Why are we still trying to win hearts and minds in Afghanistan when history shows it is futile?

March 13, 2012

With the latest incident in which an American army sergeant went on a rampage and killed 16 men and women and children in Afghanistan, apparently all innocent civilians, and the just previous Koran-burning-by-Americans episode, along with one in which American soldiers allegedly shot civilians for sport, along with other such incidents in both Afghanistan and before that Iraq, it’s getting hard to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.

And that begs the question: why are we in the winning-the-hearts-and-minds business anyway?

I guess it all started in Vietnam. We (the U.S. public) were originally told that we had to hold the communists back from invading and taking over South Vietnam to stop the dreaded domino effect — Southeast Asian countries falling one by one like a row of dominoes to communism.

Conveniently, we had a treaty with South Vietnam that obliged us to come to their aid in the face of a communist-inspired and backed insurrection.

I wrote about this before, but back then few people even knew where Vietnam was. I recall as a kid we had a world globe and it simply labeled what had already been designated as North and South Vietnam as “Indochina”.

Then I recall seeing an article in National Geographic on how the brave and valiant South Vietnamese peasants were fending off the communist Viet Cong insurgents (who were backed by communist North Vietnam and the communist bloc, most notably the old USSR).

While much of the public and even the congress, I think, were dubious about going to war in Southeast Asia, most thought if we needed to do something there, certainly with our military might it would be relatively quick and easy.

The domino theory and the idea of helping helpless peasants were what were used to sell our eventual military involvement there.

But as things escalated and it turned into a real full-fledged war, suddenly the very people we were supposedly trying to help seemed a lot more like our enemies in the minds of soldiers who saw their comrades being killed by peasants in black pajamas aided and abetted by local villagers (everyone wore black pajamas). Well there is a whole complicated story and history to that, but the point is that the strategy of the war seemed to change from defeating the enemy (the communists) to “winning the hearts and minds of the people” we were supposed to be helping.

And that brings us to our present predicament in Afghanistan where we originally went in there a decade ago to catch the now late Osama Bin Laden (a whole army to catch one man?) and I guess to deal with Al Qaeda, who under Bin Laden’s direction had perpetrated and/or supported the 9/11 attacks on the U.S.

A lot of history here about diverting attention to Iraq, but bottom line, we eventually wound up in a quagmire, where we are today still, and it gets deeper and deeper, with the idea that to defeat Al Qaeda we have to win the hearts and minds of the Afghans, who are broken up into tribes, and whose loyalty is more to the tribe, than to any kind of united nation.

Why are we trying to win hearts and minds? And does that work? Our history tells us it does not.

And over the ages, may powers tried to conquer Afghanistan, the old USSR in modern history, to name one. The tribes might fight each other, but they are united against foreign invaders, even when they are disguised as nation builders.

All that could be done and more has been done in Afghanistan. It is past time to say goodbye.

Should the need arise, we could always go back. But then we should go back with overwhelming force and the determination to do what we have to do to stop anyone from using the area as a base of operations to attack us. If that is not feasible, then we should just skip it and strengthen our defenses in our own country.

There may be Afghans who want to be our friends and who want our help. Unfortunately, if they cannot convince their brothers of the cause it is hopeless.

I am surprised that Barack Obama has let himself get trapped like a tar baby (no racial insult or slur intended) to Afghanistan as Lyndon Johnson did in the case of Vietnam (Johnson had used the tar baby allusion).

As the song says: “When will they ever learn…?”


I know I used that song verse before, but it is so true.

P.s. P.s.

And I forgot to mention the recent incidents in which Afghan soldiers we are supposed to be training have turned on their mentors (Americans) and have shot them. There is definitely something wrong with this relationship, and/or it is some kind of a cross between the Viet Cong sending “sappers” behind our lines to kill us and American soldiers killing their own officers (and NCOs) in “fragging” incidents during the Vietnam blunder. Afghanistan has essentially become the 21st Century version of Vietnam for the U.S.