Lessons from 9 11: Guerillas have time, the New Silk Road and the anti-IS coalition

Lessons from 9 11: Guerillas have time, the New Silk Road and the anti-IS coalition

In the Global Review series about the lesson 0f 9 11, we want to recommend an article “The guerilla has time”/Die Guerilla hat Zeit” by Hans-Georg Ehrhart, Senior Research Fellow at the Hanburg Peace Research Institute/Hamburger Friedensforschungsinstitut as in our opinion he has many truths, but the conclusion is also rather idealistic as it only focuses on Afgahnistan and thinks that more development aid or a pacifist strategy could be the solution to the world conflicts—similar to the Left party and other pacifist-liberal left ideologists.Here the English translation from his article in the Gemran newspaper “Der Freitag” (Friday):

“A guerrilla has time

 Afghanistan The failure of the West in the Hindu Kush shows that what is needed is a German foreign policy that can also put itself in the position of an opponent Hans-Georg Ehrhart | Issue 35/2021 13 When asked why the Taliban were able to win against the most powerful alliance in the world, official answers testify to a struggle for the sovereignty of contemporary history to interpret a failed twenty-year intervention that resulted in over 150,000 deaths and over two trillion dollars in costs. While some identify the intelligence services as responsible, others point to Donald Trump’s deal with the Taliban in February 2020. Gerhard Schindler, ex-President of the BND, is so bold as to cite the allegedly hindering jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court as decisive for the German failure. Some experts cite the US exit strategy as the reason, others believe that NATO had too few “boots on the ground”. These judgments have one thing in common: the misconception that the intervention would have worked if only it had been done better. In fact, the failure primarily results from a lack of willingness to learn.

In view of existing experiences, one can even speak of pathological inability, because interventions in internal conflicts have been around for a long time. External actors intervene for various reasons, be they geostrategic, humanitarian or purely political in nature. Despite multiple negative experiences, the basic rule that violent conflicts cannot be resolved militarily is repeatedly disregarded. According to the Prussian war philosopher Carl von Clausewitz, war is the continuation of politics by other means. This means that war is always about political issues that require diplomatic solutions. The long-standing classification of the Taliban as terrorists with whom one should not talk was wrong because it was ideologically blinded. Talking is always better than shooting. Second, the first victim of war is always the truth. Right from the start, the Afghanistan mission was sold as a success story. A variety of lofty goals such as democracy and human rights served to make the intervention and its human and material costs acceptable. It took the federal government nine years to admit that the Bundeswehr was at war. Nice talk and cover-up created a false appearance, by which some of the decision-makers were also fooled.

Finally, don’t break what you can’t repair: In terms of Afghanistan and cases like Mali, this means that you should definitely not try to repair what is already broken. Of course, a broken society can be helped to stabilize. But on the one hand you have to use adequate means to build it up, on the other hand the essential impetus has to come from the society concerned with itself. Supporting a corrupt elite is not enough. Strangers become occupiers Furthermore, a guerrilla who does not lose wins. Henry Kissinger learned this lesson from the Vietnam War.

Well-meaning interventionists will also be fought as occupiers at some point. Great Britain, the USSR and now the USA experienced this painfully in Afghanistan. This is especially true when the supported government is incompetent and corrupt, the security forces are unreliable, and the guerrillas have safe retreats. And one more thing applies: some have clocks, others time. When external powers intervene, they do so with a political goal that is to be achieved within a certain period of time. At some point there will inevitably come a time when they estimate the costs in relation to the political benefits to be too high. Then the strangers have to leave, the local guerrillas remain to take power. There is only one lesson to be drawn from all of this: there should be no militarized security policy, nor should there be any military-supported state-building in countries with internal violent conflicts. The alternative is a foreign policy that is peace-oriented and so self-reflective that it can put itself in the shoes of an adversary.”


Many good points. But not only valid at Afghanistan. First lesson: No military and technological superiority will be useful if you are fighting a war in  an asymetric warfare and on foreign mostly non-urban territories with a guerilla army and not a traditional conventional army like in Germany or Japan. And the feared German Wehrwolf was a mirage, but points to the fact what the USA and the West really feared. Ho Chin Minh always said: The French, the Japanese, the Americans fought us, but they will leave some day, as it is not their country, they don´t know us (as the novel the Ugly American made clear) , but China will be our eternal neighbor and maybe enemy in the long run.General Giap said: We have time, think in the long term and want to sacrifice more human beings than the opposite side is willing to suffer. Therefore the myth in the US right was, that the USA was not defeated in Vietnam by the Vietcong, but by its internal weakness, the media, the homefront and the Left and even by the Republicans which denied Nixon the budget for the Vietnamization of the war.  At least a pro-Western South Vietnam could have been the result. But the South Vietnamese army which at this time was the third biggest army of the West collapsed within 2 weeks, similar to the Afghan army.

Napoleon tried to expand the French revolution,  their democratic ideals and the Code Napoleon to feudalist and aristocratic societies, wanted to modernize them and failed like the US neocons in Iraq and the Greater Middle East. Nation building only had success in Western Europe and Germany and Japan when the USA liberated this countries from fascism and had a new main enemy those populations also hated: Communism and the Sovjet Union. However, the USA had a Marshall plan, they never had in Iraq or Afghanistan or a Chinese New Silkroad , these countries were not industrialized countries like Germany and Japan and had no external enemy, but more internal enemies. And Osama Bin laden was a brilliant thinker. He knew the reactions of the West better than the West himself. Bin Laden wanted to bring the USA and the West to the graveyard of the empires, enage them in a fight  and draw it in the Afgahnistan quagmire, He thought similar like Brzezniski, when he laid out the Afganistan trap. And he knew: The Taliban would support and shelter him and that the USA will invade Afghanistan, topple the Taliban government within a few days, but afterwards they would stay and Al Qiada and the Taiban would renew itelf. Bin Laden knew: No US president could afford just to make a police action agiants him, but had to react in a mediaprone way for he home consumption which wanted just revenge and ultimative and massive  action. And Bin Laden knew that the West was not just leading a shortlived counterattack, but would stay in Afghanistan with a democratic- secular mission that wanted to transform this medelivean agrarian society with its Sharia and Pashtun tribe ideology to a democratic society. He spoke of “crusaders” and knew the logic of the West better than the West knew about itself.

And Bin Laden and the Islamists knew the reactions of the West even better after the Iraq war. 9 11 was used by the then Bush Jr. Government to reconfigure the geopolitical world order in the direction of the Greater Middle East and Central Asia beyond 911 and Afghanistan. Before fracking- USA emerged , the Greater Middle East was still the “energy ellipse”, as Cheney summarized it in his own energy report at the time. At that time, Bush jr. Rumsfeld, Condoleza Rice,  Cheney, Netanyahu and the Neocons developed the insane plan to democratize the Greater Middle East, Iraq should become the democratic lighthouse, a new generation of suppressed and democracy-loving young Arabs should be brought to power who would be so grateful to the US that they will continue to deliver the oil, privatize the state oil companies of the Panarab regimes, give up hostility to Israel, put an end to terrorism and then the pan-Arab and non-Islamist regimes Syria and Libya and Islamist Iran should have been following as well as the Axis of Evil. The neocons saw in these pan-Arab dictatorships and Islamist despots only failed states that had to be destroyed and had even the idea of a katharsis, „creative chaos“ (Condolezza Rice) similiar to Schumpeter´s „creative destruction“ from which a new world order will arise like phoenix from the ashes. It was also an ideology of linear naive progress that would be the outcome after a period of short destruction which would liberate the progressive and till then suppressed historical forces of world history and bring them to a tipping point they have waited for a long time. While Fukuyama´s End of History proclaimed an evolutionary historical materialism with an alleged emerging global liberal middle class as histroical subject for world peace and world democracy as the Communist had the woring class, the Neocons had a sort of military historical materialism which wanted revolution and war instead of evolution and peaceful revolutions like 1989. Sun Tze in his Art of War has a very simple, but fundamental slogan: „Know your enemy and know yourself“. The West didn´t know the enemy and didn´t konw himself, but was trapped in a hybris after the victory over Sovjet communism an dmthe mission of globalization with a „The winner takes it all“ and „Yes, we can do everything“ attitude. It remains to be seen if China and Russia will develop a similar hybris after the withdrawl of the USA from Afghanistan and the Greater Middle East and the rise of China, also militarilly or if they know themselves and seperate propaganda slogans in the Global Times like Mr. Hu Xijin airs frequently and the deeds of the CCP.

Afghanistan was essentially a sideline because of 9 11, albeit the justification for everything else. The USA did not use the war to bring a Central Asia strategy and to perpetuate itself there. Russia and China have taken on this with the SCO and after the withdrawl of the USA from the Greater Middle East under Obama, Trump and Biden , whereby China sees this as the beginning and also an essential part of controlling Eurasia, its Go East policy and the New Silk Road. At the moment the question arose: Northern Alliance and buffer zone / liberated area in Northern Afghanistan with Russia or not. Refugee land, bridgehead and roll back option, also for many Afghans and refugees, but this does not seem to meet with any approval in either the de-engaging West or Russia. At the moment, Beijing and Russia are full of joy  about the Afghanistan disaster of the West, talk of the end of Western dominance and the fall of the Pax Americana , are threatening  Taiwan, Israel and the Ukraine, as one headline of the Global Times, shouts: “Afghanistan today, Taiwan tomorrow”. The Western liberal and democratic system is seen as dysfunctional and due to its value orientation claimed as doomed.

However the neocons are gone, Trump´s election lead to a reorientation against the never- ending war, a focus on traditional enemies with conventional armies like Russia and China.The National Security Strategy (NSS) is defining China, Russia as great adveraries and then Iran and Northkorea and then terrorism or Islamism as main threats to the USA. But Islamism has been downgraded, since Secretary of Defense Robert Gates` slogan that the USA can only fight 1 1/2 wars and with no boots on the ground,the US reactions are foreseeable. There are two factions in the US administration: One who wants to fight China and Russia at the same time, the other wants to try to get Russia away from China-similiar as Trump wanted with his G 11 approach. Trump already managed it that Northkorea besides some medium range missile launches refrained from the development of ICBMs and nuclear tests, silently accepted the status of Northkorea as a nuclear power which can be tolerated as long as it doesn´t bother the USA, but only launches some harmless missiles in the Asian Seas which do no harm to anybody, the Biden adminsitration will also not polarize the US- North Korean relations and pressure Northkorea for denuclearization. Different is Iran as a new Iran deal seems not possible and Iran seems to go nuclear. However, an US invasion like Iraq is also out of question, also boots on the grounds or similar scenarios–therefore an US strike against Iranian nuclear facillities or more likely an outsourcing of that task to Israel is more likely.But even Israel´s military and intelligence chiefs ask if you can destroy the whole infrastructure of the Iranian nuclear program at all or only slow it down for some time. This problem is far more explosive than North Korea.

While there are discussions about an European army and that Europe has to „do more“ , there is also talk about an European Afghanistan  in Mali and the Sahel zone while French is retreating its troops. However, the last successful military intervention was the anti-IS coalition. It was supported by many countries, had a UN resolution, support by many local Muslims and minorities, was not perceived as an imperialist or foreign was and therefore such a sort of military intervention could be the model for the future. Just to refrain from military interventions, just to rely on diplomacy and development aid and economic development without political stability is also a non-starter. And the Hamburg Peace Research Institute is also very moralistic if it wants to support only clean , non- corrupt, democratic goverments which in most parts of the world don´t exist and won´t exist for a long time as even such democratization wars like Afghanistan proved. Peace-orientated and diplomatic foreign policy is also a nonstarter as its a vague phrase the author doesn´t explain concretley. Maybe China can replace a Marshall plan with its New Silk Road and the intergation of a Taliban Afghanistan with a surplus and added value for the Afghan socitey without military means. Would this be the model for the future? The USA and the EU should not engage in new humanitarian wars or democratization wars and with asymetric guerilla enemies and also not try to change whole agrarian societies without any real materialistic modern broad  bourgeoisie base which may control some urban areas, but not the most populated rural areas. Therefore the anti-IS coalition and training missions like in Iraq are the remaining role models for future military interventions. And from Lybia the conclusion is: Don´t topple secular dictators by airstrikes, if the boots on the ground against him are Islamists and other dictators and you have no better alternative.And Biden proclaimed that beyond his US infrastructure programs he wants a Western New Silkroad in Africa and Eurasia. However it remains to be seen, if this project will ever materialize as the financing could be boycotted by the American First Trumpists and the Republicans and therefore leave it to China´s BRI.

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