It’s been said that the Generals who predicted victory on the battlefield of Afghanistan failed to heed the lesson of Vietnam.
They could have taken a page from former French President Charles de Gaulle. Unlike his American counterparts, he distrusted the generals and worked hard to exit France from a brutal colonial war.
In a speech before 100,000 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, President de Gaulle denounced U.S. policy in Vietnam and urged the U.S. government to pull its troops out of Southeast Asia.
Three days later, Assistant Secretary of State William Bundy dismissed de Gaulle’s proposal and said that the U.S. intended to withdraw its forces when “the North Vietnamese get out.” Of course, it was the U.S. that got out – to humiliating defeat.
The triumph of Algerian revolutionaries in 1962 convinced de Gaulle that the Vietnamese crisis could not be solved militarily.
Meanwhile, colonial wars continued unabated. The Portuguese colonial war against Angola ended when, after several decades of fighting, Portugal was unable to resist the onslaught of several anti-colonialist movements.
In another war on the west African nations of Guinea and Cape Verde, Portugal hoped to continue the lucrative slave trade introduced in the 15th century. The Europeans were quickly dispatched in one of the most successful wars of independence.
The British lost Kenya to militant Kikuyu fighters and independence was achieved in December 1963.
Recent history shows it is foolish for Western powers to fight wars in other people’s lands, despite the temptations. Homegrown insurgencies, though seemingly outmatched in money, technology, arms, air power and the rest, are often better motivated, have a constant stream of new recruits, and often draw sustenance from just over the border.
The war the Americans thought they were fighting against the Taliban was not the war their Afghan allies were fighting. That made the American war, like other such neocolonialist adventures, most likely doomed from the start.
Outside powers are fighting one war as visitors — occupiers — and their erstwhile allies who actually live there, something entirely different. In Afghanistan, it was not good versus evil, as the Americans saw it, but neighbor against neighbor.
Over two thousand U.S. military members died in Afghanistan as of this month, as per the Defense Department. Spending to conduct the war reached $20 trillion according to the Costs of War Project at Brown University.
From the era of the Cold War to the dawn of the global fight on terror, every intervention, whether unilateral or multilateral, has been whitewashed with the polemics of protecting the values of liberal democracy. Said DWs reporter Mimi Mefo Takambou. “ I would therefore conclude that the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) has outlived its usefulness, if there ever was one. Except, of course, the raison d’être for these troops in Africa, has nothing to do with ending conflicts or engaging in nation-building.”
“In the long run, all colonial wars are lost,” opined historian Patrick Chabal.