Sometimes, the ability to look at the big picture requires panning very far out.
The first Sherlock Holmes story was published in 1887. We discover that Dr. John Watson has returned to England from “the war in Afghanistan.” He served with the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, as an assistant surgeon, in the Second Anglo-Afghan War, which took place from 1878-1880.
Just a few details to savor there; in the 19th century, the British Empire was conducting their second war in Afghanistan. The first Anglo-Afghan War was colloquially known in England as “the Disaster in Afghanistan.” You can imagine how much enthusiasm was involved in the second venture into the territory. Particularly on the part of those who served.
Jump cut to the mid-twentieth century, when Russia was fighting in Afghanistan. Our media referred to it as “their Vietnam.” as if, in some hilarious way, our long-term intercession in another country that cost hundreds of thousands of lives and billions in resources was funny only if our enemies had to do that too. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which lasted a mere decade from 1979 to 1989, was a rout for the Soviets. As it had been for the British, as it was to be for the Americans.
Reaching back to include the Roman Empire’s conflicts in Afghanistan is probably, well, overkill. The established fact is that this country has been a war zone for large, long portions of history.
While the conflict just formally ‘ended’ by the United States military has gone on for decades, the fact is that both Eastern and Western powers have been fighting in Afghanistan for centuries. That it became a war zone for America because of the 9/11 attacks was close to nonsensical. Then-President Bush, scrambling for any way to look as is if he was responding to an attack by a group of rogue Saudi Arabians, opted to declare war on Afghanistan.
Like every other country that declared war on Afghanistan, it proved to be a very poor choice of strategy. Like the Soviets, like the British, like the Romans, America wasted resources, lost lives, and left without meeting any of their goals.
What President Biden and Secretary of State Blinken are doing is smart. The fact that war is no longer a thing won on a battlefield or in a flyover zone changes our most basic concepts of military structure. Freezing monetary assets, closing diplomatic doorways and holding tight to negotiated agreements will be the way that war is conducted in the 21st Century. We don’t need guns; we have laptops. And servers. And satellites.
It’s a big move. Understanding that weapons don’t do it could allow us to drastically drop our military budget, to dismantle our nuclear stockpiles, and invest in the kind of energy shift that might – might – be able to keep the planet habitable for human beings.
Not only is the American war in Afghanistan over, we can choose to make this the pivotal moment when that entire style of conflict has been deemed pointless. Biden is stopping the flow of cash to gun merchants, and going after those who organize cash flow.
The way to respond to 9/11 would have been to move America to clean energy, cut off all oil dependence, and end the relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I believe President Albert Gore, Jr. would have implemented those policies, and we would be living in a very different world today.
Dr. John Watson himself might have enjoyed narrating that solution. Observation, reasoning, experience; it all plays into answering the questions.
Our country was just one in a long, long line of powers that foolishly decided to make war in Afghanistan. If we learn nothing from history, maybe we can learn it from fiction.
When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail…