After Vietnam, and the Chinese civil war that preceded it, we assumed that the lessons had been learned – that a rural-based guerrilla movement facing a corrupt government can prevail provided it has leadership and an ideology to cling to.
On this basis, some of us were able to predict the anti-government victory in Vietnam as early as 1965, the Castro victory in Cuba, the US failure in Iraq, and now the US failure in Afghanistan.
In all these cases we see similar tactics – avoid confrontation with government armies, strict systems of justice, fair taxation systems, and, most of all, opposition to corruption and the intervening foreigner.
In Vietnam, it could even prevail against any amount of B52 bombing and napalm.
So how come our ‘experts’ still managed to get it wrong in Afghanistan? Some blame the generals; they are usually not chosen for brightness. But even guiltier is the pernicious influence of the intelligence (read ‘spy’) machines that dominate opinion and policymaking.
Societies find it easier to listen to hawkish warnings of hidden guerrilla dangers rather than dovish calls for a sensible reason. The spies are ideally situated – ‘inside the loop’ for information about the imagined enemy, including that provided by cooperating foreigners. They consolidate their position with the media and in society with controlled leaks of information. The doves, ‘outside the loop’ and only able to offer only calls to reason, are easily ignored.
Recall the buildup to the intervention in Iraq when we were warned of Bagdad preparations for atom bomb attacks. Even the most basic of commonsense could have said it was absolutely impossible for Iraq, starting from scratch, to develop and test atomic weapons in less than ten years.
Yet somehow the ‘mushroom cloud’ nonsense was taken seriously. The war went ahead. And because of their prominence before and during the disaster, the proponents, like George Bush ,Tony Blair and John Howard found themselves with increased status and connections after.
Blair could even set himself up with a foreign affairs consultancy.
Even after the disasters of Vietnam and Iraq the be-medalled generals and the spies, active or retired, still find themselves in demand for TV commentary. They are consultants and advisers everywhere across the US media. And our derivative media meekly follow.
When the Soviets wanted to withdraw from Afghanistan after nine years of fruitless war the only opponent in the Soviet bureaucracy was the KGB. We need to get rid of our own KGBs.