The farce that was Vietnam spawned many books and movies about the chasm between the in-country reality and the evening propaganda we consumed at home. For me one of the signal tomes about that war was The Bright Shining Lie (1988) by Neil Sheehan. The best rationale anyone could come up with, after our helicopters left the rooftops of Saigon in 1975, was that we showed the Soviets and Red China how expensive it would be for them to continue pushing over the dominos of communist conquest. Perhaps that justified the 55,000 that came back in body bags, and the countless more who brought the horror of war home to their families.
Today the victor North Vietnam is called simply Vietnam, Saigon is named after Ho Chi Minh, the father of their country, and we are encouraging a trading relationship between us that is designed to scare hell out of China. Maybe, if we play our cards right, we can get them to start buying our Treasuries and then stiff them like we will the Chinese. Revenge is sweet, and revenge delayed is sweeter yet. Then again, maybe not.
Today we are the umpteenth ‘empire’ that has put its boots on the ground between the stark mountain ranges that define Afghanistan. We went in there to punish the Islamists who had attacked us all over the world, and were training to redouble the 9/11 battle on our shores. And then we stayed there to do some “nation building” in the best of democratic traditions.
Somebody forgot to look up that the place never was a nation. It was just a collection of warring and terminally backward tribes stuck in the middle ages. Their biggest leap into modern times was trading in their muzzle loaders for AK-47s and RPG launchers (and some of our Stingers). Their perennial economy was and still is supplying the world with delights derived from the poppy pods. And we went in there to unify the tribes into one big happy drug-free democracy.
And here comes the punch line. Just like in Vietnam, our staying power has again been constructed on a growing stack of bright shining lies. We aren’t making any progress democratizing or unifying the country, never have, and there’s no sign that we ever will. If we argue that we want their minerals, we could just go in there and bribe the local warlord for protection while we mine the bejeezus out of their mountains. Look at that country on Google Earth, there is nothing more there that we want or need. Other than some minerals, it is hard to come up with a reason to do anything with those people other than whump ‘em now and then when we think they've got people in there getting ready to screw with us.
So after nearly ten years of warfare, hundreds of billions of dollars wasted, and thousands of casualties, all we can claim is that we barely control territory that is within eyeshot of any one of our fortified checkpoints or the many remote and helicopter supplied Fort Apaches here and there in the mountains and valleys. And even then, we don’t and can’t do anything to stop the Taliban as they terrorize the locals while we watch through thick lenses hiding behind thicker walls. This is all we have accomplished, no matter what reality Washington under two administrations has been telling us.
All this is corroborated in a short and to the point article – ‘Truth, lies, and Afghanistan’ – by Lt Col Daniel L. Davis in the Armed Forces Journal. The man has blown the whistle on the nation's command staff and sacrificed his military career in getting the word out, I encourage you to read it.