Afghanistan: “The Right Side of History”

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As the current political events unfold in Egypt, I have often heard the actually mean?  Clearly,  decisions the US administration makes today can’t influence the past or “history” since those events have already occurred.   While US government pronouncements can certainly influence  future relations with “new” governments, it remains to be seen whether the US will be seen to have been on the “right” or “wrong” side of history as that role will largely determined by historians.   And with our penchant to re-write or spin historical events and finger-pointing, it is unlikely that all will be able to agree whether the US was on the “right,” “wrong,” or even the “incidental” side of history.

As the demonstrations in Egypt are broadcast around the world, one can’t help but draw comparisons to the current “political” situation in Afghanistan.   More than 100,000 US troops are deployed in Afghanistan providing security services for an administration that is totally corrupt and appears to have lost the support of the people  it represents.    Imagine what would happen if a small group of reformists in Afghanistan would begin to mobilize its citizens with the same strategies used so effectively in Egypt.   How would the US administration respond to insure that we are on “the right side of history” in Afghanistan?    Could we really pull the plug with so much political, military and human capital invested in this venture?

As far as I can conclude, the only “foreign invader” of Afghanistan on the “right side of history” was Alexander the Great.   He quickly decided it wasn’t worth the effort to spill the blood of his army or the fiercely independent tribes that populated the region at the time.  He moved on to India where greater spoils awaited him.

There are many who make courageous decisions in the face of truly terrifying circumstances or overwhelming popular opposition.   Franklin Roosevelt springs to mind for his decisions to support the British with the “lend lease” program and to allow the British intelligence services to operate out of Rockefeller Center long before we entered the war.   Two-thirds of Americans were opposed to our intervention in the European land war shortly before the bombing of Pearl Harbor.   I believe that President Roosevelt make the “right” decision and he probably made that decision without having ever given a thought to whether historians would place him on the “right side of history.”

Is Twitter-democracy the best way to confront entrenched dictators and religious extremists?  I don’t know the answer, but certainly the events in Tunisia and Egypt are  cause for reflection.  Having citizens stand up and demand their freedoms is certainly far better for their self-esteem and long-term well-being than having our brave young men and women provide a security blanket for corrupt governments.

I am hopeful that our government and military officials will make the “right” and “proper” decisions by studying history and evaluating the risk-return benefits of military engagement rather than posturing for posterity.   Let the historians determine whether our decisions were “right” or “wrong.”  True leadership requires courage and conviction.

Richard W. May

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