Comparing America’s Failure in Afghanistan to the Soviet’s in 1989

John Glaser, January 02, 2013

The New Years experience tends to generate perspective and long-term thinking. At least, that’s the case with two unlikely opinionators: The New York Times and the Taliban.

Both the Times and the Taliban have made strong, end of the year historical comparisons between the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, coming at least partially in 2014, and the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989.

The New York Times:

The young president who ascended to office as a change agent decides to end the costly and unpopular war in Afghanistan. He seeks an exit with honor by pledging long-term financial support to allies in Kabul, while urging reconciliation with the insurgency. But some senior advisers lobby for a deliberately slow withdrawal, and propose leaving thousands of troops behind to train and support Afghan security forces.

This is a nearly exact description of the endgame conundrum facing President Obama as he prepares for a critical visit by Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, planned for early January.

But the account is actually drawn from declassified Soviet archives describing Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s closed-door struggles with his Politburo and army chiefs to end the Kremlin’s intervention in Afghanistan — one that began with a commando raid, coup and modest goals during Christmas week of 1979 but became, after a decade, what Mr. Gorbachev derided as “a bleeding wound.”

Separately, the Taliban released an emailed statement entitled “Quick Glance at 2012″ in which they said “We can unmistakably state that 2012 in Afghanistan for the current occupation was exactly as 1986 was for the former occupation.” Reporting on the statement, AFP writes “The year 1986 is widely seen as a turning point in the Soviets’ ten-year presence in Afghanistan, with mujahideen attacks forcing Moscow on the defensive before the military finally left in 1989.”

The comparison is an important one, because in the West, the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan is universally regarded as retreat in the face of defeat. And Americans will have to watch, as 2013 and 2014 come and go, as their political leadership tirelessly claim that the war was worth it, the mission has been accomplished, and the troops are leaving with their heads high.

But it’s not the case. As Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in October, America’s war in Afghanistan “will not be successful.” And the surge Obama ordered in 2009 has been a complete failure by every observable metric. A Pentagon report to Congress last month “found that violence in Afghanistan is higher than it was before the surge of American forces into the country two years ago,”  The New York Times reported.

US troops are leaving in 2014, not because the mission has been accomplished, but precisely because it hasn’t, and it can’t be.

That said, there is one major difference between the US in 2014 and the Soviet Union in 1989: the US is not leaving Afghanistan. During the vice presidential debates, VP Joe Biden said, “We are leaving [Afghanistan]. We are leaving in 2014, period. Period.” But all along, the US has been working behind the scenes with the Kabul government on an agreement that would govern the presence of at least 10,000 US troops well beyond 2014, perhaps until 2024.

Of course a major problem is that so long as any foreign occupation exists in Afghanistan, and so long as any Kabul government is propped up from abroad, the insurgency will remain alive and well. The insurgency has persisted for 11 years despite the efforts of the world’s most advanced military. And all signs tell me they will continue to fight to oust the occupier even after a “withdrawal” (which we now know really only means a smaller occupation).

So the Soviets perhaps were more prepared to face realities in their failed war than Washington. The trajectory of America’s failure rests on a much lengthier timeline than the Soviets on the eve of their demise. But it will be a failure, nonetheless.




35 Responses to “Comparing America’s Failure in Afghanistan to the Soviet’s in 1989”

  1. A disgraceful fall from top status for America. Can there be a more craven nation? Are any people less worthy of their history than modern Americans? We have crack, abortion, the death of Detroit, drugs, Paris Hilton and gangs. How did things come to this? How could every institution become so corrupted: think of the Secret Service and how they acted in Colombia? Think of the head of the CIA running around with a married woman who in turn has two little sons. From top to bottom the nation has all but rotted away. America is weak because the people have become godless and filled with idols. Yes there are still many good people, but in general we would lose, easily, World War II if we had to fight it today with the same strategy and privations.

  2. [...] Comparing US and Soviet Failures in Afghanistan [...]

  3. Disgraceful is correct, Michael. After our victory in WW-II, our motto in America was "Right is Might". It was always being quoted and believed from the bottom of our hearts. We were living proof at how it worked, indeed we bragged about having never lost a war. Due to our humiliating defeat in Vietnam, we stopped using the term, but it still holds true today, because the Afghans, citizens of one of the poorest and most backward countries in the world, just like the North Vietnamese, have proven that indeed, "Right is Might." It really doesn´t matter who we think the good and bad guys are, it is a matter of belief. Our enemies believe they are right, while we know we are not. We lose – they win.

    Is it humiliating? It certainly is for the chick hawks that create our belligerent aggressions, yes indeed, it is a very humiliating defeat for those putrid losers. I can´t wait to hear their cowardly wining of excuses and statements about what they did.

  4. The paradox in all this is that it is those who are "most morally upright" in personal morality who are the most corrupt in seeking to kill people all over the world! The scruffy OWS crowd, scourged by the morally upright Evangelicals and other so-called "conservatives" aren't for the constant wars, it is those well dressed people that you can see on TV in John Hagee's vast church and other "morally upright" conservative churches who have been must zealous in killing other people. General Jerry Boynton and his God was going to prove that "our" God was more powerful than "their" God. And a whole hell of a lot of "Christians" urged him on. That is the true corruption of our society. Not to defend crackheads, but they harm far fewer people than Michle Bachmann and fanatical love of war on Moslems. And we know what happened to all those self-righteous Jewish kingdoms in the Old Testament.

  5. "We have crack, abortion, the death of Detroit, drugs, Paris Hilton and gangs" – and that ain't the worst of it – we have Big Pharma, Wall Street, Llyod Blancfein, Jamie Dimond, the military-industrial complex, the TEA Party, the death of the American middle class, and the loss of our civil liberties. The nation has rotted, allright, but mostly at the top. But, you're wrong on one thing – we do worship a mighty God (which we call wealth)

  6. Yes, because fearing god kept the human race out of war for thousands of years before this right? The problem here is YOUR arrogance.

  7. you had me at "disgraceful"
    you lost me at "because the people have become godless "

  8. It was never meant to end, it's sole purpose is profit.

  9. Godless indeed but not in the strict religious sense of even Nietzschean sense (wiping out the horizon itself). Perhaps keep it more simple and less metaphysical and say it's reason, restrain and the ability to reflect giving us abilities to build anything worthwhile – and thus it's unreason, stupidity, lack of restrain and disability to reflect which have become the real enemy. Superficial emotion egged on by extreme commercialism is a way more easy to identify cause. But most of all the lack of growing up, a lack of understanding the way manipulation works privately, publicly and historically. This calls for a certain type of education to take hold. You know what to do.

  10. And here is the shortest and clearest explanation for every "action" our archons engage upon.

  11. Godless indeed but not in the strict religious sense of even Nietzschean sense (wiping out the horizon itself). Perhaps keep it more simple and less metaphysical and say it's reason, restrain and the ability to reflect giving us abilities to build anything worthwhile – and thus it's unreason, stupidity, lack of restrain and disability to reflect which have become the real enemy. Superficial emotion egged on by extreme commercialism is a way more easy to identify cause. But most of all the lack of growing up, a lack of understanding the way manipulation works privately, publicly and historically. This calls for a certain type of education to take hold. You know what to do.

  12. I am all for the US remaining beyond 2014. That way their defeat will be more painful and rather that leaving the way they can do today, later they will have to escape if they can.

  13. More probably they will talk about the stab in the back. Bunch of pusillanimous cowards.

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  15. I still don't understand the America's objective for the occupation of Afghanistan. Was it a knee-jerk reaction to the 9/11, or was there any other reason to send the Army?! As a former Soviet citizen, I can tell you that the Afghan war was never popular in the Soviet Union, but at least we watched reports of schools and hospitals being built, factories and plants opened.. Not until the US armed Mujaheddin with stingers and and the CIA spent billions of dollars in covert operations, did the Russians left.
    " Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger announced that it was essential for the U.S. to establish bases in the Persian Gulf region "to act as a deterrent to any Soviet hopes of seizing the oil fields."

    Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,…

    So, taking into account that Russia presently was actually helping US, not Afghans, America lost the comparison hands down ))

  16. Who will tend to all the poppy fields if we leave?It is a fact that when the "enemies" were there they got rid off all the poppy fields……Guess who runs them now and imports all the drugs??? Of course we will be there……

  17. [...] Comparing US and Soviet Failures in Afghanistan [...]

  18. [...] Glaser, Comparing US and Soviet Failures in Afghanistan [...]

  19. Fearing God, and SAYING you fear God are two very, VERY different things. I respect your right to be a non-believer, but atheists can be every bit as dogmatic and arrogant as religionists.

  20. America hasnt become such a poor society because of Abortion or even Godlessness, it has become a poor society because its Government strting with its Religious right run GOP has refused to uphold its own laws! Just look at the long list of its own laws did Bush the younger break even laws his father signed into existence! America lost its way when it stopped being a nation of laws!

    As soon as George Bush said as Commander in chief he could do virtually anything, Torture, cancell the Geneva Conventions, Murder US citizens on his say so, (that wasnt originally done by Obama it was done by Bush) Illegal searches by the FBI on an agents say so, NSA spying on US citizens, that is what has caused the failure of the US, oh and this idea that an American congress gets to write laws for every other country in the world!

  21. remember what happens to us when our temperture coes up one degree.. have your ever had

    your temp go up two degrees….three… how did we feel? is it time for the nra to kill fossil ceos?

  22. WE can learn from the war in Afghanistan that America is most unreliable friend if they need a country and the people then forget after achieving their goal. Even they will thwir closest ally like Saddam, and Zia-ul Haque if americans were and have accepted Zia plan of installing the govt, then Russian withdrawl had saved lives in Afghanistan but america is super power and super intelligent.
    Still they are comitting blunder in Afghanistan as without a viable govt. people wil fight each other thus a permanet headach for Pakistan.
    Pakistan must think tousand times to believe americans as they are unreliable friend and worst enemy.

  23. A bit complicated — So put on your thinking caps

    Capitalism is rule by the 25% most intelligent and wealthy, the rich ruling class.

    Whereas, communism is rule by the 25% intelligent middle-class, middle-speed thinkers who rule in a klutzy middle-speed way, which is why communist governments always get subverted and perverted by the rich ruling class.

    So, when the Soviets were building roads, bridges and schools, the terrorists were of the 25% rich ruling class. Whereas, now with America bombing anything the moves outside of a city, the Taliban is of the 25% intelligent middle-class.

    Which is way we really should leave God out of our discussion, as he is a pacifist, he opposes the use of force to overcome evil, and is now giving us enough rope to hang ourselves.

  24. [...] Comparing America’s Failure in Afghanistan to the Soviet’s in 1989 [...]

  25. [...] Comparing America’s Failure in Afghanistan to the Soviet’s in 1989 [...]

  26. Simply Americans lose this war so many years before but they just now want to give a dramatic end to this war to show their selves a hero or winner ,
    any how it will be very funny that the army of maximum 7 thousand pashtun tribe is defeating 42 countires army ,,, and the army of Pashtun tribe are the most poor peoples on the face of the earth.
    and also these were the peoples which these americans laugh that they just know Goat an sheep and caves …
    it will be ridiculous that that poor army is defeating 42 countries in Afghanistan .. its very shamful war for USA in history so i think its more worst then Russia for USA..

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  31. it will be ridiculous that that poor army is defeating 42 countries in Afghanistan .. its very shamful war for USA in history so i think its more worst then Russia for USA..

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  35. we won the second WW with more luck than brain. Had Adolf abandon invasion of Russia he will sure conquered England and develop nuclear bomb sooner than USA, All other wars are the shocking failure..for USA and removing McArthur and denying him use of nukes against Chinessian volunteers . Do not try to argue with me I was in Warsaw pact Army.