Thursday, November 04, 2010

Creating the Monster?

Released in 1988, Rambo III was a statement.

There's a brazen Cold War character to the film: set in Afghanistan, it was filmed while the Soviet occupation was still ongoing. The production of the film amounted to Americans rubbing salt in wounds that the Soviets were still suffering -- it's tantamount to the Soviet Film Ministry producing a film about the Vietnam war during the early 1970s.

Rambo III finds John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) completely adrift, reduced to using skills, honed fighting the Vietnamese, as a pit fighter in Thailand.

Colonel Samuel Trautman (Richard Crenna) approaches Rambo with another mission: to travel into Soviet-occupied Afghanistan and help the Mujahideen drive out the Soviet occupiers.

At first Rambo declines until Trautman is captured by the Soviets. Rambo must reprise his mission to rescue his last remaining friend.

Rambo travels alone to Peshawar where he makes contact with the Muhajideen and leads them in their fight against the brutal Colonel Zaysen (Marc de Jonge). At first the Mujahideen doubt him, but his skills help them put the Soviets on their heels.

By the film's end, Rambo has rescued Trautman and returns with him to the United States, leaving the Afghans to continue their fight. History knows how the war ended -- with the Soviet Union retreating from Afghanistan. However, the film ends with a tributary message to the people of Afghanistan.

Many have looked to Rambo III as evidentiary either of western naivete toward Afghanistan now, or western naivete toward Afghanistan in the 1980s. Take your pick.

Of course, the argument that American support for the Mujahideen helped create the Taliban is categorically false. The Taliban didn't exist as a political or paramilitary force until later in the 1990s. Moreover, the Taliban originated in Pakistan, not Afghanistan.

This isn't to say that the abandonment of Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal -- leaving the country destitute and desperate -- didn't help foster an environment that allowed the Taliban to come to power, and Al Qaeda to flourish.

So did the United States create the monster of Talib Afghanistan? It seems that the answer is a combination of yes and no.

This doesn't necessarily provide the answer as to whether or not western troops belong in Afghanistan right now. However, it does point to important considerations moving forward.

NATO must not lose its appetite to help defeat the Taliban. Equally important is not to slack off on nation-building after the Taliban is finally gone.

Otherwise, we simply risk creating another monster.

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