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I Told You So (Or at least I think I did)

August 22, 2021

Reading the depressing news from Afghanistan had the effect of sending my mind scuttering back twenty years to the arguments that raged about first sending a huge international force into the most unconquerable terrain in the world to find a small handful of ideological terrorists or failing that their chief financier and spokesman.

I seem to recall being a bit dubious of it at the time but I sort of accepted that the wrath of the United States was going to have to be appeased. Which was probably my big moral failing in the affair, a bit of cowardice I shared with a lot of people. But even then I think I was doubtful about whether there would be a proper plan or that anyone in the Pentagon was going to know what to do with a country once you’ve conquered it.

I’m fairly clear that my opposition to the policies of the Bush administration had congealed into futile rage and disgust by the time the invasion of Iraq happened but it occurred to me that perhaps I’m remembering with advantage and the fierce Jeremiads I recall writing back then only ever existed in my own head. There are people who supported (and some who still support) the whole exercise who are convinced that nobody ever objected to the Twin Wars. Was I as deluded as them?

(The picture up there is supposed to be Jeremiah: he was called ‘The Weeping Prophet’. By Michaelangelo: I think it’s out of copyright.)

I didn’t have a blog back then so I can’t go and look but I do have the zines I wrote for ALARUMS & EXCURSIONS, the venerable gaming Amateur Press Association in somewhat readable form in longterm memory storage so I went off to investigate.

I only found a few references to Afghanistan. Lots of stuff about Iraq but that was at the end of the whole sad process when I was trying to persuade another contributor to A&E that his blithe optimism and ‘support the troops’ attitude was misplaced and his ‘why do you liberals not condemn Islam’ rhetoric was witless. We didn’t communicate much but we did each make our positions clear to the other. Which is something I suppose.

I heard President Biden say repeatedly that he had never supported ‘nation building’ in Afghanistan. What depressed me was that he seemed to feel that it was a reasonable position to invade a country, smash its existing government to bits and then not do enough to fix that situation. “We made the mess but it’s not up to us to fix it.” Ye gods and little fishes.

(At least he seems more coherent than the last fella. He repeated himself a fair bit but I got the feeling that was because he was trying to batter his message into the minds of the listeners rather than running on automatic.)

So what this seems to say to me, as a government statement of policy, is the following:

1) America has the power to invade any country in the world and make a godawful mess of its armed forces, government and economy.

2) America isn’t going to hang around long enough to clear up any mess and is incompetent to do so.

3) America has not intention of using the advantage this gives to ‘build democracy’. America has it seems forgotten how you do that since the Second World War.

4) If you attack America we have the power to take vengeance and the right, will and power to do so.

I keep thinking of Sondheim’s last number for INTO THE WOODS.

“Careful what you say

Children will listen.

Careful what you do.

Children will see.”

America, when you tell your children to clear up their mess, don’t be surprised when they ask you why they should. You will raise up a generation that loves vengeance and thinks itself entitled to it. Oh, wait. You already did.

Dammit, you know, I think I did say this back then. I think my principles and my prudence were enough to say back then: “Do the job properly or don’t try to do it at all.” And I certainly remember saying: “Armies won’t help. This is a police and intelligence job.”

Let’s see what Jeremiah has to say. Oh, look. Such a lot. (Though the Internet seems to have confused the Prophet with some TV series.) Ah, yes, this will do.

This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.'”

I’m not sure that ‘the ancient paths’ are always the good way. But I don’t think the good way is so hard to make out as some people are saying to cover up their own complicity. And I see Tony Blair is sticking his nose in again. One of these days he may slip and tell us the actual reasons he supported British involvement. Or perhaps he remembers with advantages too and has rewritten the whole thing in his memory. Perhaps his lie has become his truth and he honestly doesn’t recall what really happened.

  1. Chorlton Voice permalink

    That Jeremiah bears a passing resemblance to you, albeit with a better line in underwear. And I am of your mind. It is a failure on so many counts, and our leaders though it a good idea to go on holiday as it all kicked off. We shouldn’t be surprised by that, I guess, but I still have this idea of England, in spite of its bloody history, as being a country of decency, moral compass and all those things that Merlin was trying to teach Wart and it is hard for me to take the truth.

    • And when did you last have the opportunity to inspect my underwear? Oh, yes. then. Well, nowadays I’m going for basic black, M&S cotton ‘briefs’ though that word is a misnomer for anything able to fit me.

      It shocked me, a few years back, when reading Barbara Tuchman’s A DISTANT MIRROR to realise that the English were the bad guys in the Hundred Years War, constantly restarting the conflict and (now I come to think of it) not trying to take control of the territories they had trampled over and devastated but just taking the submission of whoever would surrender and assuming that they could toddle off back to England and treat the place as theirs from then on.

      The French nobility in contrast were useless, riven with division and strife mostly springing from the King’s Evil Uncles and the Over Mighty Subjects you had to keep on side. So the English could keep on looking down on them, I suppose.

      • I think Tuchman argues that this was a conceptual shift too – pre-HYW people had thought of themselves as “Sir X’s peasants” rather than “Frenchmen”, so if Sir X was giving fealty to the King of England rather than the King of France it didn’t make a lot of difference to them, and the English nobility assumed that this still worked, i.e. the conquered territories would immediately start producing for them rather than being a continuing drain on resources. (Still, I had enough of a conventional education in history to be a bit startled by the Black Prince presented as a bad guy…)

        Let’s not forget how much of the current Afghan government and power structure exists now because the US wanted another go at winning a Vietnam-type war in the 1980s, only this time without sending any of its own blood. (See for popular culture references The Living Daylights, Rambo III, The Beast/Beast of War, all 1987-1988, all portraying the heroic Mujahideen resistance against Soviet tyranny.)

        Mind you, I almost always support the troops. This seems to me quite the opposite of supporting the politicians who throw the troops into unwinnable conflicts with no clear objectives and lowest-bidder equipment.

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