Posted by: N.S. Palmer | November 19, 2009

“Don’t Know Much About History …”

By N.S. Palmer, Ph.D.

“Don’t know much about history” is more than just a song lyric. It amounts to the credo of a significant minority of Americans.

Their most obvious manifestation is their adulation of erstwhile Alaska governor Sarah Palin of the Opportunist Party. That such a drooling imbecile would be considered a credible candidate for any political office by anyone of any party speaks volumes about the future of the American republic, such as it remains.

Their complete ignorance of history makes these Americans easy prey for political propaganda. They don’t know, for example, that both the British and Soviet empires invaded and occupied Afghanistan, just as the sagging American empire did under Bush II. As a result, they have no historical context that might make them question the official story that the U.S. government invaded Afghanistan because it refused to extradite Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks. Neither do they know that both empires nearly bankrupted themselves trying to conquer Afghanistan, so they have no context to understand the economic costs of open-ended warfare to benefit the oil industry at the expense of Americans generally.

The plan to invade Afghanistan was hatched in the Bush-Cheney regime long before the 9/11 attacks. The oil industry wanted to build a pipeline through the country, and had concluded that the Taliban government was an unreliable partner in the project. Hence, it had to be replaced, and a suitable cover story had to be concocted to justify the aggression needed to do it.

None of that is meant to criticize the brave men and women of the U.S. armed forces who now fight to put down the Afghan resistance. They didn’t ask to go there.  They largely believe what the Bush-Cheney regime told them as a justification for the attack.

The Afghans are fighting tooth and claw to expel the occupiers from their country. Dubya Bush wouldn’t understand, but British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who held Britain together during World War II, certainly did. In his History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Churchill wrote:

“It is the primary right of men to die and kill for the land they live in, and to punish with exceptional severity all members of their own race who have warmed their hands at the invaders’ hearth.” (Book I, Chapter II)

That’s why the Afghans fight on. And that’s why the West’s hand-picked viceroy, Hamid Karzai, won’t last for five minutes after his imperial sponsors leave Afghanistan. His life depends on their continued support.

U.S. President Obama undoubtedly understands the situation but has no good options to end the occupation of Afghanistan.

If he simply declares victory and withdraws, then the families of Afghans slaughtered by the Bush-Cheney invasion and occupation will be free — and motivated — to retaliate against the United States, most likely through acts of terrorism.

If he continues the occupation, then he makes even more enemies for the U.S., while draining resources that are desperately needed to rebuild America after years of pillage and neglect by the Bush-Cheney regime.

The “least bad” of Obama’s options might be:

  • Make a clean break with the past by apologizing to the Afghan people for the invasion and occupation.
  • Withdraw support for the West’s puppet government and let the Afghan people work out a less-illegitimate government.
  • Pay reparations for the rebuilding of Afghanistan. This would be a lot of money, but less than it would cost to continue the occupation.
  • Announce that the U.S. government will cooperate in extraditing any members of the Bush-Cheney regime for war crimes, as long as the Afghan government respects international law and the rights of the accused individuals.

Copyright 2009 by N.S. Palmer. May be reproduced as long as byline, copyright notice, and URL ( are included.



  1. The official story as in “This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity.” The one where the war in Afghanistan is “fundamental to the defense of our people…” Is that the story I should believe?

    Your attack of Palin and her followers fails to mention President Obama’s own politically expedient story line on Afghanistan. I agree with your assessment that the option’s are ugly and few, but I hope Obama will change his summer time tune and get us out of there. While I think that it is possible that we could “win”, the tremendous cost and a horrendous occupation would not be worth it in my humble opinion.

    • We agree about everything but, apparently, Ms. Palin.

      I am very disappointed by President Obama’s actions about Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as his lack of leadership on economic recovery and health care reform. Governing does sometimes require hypocrisy and immorality in the service of the greater good. I can only suppose that President Obama is trying to solve our problems as efficiently as he can, but not efficiently enough for those of us who are spared any actual responsibility for solving them.

      As for Ms. Palin, I confess that I do not understand her appeal to anyone with more than a grade-school education. Her essential arguments seem to be “I’m stupid and ignorant” and “the Bush-Cheney policies were such a wonderful success that we should continue and expand them.” I know you well enough to know that you’re an intelligent, educated, and thoughtful person. If you support that buffoonish woman, I am utterly mystified.

  2. You are too kind Noah. I was looking in the mirror for a halo after your comments about me. 😉

    While I am a fan of limited government, we agree that Palin is a member of the “Opportunist Party,” but I think most “good” politicians are. Her brand was tarnished in my mind when she quit the Governorship. That said, I think the outlandish attacks on her have given her more credibility than detracted from it. The attacks feed the very “outsider” persona that she is trying to create. Truth be told, I haven’t been paying much attention to her lately and I had no idea where she currently stood on Afghanistan.

    Here is the irony of the situation to me. The right would have their agenda (right or wrong) forced on other countries through war, while the left would have their agenda (right or wrong) forced on the entire American population through political might. Both sides are using force which will (according to Sir Isaac Newton) cause “an equal and opposite reaction.” I think education is the key. Most people have at best a limited understanding of the Constitution and our Government, which as you rightly stated ” speaks volumes about the future of the American republic.”

    I think President Obama is doing all he can to not become another “Jimmy” (as he called Carter in his book). The last thing he wants to appears as — in the light of history — is a weakling. Maintaining the existing wars allow him to burnish a legacy of hawk while pursuing dovish dis-armaments. In my limited political capacity, I think he bit off more than he should have in the first year. He was handed a raw deal, but he should have focused almost exclusively on the economy for the first year. By doing so he would have undermined the credibility of his critics and gained more followers. Our previous Governor Mark Warner modeled this concept well here in VA. Once Obama had proved that he was genuine about fiscal responsibility and deficit reduction he would have had almost free reign to pursue his social agenda. His stated intent to cut deficits now appears disingenuous to the prized independents that he should have in squarely his corner.

    • Jet, we probably agree that Ron Paul is not an opportunist. I worked for him when I was on Capitol Hill, and he’s one of the few honest politicians. I no longer agree with all of his libertarian positions, but I never doubt that he means exactly what he says and is dedicated to defending the Constitution.

      • We do agree on Dr. Paul. He is a man who acts on Constitutional principle not populism. You probably noticed that I put “good” in quotes. I am not arguing that all good politicians are populists, I just think it is a necessary quality in order to be elected.

  3. It’s very good to see you back, NS, even if you’re only on sabbatical. 🙂

    I’m personally of the opinion that the sooner Western armies leave Afghanistan, the better. I don’t have any concerns about potential terrorism… I’m more concerned in that regard where the state in question has some standing in the world or aspires to it. Once we leave, Afghans will be occupied (no pun intended) for the next 20 years with exactly what they did after the Soviets left: trying to get their national act together: fighting each other, either for ascendancy or just to carve off their own slice of the pie. Let’s face it; Afghanistan is failed state largely because it’s not a real one at all. It’s a less successful version of Yugoslavia. It would probably be best if it did evolve into two or three more ethnically-compact countries so that things can settle out.

    But terrorism against us? Why? I’m more worried about it now, where they have the motivation of GETTING US OUT. If we leave, that motivation vanishes, and revenge is only a focus if you have no other focus. I think rebuilding their homes will give them one. They’re never going to love us, no… and why should they? Anything’s possible, but I doubt any of them would attack us because that would pretty much insure they’re invaded all over again. On that basis, I don’t believe it’s a realistic fear. Realistically, the sooner we get out boots off their necks, the sooner they can get on with things.

    I think it’s a mistake to believe we can “win” in Afghanistan. Against whom? All attacking the Taliban really did was take the lid off everyone else who wanted to rise up, for one reason or another. It’s like declaring you could “win” against the water in a bathtub. Unless you’re going to drain the tub — utterly depopulate Afghanistan — there’s no “winning” there. It’ll be what we want it to be only so long as we have troops there. The moment they’re gone, it will be exactly what it’s supposed to be — which is, whatever the people(s) of Afghanistan want it to be. And I doubt that’s a parliamentary democracy. But that’s up to them.

    I don’t like what Afghanistan is doing to us as a society. I live in Canada, and all my life, the military has been about lending support to collective security — keeping the next war from starting — and peace keeping: that is, two factions beg the UN to put someone between them so they can normalize things, and we send the troops the UN mandates. Canada hasn’t been a part of a voluntary imperial invasion since the Boer War, and I can’t say it pleases me that we are again. The casual militarization of everyday aspects of life — like calling the stretch of the 401 from Trenton to Toronto “The Highway of Heroes” in honour of the bodies of dead soldiers coming home on it pretty much weekly now — is disquieting to me. We need to be out of this, ASAP. Eight years is enough; that’s already two years longer than we were in WWII.

    As far as Sarah Palin goes, I think a lot of people in the US don’t have the perspective to understand the horror with which much of the rest of humanity greeted her candidacy. Do you remember when university kids used to wear “I Go Pogo” buttons (parodying I Like Ike, I suppose)? But no one seriously expected Pogo to show up on the ballot. Last year, it’s like he did. Suddenly, a soccer mom, the mayor of a town no one outside Alaska had ever heard of, and who somehow managed to wrangle the governorship of the state, was running for Vice President with the endorsement of one of the two major parties. Someone who had never been outside the country, someone who clearly couldn’t wait for high school to end, someone who obviously saw newspapers primarily as kindling, someone who REALLY believes the world was made in six days six thousand years ago and that she’s due to be zapped into heaven soon just before the end of the world dooms all non-Christians… was being fronted to hold an office one faltering heartbeat away from control of the largest nuclear arsenal on Earth. Seriously. The prospect was CHILLING. To be honest, I resent the fact that the US has the potential to put the rest of us in harm’s way like that; it’s almost enough to make me think we should ALL build the Bomb. I never put much stock in the idea of the US as “leader of the free world”, but inasmuch as it’s commonly held, nominating Sarah Palin for VP was a pretty effective way of suggesting to everyone else you’re not really serious about the job.

    And frankly, I think the whole world could use a few more Jimmy Carters. 🙂

    • Last I checked Primate, Carter was a “born again” Baptist just as Clinton was. Baptists believe most of the things you just accused Palin of. Most of our Presidents followed some form of Christianity.
      The whole religion mess is a red herring in my opinion.

      • Jet, thanks for making some good points.

        I am not a Christian myself (I’m Jewish), but I consider myself lucky to live in a country still influenced by Christian values and teachings. I find great inspiration in the teachings of Jesus and in the Gospels, though I obviously interpret some points differently from Christians.

        On the religion issue, I think that you and LP are both right. Yes, Jimmy Carter is a Baptist; Palin is a former Pentecostal who is now kind of a non-descript fundamentalist Christian. Their professed religious beliefs are similar. However, I would argue that Carter is an intelligent, educated, thoughtful man, while Palin is none of those things. It does make a difference.

        In fact, Carter and Obama seem to share a tendency to over-think problems at the expense of taking action.

      • Well, there are Christians and there are XP!ians, Jet. Carter’s one of the former and Palin’s one of the latter. For example, Jimmy Carter doesn’t take the Bible as absolutely literal; he takes it as a strong spiritual guide. The difference can be typified in the fact that Sarah Palin tacitly denied evolution, at least insomuch as it applies to humans, in her book “Going Rogue”; whereas Jimmy Carter is on record as being “embarrassed”, as a “Christian, a trained engineer and scientist, and a professor at Emery University” at Kathy Cox’s attempt to remove the word “evolution” from books in the public schools of Georgia. Yes, they can both be labeled “Christians”, just as a Cadillac and a Trebant can both be labeled “cars”… but in both cases, their respective attributes mean one is generally better to have than the other.

    • Hi, LP —

      Thanks so much for the carefully-argued comment.

      I agree that if the Western countries simply got their armies out of Afghanistan, most of the Afghans would focus on rebuilding their country. However, I think that some of them would want to get revenge, not only as a matter of familial anger but of national pride. Such decisions are not “economically rational,” but they are very human. That’s why revolutions are usually started by the young. Mature members of society have learned that before they act, they should try to anticipate the results, costs, and benefits of their actions. They are not deaf to the claims of justice, but they temper its claims with prudence and pragmatism. The young and the religious zealots, on the other hand, find certain offenses so egregious that retribution must be inflicted, no matter what the costs or what the chances of success. It is from the latter ranks that terrorist organizations recruit their operatives, and Afghanistan has plenty of potential recruits. The measures I suggested (a public apology, reparations, and an offer to extradite members of the Bush-Cheney regime) are designed to soothe Afghan national pride and reduce the risk of such terrorism.

      That being said, as villainous as the oil companies and the Bush-Cheney gang are, they wanted Afghanistan for an oil pipeline. Such a pipeline would confer economic benefits not only on the oil companies and their friends, but — to a lesser degree — on Western populations generally. Those people want their gasoline, and most of them don’t much care how they get it as long as they don’t have to know the unsavory details. And that’s not unique to America: it’s human nature. In their heyday, the British and Roman empires were the same way. The nice, civilised people wanted their standard of living but weren’t too concerned about how they got it as long as they didn’t have to get their own hands dirty. If we are going to do “the right thing” and withdraw from Afghanistan, we have to understand that it will cost us something. We shouldn’t pretend that it won’t. That’s probably one of the things that’s giving Obama fits right now: How to do the right thing while best protecting the economic interests of America and the West.

      And be fair: the American people didn’t nominate Sarah Palin for anything, much less vote for her.

      • “Carter and Obama seem to share a tendency to over-think problems at the expense of taking action.”

        I’m not sure, in a world armed with nuclear weapons you can’t call back, that it’s possible to over-think a problem. Pressures mean that sooner or later, a solution has to be applied; that’s pretty much a given. I’m more persuaded that swift action — which leads to retributive swift actions, and on and on — means we’re not likely to see 2100. Not to put too fine a point on it: who would you have rather had in charge in October, 1962… plodders like JFK and Bob McNamara, or men of action like their Air Force CoS Curtis LeMay? You can, of course, claim JFK was decisive; I’d say he and his advisers groped their way through every turn and nuance, and so did their opposite numbers in Moscow, thankfully. I guess what I mean is, give me guys who consider a problem and maybe guess wrong, as opposed to guys who are informed by anecdote and sentiment and shoot from the hip like Reagan.

        “I think that some of them would want to get revenge”

        Well, accepting this for the sake of the point, I don’t see how prolonging our involvement there ameliorates this. It seems to me that it increases the anger and likelihood of reprisal as more and more Afghans die and more and more relatives have cause to wish us ill. Also, to keep things in perspective, for Afghan terrorists to strike targets in the West requires them to get here and be here. It requires them to organize, have funding, formulate plans without being detected, and execute them. I don’t doubt there are thousands of guys who’d like to do this. But it’s a huge and unlikely undertaking in reality, and I don’t think it justifies a prolonged military presence in Afghanistan.

        “Mature members of society have learned that before they act, they should try to anticipate the results, costs, and benefits of their actions.”

        Good old Jimmy Carter. 😉

        “The measures I suggested (a public apology, reparations, and an offer to extradite members of the Bush-Cheney regime) are designed to soothe Afghan national pride”

        I agree, but let’s be honest… the United States doesn’t even subscribe to the ICJ. It’s NEVER going to start handing its public officials over to others or even see them held responsible for their actions in the manner of other countries (at least, not while the money to float twelve supercarrier combat groups holds out…). So it’s not really in the cards. What is, though, is the apology, reparations, and the expedited withdrawal of troops. All that can be done because we’ve seen it done before.

        “And be fair: the American people didn’t nominate Sarah Palin for anything, much less vote for her.”

        Well, yes, I have to agree that she didn’t get elected. But that doesn’t change the fact that she got the nod for the VP slot from a party that’s held the office of President of the United States far more often than not over the course of my lifetime, and that’s scary… especially when you consider she was the running mate of a man who, actuarially speaking, stood a 33% chance of not surviving his first term had he won. And do I have to bring up Dan Quayle? Okay, I will… Dan Quayle! 🙂

      • As for decisiveness versus dithering, I think that (as Buddhism says) there’s a middle way. What’s best depends on the situation. And you’re quite right that nobody’s likely to take my advice about Afghanistan. Doesn’t make it wrong.

        “Saturday Night Live” re-cut the preview for the disaster movie “2012” to illustrate the possible consequences of Sarah Palin being elected president. It’s hilarious. The preview starts at about 1:20 into this video:×406522.

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