An article in Thursday’s Christian Science Monitor reported that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is urging NATO to keep troops in Afghanistan beyond the current 2014 withdrawal date in order to maintain some semblance of stability there. Even though Russia is very concerned about NATO expansion elsewhere, this Russian move makes good sense. Instability in Afghanistan would not only risk another terrorist attack on the US, but similar attacks within Russia. Lavrov is smart to put aside doctrinaire views that see any American presence near Russia as unacceptable. He is better off encouraging us to expend our treasure and blood to reduce risks to both our nations, instead of Russia bearing the burden – something it would be very unlikely to do after we helped bloody them so badly in the 1980’s.
If we had been as far sighted back then as Lavrov is being today, al-Qaeda and the Taliban might never have come to power. (Many of those fighters, including Osama bin Laden, were trained by the CIA during the 80’s.) The Twin Towers might still stand, and human rights in Afghanistan might be better than they are today. While the Soviet supported Afghan regime was far from a paragon of virtue, women were better off then than now, and I doubt it was a capital crime to convert from Islam, as it is now under the government we support.
America learned a hard lesson in 1941, when the isolationism of the previous two decades bit us at Pearl Harbor and brought us into war with Hitler. Unfortunately, we came to believe that if isolationism is bad, interventionism is good, and more interventionism is better. That mistaken thinking played a major role in drawing us into needless wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Was it really in our interests to kick the Soviets out of Afghanistan, or like Lavrov today, should we have been less doctrinaire?
For further reading
To get a better picture of the history of women’s rights in Afghanistan, compare a 1987 New York Times article about women under the Soviet-supported government, versus a 2011 article about the status of women under “our” government.
People have been sentenced to death for converting to Christianity under the American-supported government, though in this case the man was released on a technicality after the Bush administration strongly objected. At least one the two men sentenced to death on similar charges more recently was also spared, but I do not know the fate of the other.
Surprisingly, the last Soviet-supported president of Afghanistan is revered by some Afghans.