South Vietnamese Fleeing the Fall of Saigon in 1975
Dooms us to Repeating Costly Mistakes
After carefully surveying the human saga, Dr. George Santayana, a professor of Philosophy at Harvard, observed: “Those who refuse to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat its mistakes.” There has never been a nation for whom this axiom is more appropriate that the USA. As I write the big story of the moment is the fall of Kabul, the capitol of Afghanistan, as the Taliban takes over the country.
One need only listen to President Biden’s speech at the beginning of the final , assuring us that the US retreat from Afghanistan would bear no resemblance to our retreat from Vietnam in 1975, to recognize that the US has learned nothing from history. For even Stevie Wonder can see it’s SOS…same old shit! Just look at the film…the South Vietnamese who had sided with the Americans in the war were storming the American embarkation point, holding onto the blades of helicopters as they ferried US personnel away, and crowds of Afghans are now holding onto US transport planes as the try to take off on the runways, in a desperate last ditch effort to escape the fate that awaits them at the hands of the Taliban.
When the persistent question arises, “how could this happen?” the routine answer is that there was “an intelligence failure.” Of this there can be no denial. However, the problem with this explanation is that few seem to recognize it is an intelligence failure that began over 60 years ago and has persisted ebbing and flowing like an ocean tide, with military conflicts returning in intervals like the theme of a bad song. Alas, the US government, high on self-righteous hubris and fired up on the dangerous destructive fiction of “American Exceptionalism,” the misbegotten belief that “America is the essential nation” graced by God and destined to lead the world, traverses the globe attempting to pound the non-believers, the evil heretics, into submission.
It is this set of beliefs, which also holds the interests of US multi-national corporations sacred, requiring a pro-capitalist posture on the part of other nations, that has been the raison d’ etre for the continuous foreign wars that stains our history with the blood of peoples around the world who have suffered American interventions. Hence the present disaster in Afghanistan cannot be understood apart from the history of US foreign interventions since the end of World War II, when the USA emerged as the most powerful nation in the world.
Armed with the awesome power of atomic bombs, a newly invented weapon whose unprecedented capacity for widescale destruction had been recently demonstrated by the horrible bombing of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – which many observers regard as a war crime since it was an indiscriminate attack on civilians – along with the most developed and productive economy in the world, the US elite set out to realize Henry Luce’s earlier prediction that the 20th century would be “The American Century.”
In order to achieve this Pax Americana, a post war world order where all roads would lead to America, just as they had once led to Rome under the ancient Pax-Romana, there was first the matter of nullifying the influence of Communism, which placed the US in direct conflict with Soviet Russia, who had been a critical US ally in the war against the fascist axis powers of Italy, Nazi Germany and the Japanese “Empire of the Rising Sun,” which sought to unite all of Asia under Japanese leadership. “Asia for the Asians” they cried, even as they raped the Chinese city of Nanking with unprecedented cruelty, while invading Korea and Vietnam.
Having defeated the Fascist powers in a grand alliance with the Soviet Union, in which the Russians had lost 27 million people, the United States now considered them the paramount obstacle to American global ambitions, keeping the world safe for US capitalism. Hence the policy of “Containment” was hatched by US foreign policy wonks such as George Kennan, and put into practice by American statesman and bureaucrats led by the Dullies brothers, Allen and John Foster, who served as CIA Director and Secretary Of State during the crucial years of the 1950’s when the Cold War began.
Watching the world they were making, Dr. WEB DuBois, the most prescient American social scientist/ historian/activist of the 20th century, observed: “If the Dullies brother are wise men then God save our fools!” History verifies the gravity of Dr. DuBois’s remarks because the policies initiated by the Dullies Brothers led to Korea, Vietnam, the overthrow of Iranian democracy in 1953, the genocidal repression in Guatemala, support for right wing dictators all over the Americas and the world, from the murderous Sukarno in Indonesia, the Cuban strongman Fulgencio Batista, a corrupt American puppet whose oppressive regime led to a popular people’s revolution led by Fidel Castro – young idealistic middle-class lawyer who was radicalized by Batista’s nullification of an election won by progressives dedicated to ushering in a more equitable society that overthrew him, nationalized the vast tracks of land owned by the US based United Fruit Company which paid starvation wages, and began to build a socialist society in Cuba.
Had the US government stood up for democracy in Batista’s Cuba, there might never have been a revolution. And had they embraced the revolution instead of automatically resorting to the “Containment” policy Castro would not have been driven into the waiting arms of the Soviet Union in an alliance for national survival. If President Kennedy had not decided to try and overthrow the Cuban Revolution by supporting the corrupt racist white Cuban exiles in the misbegotten “Bay of Pigs” invasion, the history of US Cuban relations could have been entirely different and mutually beneficial, positive and productive rather than negative and destructive, as would the history of all the Americas over the last half century.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the last decade of the 20th century – the reasons for which are too complex to dissect here, but Vladimir Putin has called it “the greatest tragedy” of the last century – the world looked forward to a period of planetary peace free of constant wars and rumors of wars, with the horrible specter of nuclear annihilation ever hovering in the shadows.
Americans especially were giddy at the prospect of a “peace dividend” where the billions being squandered on maintaining a warfare state would be put to good use solving the myriad problems confronting American society. And the military-industrial complex – a voracious monster consuming a large proportion of American treasure and intellectual talent, an unholy alliance between industry and the military that President Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of Allied forces in Europe that defeated the Nazi’s, warned against at its inception – would be put in check and eventually dismantled.
But this promise of a future free of perpetual wars proved to be a short- lived illusion. For the policy of containing communism would soon be reincarnated as the “War on Terror,” an American effort to contain the spread of radical Islamic theology, whose growth was largely a response to odious American policies in Islamic countries that produced both the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the terrorist attack by Islamic Jihadist on America of 9/11.
Hence the present debacle in Afghanistan has deep roots in decades of American foreign policy that has kept the US mired in the muck of constant military conflicts, large and small, overt and covert, since the end of World War II. The intellectual roots of the Afghan war can be found in the machinations of the policy wonks of the Project for a New American Century, that were installed in the American national security apparatus after Dirty Dick Cheney – Liz Cheney’s daddy – brought them into the administration of George W. Bush.
After the disastrous attack by Islamic Jihadist on 9/11, their hawkish theories became official US foreign policy, effectively replacing the more cautious counsel of Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice with the reckless imperialist vision of the likes of warmongering wonks such as Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Bill Kristol, et al.
It was a view premised on the vision of a unipolar world with the US reigning as the only global superpower after the collapse of the Soviet Union, where the US could successfully pursue a policy of Pax-Americana – a new world order based on the prolific use of military power in pursuit of American objectives around the world – with Israel and Saudi Arabia playing pivotal roles in the containment of militant Islam. The thinking that led us into the present hot mess in Afghanistan, a defeat more inglorious than Vietnam, can be clearly seen in a policy paper formulated in the Project for a New American Century.”
Titled “Redesigning America’s Defenses,” it was a plan in search of a President foolish enough to implement it – I have published an extensive analysis elsewhere titled “How the Iraq War was Hatched in a Think Tank.” It will soon be available online. They tried to introduce it during the Administration of George The First, Bush the Elder, but as a former head of the CIA, he understood too much about the realities of the world to embark on such a reckless adventure. Cheyney and Donald Rumsfeld made their pitch for the ideas that would later appear in the PNAC policy paper when Colin Powell was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during Operation Desert Storm, whose mission was to drive the invading armies of Saddam Hussein out of oil rich Kuwait.
Cheney and Rumsfeld, both prominent members of the Bush Administration, wanted to use the conflict to topple Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq, but General Powell put the brakes on this blatant attempt at mission creep and uttered the now famous advice to President George HW Bush. Invoking the Pottery Barn Rule, he said: ”If you break it you own it.” Pointing out that if the US took down Saddam, we would be responsible for putting Iraq back together again. Wisely, President Bush listened to General Powell, rejecting the advice of the future founders of The Project for a New American Century, whom he and General Powell routinely called “The Crazies” behind their backs.
With the election of George Bush Jr. aka “Clueless George,” the Crazies got the opportunity they had been waiting for. Dick Cheney, a founder of the Neo-Con think tank, was now Vice President of the United States, and placed in charge of choosing key personnel in the national security apparatus. And, predictably, Cheyney chose policy wonks from his think tank PNAC. After the 9/11 Jihadist terror attack on the US, Clueless George panicked and turned to them for guidance – effectively sidelining Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. And this resulted in the invasions that launched the wars in which we are finally ending in humiliating defeat a generation later! Alas, looking at the photos of Afghans holding onto departing American military planes in 2021, is indeed like watching a rerun of the US departure from Vietnam in 1975.
Attempting to Flee Afghanistan with Americans
A Defeated America Retreats 2021
So, yes there was indeed an intelligence failure that led to our debacle in Afghanistan, but it began in the middle of the last century, when the American government began to believe that they could shape the nations of the world to conform to American desires through containment of undesirable movements, covert political subversion, and armed intervention into the affairs of other nations. There is a straight line from those decisions to now, albeit with some bizarre twists turns and cul de sacs.
Hence when the question of where things went wrong in Afghanistan comes up, the “intelligence failure” that led to the present disaster, I am reminded of a conversation between the great pugilist Sugar Ray Robinson and the Judge conducting an inquest after Robinson accidently beat an opponent to death in the ring. “When did you know your opponent was in trouble Mr. Robinson,” asked the Judge. To wit Sugar replied: “I knew he was in trouble when he signed the contract your honor.”
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York