Who would have dreamed that we’d still be receiving a history lesson courtesy of President Ronald Reagan?
How so? Well, if the Great Communicator hadn’t been so insistent on tweaking the Soviet Bear’s nose by arming all manner of its fundamentalist enemies, then we probably wouldn’t be still mired in Afghanistan.
Seems like ancient history now, but that little tweak - way back in the days when Cyndi Lauper just wanted to have fun - has come back to haunt us big time.
Of course, President Reagan - sound man that he was – merely wished to vanquish the evil Soviet empire, and he certainly played his part. The Kremlin, already in serious economic trouble, poured troops and resources into Afghanistan in an effort to defeat our sainted allies, the Mujahadeen.
Worn down by endless guerilla warfare, many in the Soviet Army turned to the local Afghani diversion – opium; and when they returned to their cities and villages, they imported a full-blown junkie epidemic.
Now, no one is saying that the Soviets were benevolent liberators but they certainly caused consternation amongst our fundamentalist homeys by introducing the notion of women’s rights and education.
One of our buddies back then was Osama Bin Laden. Of course, President Reagan couldn’t see the trouble that gentleman would cause, but when you paint the world in broad strokes, trickles of paint tend to escape your notice and go on to cause all kinds of damage.
Eventually, the Soviets declared victory and, as gracefully as possible, exited Afghanistan. Our victorious warlords promptly rescinded women’s rights and proceeded to massacre each other and the civilian population, until the Taliban took over and allowed Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda safe haven. The rest, as they say is history.
The question is, how are we to extricate ourselves? Perhaps, we should keep an eye on how the Brits handle the matter. They can be tardy enough in leaving trouble spots - the North of Ireland, for example. But look at Iraq, there’s neither hide nor hair of them to be found except for the occasional rusty tank littering Basra.
And you can already tell that they’re seeing the light in Kabul. They’re barely invited to diplomatic how-do-you-dos by President Karzai for they’ve sussed out that this well-tailored gentleman is a horse-trading, ballot-box-stuffer with no natural constituency.
Well versed in statecraft, the Brits have no trouble in changing horses in mid-stream and, given time, they too will declare victory and elegantly withdraw.
We do things differently, if only because we have a taste for continuity and our presidents don’t tend to bad mouth their predecessors.
Thus, President Obama has never been overheard howling at the moon, “Dubya, why in the name of the seven snotty sisters didn’t you nail Osama when you had him on the ropes on Tora Bora? And what the bloody hell were you thinkin’ of - going into Baghdad in the first place?”
And so we continue to keep 150,000 troops nailed down in Iraq to prevent the Shia from finally settling scores with the Sunni and Kurds, while President Bush blithely plans his library down in Texas.
A pity no one ever loaned him a book describing how the Brits cobbled that unfortunate country together and then bumped town when it wasn’t worth the trouble.
To add insult to injury we’re sinking deeper into the quagmire of Afghanistan – a land that Alexander the Great vowed never to revisit.
Meanwhile there is every likelihood that if the Taliban do take over they will be leery of allowing any foreigners back in – including Al Qaeda – since they well remember the shellacking they received from the US Air Force back in 2001 over their choice of house guests.
Odd as it may seem, the Taliban share a trait with Ronald Reagan – they learn from their mistakes. While he may be the originator of our current problems in Afghanistan, the 40th President did not fall for Hezbollah’s bait and up the ante in Lebanon when the US Embassy was destroyed in 1983.
Beirut is hardly paradise nowadays but it does appear to be plugging along nicely without the benefit of our extended presence.
We would do well to pay attention to the Great Communicator’s willingness to learn from history, while continuing to actively disentangle ourselves from the legacy of the Texas Librarian.