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By Steve Dunham
Journal of Homeland Security, December 2001. Copyright 2001 Analytic Services. Reproduced with permission.
Make friends for yourselves through your use of this worlds goods.
Luke 16:19, New American Bible
Did we miss an opportunity to defeat the Taliban
In 1989, after ten years of war, the Soviets finally pulled out of Afghanistan, leaving behind a country full of land mines and more than one million Afghan dead, wrote Sebastian Junger in his book Fire.1
A country cant sustain that kind of damage and return to normal overnight. The same fierce tribalism that had defeated the Sovietsradical local democracy, the CIA termed itmade it extremely hard for the various mujahidin factions to get along. (It would be three years before they would be able to take Kabul from the Communist regime that the Soviets had left.) Moreover, the mujahidin were armed to the teeth, thanks to a CIA program that had pumped three billion dollars worth of weapons into the country during the war. Had the United States continued its supportbuilding roads, repatriating the refugees, clearing the minefieldsAfghanistan might have stood a chance of overcoming its natural ethnic factionalism. But the United States didnt. No sooner had the Soviet-backed government crumbled away than Americas Cold Warborn interest in Afghanistan virtually ceased. Inevitably, the Afghans fell out among themselves. And when they did, it was almost worse than the war that had just ended.
Junger wrote this after visiting the front lines of the Northern Alliance rebels under Ahmad Shah Massoud in Afghanistan, only months before terrorists under the leadership of Usama
While the commanders fought on, life in Afghanistan sank into a lawless hell. Warlords controlled the highways; opium and weapons smuggling became the mainstay of the economy; private armies battled one another for control of a completely ruined land.
Meanwhile, said Junger, the Pakistani government could see that its front man in Afghanistan, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, was not defeating the rebels, and so turned to a new forcethe Talibanto create a government that it could approve.
Armed and directed by Pakistan and facing a completely fractured alliance, the Taliban rapidly fought their way across western Afghanistan. The population was sick of war and looked to the Taliban as saviors, which, in a sense, they
By 1996, the Taliban had taken control of most of Afghanistan, including Kabul. What was Americas reaction? We wanted their cooperation in gaining access to oil.
There was a growing movement from a variety of Western countriesparticularly the United Statesto overlook the Talibans flaws and recognize them as the legitimate government of the country. There was thought to be as much as two hundred billion barrels of untapped oil reserves in Central Asia and similar amounts of natural gas. That made it one of the largest fossil fuel reserves in the world, and the easiest way to get it out was to build a pipeline across Afghanistan to Pakistan. However appalling Taliban rule might be, their cooperation was needed to build the pipeline. Within days of the Taliban takeover of Kabul, a
U.S. StateDepartment spokesman2 said that he could see nothing objectionable about the Talibans version of Islamic law.
While Massoud and the Taliban fought each other to a standstill at the mouth of the Panjshir Valley, the American oil company Unocal hosted a Taliban delegation to explore the possibility of an oil deal.
Five years later, we still havent gotten our hands on the oil, but we have found something objectionable about the Taliban.
We are partly the victim of our own shortsighted decision influenced by our lust for oil. Although calls for energy independencecoming from Senators Chuck Grassley and Dick Lugar, for examplehave increased, we are a long way from reaching that goal, and are in danger of not seeing beyond the next fix for our addiction when it comes to making foreign policy.
An oil crisis is unlikely to happen and to add to the other difficulties of the current fight against terrorism, wrote
Another oil crisis could be caused by anti-American sentiment, or it could lead to policy decisions that inflame anti-American sentiment and spark more terrorism against the United States.
Although the Bush Administration appears to be prosecuting the fight against the Taliban and
We need to recognize that there are people who do find something objectionable about the United States.
To the detractors of the United States, the Gulf War was not about resisting aggression against Kuwait, wrote Donald Scherer, Professor of Applied Philosophy at Bowling Green (Ohio) State University. It was about propping up a government that would feed our energy consumption habits regardless of how much Muslim nations came under the influence of American culture and values. To our detractors, the ugly side of those values includes our materialism, wanton sexuality and disregard of spiritual values.4
This is not to say that there is nothing good about the United States and our influence on world culture. We have earned many friends, and we have many times been a good neighbor, and often an unappreciated one. Nor is it to say that we have made enemies only by bad actions. If we pursue justice, we will make enemies.
The point is that every policy is sowing seeds that will grow into something. Policies that benefit the strongest partyusually usmay be planting seeds of resentment. Sometimes this is even clear when the actions are taken. Look at what happened in 1919, when the victorious Allies imposed the Treaty of Versailles on the defeated Central Powers. Its onerous conditions were intended to subjugate Germany indefinitely and prevent another world war. Maybe the Allies could not have predicted that another war would grow out of the seeds of that treaty, but German resentment was openly expressed. Germany had sought a peace based on President Woodrow Wilsons Fourteen Points, which included German evacuation of all Russian territory, evacuation and restoration of Belgium, and return of Alsace-Lorraine to Francein short, Germany had to give up all the territory it had taken. Germany signed the armistice of November 1918 expecting that the subsequent peace treaty would be based on Wilsons Fourteen Points, which also prescribed open covenants of peace (no more secret treaties or alliances), absolute freedom of the seas, and the removal, so far as possible, of all economic barriers to trade.
The Treaty of Versailles piled burdens on top of the Fourteen Points: Germany was forced to accept all blame for the war; lost its submarines, air force, and colonies; had to pay
When those seeds grew into a Germany that was far more hostile, aggressive, and militant than the Germany of 1914, the United States (which signed the Treaty of Versailles, even though it went far beyond Wilsons peace proposal) had at least learned a lesson from 1919: not to make enemies into permanent enemies.
With the Marshall Plan, which pumped more than $12 billion into rebuilding Europe after World
Opposing Iraqi aggression in Kuwait made enemies, some of whom are still attacking us a decade later.
We cant avoid making enemies.
What we can, and must, do is make friendsnot just with those who obviously could harm us, or whose oil we covet, but with all nations as much as possible. For example, is it hard to imagine that with different American policies, Cuba might today be a friend of the United States?
To return to Jungers comments about the failure of American policy in Afghanistan after the Soviet Union pulled out: Had the United States continued its supportbuilding roads, repatriating the refugees, clearing the minefieldsAfghanistan might have stood a chance of overcoming its natural ethnic factionalism. This is not to say that we would not be under attack by Usama
Americas riches can beand often area blessing to the rest of the world, and America has generously, and rightly, aided countries that have been hardly cordial to us.
As John F. Kennedy said in his commencement address at American University on
At every step, we should be looking to plant seeds of friendship, peace, and justice. We will still have wars to fight, and we will still have enemies.
We cant avoid making enemies. We can avoid making friendsand that is something we cannot afford.
Click on the endnote number to return to the article.
1 The Lion in Winter, in Fire by Sebastian Junger
2 Glyn Davies, on 27 September 1996.
3 George L. Perry, The War on
Terrorism, the World Oil Market and the U.S. Economy, Brookings Institution
4 Donald Scherer, Energy and the Quest for Peace.