In an astounding reality show, people around the world watched in disbelief as the world’s superpower, the United States – after 20 years of noble and bombastic speeches, over 250,000 dead and $2.3 trillion – rushed its 2,500 soldiers out before its citizens, through helicopters again, leaving tens of thousands of supporters. And then decides to send back 6,000 soldiers – because of barefoot, bombed-out, gaunt-looking, outnumbered desert-mountain fighters, who simply walked into cities throughout Afghanistan within a week without speeches.
People everywhere winced, reminded of similar experiences in war debacles just a generation ago. Politicians in the US skewered President Biden in sadistic glee; others tried to explain.
In life, lessons are repeated until learned. What lessons about the US and the world can we learn and apply?
One, reality on the ground is what counts, not rhetoric or “analysts.” Just a month ago, President Biden said the Afghan government would not collapse. Despite intelligence briefs expecting at least 90 days’ resistance, the massive equipment and training superiority given, the Afghan government evaporated.
Similarly, the Kurds were used as fighters by the US, then left to fend on their own in Syria. The British left them hanging in the air decades ago.
President Franklin Roosevelt promised citizenship to the over 15,000 Filipino guerrillas (over 500,000 resistance fighters including Chinese in the Philippines) who risked their lives fighting as part of the “US territories.” As soon as they were no longer needed, in 1946, the US Congress officially rescinded the promise. Good for the evening, not for marriage.
Two, know your friends. While none are perfect, the statistically proven best predictor of short-term future behavior is past history. The US installed the Afghan government but was negotiating with Taliban opponents for safe passage two years earlier and left Bagram air base suddenly without informing Afghan or NATO allies, leaving everyone in shock.
A partial history of betrayals of allies: the US took over the Philippines after asking Filipinos to join forces; gave vast Chinese northern territories to Japan after getting help from 150,000 Chinese in World War 1. The US promised the Soviet Union’s Gorbachev that NATO will “not move one inch east” into East Europe in return for dropping the Berlin Wall and letting Soviet states go independent, then the US entered almost all the nations into NATO to the very border of Russia. Gorbachev was given a Nobel Prize but became a figure of scorn to many Russians.
Geopolitical power players all want to influence others, but the US-preferred candidates are backed by active organizations through “NGOs,” media-managed and financed. The US’ ideal candidates: charismatic but with major weaknesses like corruption, poor organization, lack of experience and having vices. Competence, human rights and truth are secondary. Articulating democracy, fairness and rights is an SOP tactic – for preaching, not for practice. China support is given to governments already in place, in projects and in business; it doesn’t have much media or organizational support for the campaign stage, no preaching but just statement of positions, noninterference in domestic policy. These propensities are demonstrated in Afghanistan.
Three, presidents and governments are installed and also removed. “The lord giveth, the lord taketh away.” Human rights and democracy violations are only attacked by the US, “5 eyes” and Quad if the nation’s government is not aligned with US policies. Otherwise, violators can be voted into UN human rights committees and can be nominated for Nobel prizes, given massive US aid and arms, and allowed genocides and occupation of others’ territory.
Ngo dinh Diem of Vietnam, Anastasio Somoza Debayle of Nicaragua, Saddam Hussein of Iraq, Syngman Rhee of Korea, Shah Pahlavi of Iran and dozens of others were US-installed or supported heads of countries that were eventually removed by the US, some even executed or assassinated with CIA help, or set up for “untimely, unfortunate” deaths. Expect the US to cut deals with opposition groups to subvert governments not following its policies, regardless of if freely elected, if performing well overall or not.
Four, governments succeed best with an independent foreign policy while engaging with both the West and Asian powers. South Korea’s Park Chung Hee started with US support but developed into an independent direction. Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew was initially a dictatorship and even punished US citizens when laws were violated. Vietnam was thoroughly destroyed by the US but deals with it and has disputes with China but courts its factories and investors. These countries and others are among the most dynamic, successful and respected countries today.
Leaning too much on one side and isolating from the other do not work in the long term. We can see North Korea, Haiti and Cuba, among others, being damaged by embargoes. No country at war does well, except the US since it makes sure no war is on its soil, and its weapons industry is a major profit center. The Afghan wars has caused all top 5 “defense” corporations with retired US generals to astronomically increase in stock value: Lockheed Martin (1,200%), Northrop Grumman (1,200%), Boeing (970%), General Dynamics (620%) and Raytheon (330%).
Five, military overthrow doesn’t work for reinventing a country for modern development and opening up. Dozens of invasions and occupations, trillions of dollars by the US, millions of lives lost, and even different countries’ internal revolutions already show this clearly. People’s revolutions, academic education and throwing money isn’t enough as Afghanistan at this stage, the Philippines and many others as well show. A few cases show it works, e.g., via the near total annihilation of the North and South American native peoples, takeover of Hawaii, etc.
A revealing video that explains why the US was in Afghanistan for over 20 years.
People and culture are key components of success – the reality-based, unspoken component we have to recognize and to develop if the aim of peace and progress is sincere.
Mario Ferdinand Pasion is a political analyst, director of Phil-Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) Strategic Studies and the chairman of Nat-Fil (Nationalist Filipinos Against Foreign Intervention).
Also published in Manila Times.