среда, 26 ноября 2008 г.

Trying to learn history's lessons


MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti military commentator Ilya Kramnik) - The main lesson of history is that nobody learns anything from it. This truth is as ancient as the world, but its age does not make it less relevant. Considering global developments, namely the wars conducted by the United States, one can't help getting the feeling of deja vu. The same events already happened in the past. Only the details were different.

The similarity of wars in Iraq and Vietnam, as well as the resemblance of the Soviet and U.S. campaigns in Afghanistan, is evident to everybody. The development of conflicts, especially the war in Afghanistan, repeats past events with uncanny accuracy, and one can't give up the idea that other people's mistakes do not teach anyone anything. The United States is now repeating one of such errors: it is building up its Afghan contingent aiming to boost it to 52,000. Washington hopes that having a larger contingent, coupled with several its allies' building up their forces, will finally lead to a resounding victory over the Taliban and separate guerrilla groups without common command.

In a similar situation many years ago the Soviet Union preferred to build up its limited Afghan contingent as one of the main strategies of securing a victory: a large contingent was believed to ensure control over vast territories. It also made it possible to guard convoys with cargoes more effectively. That decision was justified to a certain extent; however, soon it became clear that it was pointless to build up a military contingent when there was no opportunity to deliver a blow to the adversary's supply and training bases. The Pakistani Mujahideen who had been killed were replaced by individual fighters, small groups and large gangs armed with American, Chinese, and Soviet weapons (received from some former allies of the Soviet Union), and the process was repeated.

The only way to annihilate Mujahideen was to conduct a military operation against their bases in Pakistan, but such escalation of war was impossible.

What is happening now? We are seeing practically the same picture. The United States fights against guerrilla groups backed by Iran and Pakistan, but it has no opportunity to destroy their bases. War on Pakistani territory, as well as war against Iran, is impossible at present. How can this situation end?

Building up the U.S. contingent in Afghanistan will only result in a higher death toll (it should be noted that the United States is reluctant to report its losses in the conflict zone). As a result, it will face a choice: either to terminate the operation, or to venture on a radical expansion of the contingent. Termination will mean a failure and shameful flight. After the United States pulls out of Afghanistan, the Taliban will quickly restore control over the country. Even according to the most liberal forecasts, Hamid Karzai's government will not exist "independently" for more than a couple of months.

It is even more difficult to predict how this decision may tell on America's domestic problems. Given the aggravating crisis - not only economic, but also psychological - a lost war will only make things worse. But the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, forced by its inability to make groundbreaking changes in the country, is an even worse scenario.

The second option, the conflict's expansion, means using force both when addressing the Iranian problem and attempting to steer the Pakistani ally in the "right" direction.

These steps will cause a full-scale war in the Middle East, from Iraq to India's borders, with dozens of divisions, hundreds of thousands of men on the ground, dozens of battleships, and thousands of planes and helicopters involved. Such a war will be on a larger scale than any conflict of the 20th century, except for the two world wars. It is impossible to imagine the outcome and consequences of such a conflict, where almost all Asian states will participate.

It is hard to believe that the United States will choose this way. However history, whose lessons go unheeded, shows that boosting military production and entering World War II, coupled with active provoking of Japan, became a way to overcome the Great Depression. Today's economic and financial crisis has every chance of surpassing the Great Depression. Who can guarantee that the means of countering it will not be equally impressive?

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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