The Struggle for the Soul of America: The Afghan Tragedy

I travelled overland through Afghanistan on my way to India in the fall of 1972. It was before the failed Russian invasion and well before the American incursion. Back then, the country was at peace.

What struck me most about Afghanistan was its rugged independence. I entered the country from its western neighbor, Iran. Having been ruled by the U.S. supported Shah for many years, Iran clearly exhibited a strong American influence. To the east of Afghanistan stood Pakistan, which had been part of the British Empire for a long time.

Surrounded by all this western persuasion, Afghanistan proudly maintained its unique individuality. In fact, it was more like a gathering of tribal fiefdoms than a unified country. To believe that a foreign power like the United States could march in and transform Afghanistan into a western styled democracy was a fool’s errand.

Tragically, it took 20 years for the United States to understand that it could not determine the outcome of Afghanistan’s civil war. During that time we spent nearly $1 trillion in this futile attempt.[1] Related costs, e.g., interest on the war debt and support for injured military, will continue to mount for years to come. In addition, more than six thousand Americans lost their lives there. Well over a hundred thousand Afghanis were killed as well.[2]

The United States has little to show for this massive endeavor. Yes, we took out Osama Ben Laden. But that was in Pakistan over ten years ago.[3] In truth, our country just postponed the inevitable, the Taliban control of Afghanistan.

Probably the greatest tragedy has yet to come. The Taliban treat Afghani women and girls savagely. With its takeover of the country, women will be beaten, even executed, for the smallest violations of the Taliban’s strict moral code.[4]

Afghanistan is yet another example of grossly incompetent American foreign policy. Our country has a counterproductive habit of backing unpopular, corrupt governments that are eventually overthrown by native insurgents who then install anti-American, militant regimes. A prime example is the Shah of Iran, who was deposed by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, bringing about the Islamic revolution in 1979.[5] The U.S. involvement in Chile, Cuba and Vietnam also come to mind.

But the worst case of disastrous American foreign policy, of course, is China. Chiang Kai-Shek and the Kuomintang may have been the most corrupt of all U.S. allies.[6] In 1949, his American backed government was toppled by Mao Zedong and the communist revolution. More than seventy years later, the United States is still coping with the consequences of that misguided policy blunder.

Now, with this latest foreign policy catastrophe, we can only hope that our country will learn a strategic lesson about involving itself in another nation’s internal affairs. While we may mean well, the United States does not have the omniscient wisdom and wherewithal to do what’s right for other countries. We have a nearly impossible time doing the right thing for our own people.

While we cannot and should not completely withdraw from the world stage, our nation must step back and fully re-examine how to move forward in the international arena in the best interests of justice and world peace.

Bruce Berlin, J.D.

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See, the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at

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