Wow. It happened.
We thought the Vietnam War was a historical event, a one-time disaster that would never occur anymore. After all, America learned its lesson, had it not?
But history may be repeating itself after all.
I think many Americans felt this was coming, for years now. It was only a matter of time. And now, it is for real. AMERICA IS WITHDRAWING FROM AFGANISTAN.
Remember 2001? The American nation was in a trauma, and burning with rage over the catastrophic event henceforth known as “9/11”. Invading Afghanistan was the obvious and inevitable choice for President George W. Bush, with overwhelming popular support.
True, Afghanistan had a reputation as “the Graveyard of Empires”, after British, and later Soviet military failures there. But the heat of the hour lent a certain optimism that this time, America will get it right.
Which it did.
Until it didn’t.
By now, the American military has spent almost 20 years in the country.
Close to two and a half thousand US soldiers gave their lives for this cause.
Over twenty thousand were wounded.
And approximately two trillion dollars were spent on the Afghan and Iraq wars.
Yes. Billions are for wimps. We’re talking trillions now.
Somehow, over the course of those twenty years, the enthusiasm and optimism about the war dwindled, while confusion grew as to its purpose, goals, and endgame.
And now, President Joe Biden says the war is “unwinnable”. He is simply walking away from this colossal investment of time, blood, and treasure. And is facing little opposition from congress.
It’s not like the future of Afghanistan is secure. Indeed, the US government will continue to monitor the situation in Afghanistan from outside of it, and make sure it’s safe. But little has been offered in terms of concrete methods or plans to do that effectively.
Furthermore, there is little guarantee that the country will not return to being the hotbed of terrorism it was before the US invaded. If Iraq is any indication, we may have a new ISIS, or its equivalent, before long.
So what changed? Where did this go wrong?
And how does a rag-tag third world army prevail over the world’s most powerful military?
In Vietnam, at least, the enemy had the backing of two great powers, The Chinese and the Soviets. Now, this isn’t the case.
Furthermore, from the domestic and political angle, during Vietnam, Americans protested vehemently and sometimes violently against the war. The Afghan war, however, went almost unnoticed by the American public.
So, what’s the explanation?
Now, obviously, there are many complex factors at play here, including Washington’s complicated relationship with neighboring Pakistan, and the nature of asymmetrical warfare in general.
However, pundits say that primitive as the Taliban may be, they have a secret weapon, which America does not possess.
That secret weapon is patience. Unlimited patience. And, iron perseverance.
The US Army has indeed pounded the Taliban heavily. From 2001 through 2019 it dropped an astounding 81,638 bombs in Afghanistan. In 2019 an average of 20 bombs a day were dropped.
About 80,000 Taliban fighters were killed over the years.
How many were wounded? Who even knows…
And yet, they kept up their fight. They just kept coming back, and kept coming back, no matter how many times they got hit. Until the mighty USA decided they had enough.
On the flip side, patience and sticking out a difficult situation is the weak spot of America, and Westerners in general. That, coupled with a chronic lack of clarity on the objective of the campaign eventually bled to death the will to fight.
And this is what the Viet Cong, and now the Taliban was banking on.
Colonel Harry G. Summers writes: “‘You know, you never beat us on the battlefield,’ I told my North Vietnamese counterpart during negotiations in Hanoi a week before the fall of Saigon. He pondered that remark a moment and then replied, ‘That may be so, but it is also irrelevant.’”
Sometimes our objectives in life are not completely clear in our minds. And we are not prepared to go for the long haul.
When then-President Bush announced the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, he warned that victory would not be instantaneous. “It could take a few years”, he tried to prepare the American people. But he didn’t dare predict that it could take twenty years.
So many of us begin a commitment the same way. We are ready to improve our connection to God, strengthen our commitment to our heritage, to truth, and to ourselves. And we are ready to devote ourselves to work.
As long as it goes more or less smoothly, that is.
We are prepared to undertake a two to three year war. But a twenty year plus war?
Do we have the grit and determination to stick it out, even when things don’t go according to plan, and the going goes from rough to rougher?
What is the key to obtaining that tenacity? The key is to realize that there is no alternative.
Why did the Taliban succeed where America did not? It’s because to them the objective was clear, and there was no alternative to success. They kept going and going, because that was this was their life. For Americans, on the other hand, it was a project. Sometimes projects succeed, and sometimes they don’t. Twenty years ago, with 9/11 fresh in the American consciousness there was motivation. Now, in 2021, that has largely faded.
Not that we agree with the Taliban’s worldview and objectives, but we must make our goals our life, too. We must zoom in on the reality of our world, the reality of life, until realize that there is no alternative. Living an empty frivolous life is not “Plan B”. It is not an option at all.
When we bring this message home, there will be no alternative to success.
The battle may be long, it may be hard, and it may seem impossible.
But in the end, we will prevail.
By Rabbi Pinchos Fried
The contents of this article are the opinion of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Oorah or TorahMates.