Sen. Gordon Humphrey (R-N.H.) has some questions about U.S. aid to Afghan freedom-fighters. He either suspects or knows that some of the arms being sent to guerrillas fighting the Russians are being ripped off. He has some questions he wants answered, but one of them, unfortunately, is not whether we should be aiding the Afghan fighters at all. Efficiency, not morality, is the subject on the table.
But if the Senate should lose its way and take up the question of morality, someone might ask if our Afghan policy is not an embarrassment to the United States. After all, we are covertly supplying arms to guerrillas who don't stand the slightest chance of winning and whose willingness to die in a lost cause is matched only by our willingness to provide them the means to do so.
Even in a world inured to horror, Afghanistan is a special place. Out of a population of around 14.7 million, maybe as many as 740,000 have been killed in the war. Another 3.5 million have fled to neighboring Pakistan. Whole villages are bombed by Soviet planes -- and then bombed again.
Of course, it is important to say that this is all the Russians' fault. They are the ones who invaded Afghanistan in 1979. It is also important to point out, though, that for years Afghanistan was forced to accommodate itself to Soviet interests, so we are not talking here of a country that could in any case become an American ally. That would simply not be permitted. And we are not talking, either, of a country that would, if the Soviets lost, become a democracy. Instead, it would probably become another theocratic dictatorship. Freedom, as we understand it, is not at issue here.
So then what are we doing in Afghanistan? In the language of the president, we are helping freedom- fighters -- although that's probably news the boys at the CIA. To the military, we're seeing what the Russians have got. And then there is the claim that aid to the Afghan rebels can be used as a bargaining chip with the Soviets: We suspend the arms shipment and they give us something in return. Maybe. But what the Soviets give in return will not have anything to do with Afghanistan itself. The war has cost them, certainly, but 9,000 dead and 16,000 wounded is not anywhere near enough for them to sound retreat and withdraw in humiliation. Afghanistan is not the Soviet version of Vietnam. Only a country with a free press and the right of assembly can have "a Vietnam" -- and even we would have reacted differently if we had been fighting just over our own border.
But if defenders of our Afghanistan policy are going to use the Vietnam analogy, then it's only fair to turn it against them. Once again, words like "freedom" and "liberty" are used to mask a cynical policy. Once again, the fight either cannot, or will not, be won. We are bleeding the Russians -- tying them down, evaluating them and taking their pulse, but when we tire of that, or they raise the stakes, we will cease our aid and sell out the Afghan guerrillas, as we did the Kurds.