Exiting Afghanistan – damned if you do, but damned if you don’t

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The helter-skelter witnessed in Afghanistan last week and into this week reminds one of America’s exit from South Vietnam in April of 1975. There was a mad rush to get out then and a very tragic scene of South Vietnamese citizens trying to escape at the last minute as American planes were taking off. The Fall of Kabul is very reminiscent of the Fall of Saigon. The same kinds of circumstances led to both.

America, and the French before them, had no business being in what started out being called Indo-China. The basis of it was global capitalism, or economic imperialism, or neo-colonialism, however one chooses to label it. The French had been there exploiting the country and its people. As an ally of France and the major champion of global capitalism, America stepped in as France was being driven out in 1954. It evolved into the Vietnam War. In the course of the Vietnam War, many Vietnamese made themselves traitors or “uncle toms” by fighting with the American forces who claimed to have been protecting and promoting democracy but were endeavoring to prop up local officials who allowed the continued exploitation.

It was because those Vietnamese had been viewed or labelled as traitors that they were fleeing in 1975. Hundreds of thousands fled to America and other allied countries.

When one fast forwards to Afghanistan in 2021, much of the same can be seen. The George W. Bush administration sent troops to Afghanistan in order to capture Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda for the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In the process, they drove out the Taliban, the militant political organization that was friendly toward Al-Qaeda. After bin Laden was killed and the Taliban were supposedly driven from power, American troops remained to protect the new Afghanistan government rather than return home. Suspicion is that the traditional American exploitation hid under the guise of democratic reform.

Just as in South Vietnam, a large contingent of local people worked with the Americans as interpreters, intelligence agents, and other supportive roles. It is they who have been scrambling to get out of Afghanistan as it rapidly fell to the Taliban.

In both cases, one can witness the hand of western or global capitalism leading to intervention into the countries but under the guise of promoting or protecting democracy. In both cases, they have created cadres of “uncle toms” or cooperating economic imperialists who were then “marked for death” by local fighters. In both cases, when things came to a head, American leaders found themselves between a rock and a hard place.

When decisions are made to send troops, inevitably there are criticisms because there have already been too many wars and too many lives lost for no good reasons. On the other hand, when decisions are made not to send troops, there are criticisms for not offering to help to halt human rights abuses. When decisions are made to pull troops from areas where they have been, there are criticisms of abandoning allies or those who need our help. On the other hand, when decisions are made to leave troops in areas, there are criticisms that America cannot be and should not be expected to be the police of the world.

Regarding the current exit from Afghanistan, there was/is no perfect way to get out. Yet, America is obligated to do whatever it can to save the lives of the people whom it has put in jeopardy. Beyond that, human rights matters should also be of concern. Exactly how to handle them is something else again.

There are/will be the expected criticisms from political opponents. To put it another way, in the area of foreign relations, it is likely that the president will be damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. It is the nature of the beast. But it does not have to be that way. America can get to a position wherein its leaders can act morally and responsibly without being between a rock and a hard place.

The three biggest obstacles to such optimal American foreign relations are known by all of the experts. The problem is a lack of commitment to them.

(1) There has to be an abandonment of support for global capitalism, as it leads to exploitation/economic imperialism. Protecting capitalists/imperialists lead to virtually every war in which America has participated. Without it, there would be no reason for most foreign interventions; there would be no corrupt foreign leaders opening the door to exploitation; there would be no local traitors to help carry on a war.

(2) There has to be an unqualified commitment to the United Nations, whether as currently constituted or improved, as the instrument to deal with foreign problems. Americans and others cannot continue to ignore the UN when it does not act as they would prefer. They cannot continue to circumvent it by creating their own sets of allies when it is convenient.

(3) There has to be a commitment to transparency. Too often there is an attempt to curse the darkness or obscure the truth of why military actions are contemplated or taken. In these situations, we must continue to be a democratic country. As it now operates, the people learn the truth only generations later, if ever.

We are not naïve enough to believe that either of these three changes will occur tomorrow. Nevertheless, the more they are presented, the more they are demanded, the sooner we may approach a new era.