The Soviets in Afghanistan

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"The Soviets in Afghanistan"

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Michael Crowley contrasts the USSR’s brutal conduct in Afghanistan with Stanley McChrystal’s emphasis on avoiding civilian casualties and concludes: “If America succeeds where the Soviets failed, our determination to protect, not persecute, Afghan civilians will be a main reason why.”

Maybe. That said, I don’t really think it’s a fair comparison. The Soviets had to fight a Mujahedeen force that was receiving open and full-throated support from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, plus substantial financial and material assistance from the United States. We’ve had our problems with Pakistan playing footsie with the Taliban, but nothing like the level of open support for anti-Soviet forces that the Russians had to contend with. And you’d have to assume that our efforts in Afghanistan would be badly complicated if the government of China decided to adopt the Taliban as its proxies.

Last, it’s worth recalling why we gave all that assistance to anti-Soviet forces. Not because Soviet control of Afghanistan would have accomplished anything useful for the USSR. And not because a Soviet-free Afghanistan would have accomplished anything useful for the United States. Rather, the genius of our proxy war in Afghanistan was that a relatively small amount of money was playing a role in keeping a large Soviet force stuck indefinitely in Afghanistan at great expense. Insofar as U.S. policy currently points in the direction of keeping a large American force stuck indefinitely in Afghanistan at great expense, it’s not clear how different an American “victory” would be from a Soviet “loss.”

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