You don’t need a degree in Middle East history to know that Afghanistan has been one of the most fecund sites in the world for war for thousands of years. Alexander The Great, Genghis Khan and the British Empire famously controlled and lost control of the mountainous, landlocked area. It’s one of the most difficult terrains in the world, and based purely on its geography, it’s a small wonder why anyone would want to start a war there.
Then there’s the matter of all the drugs. Long a haven for the production of opium and hash, Afghanistan is where you get the real shit. As much as one third of their GDP is generated by illegal drugs, which if demand was simply eradicated through, say, legalization of drugs by its largest customers, would dramatically change the political and military landscape of Afghanistan (as well as many other countries).
But let’s throw out that solution for the time being as being unreasonable and impossible to implement. After all, it would be like giving bailout money directly to the mortgage owners who need it rather than giving it to irresponsible bankers that chased easy profits—cheaper and more effective. Yet it smells like radical imprudence and socialism, so we’ll let the government decide what we can put in our bodies, and we’ll let the banks decide how we get our own money. And as a side effect, we’ll have unstable markets and continuous war.
Back in 1989, Sylvester Stallone created what might as well have been a U.S.-sponsored film called Rambo III, in which our hero, John Rambo, is sent in to rescue his sole friend, Colonel Sam Trautman, from a Soviet prison camp operated in Afghanistan during the end of the Soviet-Afghan War. In it, he befriends the honorably depicted Mujahedeen along the way, rescues the Colonel, and kills the equivalent of large platoon of Russians.
In the film, there’s no Taliban, there’s no opium, there’s just good and evil—John Rambo versus a bunch of baby-killing Russians with bad accents. He came in and did exactly what he had to do, which was get his buddy and get out of there, blowing up whoever got in his way. And not to spoil the ending, but there’s a deus ex machina in the film. Really. Even Rambo needs help in Afghanistan.
Rambo III also recognizes the United States’ involvement supplying the freedom fighters in the war, primarily the Mujahedeen, but it’s also suspected that the Taliban were recipients of such aid, and the Soviet-Afghan War is when Osama bin Laden famously was trained by the CIA. The idea was to drive out the atheist communists and bring forth an Islamic Afghanistan.
If you need any more evidence we created Islamic extremism, just watch Rambo III.
In 2009, eight years into the Afghanistan War, we’re the Russians. We’re bombing indiscriminately (well, maybe not as indiscriminately as the Russians depicted in the movie, but it’s hard to look at it any other way if you’re the victim), the freedom fighters are trying to push us out of the country, and there are certainly other governments involved secretly funding the freedom fighters.
The Soviet-Afghan war is commonly referred to as the Soviet Union’s Vietnam. Recent posturing from the White House indicates that the U.S. is going to withdraw unless new elections are held as it questions the legitimacy of Hamid Karzai (seeking a credible “partner” in the next government).
It took two years for the Soviet Union to withdraw from Afghanistan. It is unknown what impact Rambo had on this timetable.