A common lament during the Vietnam War was , “Why are their Vietnamese better than our Vietnamese?” American soldiers had more respect for the skilled, disciplined and motivated Viet Cong than they did for their lazy, corrupt South Vietnamese allies.
Forty years later, and it’s the same depressing story. There’s a Marine captain somewhere in Afghanistan right now who’s thinking, “Damn, if I had some Taliban instead of these Afghan government clowns, I could clean up this province in a week.”
Vietnam, Central America, Iraq, Afghanistan. Why is it that THEY always seem to have the sharp guys, the ones with the skill and motivation to fight? And we end up with the local rejects, the thugs and dimwits who can’t get jobs, the officers who owe their positions because they’re someone’s brother-in-law?
A recent NYT op-ed called for the U.S. to create Afghan units under the direct command of American officers. Never mind how much this smacks of colonialism. What I want to know is, why is our Afghans need foreign officers to lead them, and their Afghans don’t?
The logical part of my brain replies with all sorts of rational reasons. Insurgents are more enthusiastic than government forces because they believe they are fighting for change rather than the status quo. And, Communism, Third World nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism were revolutionary movements that usually aimed at overthrowing an existing world order that the U.S. usually (and often reluctantly) had to support.
My logic also reminds me in war, the grass is always greener on the other side of the battlefield. The guerrillas seem better because their mistakes aren’t publicized. They seem sharper because the dumb ones are killed off by superior government firepower. They seem more audacious because ideology and poverty make give them little to lose in sacrificing their lives.
But, my heart screams, why is it that THEY get the Viet Cong and Taliban, while OUR insurgents were the freak show known as the Contras? Yes, we did back a successful Afghan insurgency against the Soviets. So even when we do something right, it’s a Pyrrhic victory.
I don’t know what the solution is. Only support governments that can stand on their own two feet? Then we would have abandoned South Korea, and all the Korean people would now be enjoying the Worker’s Paradise. All I do know is that I would like THEM to be the ones who lie awake at night worrying that the war is lost.