Except for the brief NATO intervention in Kosovo and Serbia in 1999, all of the significant military expeditions fought by the United States since the Cold War have been with Asians, and it has lost nearly all of them (two — Iraq and Afghanistan — hang in the balance at this moment).

The Cold War originated in the attempts of Soviet and Western intelligence and political agencies at the end of the Second World War to control as large a part of Europe as possible (a continuation of the prewar Comintern effort in Europe, and especially in the Spanish Civil War, but that’s another age and another subject).

In 1943-45, the Soviet army drove the Germans out of Eastern Europe, and despite the resistance of certain groups in the Baltic states and the clandestine Polish Home Army organized during the war, the Soviets were successful in imposing governments usually composed of prewar Communists who had taken wartime refuge in Moscow.

The Western extension of Soviet military occupation, following the fighting and then as negotiated between the Allies, lay in Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia, and this is where the political struggle mainly took place, in addition to within France and Italy, where large prewar Communist labor and political organizations played a major wartime role as partisans and auxiliaries of regular Allied armies in the final months.

The Russians and the Western Allies divided Germany and Austria into zones. The political struggles in France and Italy continued, but Stalin recognized that the American, British and Free French armies would fight attempted coups in those countries. So that froze the West European Cold War.

Stage two of the Cold War had both political and military aspects in Eastern and Southern Europe. The U.S. and Britain continued airdrops and other military assistance to anti-Communist partisan groups inside what again had been declared Soviet territory.

Communist partisans, supported from Tito’s Yugoslavia, fought for control of northwestern Greece. Allied intelligence initiated an operation to liberate Albania from its Communist-installed government, which seemed an easy target; Tito’s Yugoslav forces had blocked the Russian army from both Greece and Albania, and in 1948 Stalin and Tito quarreled. That cut off the Greek Communists, and the Albanian resistance was betrayed by the British traitor Kim Philby.

Stage three of the Cold War opened, ominously, in Asia, but again had to do with ideology. The U.S. tried ineffectually to help Chiang Kai-shek against the Chinese Communists, but Chiang was driven to refuge in what was then known as Formosa. In June 1950, after Soviet cccupation troops had left northern Korea, and only a small detachment of the U.S 24th Infantry Division remained in the south, Stalin apparently authorized the provisional North Korean Communist government to attack the south to unify the country, in which it very nearly succeeded. In the end, Korea was left divided, as it remains.

By this time a new war emerged, which we continue to fight today.

Nationalist, or national-Communist, movements were attacking, with success, the remaining British, French and Dutch colonial regimes in the region, and by 1947 the partition of India into Muslim and secular states was agreed on. Communism proved a decisive issue only in Vietnam, as Americans have no need of being reminded.

However, the Cold War now was left behind and needed a replacement.

These struggles in Asia exploited Communist sympathy and political and military support in what fundamentally were national liberation struggles. None ended with the Communists in power except Vietnam (and its Laotian satellite), but Indochinese Communism had become a wholly indigenous affair.

By this time the Soviet Union and China were collapsing as Communist states. Washington’s attention, fed by its energy needs and Israel’s demand for protection of the Palestine territories it had annexed, was turning to the Middle East.

From that came terrorist attacks on U.S. overseas bases, U.S. expulsion from Iran, the Iran-Iraq war, and then the United States’ Gulf War against Iraq, al-Qaida’s entrance upon the scene, the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the return to Afghanistan, a problem that President Barack Obama is mulling over these very days.

What now is this war about? Territory? Afghanistan is a poor country without resources. Who rules it cannot be of serious consequence to the world’s sole superpower. Pakistan has several nuclear weapons, but these are not intended for the U.S. (or Israel, and couldn’t reach either if they were; they are reserved for India, in theory).

What do Afghanistan and Pakistan have that so disturbs Americans that Washington will fight a new war because of it? The answer is that they harbor the prophets of a new religion, which says that the world can be saved if everyone is converted to Islam and scrupulously follows its laws, as interpreted by certain Pashtun tribal groups in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Territory. This seems to be what Washington fears. But why?

Visit William Pfaff’s Web site at www.williampfaff.com.

© 2009 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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