Mikhail Gorbachev, who has been neutralized by the succession of Russian rulers, especially Putin) has just advised President Obama to get out of Afghanistan. Jonathan Steele suggests here (also attached below) that Obama ought to heed that advice, because Obama is in a similar albeit somewhat worse position than Gorbachev was in 1985-6.
Analogies are dangerous, because they can capture your thinking and take you off the cliff. But here goes.
If Steele’s analogy is accurate, it suggests some pregnant ramifications that are not addressed directly by Steele: Russia (Putin and Medvedev) appear to be helping US/Nato in Afghanistan with training programs and by providing access routes for northern logistics lines of communication. This cooperation serve both parties by improving relations in the short term, but it also helps US/Nato stay on its disastrous course in Afghanistan. Are there other reasons why would Putin, an ardent nationalist, would what the US to remain stuck in Russia’s backyard?
Russia needs help in staunching spillover of Sunni radicalism into its Moslem areas and its Central Asian sphere of influence (a variation of the original reason USSR invaded Afghanistan in 1979). The US war on the Taliban serves that interest. So from Putin’s point of view, keeping US/Nato bogged down in Afghanistan serves Russian national interests for free.
Putin, a former member of the KGB and an ardent nationalist, certainly knows the US fomented Sunni extremism in Afghanistan to sucker the Soviets into invading Afghanistan with the aimed of bogging the USSR down in its own VietNam-like quagmire (a policy proudly acknowledged by President Carter’s National Security Advisor,Zbigniew Brzezinski in his notorious interview in Le Nouvel Observateur, January 1998). Putin must also know that the US/Nato engagement in Afghanistan, is (1) a huge resource drain that is weakening US economically and militarily, as well as (2) weakening the bonds giving the US political control over its Nato allies. From his point of view, these two outcomes would certainly improve Russia’s relative power with respect to Europeans (especially Germany) and in the world, at the expense of the US. Moreover, in Putin’s eyes, these outcomes might seem to be justified as payback to the US. After all, did not the US unleash the Islamic radicalism with its efforts to maneuver the USSR into Afghanistan in 1979 and did not the US humiliate Russia by the exploiting Russia’s economic misery and military weaknesses, after Gorbachev had done the the US and the West a huge favor by precipitating collapse of the Soviet Union and ending the Cold War without bloodshed?
So, who should Obama and his advisors listen to? Putin the nationalist and go for a short term political gain at expense of remaining stuck in the quagmire that serves Russia’s interests, or Gobachev the statesman who advises Obama to bite the bullet and absorb short-term political pain to gain long term benefits of exiting a quagmire that is weakening the US economically and militarily?
Of course the war advocate could counter by saying this is based on an analogy run amok. We are not making the gross mistakes the Soviets made in Afghanistan, and besides, it is cutting and running that weakens us. After all, Gobachev is just an old man who refuses to see that his time has past and is struggling futilely to remain relevant.
guardian.co.uk 10/27/10 10:00 PM Jonathan Steele
Gorbachev has valuable advice for the US on the war in Afghanistan that Putin would rather he keep to himself
The surprise in this week’s reports that Russia is planning to help Nato in Afghanistan by training Afghan helicopter pilots is that people are surprised. Memories are short, it seems, for the shift in Moscow’s line came as early as July last year during Barack Obama’s first summit in the Kremlin.
Designed to press the “reset” button after east-west tempers flared over the war in Georgia, the meeting ended with several agreements, the most dramatic of which was Russia’s nod for the US to send military supplies across Russian territory to its forces in Afghanistan. Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin wanted to give Obama a reward for taking a calmer view of Russia than George Bush, in particular for accepting Georgia’s share of blame in the South Ossetian crisis and for cancelling the most provocative aspects of Bush’s missile defence scheme which Moscow viewed as a threat.
See Also (RECAP)
RECAP stops at 1 January 2010