Afghanistan: Two Different Perspectives, the Same Outcome

Medieval Context

In a recent LA Times op-ed, Medieval historian Nancy Goldstone offered up an uncommon, but very insightful historical comparison of our current situation in Afghanistan through the context of the Hundred Years War.

Consequently, the most useful parallel to the American involvement in Afghanistan is not, as is so often cited, the Iraqi “surge,” or the failed campaign by the Russians, or even the lessons of Vietnam but, rather, the experience of England in the second half of the Hundred Years War. And I’m afraid that the English lost that one…

In this historical analogy, the English (U.S.) tried to rule France (Afghanistan) after conquering most of the country. As they tried to instill their rule, the English ended up bribing the French Duke of Burgundy (Hamid Karzai) to join with them to help rule the country and fight against the Duke’s compatriot, the French Prince in-exile, heir to the French throne, who with his followers (Taliban) controlled much of the southern territory of France. It did not end well for the English.

“The English vowed to eject…” the Prince, Goldstone writes. And with the help of the Duke, the English won a number of battles against the prince. The Duke expected to be paid for his services. In the end, the war dragged on and became too costly. The English stopped bribing the Duke, alienating him and forcing him to offer his services to the Prince. Before they knew it the English were isolated in France as the Duke lent his support to the Prince who together with his followers eventually re-counquered the rest of their country. Goldstone sees a direct parrallel to what is happening now with what happened over 500 years ago:

…On Monday, Karzai confirmed to CNN what had been long rumored: “We have been talking to the Taliban as countrymen to countrymen. Unofficial talks have been held with Taliban representatives over an extended period.” On Thursday White House and NATO officials said that the U.S. had aided these discussions in the hope of promoting a negotiated peace.

But the real deal — the one that won’t be announced — will likely follow the Hundred Years War model. Karzai will continue to hold the capital, with the Taliban and other warlords in control of the rest of the countryside. The Taliban will turn a blind eye to a certain percentage of opium trafficking, the proceeds of which will go to Karzai and his family and a few favored courtiers. Then, in three to five years, Karzai and his supporters will go off to a comfortable retirement and the Taliban will ride into Kabul.”

Acknowledging Reality

Greg Sheridan, Foreign Editor for The Australian and frequent George Bush war apologist (He once declared that “George W. Bush may well be judged, ultimately, a great president, especially in foreign policy…”) has come around to reality and acknowledged that the U.S. is involved in quagmire that will not end pretty, particularly because of our supposed friend, Pakistan:

I have come to an agonising [sic] reassessment of Afghanistan myself. There is only one way we can win there, and that is by defining victory down to the lowest possible level…I no longer believe we can win in any meaningful way in Afghanistan, beyond the bare minimum of keeping our worst enemies out of power at least formally.

The reason for this is Pakistan. It might have been possible to run a successful counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan. But it is not possible to do that if Pakistan is sheltering, aiding and supplying the Taliban.

For Nancy Goldstone’s op-ed, click here

For Greg Sheridan’s op-ed, click here