Talking about Charlie Wilson’s War and America’s involvement in Afghanistan in the 1980s, Will writes:
Ultimately, I have to disagree with both parties, and with both non-interventionist Democrats and neo-conservative Republicans. America’s involvement in the world should be based on America’s national interest. All other considerations are less important. Was the covert war propagated by Wilson in America’s best interest? Yes. Was America’s neglect of the post-Soviet occupation Afghanistan in our best interest? Hell no.
I think this is right. However, I would quibble with Wilson’s idea that U.S. support for the mujahadeen was “glorious, and then we fucked up the end game.” It’s not that we fucked it up — it’s that we never had it in mind. Giving the Soviets a black eye in Afghanistan was the end game. If the goal was to rebuild Afghan society, we’d have supported the rebels who were interested in such things. But those rebels sometimes thought it was wise to cut deals with the Soviets if the result was a better life for their people, and so they lost our (read: Wilson’s) support. Instead the U.S. (with the Pakistanis and the Saudis) chose to support the most brutal, nihilistic mujahedeen and, as a result, the Taliban flourished.
The only way to do it right would have been to make the mission explicitly about helping Afghans. But if the mission was about helping Afghans, Congress would have never funded it. This is the paradox of American foreign policy.
All of this is well-documented in Ghost Wars, if you’re interested.