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Willy E. Gutman: Is Afghanistan destined to become America's Waterloo?

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Posted: January 3, 2009 9:49 p.m.
Updated: January 4, 2009 4:59 a.m.
 
The axiom that the world's destiny is in the hands of bankers and industrialists is never more aptly demonstrated than in wartime.

The lords of capital and the canon merchants thrive on the menace of conflict and the conduct of war. They prosper when the first shots ring out.

Manufacturing threats and arousing national fear grants them the right, with governmental backing, to pillage the national treasury and fleece taxpayers.

And so military transports will bring home body bags and flag-draped caskets. Posthumous medals will be cast to honor young people who die in unwinnable wars not of their choosing.

Bugles will play "Taps" and 21-gun salutes will ring out in the grief-filled stillness of a hundred village cemeteries.

And now dubbed the "focal point" of the war on terrorism, Afghanistan - remote, immense, wild and inhospitable - will continue to thwart efforts to pacify, domesticate and democratize by military means an enclave of throbbing nationalism and religious fervor.

The Russians tried it in 1979, enduring a nine-year conflict involving catastrophic losses in men and materiel, and whose roots go back to Tsarist expansions in the so-called "Great Game" between Russia and Britain.

Five years after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, they were bogged down in a guerrilla war of increasing intensity.

They failed to reduce the insurgency or win acceptance by the Afghan people. Instead, Afghan resistance grew stronger and gained widespread popular support.

Fighting spread gradually to all parts of Afghanistan. The Soviets controlled less territory than they did in 1980, and their airfields, garrisons and lines of communication, which came increasingly under attack, were ultimately disabled.

Although Soviet military tactics were clearly designed to minimize losses of personnel and equipment, a "sanitized" document released by the U.S. Directorate of Intelligence tallies Soviet losses at "roughly" 25,000 casualties, including "about" 8,000 killed, "over" 600 helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft and thousands of armored vehicles and trucks.

"We estimate casualties in the Afghan Army at about 67,000 and insurgent casualties at some 40,000, not including civilian sympathizers."

The Soviet program to transform Afghanistan into a reliable client state had no impact. Efforts at media indoctrination of Afghans failed because of widespread Afghan illiteracy, suspicion of all foreigners by the ruling regime, strong religious convictions and an unshakable adherence to ancestral values.

Temporary loyalties and sporadic truces were obtained through bribery and deception - a subterfuge the U.S. has admitted it will use - then lost.

"History," said Napoleon, "is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon." His vast army's debacle on the frozen steppes of Russia in 1812, history agrees, was the result of a fundamental error in judgment: A formidable juggernaut is no match for the courage, selflessness, determination and patience of a dedicated, fanatically patriotic people, no matter how militarily outnumbered they might be.

In exile on Elba and reflecting on his losses before escaping, reconstituting an army and taking on the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo, Napoleon quipped, "A leader has the right to be defeated, but never to be surprised."

Over a century later, a small-time painter and a psychotic with illusions of grandeur, Adolf Hitler, who chose surprise over the prophetic nature of past events, emulated Napoleon and invaded Russia.

And "General Winter," the redoubtable and invincible strategist that decimated France's Imperial Army - Napoleon lost more than half a million men - made short shrift of the Führer's best troops.

The mighty Wehrmacht was not equipped for winter warfare. Frostbite and disease caused more casualties than combat, and dead and wounded had already reached 155,000 in the first three weeks of combat.

By the end of the offensive, which was frustrated by tenacious Russian troops, more 1.5 million German soldiers were dead.

The war in Afghanistan, while vastly different from the Napoleonic and German campaigns against Russia, will be lost owing a dynamic common to both: The U.S. is fighting against well organized, scrupulously disciplined and fanatically dedicated nationalists who know and control the terrain and who, like quick silver, scatter and disappear into the innumerable chasms, furrows, and crevices that cleave that country's vast mountainous terrain.

Add an unshakable devotion to deeply rooted religious convictions that include a fanatical love of country and abhorrence toward foreign influences, which they regard as insufferable meddling, occupation and subjugation.

The proposed doubling of U.S. troops in Afghanistan will please the bankers and military contractors to no end. It may retard but will not forestall an inevitable and humiliating defeat.

Dead or alive, Osama bin Ladin has been elevated to symbolic eminence. Dead or alive, his message and his mission continue to inspire Muslims around the world.

It is only when the U.S. awakens from its mythical illusions of grandeur and sees the world though less myopic and arrogant eyes that the world can relax long enough to chance what could be the beginning of a meaningful dialogue with a nation perceived as an imperialist bully.

Willy E. Gutman is a Tehachapi resident and a widely published veteran journalist. From 2002 to 2007 he was a Signal columnist. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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