Afghanistan’s Decent Interval

By: - August 29, 2019

As the Paris peace negotiations between the U.S. and North Vietnam to end the Vietnam War were close to being concluded, Henry Kissinger, National Security advisor to Richard Nixon, told close associates he knew the North Vietnamese were going to win the Vietnam War after we left.

Nixon agreed. Kissinger said all he wanted was a “decent interval” between our leaving the main actions of the war and the fall of South Vietnam.

He got it. We withdrew by and large in 1973. North Vietnamese tanks rolled through the gates of the South Vietnamese presidential palace in Saigon at the end of April 1975.

It was a war we had been decreasing our involvement in for years under Nixon’s “Vietnamization” program. That meant giving the South’s Army the primary responsibility for fighting the North after over a decade of handling that ourselves.

Given the proximity of the North, right across the border, and the active sponsorship of the North by Red China and the Soviets, Kissinger’s analysis was correct. After we retreated there was no way we were going to get reinvolved with the number and types of forces needed to make the North abide by the terms of the peace agreement. That would not fly in a U.S. then polarized by politics.

Sound familiar?

Given the factors above like a divided America, an already advanced troop reduction, a war longer than a decade, and a local sponsor of our enemy close at hand across a border, in the ongoing and close to fruition peace negotiations with the Taliban I think we are witnessing the same “decent interval” scenario in Afghanistan.

Not too long after the remaining 14,000 troops we have there leave, the Taliban will regain complete control of Kabul and the rest of the country. I’m guessing that will happen in 2022 or 2023. Certainly not soon enough to upset the president’s reelection effort. However, not late enough to give the Afghan National Army a fighting chance.

President Trump has said more than once he is suspicious of foreign adventures. It’s one of the reasons we’ve largely drawn back in Syria. He has also said he wants a deal in Afghanistan, knowing that our nation’s 9-11 motivation for that war has been largely dissipated by time. Iran is close and waiting in the wings to draw Afghanistan into their orbit, as they have done to some degree with Iraq.

Once we’re out I doubt Trump will go back in force for any reason save a direct threat to our shores. The Taliban won’t make that indirect mistake twice.

What we can hope for is that this administration has learned from history and we will not experience another last helicopter off the embassy roof debacle as we did in Saigon.

Immigration should be expedited for those Afghan nationals who worked and fought with us in their country and want to settle here. We cannot leave them, as we did so many South Vietnamese, to the tender mercies of an enemy bent on revenge and ideological purification.

It will be another “we won the war but lost the peace” situation just as it was in 1975. Though our forces, again like in Vietnam, fought with bravery and determination.

In 2001 we should have gone into Afghanistan, made a pyramid out of the skulls of any suspected Taliban or al-Qaeda, sown the place with salt, and then quickly left.

Basically we should have done there what Rome did to Carthage, a purely punitive strike. This would have served as a nice reminder to them and other regimes of the cost of harboring groups that target the United States.

But we didn’t do that.

We, as usual in the far-flung reaches of the world, tried to bring to Afghanistan hope, progress, and democracy in a typically idealistic, but not realistic, American “nation-building” fashion.

Also as usual, the people in question didn’t want any of the above.