They say that one does not truly know a place until one has left it. Well, after 20 years of squatting in Afghanistan, the US military and its allies are departing from Afghanistan, perhaps we will finally figure out what the Hell we were doing there.
Decades after our last Afghanistan-type defeat–and that’s precisely what Afghanistan was for the United States–in Vietnam, the Commies we were fighting against in the swamps ended up all embracing capitalism, swilling coca-colas, and begging for the Americans to send their military back in to their old naval bases in order to stand up to China.
And, as China, Russia, Pakistan, Iran, and India all begin vying to fill the power vacuum created by the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, maybe the Taliban will recognize the need for American alliance. As Steve Coll reports in his recent book, Directorate S, senior Taliban leaders attempted to make a power-sharing deal with the Bush Administration in 2002 and Dubya snickered, and said, “No dice, mas amigos!“
Now, 20 years later, here we are…exactly where we were then…And it took, by the way, decades for the Vietnamese to come around to us, their former rivals…so we can expect in a few decades, maybe, for the Afghans to come around to us!
Other than engaging in the greatest game of Whack-a-Mole ever in Afghanistan concocted and transferring the odd $1 trillion in US taxpayer money to amorphous groups of defense contractors, “non-governmental agencies” engaged in ill-defined “humanitarian missions,” and an endless array of woefully corrupt and incompetent tribal allies with constantly shifting alliances, no one in Washington–let alone Wichita–had any notion of what America and its quixotic allies were trying to do in the “graveyard of empires.”
From Spring 2002 until this year, the mission in Afghanistan has been listless. It seemed that the only mission we had there was to simply not leave under any US president’s watch (defeat can be such a tricky sales job for politicos back in Washington during those tenuous election years).
After a few months of quick, small military action aimed at the Taliban and al Qaeda following 9/11, President George W. Bush and his war cabinet lamented about the lack of a Desert Storm-like massing of US forces coupled with a raucous, made-for-television victory in Afghanistan.
Americans, they feared, would not recognize how well the small cadre of US CIA paramilitary and Special Forces outfits had done against the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies. The politicos in the Bush Administration worried that pulling out too soon–especially after not having captured Bin Laden at Tora Bora in December of 2001–would not expand their political fortunes at home during a contentious time.
Then, of course, the Bush team’s aforementioned failure to capture Bin Laden, or a precipitous pullout from Afghanistan, might lead to yet another 9/11 attack being conducted upon the United States from Afghanistan–the very thing Bush claimed he’d been trying to avoid by invading Afghanistan.
So, Dubya did what all good politicos in the postmodern era have done: he changed the narrative! Let’s invade Iraq and finish Poppy’s war; the last “good” war the United States fought! It’ll be easy. Besides, everyone just knows that Saddam and Bin Laden were glued at the hip…
And we’re back to Afghanistan!
Even former President Barack Obama, who made focusing on the War in Afghanistan (the “necessary war”) rather than the Iraq War (George W. Bush’s “war of choice”) a mainstay of his impressive 2008 presidential campaign figured out within his first few months in office that Afghanistan was unwinnable, no matter how many troops we sent into that Viper’s nest. So, naturally, Mr. Obama flooded Afghanistan with troops and cash for most of his eight years in office.
Donald J. Trump, who once described Washington’s obsession with the War in Afghanistan, like so:
But many in the room were stunned when the president compared their advice to that of a consultant to New York’s famed “21” Club. Trump, according to NBC, said the consultant offered bad advice to the restaurant’s owner while asserting that it may have been better to talk to the wait-staff instead. “Officials said Trump kept stressing the idea that lousy advice cost the owner a year of lost business and that talking to the restaurant’s waiters instead might have yielded a better result,” NBC reported. “He also said the tendency is to assume if someone isn’t a three-star general he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and that in his own experience in business talking to low-ranking workers has gotten him better outcomes.”
The Deep State was deeply into Afghanistan. And Trump was hated by the Deep State and could have easily ended the War in Afghanistan. Yet, Trump helped to perpetuate the conflict.
Way to show the Deep State up, Mr. Trump, by giving them exactly what they wanted…
Enter “Sleepy” Joe Biden, the immovable object to Trump’s unstoppable force in the bizarre 2020 presidential election campaign. In his first six months, Biden has followed through on what has actually been a consistent call from him, going back to his days as Obama’s vice-president: he woke up one day and basically called it quits in Afghanistan.
And, despite his otherwise addled prose, Biden actually came across as cogent and completely sensible when he stated to the press:
“I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan with no reasonable expectation of achieving a different outcome. No nation has ever unified Afghanistan. Empires have gone there and not done it.”
Say what you will about President Joe Biden–and he leaves much to be desired–but straight up hitting the chicken-switch, in the case of Afghanistan, kind of took cajones.
Fact is, we leave Afghanistan mostly as we found it: in the hands of the Islamist Pashtun tribal movement known as the Taliban (who we had previously supported against the now-defunct Soviet Union) and their foreign, Islamist allies of al Qaeda (as well as a coterie of other rag-tag criminal elements, like the opium-spewing Haqqani Network).
After 20 years and trillions of dollars and countless lives, by the end of the decade, Afghanistan will look mostly as it did in the decade leading into 9/11: riven by sectarian rivalries, overrun by rapacious foreign powers looking to use Afghanistan as a cockpit for greater geopolitical competition, and nominally ruled by terrorist-loving Islamists known as the Taliban.
So, Biden almost gets away looking pretty. But Afghanistan, like Vietnam before it, exacts a heavy toll. And, like the jealous gods of antiquity, demands sacrifices from those in power. Biden will not get out unscathed. Especially when he added this to his otherwise sensible statement defending his Afghan pullout:
the U.S. achieved its main goal of denying terrorists a haven in Afghanistan. Twenty years after the U.S. and other Western countries sent troops to Afghanistan, it [is] no longer worth the cost in lives and money.
Well, no, the United States is not denying Afghanistan to the terrorists. Point in fact, they’re taking over en masse. That’s a silly and untrue statement from the president–and I suspect that both he and his advisers know that.
Yes, Bin Laden is dead. But, why didn’t the Obama Administration end Afghanistan the moment that Bin Laden’s corpse was airlifted from Pakistan?
Everyone knew that the organization that Bin Laden led was alive-and-well–and would metastasize yet again in Afghanistan.
Al Qaeda means “The Base.” This is a Leninist concept that Bin Laden and his fellow Islamists imported from the Soviet Union of old. Al Qaeda was to be the vanguard, much like Lenin’s Bolshevik Party was for communism, that ushered in an Islamist utopia; a complete restoration of the old caliphate that had not been in existence since the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1923.
Bin Laden and his organization would clear the region of “apostates”, those Arab autocrats who aligned with the United States and took their money to suppress the “true believers” in their lands. Al Qaeda would also push aside the Jews of Israel. In order to accomplish, though, Bin Laden theorized that he needed to punch the Americans; show the region that a technological hyper power, like the United States, could bleed–and therefore, could be beaten (hence, 9/11).
Today, there are many more Islamist organizations–some with even greater martial prowess than al Qaeda itself, like ISIS–that have taken the field.
In Afghanistan, like the rest of the Greater Middle East, it isn’t only al Qaeda pushing Islamism forward under its black banner; it’s ISIS and a coterie of other groups (including the Taliban at least within Afghanistan). And don’t forget the Shiite Islamic sects of Afghanistan that are being used by Iran to expand their influence into Afghanistan, and to compete for dominance with the Sunni elements that comprise Afghanistan.
No, once the Americans are gone, Afghanistan is in for a bloodbath. If you’ve got a Y-Chromosome, I’d be searching for the exits–fast. Think the Killing Fields of Cambodia only without the pleasantries.
And whichever side comes out ahead in Afghanistan will likely be the most brutal Islamist group of them all–mutated in the warfare that will surely follow America’s exit.
Quite frankly, Joe Biden, the supposed “human rights” president (unlike that mean old Orange Man), could be presiding over the greatest humanitarian catastrophe of the 21st century (one of them, at least–after all, Biden’s Democratic predecessor, Obama, presided over the disasters in Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen).
Here’s something else to consider: in order to accomplish this drawdown of US forces so thoroughly and relatively bloodlessly as he has, it is likely that Mr. Biden and his team had to make contact with representatives from the Taliban.
One-way assurances were most probably given to those Taliban representatives in exchange for their ambiguous promises that no harm would come to the evacuating American forces. Similar promises were made by Henry Kissinger to the North Vietnamese during the Paris Peace Accords in the 1970s that ultimately ended America’s role in Vietnam. One can expect something similar at play here in Afghanistan.
I would remind you that these were all things that former President Trump wanted to do…but was hamstrung by his own government–and hemmed in by a rabid opposition media at home–from doing so.
In fact, Trump wanted Taliban representatives to visit him in Afghanistan toward the end of his presidency, in order to conduct proper, high-level negotiations for withdrawing US forces from Afghanistan.
The very same military and political leaders who today are biting their lips about Biden are the same ones who were crying foul just two years ago when Trump wanted to do this. Trump’s pushing to meet with Taliban leaders at Camp David was one of the reasons that his controversial national security adviser, John Bolton, quit (or was fired, with Trump you never know).
The key difference between Vietnam and Afghanistan is that the North Vietnamese were never interested in expanding the fight beyond their borders. While the Taliban have never expressed interest in conducting terrorist attacks on the United States, that regime has a long and terrible history of supporting those terrorists who do want to visit death and destruction upon the United States and its allies.
And these forces of chaos and death thrive in the kind of environment that the Taliban will create in Afghanistan. So, in all probability, the Americans will be seeing Afghanistan soon again…meaning that this will end up being a failure of both the Biden Administration and an overall strategic disaster for the United States.
What should be done is not a total withdrawal. Instead, Mr. Biden should revisit his “CT-Plus” strategy that he had proposed to former President Obama in 2009: remove all forces but the Special Forces and CIA paramilitary teams; pay the locals copious amounts of money to do Washington’s bidding, and hunt down Islamists wherever they may appear in Afghanistan, regardless of who rules from Kabul.
Then, Biden should marry that old CT-Plus plan with the plan that Stephen K. Bannon and Erik Prince, of Blackwater, dreamed up for former President Trump: to essentially pull US forces out of Afghanistan and hand over the nation to Blackwater.
No muss, no fuss.
If something along these lines is not done, then Biden will have ended one national nightmare for another…and he will have committed another generation of Americans to having to go into Afghanistan yet again.
Remember, it took the British three times before they finally ended their dance in Afghanistan. We’re only on our first try. Let’s hope Biden can thread this needle. We needed to end this thing in Afghanistan…but we need to do it smartly, not wildly screaming for the exits, hoping that Beijing, Moscow, Islamabad, and New Delhi can keep everything together. They can’t–and won’t.
Be sure to secure your copy of Brandon J. Weichert’s book, “WINNING SPACE: HOW AMERICA REMAINS A SUPERPOWER” TODAY–Dennis Prager calls it, “Truly Important.”