Who should apologize for Afghanistan?

Driving to Mass this morning I was listening to FOX on the issue of Afghanistan and the killing of U.S. and NATO soldiers by our supposed Afghan allies. FOX had its “terrorism expert” on and he was blathering about how President Obama’s apology for the recent Koran burning was causing more violence in Afghanistan and across the Muslim world. The apology, said the “expert,” was typical of Obama’s weakness, and this weakness is contributing to the rise of Islamist power in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Afghanistan, and other places. Somehow Obama’s apology for the Koran burning was explained by FOX’s “expert” as an apology for “U.S. policy,” which surprised me as I did not know our policy was to burn Korans.

Anyway, that this sort of truly brain-dead stuff passes for acceptable — or even plausible — analysis on any U.S. network falls into the appalling but not surprising category. The violence in Afghanistan against U.S. and NATO forces, for example, has nothing to do with the repeated apologies of Obama, Bush, Secretary Clinton, etc. for various incidents. The violence comes from the fact that we and NATO are viewed by the overwhelming number of Afghans as, to quote an old but true phrase, “foreign infidel occupiers.”

Now, there is no doubt that burning Korans alienates Afghans, but it is the icing on the cake of 2,000-plus years of unrelenting, violent Afghan opposition to all occupiers — Greeks, Persians, Mongols, British, or Soviets. FOX’s “expert” said that Washington and NATO should be “partnering with pro-democracy Afghan social groups” to discredit the Taliban and other Afghan mujahideen and thereby reduce violence and spur democracy. This analysis is truly a howler as those Afghans who are killing Western soldiers are the only social forces that count in Afghanistan, and they are the only ones that have counted since we invaded in 2001. Had we smashed these folks to the edge of extinction and then left in the 18 months following 9/11, all would have been well. But we stayed to build a secular democracy and empower women, and today the world’s greatest power and its allies are acknowledging defeat at the hands of shaggy lads armed with weapons of Korean War vintage.

On the issue of “apologies,” it is clear that one is due, but it is due to the American people and especially to American parents who have lost sons or daughters to members of the so-called Afghan Forces who have shot the U.S. and NATO soldiers who trained them. I always try to avoid saying “I told you so,” but since I published Imperial Hubris in 2004 I have written on numerous occasions that the idea that the U.S. and NATO were going to be able to train an Afghan military/security/police force that could defend the country and the social and political values Washington and its allies sought to impose on Afghans was a piece of absolute of nonsense. I argued that those we trained would kill our soldiers, ultimately help the Taliban to throw NATO out of the country, and thereafter divide along ethnic lines for the coming civil war. Right and left came down hard on me for making these points, the former claiming I was a Bush hater and the latter that I was a an anti-Afghan racist because I refused to see how much the Afghans were desirous and capable of uniting their nation under a secular democracy. Well, I hated neither Bush nor the Afghans — I simply hate those U.S. and Western politicians who refuse to see reality and read history and so get our soldier-children killed for no good reason.

For my sins, I spent most of my CIA career working on Afghanistan in one way or another; my most intense Afghan experience came between 1985 and 1992 when I had the privilege to work on President Reagan’s (peace be upon him) covert-action program to help the Afghan mujahideen kill Soviet soldiers and their Afghan communist allies; drive the Red Army out of Afghanistan; and contribute to demise of the Soviet Union. To prepare for this assignment — pedant that I am — I read the history of the occupations of Afghanistan by Alexander, Britain, and the USSR. History as always was an excellent instructor, offering clear lessons not about what to do, but about what not to do. And one lesson was clear: DO NOT TRUST YOUR AFGHAN ALLIES. In each of the three occupations, the occupiers found that the Afghans they paid, armed, and trained ultimately either deserted and joined the enemy or simply turned on and killed them.

Study of this well-documented reality and not any special brain-power, then, led me to warn frequently over the last eight years that the Bush-and-Obama plan to achieve victory by training Afghans was a plan based on Western fantasies, not Afghan realities, and would yield defeat for America and many dead American trainers killed at the hands of their trainees. Many of the Afghans who joined the new Afghan military, police, and security services were sent by the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Jalaluddin Haqqani, and other insurgent commanders — and our enemies’ leaders helpfully told us in public statements that they were sending them — to join up and achieve three ends. First, some would stay in the service long enough to get a weapon and learn Western military tactics and then desert and return to fight the occupiers with the mujahideen and to instruct the insurgents on the tactics they had learned. Second, others would stay for a longer period, earn the trust and perhaps the friendship of their trainers, and then unexpectedly gun them down. Third, others would stay for undetermined periods and behave loyally so as to gain positions of trust that would allow them to aid the Taliban and their allies by leaving doors unlocked, by cutting communications systems, by passing data re NATO’s intentions to the insurgents, and/or by turning a blind-eye at a checkpoint.

Sadly, this is exactly what has happened and the two U.S. officers killed on Saturday were only the latest of dozens of U.S., British, Canadian, and French soldiers and Marines who have been killed by those they trained. (NB: It is, of course, no coincidence that almost all the NATO trainers who have been killed hailed from the NATO countries where public support for the continuation of the Afghan occupation/war is already marginal. The Taliban and the other muajhedin are many things, but dumb is not one of them) And I think it is important to keep in mind that these U.S.-NATO deaths cannot be tossed off as “unintended consequences.” While the deaths were not intended by U.S. and NATO leaders, they were completely and easily predictable to anyone who took the time to do a cursory review of Afghan history. These young men and women are dead because their leaders adopted a policy that they should have known had no chance of success, and who have stuck to that utterly failed policy even as the piles of U.S. and NATO corpses are stacked ever higher.

So at day’s end, FOX’s always silly “terrorism expert” was wrong in damning Obama’s apology. What he should have said was that Obama’s apology was misdirected toward the Afghans and, instead, should have been made to Americans. Words of atonement ought to be forthcoming soon from those whose hands are smeared with blood of our Army and Marine trainers killed by their trainees: namely, Presidents Bush and Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former-Secretaries of Defense Rumsfeld and Gates, and Generals McChrystal and Petreaus and their insurgency geniuses, like John Nagl and David Kilcullen.

These men and women — who know only how to lose wars, waste American lives, and intervene in other peoples’ business — were morally and legally required to know the Afghan context into which they were trying to wedge their damnable Western fantasies. They failed to do their home work or, worse, believed history did not pertain to them, and as a result of their arrogant negligence America has lost the Afghan War and many American parents are grieving for the wasted lives of their military youngsters, men and women killed by those they trained or, even worse, in the name of allowing Mrs. Muhammad to vote.

Author: Michael F. Scheuer

Michael F. Scheuer worked at the CIA as an intelligence officer for 22 years. He was the first chief of its Osama bin Laden unit, and helped create its rendition program, which he ran for 40 months. He is an American blogger, historian, foreign policy critic, and political analyst.