but some of them at least had managed to retain some bits of tradition that gave them certain advantages. I’d say, at random, that tribal cultures emphasizing family and clan unity are better than the deracinated fragments of society Americans had in the mid 20th century, that Islam-even in its crudest and least palatable form–offered its believers a code of behavior and respect for divine authority we are missing. Finally, the Indo-Iranian cultural traditions included rather creative story-telling, an emphasis on heroism, and other qualities we are without.

    So, as they have been driven down, partly by their own bestialism and more by imperial occupations, they become more savage and dangerous, while we in the American mainstream just get more suicidal. The violent minorities tearing about Chicago are not and have never been our people.

    Now, having said this, I should rather live in the degradation I know here in America than in Afghanistan. There are lots of places where life goes on here with some tranquillity. In Rockford, for example, the overall rates of violent crime are very high, but most of it is taking place in neighborhoods some miles away. During the BLM thuggery, my side of town was pretty tranquil. Of course it won’ t last, and from my back porch I can observe the steady Wiggerization of middle class American youth.

    A small thing. Last night, I came to think of the Earps and the movie Tombstone, which I had seen part of and recalled enjoying. We watched it. That was a mistake. The soundtrack was degrading–not just noisy, but dehumanizing; some of the writing, which went back to historical records, was often good, but no attempt was made to discriminate the various parties among the Cowboys, and Bill Brocius was portrayed as a psychotic killer, when the evidence was that he was a high-spirited young man who, when he was in spirits, got carried away by a sense of humor. The Clantons and McLawrys were not distinguished, and Virgil Earp was played like a funeral director with stomach cancer by the otherwise decent actor Sam Eliot. The cinematography was one long cliche of sunsets on the Arizona desert. All in all, what might have been a great film, was first converted into a confused piece of motiveless misbehavior in a scenario and with a soundtrack designed to rip barbed wire through the watcher’s nervous system. Decent human beings shouldn’t be watching such a thing. (Despite the cliches, Val Kilmer was pretty good, and Powers Booth should he could elevate even a poorly written part into a great performance.)

    So that is where we are. We live in a Hollywood culture that cannot take a famous incident in our history and make anything but trash, from My Darling Clementine to Gunfight at the OK Corral to Tombstone.

  4. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    Not there yet but becoming. Need more diverse immigrants. Mix in more Hispanics of various backgrounds and more Muslims and we can get there.

  5. Dot says:

    What happened in Afghanistan was a jihad. Utah took 70,000 Afghans. Does anyone think they’ll become Mormons? This jihad expanded their breadth into the US.

  6. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    AGVS, I don’t think USA 2050 will be anything so benign as Afghanistan 2021

  7. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    I agree with you. I will be dead by that time but I am sure it will be “fun” getting there.

  8. Robert Reavis says:

    Tom Fleming wrote:
    cultures emphasizing family and clan unity are better than the deracinated fragments of society Americans had in the mid 20th century, that Islam-even in its crudest and least palatable form–offered its believers a code of behavior and respect for divine authority we are missing. Finally, the Indo-Iranian cultural traditions included rather creative story-telling, an emphasis on heroism, and other qualities we are without.“
    This deserved repeating and should be copied and written in calligraphy and illuminated as best they can ( even , and probably, with stick figures) by every college graduate in America applying for a drivers license or vaccination certificate!

  9. Kellen Buckles says:

    We are daily being flooded with sad stories and pictures of the dashed hopes of progressive Afghani Muslims at the hands of their co-religionists. Meanwhile, in nearby Pakistan Christians suffer at the hands of their Muslim overlords – daily brutalized, kidnapped, raped, forced to convert and allowed only, by law, to work in the most menial jobs. Yawn.

  10. Roger McGrath says:

    Tom has nailed it all. “Returning veterans have said they find our Afghan “allies” as revolting as our enemies and . . . pedophilia and homosexual rape are routine pastimes . . . .” This is exactly what my son-in-law said upon his return from Helmand province a decade ago. He served with Marine 1st Force Recon and he and his buddies were rarely in anything but remote areas on hairball missions. He said the Afghan army was embarrassing and, for the most part, didn’t venture far from major bases and avoided contact with the Taliban. Sound familiar? The soldiers of the Army showed up only because they got paid, and many showed up only on payday. Then, too, the various Afghan commanders would get the money for their troops handed to them by American paymasters and the Afghan commanders would then take big cuts for themselves. How many of these corrupt characters are on flights to the U.S. because they were our “loyal allies” is anyone’s guest. The Afghans have no sense of nationalism, only loyalty to their own tribe and faith in Islam–and like the American Indian tribes those Afghani tribes differ culturally and linguistically. The idea of a united, democratic Afghan was perhaps the most delusional of all the neocon pipe dreams. In Helmand province alone there are ten different tribes and all are not Pashtun. The Baluch are Indo-Iranian and so, too, are large portions of the Kuchi. Pacifying and democratizing Afghanistan was a monumental fool’s errand.

  11. Robert Reavis says:

    Dear Kellen,
    Yes as long as one can mutter diversity good, Christians no good all is well with our dear leaders but I was wondering if any of the long time observers who know exactly who run our Senators, Congressmen and President what exactly Joe did recently to make them so mad at him all of a sudden and please don’t say it had a thing to do with his botched retreat from Afghanistan.
    The political organizations that give us our daily news, or fake news, or propaganda, or what “we need to know” etc are always told what to say by their owners so I wonder what Joe did to offend these owners or to aggravate them all of a sudden ? Bloomberg and CNN have been especially mean towards the poor fool recently and it can’t be because of our losses as they only care about their losses, so I wonder what exactly Joe did to instantly lose their support after 40 years of covering for the now decrepit and used up old fool?

  12. Kellen Buckles says:

    Not to worry, Robert. Their main man is in the wings, busy just now solving the problems of Haiti, she is. Perhaps Joe unexpectedly did the right thing (in a very incompetent manner) and spoiled their stories of progressive nation building. His disaster endangers their 2022 expectations. I’m happy seeing Joe squirm but the incompetence lies squarely upon those generals who stiffed Trump and failed Biden.

  13. Robert Reavis says:

    “I’m happy seeing Joe squirm but the incompetence lies squarely upon those generals who stiffed Trump and failed Biden.”
    Yes the two general officers philosophizing before Congress about race theories seemed way over their heads strategically and way overweight by even the most relaxed military standards but that’s what is promoted today both figuratively and literally.

  14. Dom says:

    Maybe he didn’t do anything to anger any of them, but has just served his purpose and is ready to be disposed. There was talk even before the election – possibly here, but I don’t remember exactly – that Joe Biden was just a useful tool to get the White House and would be tossed aside at the earliest opportunity. That seemed plausible to me at the time, especially considering the VP! they chose for him, so I have been expecting it ever since.
    The headlines and blurbs in the mainstream news seem to indicate the Democrats and leftist press are just beside themselves. Is it supposed to be news that such folks are now calling his leadership into question? Joe Biden probably doesn’t deserve any sympathy, but when I have heard him talk I see a feeble helpless man being used by his family and close associates and can’t help feeling sorry for him (admittedly, that never stops me from making jokes). Perhaps a shoulder shrug is more appropriate – you reap what you sow.

    But if I had to guess, the ones ditching old Joe are the ones who will be imperaing us after the divideing is complete, which might be sooner than later. Hopefully future historians will be able to form some kind of principle out of this; it might be something like ‘Democratic Man has no business playing Empire’.

  15. Dom says:

    Mr. Reavis,
    Who was that LtCol Ukrainian apologist? Not sure that fellow even knows what a pullup bar is.

  16. Dot says:

    How can Biden be tossed aside?

    The Democrats didn’t have a candidate to run against Trump. They chose Biden because of past experience. Likewise, in their stupidity they used race and gender to select a VP.

    In the event that Biden cannot continue his office as president and the VP takes over she will not be any better because right now she seems incapable to meet the demands of her position.

    What I don’t understand is how did he get elected? Sometimes I think silicon valley and Facebook, with all their billions and being Democrats, used the black population and those needing assistance to vote him in. It was a symbiotic relationship between two different groups that worked. Between that and all the promises Biden made, those things got him into the office of president.

  17. Robert Reavis says:

    Dear Dom,
    Vindman I believe was his name. He was a Lt Col but is now a second for the voiceover giggle of the old pillsbury doe boy commercials. Evidently he was in the high risk group for covid too which is why after his congressional testimony, the Trump people tried to reassign him as a doorman at Walter Reed.
    PS It could be time for Kamala or as our dear leaders prefer to say, “Kamala time.”
    This situation in Afghanistan evidently had her so upset she was taking her “mother’s week off” from caring for Joe to old Saigon Vietnam!!

  18. Allen Wilson says:

    I can understand why some Afghan might seek a job from the former government just to survive, but in general I must confess a total lack of sympathy for traitors who side with an alien invader who has laid waste to their land and imposed an evil globo-homo agenda (to borrow a phrase from the extreme right) on their peoples.

    How much of the tear jerking video we see is just psy-ops? Was the baby being lifted over the wall in an extremely touching moment real or plastic? Was the man who fell from the running gear of a C-130 at 5,000 feet real or a dummy? We really don’t know. Remember the obviously European “Syrian refugee” woman pushing a stroller with an obviously plastic baby in it, trying to get through some border checkpoint in Europe back in 2015? Don’t fall for this stuff.

  19. Frank Brownlow says:

    Current circumstances certainly encourage us all to scratch our heads and speculate. Ever since Brennan & Clapper starting bloviating on MSNBC & CNN I’ve been tending to assume that the CIA runs both those channels. And as for the mystery of the Biden backers, if people as manifestly stupid as Brennan, Clapper, Milley, and Austin are sitting in the high seats, then no doubt the puppet-masters, whoever they are—including the bozos at the CIA—took Biden’s 40 years in Congress as proof of political genius. But even an idiot can tell the difference between a ship happily afloat and a ship that’s just been steered straight on to a rock, and they’ve all turned on him for the same reason that Ms.Kamala has gone missing: self-preservation. The real Biden mystery, to me, is the behavior of his family, especially the wife. What’s been motivating her? Something as banal as wanting to be on the cover of Vogue, or something more interesting, such as revenge? Whatever the answer the result is as good a case of elder abuse as one will see.

  20. Michael Strenk says:

    I am reminded of a story that I read somewhere about one of the Dulles brothers, who after a lifetime of cheating on, embarrassing and abusing his wife was found (by one of his children, I think) lying in his own filth in a upstairs bedroom while his wife gave a party downstairs. We make our own beds, although being decent is not always a guarantee of decent treatment in our dotage.

  21. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Thanks for the helpful observations and confirmation, Roger. I am sure you have noticed, as I have, how Americans increasingly divide themselves into warring camps over issues they know little about. People who never studied science seriously take radical positions pro and con vaccines, global warming, and eating meat, while self-declared super-patriots argue with globalists over going to war over patches of ground neither party has ever visited or studied. There used to be a Republican politician Maine–gubernatorial candidate–who had either drunk the Koolaid or taken the money but he maintained unwavering loyalty to the Albanian terrorists in Kosovo, again, a region he knew nothing of–history, geography, the religions, literature, language: NOTHING.

    Naturally both the ignorance and extremist polemics play into the hands of the Clinton-Bush-Obama-Biden regime and their talking heads at CNN-FOX. To quote a once-famous Beat (more or less) poet: “The thing is, they never get wise.”

    I am not going to name any names, but over the years I have met, chatted with, got to know a variety of men in the opinion-manufacturing industry, and almost none of them read the books he quoted or had any fund of experience, knowledge, or understanding that could make them anything but puppets of of one or another faction. Original minds, like Sam Francis are rare, but the best you can expect of media celebrities is that they might be interested by some original mind whose line of thinking they find attractive without understanding.

  22. Robert Reavis says:

    I had the same impression from Marines I knew coming back from Iraq 1 who so disliked the Saudis compared to their alleged Iraqi foes, they thought we were fighting the wrong people too.