What Happens in Afghanistan Doesn’t Stay in Afghanistan

August 18, 2021 Updated: August 24, 2021

Commentary

George Orwell wrote, “The quickest way of ending a war is to lose it.” The Biden administration tried that idea on for size in Afghanistan.

But here’s the problem: Losing a war rarely means you put the unpleasantness behind you and move on to things you’d rather deal with. Instead, lose a war and you just might end up with other and bigger problems, and maybe other wars.

All eyes are glued on Afghanistan and the sudden collapse of the government and its forces—and the frantic American “bug out.” Recriminations and blame-shifting have started and will continue. But it’s worth a look at what’s coming next, and not just in Afghanistan. The ripple effects will be worldwide and are worrisome.

We’ve seen this before. When America appears weak, confused, distracted, and at its own throat, only bad things happen. Consider some of the things that happened after South Vietnam fell to communist North Vietnamese forces in 1975—while the United States stood by with eyes primly averted while tens of thousands were executed, hundreds of thousands tossed into prison camps, and the “boat people” exodus led to immense suffering and dying.

Wars That Don’t Really End

The blow to American prestige and reliability was grievous and it encouraged America’s enemies—led by the Soviet Union, but also extending to various terror groups—to move on a number of fronts:

  • Moscow stepped up aid to Soviet-backed communist insurgents in Central and Latin America. They eventually took over in Nicaragua while amping up violence and instability in El Salvador, Colombia, Peru, and elsewhere.
  • The Soviets established a military presence in the Horn of Africa and helped solidify an earlier Marxist takeover in Ethiopia, along with attendant mass slaughter.
  • The Marxist Khmer Rouge went to work in Cambodia and slaughtered a third of the population to set the stage for a Marxist utopia.
  • The Cubans, Soviet clients, dispatched a military task force to Angola in summer 1975, and when the U.S. government—scarred by the Vietnam collapse—refused to intervene in any serious way, the Cubans installed a pro-Soviet, Marxist regime. This was a piece of the puzzle that led to 40 years of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, and scuppered any chance of Southern Africa developing in a more humane way.
  • In 1979, the Soviets went into Afghanistan—following a Marxist coup attempt in 1978. And the country has been ravaged ever since.
  • Soviet propaganda and political warfare—aided by local sympathizers in the West and elsewhere—got a major boost from the U.S. defeat in Vietnam. This was a serious problem well into the 1980s. It even threatened NATO via aggressive campaigns such as against the deployment of Pershing missiles to Europe, and the claims that the “neutron bomb” was the “capitalist bomb”—destroying only people, not buildings. Recall the hysterics after the TV movie, ‘The Day After,” or the Greenham Common “peace protests.” Even Jimmy Carter thought nuclear disarmament was the top priority—after his 13-year-old daughter, Amy, told him so.
  • Vietnam gave a shot in the arm to other anti-West terrorist groups—such as the Baader-Meinhof gang in Germany and the Italian Red Brigades—backed by the KGB, the East Germans, and other Soviet Bloc intelligence services.
  • In 1979, the Shah of Iran was overthrown, and a brutal Islamic regime was installed. Say what one will of the Shah, he was a pussycat compared to the Ayatollah, and the Mullahs and didn’t cause trouble or promote terrorism in the region and beyond. The Middle East has never been peaceful, but Islamist Iran has caused immense trouble for the past 40 years.
  • The Chinese moved to grab territory in the South China Sea as South Vietnam was falling. And later grabbed islets in the Philippine waters—unopposed by the United States.

Current Secretary of State Antony Blinken says of the fall of Kabul, “This is not Saigon.” But he appears to have another “Saigon” in mind. Few people agree with him.

So What’s Coming Now That Kabul Has Fallen?

It will, of course, be bad enough in Afghanistan. The United States recently flew a rainbow flag at the Kabul Embassy to demonstrate progressive street credentials. It’ll now be the Taliban flag. The Taliban flag will also flutter over the soccer stadiums where attendance is mandatory to watch the stonings of those who helped the Americans, as well as members of “rainbow” communities who were foolhardy enough to trust U.S. Embassy-funded programs that told them to “live their truth,” making them easier for the Taliban to find and kill.

Epoch Times Photo
Taliban fighters stand guard in a vehicle along the roadside in Kabul after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan’s 20-year war, on Aug.16, 2021. Thousands of people mobbed the city’s airport trying to flee the group’s feared hardline brand of Islamist rule. (AFP via Getty Images)

But it won’t stop there. This time, it will be primarily Beijing, rather than Moscow, who will be stoking and spreading the fires designed to torch democracies and expand its hegemony. Some likely outcomes:

  • We can expect the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to start telling leaders and concerned partners around the globe that America lacks the will—or even the ability—to challenge Beijing, beyond furrow-browed expressions of “serious concern.” Stepped-up CCP political warfare worldwide will likely include trumpeting that the Americans are unreliable—and couldn’t even defeat 75,000 Taliban. So how can they stand up to close to 3 million trained, armed Chinese military personnel?
  • In Southeast Asia—expect stepped-up Chinese pressure on Taiwan. Maybe the seizure of Malaysian territory and increased bullying of the Philippines—while daring the Americans to do something about it, and gaining momentum every time they don’t.
  • ASEAN is already wavering—just listen to Singapore’s prime minister all but saying the future is China. And that was before Kabul fell.
  • The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) will perhaps move ahead and complete the naval base it’s building (but denying) in Cambodia. It may not even feel the need to deny it anymore.
  • Japan will feel the heat in the East China Sea. Expect a full-court press around the Senkaku Islands, for starters. The PLAN will swarm and warn off the Japanese. And maybe there will be “administrative fees” for Japanese ships transiting the South China Sea.
  • Expect the CCP to directly challenge U.S. forces in the South China Sea and nearby areas. To date, the Chinese have been just shadowing and complaining about the U.S. naval presence. Expect obstruction and ultimatums.
  • Don’t be surprised to find Chinese bases established in Central and South America.
  • In Africa, the CCP will go all out and finally cut some basing deals on West and East Coast ports.
  • In the South Pacific, political warfare will enter overdrive and the PLAN will be in more places, more often, and in larger numbers—and perhaps secure those ports they have been trying so hard to get.
  • Beijing will also continue full speed ahead with its nuclear weapons buildup, as already seen with the missile silo construction—aiming to outdo and intimidate the Americans—and all regional rivals.
  • There will be even more Beijing support for Venezuela and Cuba, and drug smugglers, as they destabilize their neighbors.
  • Beijing will put proxies into action: Encourage Pakistan to try to weaken India (including with the redeployment of terrorists no longer “needed” in Afghanistan); possibly encourage the Argentines to have another go at the British over the Falklands; and there will be more overt support for North Korea, and who knows, maybe a suggestion that Pyongyang cause some trouble for the South Koreans, the Japanese, or maybe even the Americans.
  • Expect the CCP to intensify its assault on the U.S. dollar to displace it as the world’s reserve currency, and thus remove America’s most potent remaining lever for pressuring China—as well as gutting the U.S. economy and its ability to fund the American military.

Others will be using the opening to their advantage (and the U.S. disadvantage) as well.

Russia will step up pressure on the Baltic states and Ukraine, while also blackmailing the Europeans. And they’ll cooperate with the Chinese, and vice versa, to keep the Americans back-footed.

Iran? It will cause trouble in the Middle East without the restraint of the Trump years.

And expect to hear more from Islamic terrorism in the Middle East and beyond. The fall of Kabul was a huge boost for jihadists worldwide—outdoing Donald Trump’s finishing off ISIS.

As for U.S. partners and allies, what country anywhere is going to believe U.S. promises? Instead, in the case of Japan and maybe South Korea and Taiwan, they’ll be dusting off nuclear weapons blueprints. In other places, especially if close to China, governments will be looking to not provoke China and even lean toward Beijing.

The South Korean leftist regime will be secretly pleased that it was right all along about the Americans—and become more difficult to deal with. President Moon Jae-in said he was “euphoric” on hearing America lost in Vietnam. He must be equally delighted now.

Nobody knows exactly what’s coming, but something is. America and the free world’s enemies smell blood—or weakness—and will push.

American Response?

One hopes America is ready. But the Biden administration hasn’t shown much backbone or competence. And the Chinese are acting already as if they feel they aren’t the least bit intimidated. They claimed they “mopped the floor” with Assistant Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and lambasted Blinken and Jake Sullivan (and Kurt Campbell) in Alaska. It will only get worse now.

Especially as one big difference from post-Vietnam is that the U.S. financial and business classes will fund the CCP’s overseas activities and military buildup. They never did that for the Russians.

So will the U.S. military’s ruling class save the day?

The United States has just lost the last two major regional contingencies—despite overwhelming airpower, plenty of excellent troops, and unlimited support from the public and the public treasury. And they were led by an entire generation of officers that designed Joint Service Campaigns unrestrained by civilian meddling (no possible “stab in the back” blame nonsense), and then decorated themselves with campaign awards and ribbons.

And this is despite losing the Afghan campaign for hearts and minds to an irregular force with a 12th-century view of human rights, no belief in democratic government, and supported with safe harbor and only minimal funding provided by the intelligence service of a third-world government.

Sadly typical of such commanders was one three-star who served two tours in Afghanistan and then served as U.S. ambassador in Kabul and once boasted that he would be known as the “father of the Afghan military.” Really.

The current chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Milley, appears more interested in understanding “white rage” than defeating America’s enemies.

As for the Navy, who are today’s Nimitz, Burke, Spruance, and Halsey? If they exist, they are well hidden. The new Navy secretary said his four top priorities are: China, Climate, Culture, and COVID. He’s right on the first one, but the other three have nothing to do with beating China or anyone else.

And these are the people that are going to take on America’s enemies who are flush with confidence and momentum?

China, Russia, and other adversaries may reckon, however, that if they wait a while, it will get even easier as the Biden administration dismantles—intentionally or otherwise—America’s defenses, debases the currency, and turns Americans against Americans.

These are perilous times, and America had better wake up fast. We will pay for what happened in Afghanistan. We’ve seen this before.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Grant Newsham
Grant Newsham
Grant Newsham is a retired U.S. Marine officer and a former U.S. diplomat and business executive who lived and worked for many years in the Asia/Pacific region. He served as a reserve head of intelligence for Marine Forces Pacific, and was the U.S. Marine attaché, U.S. Embassy Tokyo on two occasions. He is a senior fellow with the Center for Security Policy.