I was listening to the BBC World Service podcast this morning. They had a brief interview with some anodyne retired US Army general, one of many now forgotten names who had done a stint commanding American and ISAF forces in Afghanistan. He was questioned about the new peace deal struck between Washington and the Taliban.
The official White House line is that this marks an American victory over the Talibs. Even Pompeo says that with a straight face, not a trace of hilarity on his visage. The BBC's talking head general was a bit more restrained. He said it was a victory for Afghan women. Apparently they now have rights that will persist into the future in some form, maybe.
The interviewer struck a raw nerve when he mentioned the Taliban were also declaring victory whereupon the cookie cutter general said they had better not because America wouldn't tolerate that. Really. America stood ready to return and restart the war if the Talibs got out of line. Yeah, sure.
Like all fairy tales this war begins with 'once upon a time' - 1973 - in a distant land, Paris. Two dudes met there - Henry Kissinger, on behalf of the United States, and Le Duc Tho on behalf of the Peoples Republic of Viet Nam, a.k.a. North Vietnam.
For more than a decade American forces had been fighting a fairly bloody war to check the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia by propping up a series of puppet governments in South Viet Nam. They had tried and tried but never got very far. The Communist's supply of soldiers seemed inexhaustible even as America dropped more bombs than in World War II. That's 7,662,000 tons of bombs and that's a lot. Laos wasn't even a combatant yet it received, on average, 8 bombs per minute from 1964 to 1973. But I digress.
After dropping all these bombs wherever they could find a place to drop bombs and still not getting anywhere with Hanoi, the Americans started to think they were neck deep in a shit show so they convened a sit down that resulted in a peace deal called the Paris Peace Accord. A curious aspect of the accord is that it was negotiated and agreed by just the United States and the government of North Viet Nam. The other government, the Saigon regime of South Viet Nam, wasn't at the table. It was there in spirit only, I suppose. The Nobel Prize committee only handed out two Peace Prizes for that - to Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho (Comrade Tho declined).
Then, deal in hand, the US delegation went back to Saigon to present them the accord as a fait accompli. For appearances sake the US pretended the South was in on it, but they weren't. Washington tried to pretend it secured peace for the South, but it didn't. The truth came out via the White House tapes Nixon was forced to cough up to the Special Prosecutor during Watergate.
The president of South Vietnam, in whose defense more than 50,000 Americans gave their lives, wept upon hearing President Richard Nixon's proposed settlement terms. ...Nixon would leave North Vietnamese troops occupying and controlling much of the South, while withdrawing all remaining American ground forces. "It is only an agonizing solution," said President Nguyen Van Thieu, "and sooner or later the government will crumble." National Security Adviser Henry A. Kissinger reported Thieu's response to Nixon on October 6, 1972, adding, "I also think that Thieu is right, that our terms will eventually destroy him."
As schoolchildren are taught, Nixon promised America "peace with honor" via a strategy of "Vietnamization" and negotiation. Vietnamization, he said, would train and equip the South Vietnamese to defend themselves without American troops. He realized it wouldn't. "South Vietnam probably can never even survive anyway," the president said on tape.
This was no mere passing doubt. On his first full day in office, he'd asked military, diplomatic and intelligence officials how soon the South would be able to handle the Communists on its own. The answer was unanimous: never. The Joint Chiefs, CIA, Pentagon, State Department, and the U.S. military commander in Vietnam, General Creighton W. Abrams, all agreed that Saigon, "even when fully modernized," would not survive "without U.S. combat support in the form of air, helicopters, artillery, logistics and major ground forces."Okay, with that background in mind, let's flash forward to 2020, yesterday when the United States and the Taliban signed another 'peace with honor' agreement for US forces to di di mau out of Afghanistan.
Another deal where America negotiates with a rag tag adversary it has not, in almost 20 years of combat, with every conceivable advantage in its favour, managed to defeat. Another deal that America negotiates in the absence of its client government that will eventually destroy the Kabul government. Another deal that leaves the adversary in occupation and control of most of the countryside. Another deal presented under the illusion of 'peace with honor.' The parallels are crushing.
You know the adage that 'victory has a thousand fathers but defeat is an orphan'? Yeah, that one. See?
What's the lesson here? There are so many. One is that America can win battles but unless the US can force its enemy to fight on American terms, to fight in the American style, the US can be defeated every time. This invokes another adage - we have all the watches but they have all the time. There's no need to defeat American forces in battle. You just have to bleed them a bit and wait for America's clock to run out.
Some have called it "The War of the Flea." Long before he became a household name, David Petraeus, told a journalist that all an enemy like the Taliban had to do was to be left still holding the field when the last American troops boarded the final transport out of Afghanistan. He was right then. He's right now.