Why Afghanistan Reminds Me of Cuba

By John Dorschner

Of course, being a Miamian, I’m thinking of Cuba as I watch the Taliban take over Afghanistan.

The United States spent at least $82 billion in training the Afghan government army and giving it the best possible weapons. As the Washington Post has made clear in several stories, U.S. officials on the ground knew that the police and military were corrupt, that finding ways to enrich themselves was their main motivation. What’s more, in the past year, the Post revealed, Taliban had been negotiating cease fire deals with local military outposts, in what were really bribes to buy their weapons.

The point is that the United States didn’t create a fighting force: They offered a pot of money, and eager people in a Third World country figured out how to get the money and use it to get more money, by doing such things as setting up check points that required bribes for people to pass. Money was their aim: Not fighting rebels.

In 1958, Batista’s army was trained and equipped by the United States. It had much better weapons than the rebels. So what? It was conditioned to suck up to the Americans and to find the best methods to enrich its leaders through corruption while intimidating the population. With the exception of Captain Abon Ly, who put up a spirited fight in Yaguajay, the Batista army had no will to fight. It had no public support. It was simply a machine to make money, and as Castro’s popularity grew, Batista fled, and the rebel leader strolled across the country in a victory march without opposition.

Of course, there are a ton of differences between Cuba and Afghanistan, between the atheist Fidel and the zealot Muslims and between an economy that was one of the richest per capita in Latin America (in 1958) and a desperately poor Third World nation in Asia. But as I watched the Afghan military simply melt away, which seemed to mystify some experts, I thought back to the years I had spent researching Cuba in 1958 for the book I co-authored, The Winds of December: U.S. support for an army doesn’t automatically create a fighting machine.

Critics now are blaming Biden for ending the “Forever War.” What about the U.S. military leaders who have claimed that the Afghan military was becoming a sterling fighting force? What about blaming the Afghan government that crumpled without resistance?

Trying to shape a country to some U.S. purpose doesn’t end well. It’s as simple as that. We should have learned that in Vietnam. We should have learned it from the Russian failure in Afghanistan. If public opinion blames Biden now, it means that once again we haven’t learned the lesson.

A Miami journalist for a half-century dedicated to peace, equality and environmental protection. Author of Verdict on Trial, available on Amazon.