Chiang Kai-shek was not a bad guy. He did not lose China to the communists on purpose, any more than the monarchist governor of Virginia Colony meant to lose the Americas to Republicans.
The Communist victory in China during the Truman administration created the mindset in which cold warriors like Joseph McCarthy and John Kennedy came to power. Not losing nations to communism was as important to American politics between 1948 and 1990 as not losing nations to radical Islam has been since 2001.
Chiang was a remarkable guy. Born in 1887, as a youth he was disgusted by the inability of China to modernize and by the depredations of imperialist nations: Great Britain, Germany, France, Russia, and the United States. Even Japan, which modernized quickly after the U.S. attack on it in the 1850's, was acting like an imperial power in China by 1900. Chiang went to military school in Japan, then joined the Chinese republican movement, the Kuomintang, started by Sun Yat-sen. Showing intelligence, efficiency, and bravery, Chiang became the military leader of the Kuomintang and did much to create a modern Chinese military and government capable of liberating China from foreign aggressors.
Unfortunately, China was more of a mess than Chiang could handle. He came to rely on generals who were more like war lords than loyal members of his government. He married a member of a Chinese banking family who had been educated in the United States. He decided he could not fight all the imperialists at once, converted to Christianity, and increasingly allied himself with the United States. His government became more Fascist than democratic. The man who easily defeated other Chinese warlords found he could not effectively fight the Japanese, even with considerable American help.
The Chinese communists, in contrast, lived among the peasants and workers, in fact most were peasants and workers. They also were not very effective fighting the Japanese during World War II, but they did far more with far fewer resources. When the Japanese withdrew Chiang's troops took over most of the country, but they were unreliable troops. Vast quantities of U.S. aid meant to feed and equip Chiang's troops disappeared into the pockets of Chiang's generals. While there was certainly fighting in China's civil war, for more important movement was troops deserting Chiang's generals and enlisting with the Communists. Ironically, it was Chiang who had given military training to the Communist leaders at the Whampoa Military Academy in the 1920s.
Chiang did not seem to be able to comprehend what was happening. He expected orders to be obeyed. He believed he was reforming China. He was not corrupt, but he tolerated corruption because he did not feel he could risk alienating his warlord generals. He simply was no match for Mao and the Communists. In the end billions of American taxpayer dollars either disappeared or ended up as weapons captured by the communists.
Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon showed a remarkable ability to learn from U.S. mistakes in China and repeat them exactly in Vietnam. After the Vietnamese defeated the French in 1954, the U.S. supported a Roman Catholic Vietnamese political leader, Ngo Dinh Diem. Let's just note that most Vietnamese were not Roman Catholic, a religion associated with their former French colonizers. Although the young Diem moved up quickly through the ranks of the Vietnamese who served the French, in the 1930's he joined a call to create a Vietnamese legislature and was dismissed from office. Diem became a nationalist and rival to Ho Chi Minh. But unable to compete effectively among the Vietnamese, he instead sought help from the United States and the Vatican. It was President Eisenhower who chose Diem to rule South Vietnam, over French objections. His rule was reinforced by hundreds of thousands of Catholic refugees from the north.
Eisenhower sent a lot of money to Diem, who used to to consolidate his control of the south. He imprisoned anyone who disagreed with him. President Kennedy sent in U.S. troops when Diem's could not handle a nationalist uprising against him. As with Chiang, money and arms were used to buy a lively life style for Diem's cronies, and little effort was made to either win the hearts of the peasants or even win the war against their (mostly communist) leaders. In addition Diem discriminated against Buddhists, the dominant religious group. Diem was assassinated by his own followers working with the CIA on November 2, 1963 with the okay of President Kennedy, who wanted to put a more effective leader in place. Kennedy himself was assassinated on November 22, 1963.
In Afghanistan the U.S. chose a different sort of puppet, Hamid Karzai. Born in 1957 in Kandahar, to a powerful, corrupt political family, he was educated in Afghanistan and India, then became a CIA contractor during the Afghan civil war against the Soviet-backed government. When the Taliban took over they offered him a post as an ambassador, but instead he joined the monarchists in opposition in Pakistan, as well as traveling to look for support in the United States. He worked closely with the United States during its war of aggression against Afghanistan in 2001. He was selected as Chairman of a U.S.-backed government, then was appointed President of Afghanistan by American-vetted "leaders."
For over a decade now the U.S. has poured money and troops into Afghanistan. Karzai's family, and a few other upper-level crooks, are now rich. The Afghan Army is, if not quite a joke, not very effective in fighting the Taliban. We can pretty much plan on Karzai & friends taking their loot into exile fairly soon after the U.S. military withdraws in 2014. Unless, of course, President Obama changes his mind and wastes even more American blood and taxes on Afghanistan.
Compared to the immense sums of money wasted in China, Vietnam, and Afghanistan, the nation of Somalia has been a side show. Neither President Bush nor Obama have sent in troops. Instead they have trained, equipped, and bought troops of African nations to do the fighting. Somalia was moving towards a stable governance supported by a majority of the population under the Islamic Courts Union, but that frightened the anti-Islamic U.S. corporate security state. So Ethiopia (a Christian nation), Uganda, Burundi, and lately Kenya were paid to invade Somalia. Meanwhile the Shabab, a very radical Islamic group, became first the de-facto government and later the main armed opposition group.
No one strongman is associated with American attempts to control Somalia. The newly selected American puppet is Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud. Mr. Mohamoud probably has some good qualities. At least he is not a warlord. He was believed to be a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. He was chosen by his U.S.-approved fellow leaders as President of Somalia in September 2012. He heads no powerful faction, so is not a likely threat to the clan and militia power bases of the other members of the government. He hails from an area until recently controlled by Shabab, now controlled by the Kenya military.
Mohamoud's lack of clout is revealed in this report from 2011: "Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud remains the leader of the Peace and Development Party (PDP) for the next three years after being elected unanimously by 155 members of the PDP ... [attendees included] members of Hawiye traditional elders" Network Al Shahid, Nasongo Willy, "Somalia: new independent political party leader", April 20, 2011.
Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, is being reconstructed with American taxpayer dollars. It gives a nice appearance to things. But without the foreign militaries the government would not even control Mogadishu, much less most of the rest of Somalia.
I don't know if there is any alternative for Somalis other than working with an American puppet and hoping to defeat Shabab, or working with Shabab to drive the Americans, Kenyans, Ethiopians, Ugandans and Rwandans out of the county. Somalia is a mess of truly historic proportions. It is a witch's brew that, a poison pot that was started when Portuguese pirates (well, the official Portuguese navy) started raiding the area back in the 1500s.
The likely outcome in Somalia is probably the same, in a generalized way, as we had in China and Vietnam, and will soon have in Afghanistan. Whether with ballots or bullets, the Somalis will eventually get rid of the foreigners and govern themselves. Meanwhile, America continues its relative decline as a global power, as its economy wilts while it feed its military establishment and its puppets around the world.