Whistling Past the Graveyard in the Hindu Kush

Steve Russell
4 min readAug 17, 2021
Photo by William Acosta License CC0 Public Domain

“The difference between genius and stupidity,” says an African proverb, “is that genius has limits.”

I’m a country boy with limited imagination, so I thought the 1975 pictures of Vietnamese on the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon fighting over seats on the last helicopters out, clinging to the skids while being kicked, was an all-time low point for my country’s reputation in the world. Those people clinging to the skids until kicked off were Vietnamese who threw in with us and — with good reason — -feared victor’s justice.

Donald John Trump found a lower place to take us when he removed U.S. protection for the Syrian Kurds after they did the bloody fighting to rid Syria of ISIS. The Turks did not even wait until the last U.S. troops were gone before rounding up the civilian Kurds. In my book, World War ISIS, I suggested that President Obama intended to reverse the “slow bleed” strategy that has worked against us so many times by letting the Islamist guerrillas do the bleeding instead of American GIs.

That was my rebuttal to the claim that Obama had no strategy. I claimed it would work if U.S. voters were patient enough (in the face of Republican drum beats) to allow it to work. Bloody battles engaged through proxies was not our history but it could work and did work because ISIS was so brutal and so far outside the mainstream of Islam.

The hitch in the plan was it required the United States to engineer forbearance by our Turkish allies after Turkey — purposely or not — conflated peaceful organizing with terrorism. The Turkish troops swung against anybody Kurdish and the U.S. troops took the blame for selling out our allies.

That was as bad as our reputation could get until today, when Afghans who worked for us stormed the tarmac on the civilian side of the Kabul Airport and fought to get their families out before the Afghan military — -after 20 years of training and billions of dollars worth of modern weapons — folded like a cheap suit. Once more, the price of believing in the United States is death.

Help me, dear readers, understand how a man smart enough to use a safety razor could think enough military force can be brought to bear from North…

Steve Russell

Enrolled Cherokee, 9th grade dropout, retired judge, associate professor emeritus, and (so far) cancer survivor. Memoir: Lighting the Fire (Miniver Press 2020)