This sort of observation is hard to argue with, yet, at some level untouched by Bacevich’s obviously ample experience, surprisingly naive.
Yes, indeed, the US will leave a mess when it leaves Afghanistan, during whatever generation this might come to pass. Yes, indeed, this runs parallel to the event in Vietnam in very many ways. However, Bacevich appears to pull away from an other conclusion that ought to be obvious. Invading forces do not leave messes because they leave; they leave messes because they invade.
Of course there is a wave of violence when invaders leave. The forces that remain within the invaded country have to finish retaking sovereignty of the elements of their lives. And the existing power base left by colonial leaders are perforce Quislings, Benedict Arnolds, traitors, sellouts, what-have-you. None of that means that the violence of Hanoi and the Vietnamese patriots and resistance was all altogether justified as they retook the country from the latest succession of Euro-American colonizers. Neither was all the French violence against les collabos et les boches at the end of WWII. Neither was all the violence against tories when England’s American colonies won independence. But it is pointless to imagine that the Nazis had no role in the anger of the French who retook their country or that the British Crown had no role in the anger of the colonists against their tory neighbors. It was at least as naive to imagine that the Americans and the South Vietnamese partners who had collaborated with the horrors of Operation Phoenix, the mass destruction of Agent Orange, and the riddling of the fields and forests with dragontooth bombs would not themselves fall prey to violence. Usually it is not the most beneficent but the most ferocious among us who are the most naive.
Part of the naivete in Bacevich’s apology to Captain Nguyen was not Bacevich’s surprising failure at the time to recognize the violence that would come while everyone around him fled it, nor his apparently unresolved failure to recognize the extent of the damage that US involvement had inflicted, nor the failure to recognize how that damage guaranteed and necessitated just that violence, nor even the failure to recognize that Captain Nguyen himself had been deeply complicit in shooting up and bombing his own country and countrymen for the convenient favors of foreign invaders and surely knew this far better than did Bacevich, but that part of the reality of colonial invasion is that it sets up this exact sort of mess. For whatever reasons, Nguyen likely imagined that he had found the only way forward–like Quisling, like the collabos, like Arnold and in some ways like the children of the poor within the States who put on uniforms for college credit, so that the rich may sic them against a next set of victims.
It is the business of empire to make traitors of its children.
It is very nice that the US is at least considering leaving behind the mess that it has made of Afghanistan. Of course the mess will roll on as a mess without American help: the work of George W and Barack Obama as well as Donald Trump and of course of all the kings’ soldiers and all the kings’ men have assured that. Of course, it is a horrible mess. And if Donald Trump leaves it–which he has not, at this point, and may not–if he really leaves it without leaving a cotillion of CIA and mercenaries behind to guard the company poppy business, then that is a better move than any we have seen made in the larger region by any of his recent predecessors.
Sadly, it is way too early to award Trump credit for this; he has not done it and likely will not. But that also makes it early for weird attempts to score political points for anyone over the still-unacted action.
What can one say? “Yes, Andrew Becevich, it’s Chinatown”?