Thursday, January 29, 2009


One thing that has been on my mind lately is this unspoken assumption that Afghanistan is somehow a "good" war that can be "won" by tossing a couple more brigades that way.

Let us not forget that it wasn't Reagan's runaway defense spending here that brought the Soviet Union down. There were myriad factors, from corruption and internal rot to economic stagnation and WAAY too much vodka and too little productivity.

However, if there was one thing that sent the USSR to history's graveyard, it was its debacle in Afghanistan, an endless war in a hostile environment against foes from too many factions to count.

The "country" is a hellhole that produces three products for export--heroin, concrete and terrorists. What is the endgame here? Or do we share the fate of the USSR in this God-forsaken land?


I'm Not Ned said...

Debacle? Absolutely. But just as the debacle in Vietnam didn't cause the downfall of the United States I wouldn't give much credit to Afghanistan for the fall of the USSR.

Multiple factors came in to play: Three decrepit old men (Brezhnev, Andropov and Chernenko) died in rapid succession giving the appearance of a frail government and totally disenfranchising the youth. Gorbachev's failed perestroika and the changes of glasnost opened the door with the elections of 1989 for the youth to step up. Seeing the erosion of power in Eastern Euro further fueled the call for changes within. Following the failed coup in '91 Gorbachev could not re-consolidate central power and eventually yielded to Yeltsin and by the end of the year all former Russian republics had declared independene.

The Soviet-Afghan War was not much more than a total debacle. Had the Soviets not participated in the Afghan War they could have used their forces to put down the uprisings in Eastern Europe but at an even larger cost which could have easily lead to a more rapid collapse of the union.

I don't give the Afghans any more credit for the fall of the Soviet empire than for the fall of the Republican party.

Peter said...

INN, the historians are all over the board on the role of the Afghan war in the USSR's collapse, from inconsequential to the "fateful pebble," insignificant in and of itself but very important at the time and in that place, to being a major underlying cause.

I am just past the fateful pebble camp. Obviously there were many causes, and the USSR was terminally ill from within.

But the war was a very different conflict from Vietnam. It was nearly as dramatic in the Russian psyche as Nicholas' Japanese disaster. The USSR "stool" was built on three legs, the party, the army and the KGB. Afganistan did not cause the weaknesses of those legs but it pointedly exposed them in an age when technology was having a profound impact even in Russia. Invincibility, even as an ideal, was gone, and Russia was humiliated before the world.

Plus the very real costs in men, money and morale, I think it was important, and a good lesson.