Heading into A New Afghan War

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by Patrick J. Buchanan – July 10, 2002

“We face an entirely new war,” said Gen. MacArthur, as he realized that the hordes of Chinese “volunteers” coming over the Yalu meant Beijing was now intervening massively in the Korean War.

That war would last three more years. And the recent horrors in Afghanistan suggest we may be headed for a wider war.

On Saturday, Vice President Abdul Qadir was assassinated in Kabul in broad daylight. His killers fled in a taxi. Qadir was the highest ranking Pashtun in the government, excepting only President Karzai himself.

Along with Defense Minister Mohammad Fahim, Qadir had been targeted in April, when he and Gen. Fahim arrived to inaugurate a poppy-eradication program in Qadir’s home province of Nangahar. In Feburary, the tourism minister was murdered by a mob at Kabul airport.

Days ago, in the bloodiest friendly fire incident of the war, U.S. air strikes reportedly killed 48 Afghans and wounded 117, including women and children. While U.S. officers have yet to locate all the wounded or the graves of the claimed dead, neither have they found the anti-aircraft gun that precipitated the attacks.

Fearing instability in Kabul, three U.S. senators Sunday urged a commitment beyond the 7,000 U.S. troops already in the country. Sen. Chuck Hagel even raised the specter of an American defeat: “If we lose there, if this goes backward, this will be a huge defeat for us symbolically in that region, in the world, for our word, confidence in Americans all over the world. We cannot allow this to go down.”

His call for deeper intervention and Karzai’s call for more American troops is echoed by Sen. Evan Bayh: “If all you do is secure the capital and allow instability to fester around the country, I think we’re running a real risk that the gains we made during the war could be lost by an insufficient peace. … My own view is, we went to war, we won the war, let’s not lose it now. And I think we need to take stronger security steps.”

The chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Sen. Bob Graham, said of Qadir’ s killing, it “may indicate that we are going to have to be more of a participant in some of the security activities … to create a climate in which the new government can be established.” We must, he added, “spend more effort figuring out how to do the final chapters of our involvement in nations and do them as well as we do the first.”

With due respect to Graham, no nation has ever done the “final chapters” of Afghanistan “well,” as the Afghans tend to want to write those chapters themselves, and turn savagely on outsiders who come to teach them how to live.

President Bush may soon face a decision as critical as that of Liberalism’s Best and Brightest to fight the Vietnam War.

Clearly, the days of easy victories are over. When the Taliban decided to stand and fight U.S. power, it was suicidal. Smart bombs guided to their targets by U.S. Special Forces destroyed the Taliban positions before they could engage the Northern Alliance.

But while crushing a Taliban army in conventional war may be a warm-up exercise for the United States, running down assassins and cells of Pashtun fighters in the countryside and the cities of Afghanistan and Pakistan will be a longer, bloodier assignment for U.S. ground forces, if Bush orders them to undertake it. He might ask the Israelis what it was like fighting Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.

In Phase II of this Afghan war, not all the odds favor the visiting team. The huge Pashtun tribe bitterly resents the Tajiks dominating the cabinet. The warlords who welcomed U.S. troops who came to crush the Tablian will not welcome U.S. troops who arrive to take away their warlord powers. Iran, China and Russia had no objections to the U.S. smashing a Taliban they detested. They do object to the permanent U.S. military presence we are establishing in Central Asia, where they live.

America is detested by many Pakistanis for having abandoned them after the Cold War, for what we did to their Taliban allies, for being an infidel superpower that dictates to the Islamic world. President Musharraf is mocked as “Busharraf” by many Pakistanis and is seen as a U.S. puppet who sold out both the Taliban and the Muslim “freedom fighters” seeking to liberate Kashmir – in return for Yankee dollars and a Bush blessing for his dictatorship.

Before heeding the bipartisan chorus to send more U.S. troops in, the president should reflect: The Soviet empire was defeated and collapsed because it intervened to set up and prop up an Afghan regime that ignited both a nationalist war and a holy war. On which side of nationalism and jihad will we Americans be, when we go in?

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