Posted by: Christian | April 26, 2007

The Great Abandonment: Could America Have Done More for Afghanistan?

April 27, 2007.

It’s an often-stated sentiment, inside Afghanistan and in America, that The United States abandoned Afghanistan to a horrible fate after the withdrawal of the Soviet troops and the fall of Najibullah. Many Afghans protest that they defeated the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and that defeat caused the collapse of the Soviet Union, and in return the Americans abandoned them.

Pic: Afghanistan? Not a priority for these two guys.
Clinton and HW Bush

There is much truth to this. However, there is also much falsehood in it as well. I will deal with the misperceptions/falsehoods first:

#1 The belief that the Afghan Mujahideen caused the collapse of the Soviet Union is confined to the Ronald Reagan fan club. Sovietologists and historians reject this idea. They argue that economic stagnation and rising nationalism caused the USSR to collapse. But this belief is an obvious source of pride to many Afghans and will likely persist.

#2 Arguing that the problems of the post-Najibullah era (Civil War and the rise of the Taliban) could have been avoided if America had engaged with Afghanistan requires the United States to be viewed as an all-powerful entity that can wave its magic wand and bring warring parties together in a happy liberal democracy. The reality is that America can’t belatedly create democracy, let alone stability, when and where it wants. This has become increasingly obvious in the last 15 years.

And now for the truth of the above stated belief:

#1 To be fair, the Soviet-Afghan War likely didn’t strengthen the Soviet Union. The war has to be considered a contributing factor to the collapse of the Soviet Union, albeit a minor one.

#2 While The United States may not have been able to make the whole Rabbani – Hekmatyar – et al outfit function even if they had tried, they could at the very least have made an effort in the humanitarian arena. Very little effort was made by America (or any other country to be fair) to alleviate the suffering of the Afghan people.

#3 The United States did not attempt to put strong diplomatic pressure on Pakistan, the country that by far has played the most negative role in destabilizing Afghanistan in the last 15 years.

#4 The American government can’t say that it tried and failed. It can only say that failure was a presumed outcome regardless of any level of effort so why bother to even try? Afghanistan was not a priority for the United States during the 1990s, for neither Clinton nor Bush 41.

To sum up my argument: There was nothing that could have been done to stop the sinking of the ship Afghanistan. But the USS America did not even bother attempting to save the doomed ship or, most importantly, its unfortunate passengers.


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