‘You might have all the watches, but we have the time’ — attributed to the Taliban.
For hundreds of years, Afghanistan has been regard as ‘the graveyard of empires’. Alexander The Great had a go, Genghis Khan tried, various Persian and Sikh Empires also tried and failed as did the British, the Soviet Union and most recently the Americans. .
If America, with their superior equipment and technology couldn’t tame Afghanistan it probably can’t be done. Or can it? So its worth pondering the question why the Americans failed? What’s gone wrong?
In fact America and its allies have not won a war since the end of WW2, so somethings dramatically changed.
Thinking about the recent, video of the Taliban summarily executing surrendering Afghan forces after the Afghan forces ran out of ammunition, it strikes me that America and it’s allies after twenty years have been defeated because of two things.
1. Their self imposed terms or rules of engagement.
2.Their own media watchdogs and political and legal overlords along with international bodies like the International Criminal Court to which its enemies don’t subscribe.
See the problem?
Although the allied forces had the superior equipment, technology and training, it’s quite apparent that they were afraid to use it because of the restrictive rules of engagement imposed on them or rather on themselves. So it is therefore easy to understand why America and its allies were doomed and condemned from day one by their own political and military superiors and supervisors back in Washington DC, Canberra and Westminster.
Rather than winning at any cost it seems to be more about losing with honour and integrity. This is the exact reverse of the philosophy of the enemy.
All of this begs the question, If the rules of engagement don’t apply to the enemy or they simply don’t acknowledge or ignore the rules, why engage in the first place? Why handicap yourself? Why bring a knife to a gun fight?
Theoretically, if America and its allies were to be involved in a kinetic, boots on the ground, hot war with China, do we seriously believe China would sign up to such honourable tactics and rules of engagement?
In a previous time, the bombing of Dresden for example was what had to be done to defeat the Nazis. The Nazis had the same view of London during The Blitz. Ditto for the Americans when they dropped the atom bomb and totally obliterated Nagasaki and Hiroshima to defeat the Japanese.
That was the last time the Americans won anything, 75 years ago.
After September 11 when America had the moral authority, their single guiding principle should have been one of, ‘If you’re going Pearl Harbour us, we’re going to Hiroshima you’. The ICC and the usual suspects like the UN couldn’t and wouldn’t dare say a thing.
More recently, look at the random rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza compared to Israel’s more surgical response. Hamas couldn’t care less about who or what they hit.
But for Western forces, things have changed as we have tied ourselves in knots and all to our own detriment. You get the impression we’re just turning up because as the worlds policeman we feel a moral obligation to be there and are just going through the motions knowing that we can’t compete on that basis as we continue to feed blood and treasure into the depressing and grinding hammer mill and buzz saw of a war we can’t win by the rules we impose upon ourselves.
If we’re not going to unleash the dogs of war, why bother in the first place.
Enemies like the Taliban or the Viet Cong don’t have to worry about, subscribe to and couldn’t care less about such restrictive, one hand tied behind your back, while looking over your shoulder, rules of engagement.
But there is one other element in such wars of attrition and it not only applies to hit and run, disappear into the night, guerrilla warfare but also to life and particularly politics more generally, vis a vis the temporary minister of the day in whatever capacity versus the permanent and entrenched bureaucracy that is in place long before and continues on long after, the minister has been either moved on or retired.
It is a mindset and philosophy of waiting out the enemy and best expressed by, or at least attributed to the Taliban themselves:
‘You might have all the watches, but we have the time’