Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Reflection On Past Decisions, And Iraq Today

Almost 30 years ago, a nation in the middle east (OK, South Asia) was in in disarray, suffering from internal divisions, political murders, coups, and open warfare. A Superpower saw this as an opportunity, and Russia sent 80,000 men into the country to 'stabilize' it and to tie it securely into it's sphere of influence.

The locals were not amused, and the unrest continued, and in places grew much worse.

Soon the number of troops rose to about 150,000, and still the resistance grew stronger.

The US saw an opportunity. We could destabilize the southern border of our enemy, and tie down a sizable fraction of our biggest foe's army in a manner very similar to what happened to us in the 60s in Vietnam. So in July 1979 Jimmy Carter ordered the initial aid to the 'freedom fighters' of Afghanistan.

When Regan took power in 80s, the aid was continued, and by the mid 80s it was not a trickle, but a flood. Russia was trapped in it's own Vietnam, and faced many of the same difficulties we saw in the 67-73 period. Eventually Russia left, and Afghanistan was left to fight a continuing civil war that was eventually won by their religious right, the Taliban.

This group was an immediate international pariah, a supporter of international terrorism and became the eventual protector of Al Qaeda.

Another by-product of this war was the training and eventual dispersion of as many as 40,000 mujaheddin. During the war years, the lure of battle for a just cause, and the funds and tools to wage war attracted tens of thousands of fighters from across the whole of the Islamic world. They were trained by the US (by proxy at least) and bloodied in battle, and when it was over, they moved on.

There is little doubt that some of these very same US trained fighters are now involved in Iraq.

All of this as a result of a decision to stick it to the Russians. Our goal was not a terrorist supporting fundamentalist Islamic government in control of Afghanistan, our goal was not to train tens of thousands of mujaheddin, and then disperse them across the globe, our goal was not the elevation of Bin Laden and Al Qaeda to the point where the world knew who he was, but that was the end result.

That is why I have to ask, have we thought the wisdom of arming Sunni freedom fighters.

these groups have been provided, usually through Iraqi military units allied with the Americans, with arms, ammunition, cash, fuel and other supplies.

American officials who have engaged in what they call "outreach" to the Sunni groups say the groups are mostly ones with links to Al Qaeda but are disillusioned with Al Qaeda's extremist tactics, particularly suicide bombings that have killed thousands of Iraqi civilians. In exchange for American backing, these officials say, the Sunni groups have agreed to fight Al Qaeda and halt attacks on American units.

Commanders involved in these negotiations say that in some cases, Sunni groups have agreed to alert U.S. troops to the location of roadside bombs and other lethal booby traps.

This clearly show just how bad the current situation in Iraq is. We are arming the very people that we have spent the last 5 years trying to kill. In our effort to find a path to victory, we are now forced to making very dangerous alliances and aiding uncontrollable groups. The forces we are arming are not part of the government, not part of the Iraqi army, they are fighting the Iraqi government as it currently exist. These are the armies of the Sunni population who are already at war with the Shia population, who happen to control the government at this time.

critics of the strategy, including some U.S. officers, say it could amount to the Americans arming both sides in a future civil war.

This may work, desperate situations call for bold action, but I fear that the law of unintended consequences will lead us to look back on this decision, and wish we had not chosen this path.


Silence Dogood said...

John, good post - it could have just as properly ended with desperate situations often call for desperate measures. This is an important history lesson for those not quickly likening this to many of the problems of the past, and while the information can be used for several different arguments I don't know anyone who would look at the first example you cite (as we see it now with the advantage of hindsight) and argue Russia should have stayed - and quite arguably still be exactly where they were 30 years ago, aside from being dead broke and loosing 10 of thousands of troops.

dancewater said...

I posted to a blog called Iraq Today at

It seems to me it is time to stop this arms-trade-around-the-world business ~~ it only benefits the arms dealers.

Past time to renounce violence also. It amuses me that people tell me that pacifism will not work, when we have example after example after example after example after example ........ and on and on....... of how well using violence does not work!