War games rag­ing for cen­turies

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - OPINION - Ge­orgie Anne Geyer Colum­nist

If the world to­day seems to you like a con­fus­ing or con­found­ing place, you are cer­tainly not alone.

Some­times it seems like a puz­zle gone mad, with pieces jump­ing up and down on their own and leav­ing only a heap of un­happy and un­re­lated parts.

But think about it this way for a mo­ment: The world — and par­tic­u­larly our Amer­i­can part in it — is ac­tu­ally a se­ries of sto­ries, and if you take those sto­ries step by step and an­a­lyze them, those puz­zle pieces can even­tu­ally fit to­gether into some­thing that makes sense.

A small piece of news, for in­stance, just jumped out at me: A re­spected Amer­i­can mil­i­tary of­fi­cer, Army Gen. John W. Ni­chol­son Jr., tes­ti­fy­ing that out­side pow­ers, led by Rus­sia, have in­creased their in­ter­fer­ence in the 16-year-old Afghan war in the past year.

Speak­ing be­fore a Se­nate panel, the gen­eral said that Moscow has pushed a “false nar­ra­tive” to “pub­licly le­git­imize” the Tal­iban.

This band of bloody broth­ers is fight­ing bit­terly against the Afghan gov­ern­ment, which is sup­ported by us and is most kindly de­scribed as “shaky,” while the war it­self is said to be, at best, a “stale­mate,” ev­ery day bring­ing higher and ever more un­sus­tain­able, dis­pro­por­tion­ate losses for the poor Afghans.

First let’s look at the ba­sic facts. To do that we have to go back to the Rus­sians’ dis­as­trous en­try into Afghanistan in 1979, an in­va­sion that evoked mass ha­tred of Moscow among the Afghans and led to the Rus­sians’ hu­mil­i­at­ing de­feat and re­treat 10 years later.

It was mostly the Tal­iban, a group of ra­bid Is­lamic pu­ri­tans, who drove them out and then im­posed a hor­rid ter­ror­is­tic regime.

But where did these per­fer­vid Tal­iban fight­ers come from? Why, they were the di­rect re­sult of our form­ing and arm­ing what were then called the “mu­ja­hedeen” in the 1980s.

Once the Sovi­ets left, we left too, un­til we came back af­ter 9/11 look­ing for the at­tack’s alQaida in­sti­ga­tors.

Since then, we have been fight­ing the Tal­iban as well as the al-Qaida rem­nants — and now the Rus­sians are again in the “Great Game,” as the Euro­pean colo­nial fight­ers called the bru­tal, de­struc­tive Afghan wars of the 19th cen­tury.

Let’s go back for just a mo­ment to 1842.

That Jan­uary, 4,500 Bri­tish sol­diers, along with 12,000 In­dian camp fol­low­ers and 2,000 horses, camels and cat­tle, were “re­treat­ing” from Kabul to Jalal­abad when they were at­tacked by Afghan “ji­hadis” (yes, the term was used then) and ut­terly de­stroyed, their blood col­or­ing the ice and snow across the moun­tain passes.

So now we see the Tal­iban, not dis­sim­i­lar to those ji­hadis of nearly two cen­turies ago, hav­ing been formed by us, now fight­ing against us, and the Rus­sians, who were also play­ers in that old Great Game, now back in Afghanistan sup­port­ing the Tal­iban that drove them out.

Or, as The Wall Street Jour­nal wrote in one of the few ar­ti­cles on this de­vel­op­ment: “Moscow is be­friend­ing the heirs of the in­sur­gency that dealt the Soviet Union its most hu­mil­i­at­ing mil­i­tary de­feat and helped lead to its col­lapse.”

One has to won­der: Does this White House and this pres­i­dent, Don­ald J. Trump, un­der­stand the na­ture of Vladimir Putin’s “poli­cies” or of these games you are ver­i­ta­bly forced to play when you get into these des­per­ate, tribal, bor­der­less parts of the world?

There is no mys­tery about Putin’s in­ten­tions or ac­tions, from Libya, to Syria, to Ye­men, to Bul­garia, to Afghanistan.

As Brian Michael Jenk­ins, one of the top an­a­lysts of ter­ror­ism, put it in a re­cent speech, Putin is “re­build­ing the Rus­sian em­pire by bits.”

And we? Iron­i­cally, and sadly, it is we who have pro­vided him with ev­ery pos­si­ble op­por­tu­nity to do so.

Vir­tu­ally ev­ery sin­gle one of the sup­posed Rus­sian “vic­to­ries” these days is built upon our for­eign pol­icy blun­ders. We were born as a na­tion pro­tected by two great oceans.

But es­pe­cially since World War II, we have crossed those nat­u­ral pro­tec­tive bar­ri­ers to play ugly games in the eter­nally doomed, bor­der­less Afghanistans of the world, pro­vid­ing our en­e­mies with op­por­tu­nity af­ter op­por­tu­nity.

How many more, O Lord?

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