Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Shutting The Afghan Trap.

The good folk of Wikipedia assert that Alexander the Great took three years to “subdue” Afghanistan. That was a little tardy for him, given that he conquered Persia in six months. And given that Persia is now Iran, it seems the foreign policy focus of the developed world has varied little since 300 BC, which should perhaps subdue us all.

The extended Russian sojourn to Afghanistan, sometimes called the Bear Trap, lasted nine years between 1979 and 1989. Soviet sleeves were rolled up to support the Afghan government, so, in a predictable act of Bear-baiting, the US unofficially did the same for the Mujahideen, the guerrilla movement of choice at the time. Former CIA Director Robert Gates claimed the US deliberately provoked Soviet intervention. He said Russia was lured into “a Vietnamese quagmire,” presumably a reference to that other dubious US intervention, not an embarrassing Sat Nav mishap. 

Against this historical backdrop, and the imminent US and UK troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, comes the development that the Russian cabinet is considering allowing NATO to establish a transit hub in the city of Ulyanovsk, 500 miles east of Moscow. Non-lethal cargo would be flown in from Afghanistan, en route to Europe, effectively allowing U.S. troops, amongst others, to set up a logistics facility on Russian territory, for the first time. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, supporting the deal, said: “We are interested in having those who counter issues facing Russia inside Afghanistan do their job efficiently.” If America assisted Russia’s fall into what President Obama's Foreign Policy Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski calls the “Afghan trap”, it is no small irony that Russia may yet help the US out of it. Furthermore, since the serial spending of money and manpower on an Afghan campaign, that is commonly considered unwinnable, is casually called a "trap", one might muse upon the merits of being in it.  

On Day 2 of his visit to Washington, the Prime Minster and the President set aside the burgers and baseball photo ops to focus, like so many before them, on issues dominated by Afghanistan. Both leaders have cautioned against a “rush to the exits”, but would such stampede stalling be to save lives or save face? David Cameron has boldly declared that Afghanistan must never again be allowed to exist as a safe haven for the Taliban, as the troops quietly back their bags in the background. Whether they leave with a bang or a whimper, the plan is for last boots home by the end of 2014, presumably leaving democracy developing and the Taliban totally trounced. Or possibly, just a little subdued.

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