Time illuminates the moral high ground

The Summer Olympics of 1980 took place in Moscow, capital of the (then) Soviet Union. But prior to the games, in March, President Jimmy Carter shocked and deeply disappointed the U.S. team by informing them that the U.S. would be boycotting the games.

1980 water polo

1980 Olympic Water Polo Team

Sixty-six other countries joined the U.S. boycott, while seven countries participated in the games but not the opening ceremonies, and five countries allowed their athletes to participate under the Olympic flag rather than their own national flag (great idea – this should be the standard!).

All in all, it was a gigantic mess. And it reverberated for years – the Soviets, in turn, boycotted the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles because of U.S. “chauvinism” and “anti-Soviet hysteria”.

I’m guessing most of the people reading this are old enough to remember this event, but I’ll also bet most of you can’t remember what the fuss was all about. You win the standard GOML prize, an honorary Bachelor’s degree from Trump University, if you can explain why we boycotted without first looking it up. Tick tock.

Give up?

We boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics, destroying the dreams of more than 450 of our athletes, and rendering pointless their sacrifices and years of training, because the Soviets sent their military into Afghanistan, who they then shared a border with, to overturn the unpopular regime there.

map

We asked, “Who but an arrogant, belligerent nation of monsters would send their military into Afghanistan to overthrow a legitimate government?” Unacceptable! We, of course, occupied the moral high ground and had to act to end this outrage.

Naturally, the Soviets weren’t about to pull in their horns and say the equivalent of , “Well you got us – maybe we really are immoral”, so they held the games without us and stayed in Afghanistan for eight years.

It was a fight that resembles all the other fights in the region and in many other regions as well:  liberal and tolerant urban interests versus conservative and less tolerant rural interests, modernity versus tradition, believers versus apostates, kleptocrats versus suckers, sect versus sect, gang versus gang, family versus family, and so on. Just like always and forever.

Some background from this wiki:

Prior to the arrival of Soviet troops, the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan took power after a 1978 coup, installing Nur Mohammad Taraki as president. The party initiated a series of radical modernization reforms throughout the country that were deeply unpopular, particularly among the more traditional rural population and the established traditional power structures. The government vigorously suppressed any opposition and arrested thousands, executing as many as 27,000 political prisoners. Anti-government armed groups were formed, and by April 1979 large parts of the country were in open rebellion. The government itself was highly unstable with in-party rivalry, and in September 1979 the president was deposed by followers of Hafizullah Amin, who then became president. Deteriorating relations and worsening rebellions led the Soviet government, under leader Leonid Brezhnev, to deploy the 40th Army on December 24, 1979.  Arriving in the capital Kabul, they staged a coup killing president Amin and installing Soviet loyalist Babrak Karmal from a rival faction.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Is anything really different now? Have any of the factions been defeated or converted or even withdrawn from the fight all these years later? Were any of the issues different then than they are today? Were any of them ever resolved? Does a foreign power, whether the Soviets or the U.S. or anyone else,  installing a “loyalist” regime ever actually solve anything? Does anyone ever actually govern?

Our own brilliant assessment of the situation in 1980 was that we should support the good guys in Afghanistan against the Russians, which we did. We figured we could at least bog the Soviets down, make them deplete their resources, and keep them out of our hair elsewhere for a while. And maybe they’ll lose some support and credibility worldwide.

The good guys called themselves the Mujahideen and were led by an inspirational young lunatic called Osama bin Laden.

muja

Afghan Mujahideen, 1989

bin laden

Their Leader

When the Soviets finally threw in the towel, bin Laden figured, “We beat the Soviets and we’ll kick the Americans’ asses, too. They’re all infidels and have it coming.” And we all remember what happened next.

Bin Laden has been gone six years now, but our military is still in Afghanistan, and our boys are still in harm’s way. It’s been 16 years, now, with no end in sight. And that same arrogant, belligerent nation which caused all that commotion in 1980, now known as Russia, is not entirely disinterested in our involvement. They figure we’ll at least be bogged down, deplete our resources, and it will keep us out of their hair elsewhere for a while. And maybe we’ll lose some support and credibility worldwide.

From this piece:

On 9 February 2017, General John W. Nicholson, Jr told Congress that NATO and allied forces in Afghanistan are facing a “stalemate” and that he needed a few thousand additional troops to more effectively train and advise Afghan soldiers. Additionally, he also asserted that Russia was trying to “legitimize” the Taliban by creating the “false narrative” that the militant organization has been fighting the Islamic State and that Afghan forces have not, he asserted Russia’s goal, was “to undermine the United States and NATO” in Afghanistan. 

But we’ll prevail, by which we mean that we’ll win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, who, at the end of the day, want all the same things we do: “freedom”, to send their kids to school, to buy stuff like we have, etc. etc. In short, to enjoy the western lifestyle just like we do. Right? Who wouldn’t want all that? It’s just their pesky culture, religion, and leaders that are standing in the way.

And after all, we have the moral high ground.

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