August 18, 2021
We are witnessing the biggest foreign policy blunder in years… possibly decades.
A Taliban blitzkrieg that started in May has seized the entire country in a flash. Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, fell without any meaningful resistance. The now former president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, has ignominiously fled the country. The supposedly 300,000-strong Afghan army melted away in the face of the determined fundamentalist assault of the Talibs.
As recently as Friday, August 13, the U.S. and Afghan governments were insistent that Kabul would hold and there would be meaningful pushback against the Taliban advance. By Monday, August 16, there were videos of Taliban soldiers working out on the elliptical machines in the private gym of the Afghan presidential palace.
The overthrow of the central government and total victory of the Taliban happened so rapidly, Americans are still in disbelief…
The United States was still weeks away from a total withdrawal of military forces in Afghanistan and has now had to re-deploy 6,000 troops just to secure our hasty exit. It’s a total debacle.
A humanitarian disaster is also unfolding, as evidenced by desperate Afghans rushing out onto the runways at Kabul’s international airport, pleading to get on flights to anywhere outside of Taliban control.
There is a widely circulated video of an Afghan man falling to his death from the gears of a C-17 Air Force plane in flight. Outside the still-secured gates of the airport, reports are mounting of Taliban going house to house in the capital city looking for collaborators to execute.
Saigon on Steroids
For the Biden White House, this is a disaster on every level…
President Biden promised the American people in July that the Afghan national army was large, well-equipped, and more than capable of taking on the Taliban. As Commander-in-Chief, he assured us that the situation in Afghanistan would in no way resemble what the North Vietnamese did to the South in 1975.
Then, photos of Chinook transport helicopters were published evacuating the U.S. Embassy in Kabul as the Taliban closed in. Some described the unfolding scenes of Afghan despair as “Saigon on steroids.”
The mirage of Afghanistan as an enduring, stable democracy evaporated. America spent 20 years, almost a trillion dollars, and thousands of U.S. casualties – all for this outcome?
After days of White House silence while the calamity unfolded, it became clear that Biden had no choice but to take a break from his vacation at Camp David and speak to the American people. In terms of admitting the magnitude of the blunder, Biden mostly pointed the finger at others – especially former-President Donald Trump and the Afghan army.
Biden’s biggest admission during the speech was that the pace of the total collapse “did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated.”
For the leader of the most powerful military in the world to look clueless about realities on the ground in Afghanistan was a stunning moment.
While Biden cannot realistically defend the tactical catastrophe of the withdrawal itself, he still stands behind the overall decision to withdraw and the timeline on which he is doing it. In his most recent speech addressing policy in Afghanistan, Biden said:
I know my decision will be criticized. But I would rather take all that criticism than pass this decision on to another president of the United States, yet another one, a fifth one. Because it’s the right one, it’s the right decision for our people. The right one for our brave service members who risked their lives serving our nation. And it’s the right one for America.
The worst thing you can do is to sit idly by and do nothing. Find out exactly what’s going on in America, why this grocery store billionaire is so concerned about this coming October, and four steps every American should take right now, right here.
An Inhumane Crisis
As America heads for the exits, what will the international community do about the enormous humanitarian crisis that will accompany Taliban control? What will bureaucrats in Brussels do about the enslavement of women and the violent oppression of ethnic and religious minorities within Afghanistan’s boundaries?
The answer: nothing that matters. The “international community” is feckless. In a recent New York Times piece written by a Norwegian and a Japanese diplomat, they exhorted the United Nations to step into the breach and prevent a total catastrophe in Afghanistan:
The U.N. must step into this vacuum. In the first instance, the secretary-general must immediately convene the Security Council and seek a clear mandate to empower the U.N., both in the country and at the negotiating table. That would mean the United States, Russia, China, and other members of the council coming together to authorize a special representative to act as a mediator.
Reliance on the U.N. or some other “mediator” with the Taliban is lunacy… It is too much faith in diplomacy that brought us to the current crisis.
The February 2020 agreement that the Trump administration negotiated in Doha, Qatar with the Taliban was flagrantly violated without consequence this past spring. In the absence of U.S. military muscle to punish the Taliban for breaking its word, we can expect them to continue in this fashion. Their approach will be the application of the timeless maxim that might makes right.
Additionally, China and Russia have very different goals in Afghanistan than the United States does, and they will ruthlessly pursue their spheres of interest without the slightest compunction about human rights or democracy.
Xi Jinping’s paramount concern is ensuring his infrastructure investments, his crowned jewel being the sweeping plan known as the Belt and Road Initiative (a Silk Road 2.0). And as for Putin, he’s hungry to consolidate his nation’s shadow of influence in Central Eurasia, with his eyes on former Soviet republics along the southern border as Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
And under the bloodied Afghan soil sits precious, tech-friendly elements as lithium (a requisite for EV batteries), so both of these autocrats will treat the Taliban with kid gloves to not spoil the cynical opportunism of unearthing the region’s resources.
The Russians especially will take grim satisfaction in the U.S. heading for the exits while Afghanistan smolders in an echo of their own experience at the hands of the Mujahadeen in 1988.
At some level, the Biden administration appears to be in denial about the severity of the catastrophe. This White House has decided that, because the Trump administration before it also sought to leave Afghanistan, there’s bipartisan cover – and blame – for this disaster. Biden made it clear that he has no interest in changing his timeline, regardless of facts on the ground, in a speech he gave on July 8, 2021:
When I made the decision to end the U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, I judged that it was not in the national interest of the United States of America to continue fighting this war indefinitely. I made the decision with clear eyes, and I am briefed daily on the battlefield updates. Nearly 20 years of experience has shown us that the current security situation only confirms that “just one more year” of fighting in Afghanistan is not a solution but a recipe for being there indefinitely. It’s up to Afghans to make the decision about the future of their country.
Indeed, it was up to the Afghans… which was a huge problem. Their incentives to fight absent U.S. funding and support disappeared. It turned out that, as the oft-repeated saying goes, the Americans had all the watches, but the Taliban had all the time.
Only The Dead See The End
In many ways, the most surprising part of Afghanistan’s unraveling has been the coordinated execution of the Taliban’s major offensive. The Taliban has clearly learned its lesson from the U.S. invasion of 2001 to 2002, when elite U.S. military units were able to bring U.S. airpower to devastating effect on the battlefield in partnership with the Northern Alliance. They didn’t make the same mistake.
This time around, the Taliban left no holdouts against their power inside Afghan borders. Instead of focusing their offensive primarily in the traditional Pashtun-dominated south and east of the country, the primary thrust of their maneuvers has been in the north. These areas were the strongholds of U.S.-aligned warlords who were critical in rolling up the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom.
So what now? What will happen to the thousands of interpreters who have risked their lived to work alongside American forces and who were promised visas in exchange? What about the chances of a Taliban-Al-Qaeda alliance again?
If President Biden has a plan beyond using “beyond the horizon” (airstrike) assets to hit at terrorist groups from time to time, he’s not sharing it.
It’s not even clear the dissolution of the Afghan government that the U.S. spent decades fostering will mean a political price for Democrats in the 2022 midterm elections back here in America. Unless there is blowback from Biden’s withdrawal that directly affects America – a terror strike, for example, planned on Afghan territory – it’s unlikely Biden’s political party will be forced to regret Afghanistan’s collapse. Americans of both parties have had enough.
Right now, what we are seeing is the end of a “no good options” choice in Afghanistan that was delayed for two decades. “Only the dead have seen the end of war,” Plato once wrote. The Afghan people, who have suffered far too much in living memory, are being reminded of this truth.
What remains to be seen is whether the U.S. has really seen the end of war in Afghanistan, or if our withdrawal is merely the interlude before another intervention and the generation of bloody conflict that comes with it.
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