Who are we fighting?

While on vacation I had a chance to read Alex Abella’s Soldiers of Reason: The Rand Corporation and the Rise of the American Empire. The book itself is sometimes a haze of evolving nuclear strategies entwined with the curious personal lives of its scientists, one of whom was the basis for the title character in Dr. Strangelove:

One part that did stand out to me though was a study done by Rand on the Vietcong fighters captured by the South Vietnamese:

“[Rand consultants] emphasized that the Vietcong saw themselves as waging a war against imperialists for the independence of Vietnam. They neither were communist zealots nor were they animated, like some Asian version of Mexican Zapatistas, by a simple desire for land. They were patriots and they were in the war for the long haul… These were not roving bandits or just plain bad guys, they were men of principle who were willing to die for a cause – and unless the conditions that gave rise to their discontent changed, the guerrilla campaign would go on until they all died or the central government fell.”

To what extent does this profile resemble the Taliban in Afghanistan today? I haven’t seen a lot of study done on this topic. Yes there are lots of speeches calling them “gangsters” or “scum” but I have seen precious little on what animates them. How much of it is sheer Pashtun nationalism? How much of it is religious? I don’t know, but I would like our government to figure this one out. Robert McNamara (Secretary of Defense during Vietnam) claims to this day that he had no idea that the Vietcong saw themselves primarily as patriots, and yet his government commissioned the Rand study that found just that. Does Canada already know something about what animates the Taliban. We deserve these sorts of answers.

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