Well, we can’t say it hasn’t been fun, these past 8 years wreaking havoc on two ancient nations fallen upon hard times. Well, we could say that, but that would seem like criticism of our troops, and we can’t have that, can we? But nobody blames them for being good at what they do, blowing stuff up and killing lots of people, because that’s pretty much all you can ask of armies. As it happens, our armed forces are damned good at what they do. Keeps the the pesky kids off the lawn, no? And it sure wasn’t their idea to go invade a couple of dust bowls inhabited by people about as different from Americans as you can find. Not better or worse, just different.
Even though one of these places, Iraq, had a modern, sophisticated and fairly westernized lifestyle before Bush The Younger figured he’d straighten out the rest of the region by punching out the biggest, meanest and toughest guy on the block, the people are a tad different from most people you might run into stateside. There’s that whole Middle East mindset at work there, where no one really likes or trusts anybody much, even after 5,000 years of dealing with the same neighbors. Which sort of of tells you that any Road Map to Peace in that area is bound to be lined with roadside bombs and enemies. 5,000 years is a plenty big enough control sample to satisfy even the most thorough of scientists that making peace is the last thing anybody in the Middle East has on their list of Things To Do This Millennium.
The other place where Bush The Younger made war was Afghanistan, although he didn’t start that one. Osama bin Laden did, who is not even Afghani, but (you guessed it!) a Middle Easterner of Saudi extraction given carte blanche by the Afghani rulers at the time to use their nation as a base from which to terrorize and kill perceived enemies all over the world. It was a a decision the Taliban rulers didn’t think all the way through and before they knew it they were ex-rulers fighting a guerilla campaign against western armies who live in the present as opposed to the early Middle Ages for which the Taliban were so nostalgic.
It seems they misread the fact that many of their countrymen lived nomadic, tribe-oriented and poverty-stricken lives uncannily similar to the way things were a thousand year ago that they might welcome bans on music, dancing, movies, television, computers, literacy and (!) women’s faces. Turns out their program wasn’t exactly the toast of the town they thought it would be and nobody seemed to mind terribly when they were ousted. But the Afghani people were not crazy about having foreign armies around telling them what to do, especially when these armies couldn’t even do the only thing they came there to do, catch the tallest guy in the country and the rest of his al Queda buddies. It seems they have their own ideas about nation building, namely that they were the ones who would have to live in that nation, so maybe they were the ones who ought to decide what sort of nation theirs would be.
But being that we were there with all those guns, cannons and killer robot aircraft, they went through the motions of electing a democratic government that no one paid much attention to, mostly electing to side with their traditional tribal warlords in all things autonomy-related. Unfortunately for Bush The Younger, he got sidetracked with attacking the wrong country when he invaded Iraq, which sort of soured the Afghan people on someone who could make such a colossal blunder. So much for the tacit acceptance of the American puppet regime and the war was back on, with many people even deciding to support the Taliban Neanderthals again, figuring that at least they are our Neanderthals and not foreign interlopers with a bumbling president subservient to his own Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Cheney.
And for America, the whole reason we went to Afghanistan in the first place, finding Osama bin Laden, was forgotten in the effort to crush the civil war that was erupting everywhere and to train an Afghani army that was number one, effective, and number two, loyal to the nation of Afghanistan and not to any one particular tribal warlord. It was an unrewarding task, sort of like trying to nail Jello to the wall, but finally America has to be content with the new army they have cobbled together and hope they are up to the job. The same sort of thing is going on in Iraq, where the United States armed forces have retired to the countryside to allow the Iraqi army to run Iraq. Just as in Afghanistan, the armies they put together seem to have a lot chubby and scruffy looking guys for whom military discipline is not a huge priority, a stark contrast to the superbly trained, physically fit and highly motivated armed forces that defeated the former Iraqi and Afghani armies in a matter of weeks.
But again, lowered expectations are the order of the day in these nations. Just the fact that the cities in these place have to be governed and patrolled by armies instead of mayors and police forces sort of tells you they’re not exactly stable countries and won’t be anytime soon. When was the last time anybody reading this looked out their window and saw brigades of combat infantryman patrolling their neighborhood? It is not a normal state of affairs anywhere to turn over a nation to an army, even its own army. Armies defend nations, not govern them. They don’t patrol anywhere that they don’t expect to be engaged in battle, and if that’s Main Street, your town is in a world of trouble and every trip to the dry cleaners or the supermarket becomes a traumatic adventure.
Then again, the nations we are turning back over to their rightful owners are pretty much damaged goods, with a whole lot of killing and blowing up of stuff having gone on for a number of years. The whole thrust of the new Administration under President Obama seems to be to clean up the Cheney/Bush debacles as carefully as possible to avoid even worse consequences for America and the world in general than starting those two wars has caused. And if Iraq and Afghanistan don’t become mini-Americas after we eventually retire completely from those two contentious and irritable places, well, so be it. After all, there’s still a ton of cleanup to do domestically after 8 years of a simpleton cowboy and his demented puppet master running America itself nearly into the ground in every way imaginable, and in some ways completely unimaginable, since no one could have foreseen an assault on the Bill of Rights by our own leaders and letting a major American city drown and being tossed an anchor by its own government. Now, that was creative!
So in the absence of any hope of catching bin Laden, there’s other fish to fry politically and Iraq and Afghanistan will have to make do with their chubby, undisciplined soldiers, their damaged infrastructures and their preference for living under dimwitted dictators of one sort or another. After 5,000 years of tribalism, mutual distrust and being invaded by hostile armies on a regular basis, these nations will shrug off America’s occupation of them and our attempts to remake them in our own image as just one more Alexander The Great. He also conquered and abandoned both these nations around 2,300 years ago, similarly leaving little lasting impression upon either one. The drill is a very old one: Wait them out and eventually they’ll go home and leave us alone.
So apparently we’re in good historical company in throwing up our hands and walking away from two decisive victories over inferior armies that in the long run meant very little. And while the Obama administration drags it feet and prolongs the withdrawal even to the point of committing reinforcements to Afghanistan and starting fresh battles against ghost guerilla fighters, the beginning of the end of our presence there has begun. The biggest winners in both these nations will be our own American troops getting to leave places they understand even less than when they arrived in them. And we all relearn (for the umpteenth time) the lesson that to ignore history is to repeat it. Just ask Alexander.