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Baumgartner: When does a proxy war become a civil war?

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Afghan Army soldiers participate in morning exercises at a training facility in the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan, on Nov. 26, 2013.

The cold war was never cold. The United States and Russia just used the heat of other countries as their own. That fact is undeniable.

After America’s loss in Vietnam, one would think our country would have learned its lesson, but instead, we moved on to the Middle East and southwestern Asia. After the Soviet Union fell and the United States abandoned Afghanistan — a country we so eagerly used for our own purposes — it was predictable that a group like the Taliban would swoop in and take advantage of the situation.

Then things escalated so quickly that the bloodshed spread to our own soil in 2001, and once again, we went into Afghanistan. No wonder so many countries across the globe hate us.

Proxy wars are never won. They create more conflict and more suffering. The fall of Afghanistan, after 20 years of being occupied by America, has displayed that in broad daylight.

Since Kabul fell on Aug. 15 and the final U.S. military flight lifted off on Monday, the sentiment has grown that the Afghan people need to fight their own civil war. It is true that the United States cannot remain a constant police presence in other countries forever, but overnight, so many women and children lost all of their rights. They have been forced into hiding and subjected to more violence and oppression than any American has ever known here in the states.

Like an abused child, Afghanistan grew too old to be of any use and was cut off from its predatorial guardian. We sent it to wander through dangerous territory alone, and now we’re pretending that it created its own problems. The Afghans never had the opportunity to heal and grow and truly become their own country in the modern age.

Having known abuse and neglect myself, I understand that eventually people cannot blame their guardian for their own actions, but 20 years is like a month to a country and its history, and we have the audacity to act as if the people of Afghanistan put themselves in their current situation.

So when does a proxy war become a civil war?

Is it when we have too many of our own problems to deal with? Is it when the country we manipulated for our own gain matures enough to host elections and install a “president” who abandons them at the first sign of danger? Or is it when it’s most convenient for us?

The Afghan people are not like Americans. They are simple. Their culture is nothing like ours, and yet we installed democracy for them. And now we’re stepping back and wondering why they cannot handle it.

There is no civil war in Afghanistan. The soldiers we attempted to train with Western tactics and equipment didn’t quite grasp the philosophy and foundation of everything we worked so desperately to teach them — mainly because we were doing it to win, to look good. I’m sure plenty of our troops cared, but very few of our leaders displayed a genuine concern for the people we took advantage of.

So the Afghan army we trained didn’t put up a fight. They were led by a country whose leadership they didn’t fully embrace, and when the Taliban started conquering cities, they didn’t know what to do.

Like every abused individual who wasn’t allowed to properly heal, Afghanistan fell into despair when it was abandoned. The United States can shift blame and call the takeover a civil war, but it was always a proxy war; and we aren’t the ones who feel the loss. The Afghan people are the true casualties.

They need our support. They need guidance and supplies. They need real training and education. Getting it to them seems impossible now, but we have spent so much time profiting off of the Afghan people, maybe it’s time we whole-heartedly commit to their security by offering our alliance to Amrullah Saleh, who was the vice president. When the president fled, Saleh remained to care for his people and his country.

As long as people like Saleh remain, there is hope. He is the survivor who refuses to let past abuses stunt him. We should be a part of his hope and help it spread.

Jessica Baumgartner of St. Peters is the author of “The Magic of Nature,” “Walk Your Path” and the award-winning children’s book “The Golden Rule.”


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