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The Savage Art of Learning Nothing

Here we are again, revving up on the borders of Ukraine. Probably should have learned something from Afghanistan.

A December 6, 1993 Independent interview by the late British-Irish journalist Robert Fisk highlighted the “anti-Soviet” work of a brave freedom fighter. Having left behind a successful career as a businessman, the “shy” construction mogul moved from the big city to the hardscrabble frontiers of the third world, where he put his skills to work building infrastructure for impoverished locals and leading his ragtag band of anti-Soviet warriors on the “road to peace.”

Fisk was the first Western journalist to interview the reclusive, romantic freedom fighter with “high cheekbones, narrow eyes and long brown robe,” but Fisk was hardly the first Westerner to be captivated by the struggle in which the Prince Faisal-esque jihadist was engaged. In the 1980s, anti-Russian jihad was all the rage in Washington. D.C. types couldn’t get enough of polygamist outlaws like Fisk’s interviewee. It was Charlie Wilson’s War, the saying now goes. Men like the Texas Congressman studded the wainscoted halls of the American capital. The FBI, the CIA, and every spook and bureaucratic pencilneck in between funneled American money and arms to Afghanistan and other exotic locales, trying to bludgeon the invading Ivan back to his roost in Moscow.

Even Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, got in on the act. Heck, for a season Brzezinski led the turkey shoot down in old Kabul.

Wars are like farmers’ markets for arms dealers. More wars, more arms deals. For a Washington which had been, since 1945 at least, the world’s premier provider of “security,” the narrow-eyed freedom fighter in the trenches of Kandahar was a godsend. Rockets, rifles, training, cash, and special agents from probably every federal make-work project besides the National Endowment for the Humanities (never mind) poured into Afghanistan and elsewhere in Hellhole Country, looking for Russian baddies to pick off.

For freedom. For democracy.

It was high cotton for the Washington crowd. Mortgages were paid off across Maryland and northern Virginia. Jihad for REFIS! There is nothing better for the health of the American leviathan than a proxy war.

For a time, at least. What ever happened to the mercurial, berobed mujahideen interviewed by Robert Fisk in 1993? Although he denied ever having benefited from American assistance, our freedom fighter ally put his experience in the Washington-coached anti-Soviet escapades to good use in September of 2001, when 19 of his deputies hijacked some airliners on the East Coast of the United States. After that, the Americans spent 20 years hunting down Osama bin Laden—Fisk’s desert hero—and trying desperately to dismantle the network of “freedom fighters” they had built up in the Carter and Reagan years. Gitmo got stuffed to the gills with the unwashed fruits of Washington’s short-sighted high handedness.

In 2021, at the end of that 20-year errand into the Central Asian wilderness, the Americans left behind a cache of war booty—helicopters, armored vehicles, big guns galore—that will surely come in very handy for the mujahideen when we have to go back and kill some more of them a few decades hence. (I hope someone thought to renew the lease on Gitmo—we’re going to need it again before too long.)

We are not even a year out from that ignoble surrender and retreat, and yet here we are in the spring of 2022 shouting to support “freedom fighters” in Ukraine, one of the most corrupt countries in the world. The walking Lusitania, the Ukrainian president, an actor by trade, is transparently trying to draw the West into the fun times of World War III with nuclear warheads on top. The same Oval Office occupant who insisted we cut our losses and get the hell off the mujahideen merry-go-round in the late summer of last year is now calling for regime change in Moscow and stacking the NATO palisades around the Ukraine debacle with the usual Washington machinery of war. Where is the tripwire that will trigger the desired showdown between Russia and the United States? Biden will let you know as soon as he’s tripped on it. After that, it will be Katie, bar the door.

Probably should have learned something from Afghanistan. But we did not. Washington, and so much of mainstream media addled America, refuses to learn a damn thing from anything. The more screwed up something is, the more inured so many experts are to reflecting on it. The savage art of learning nothing ensures we make the same mistakes again and again, only with worse consequences each time.

Loading down illiterate, America-hating jihadists with bandoliers and Stinger missiles—what could go wrong? We found out on September 11, 2001. But then we forgot. And so here we are again, revving up on the borders of Ukraine. Good news: Stinger missiles have been upgraded, and can now take out drones. Even Russian drones, I am guessing. By the time I am 70 perhaps we will finally have extracted ourselves from the eastern European nightmare, too.

The savage art of learning nothing. The invincible Washington ideology that justice is on the side of Washington liberals, who are divinely appointed to anoint the planet with the aspergilla of surplus Army weapons. In sepia tinted yesteryear, our “friends” were bearded jihadis, who later killed us. Today, we make doe eyes at the Azov Battalion, a fine group of white supremacists and assorted neo-Nazis whose “SS” standards surely guarantee that they, too, will one day turn their American guns on Americans.

Washington screams at us that we must step up, though. The fight for freedom must go on. We (by which Washington means us, those of us who aren’t working in Washington) have to hold the line, which they will keep pushing closer to Russia. So here we go again. Washington locuta est.

In that same town, Washington, news has recently broken that “doctors” may be practicing infanticide. And so the blessings of liberty continue to accrue. Blessings which Washingtonians are even more eager, this very day, to share with benighted humanity than ever before. War crimes in Ukraine? You betcha. Crimes against humanity at abortion mills in Washington? Sorry, like Hunter Biden’s laptop, that is right-wing fake news.

The art of learning nothing is savage, indeed. If history is any example, then it is an art which is going to be practiced for a very long time to come.

Jason Morgan is associate professor at Reitaku University in Kashiwa, Japan.