Stop Downplaying The Afghanistan Debacle
Fred Kaplan over at Slate speaks for way too many Democrats when he downplays the epic fail that was Biden’s rush to escape Afghanistan.
Old white dudes commenting on politics will twist and distort any facts they can to support whatever argument they’re hoping will influence people on their side.
Kaplan, in his piece, hones in on a military official’s claim that if the Taliban had chosen to attack American forces as they overran Afghanistan, Biden would have had to send in 30,000 troops to protect the evacuation by securing Kabul. This option was, Kaplan and others old white men like Michael Moore who push this line of argument, worse than what ended up happening, inevitably leading to many more American casualties.
To that, I can only laugh, roll my eyes, and call bullshit.
[Update 10/8: NBC News reports military leaders wanted more soldiers in Afghanistan to protect the forces already there, which they knew were vulnerable. Biden overruled them — as Commander In Chief his negligence caused Afghanistan’s rapid collapse and the misery inflicted on everyone trapped there.]
This kind of insipid partisan commentary is shoved down the throat of Americans day in and day out whenever foreign or military issues are in the news. Americans have close to zero practical understanding of military science and America’s foreign policy elite prefers it that way.
It lets them get away with selling a whole lot of bunk to the general public. Even the ones who do actually give a damn about military personnel — for the record, I believe Kaplan’s work over the years shows he does — subordinate hard truths to the demands of the politics of the moment.
It is also why the Taliban won such a historic victory, one that — though American pundits are determined to pretend otherwise — radically reordered global geopolitics. America and NATO have just had their very own Suez moment, and countries like Russia and China have taken note, dooming the country to more episodes of international humiliation in the near future.
Make no mistake — internationally the United States is presently in the worst strategic position of my lifetime. And not because of the War on Terror alone —America’s entire foreign policy leadership is controlled by ideologues largely beyond public accountability. Experts who work in think tanks and for lobbying firms who are primarily concerned with maintaining their funders’ share of the $740 billion-plus annual defense budget.
Look, in American terms I’m a progressive, way to the left of Bernie Sanders. I also served in the military, unlike the vast majority of people in this country and especially among the left-inclined. I’m no pacifist — but I am also instinctively against pointless wastes of life and money.
I do not buy the argument that the US had to keep troops in Afghanistan forever like it does in South Korea — that’s a radically different situation — but that doesn’t mean there is only one other option: abject surrender to the Taliban. Contrary to the Biden Administration’s public claims, even the United Nations reports the Taliban harbors Al Qaeda.
But hacks of Kaplan’s ilk — who in fairness is far from the worst voice out there — are so invested in partisan thought policing their primary objective is not giving their readers a sense of the deeper truths at play, but mere spin. They back Biden, so they want him to succeed — even if his actions make him personally complicit in the deaths of 13 American service members as well as the 10 members of the innocent family killed by a drone during the withdrawal.
The truth is they serve as voices for white supremacy’s soft form: the act of setting American national interests — always viewed through a partisan lens, of course — over the lives of American citizens and those of our allies.
All those people died because the scions of American Liberalism literally believe their lives are worth less. They aren’t as rich or they can’t vote in elections, so they are irrelevant except as convenient charity cases when the wealthy feel like being generous.
Kaplan and Biden are united in telling Americans a horrible lie: that there were no better options in Afghanistan. They need us to believe this so much that within a few months anyone who criticizes Biden on this issue will be slandered as a Trump supporter. So they’re trying to write the first draft of history now, playing defeat off as a tough victory that proves their guy knows what he’s doing.
Which only matters if other people believe your claims — and polls show that right now only hardcore Democrats do. Not a great look when you are hoping to unify your own country.
And a key problem with this approach is it puts proponents in the position of making the strange case that the United States was ultimately too militarily weak to stop the Taliban from harming its people. If you’ve got several thousand military personnel in a country you can’t actually protect, you’re already doing something wrong.
This is not a good look for a would-be superpower that claims to be leading an alliance of Democracies (many not particularly democratic anymore, like India) against scary rising authoritarian powers like China and Russia.
It makes America look both overextended and afraid of a fight. Fearful of casualties and so a paper tiger incapable of protecting its own. It utterly destroys the credibility of the so-called pivot to the Indo-Pacific.
Which means the next time China or Russia want to extract some concessions, all they have to do is push hard enough. The few American forces close enough to help are insufficient and vulnerable to attack.
If tomorrow either chose the military option against its chief rival, whether Taiwan (China) or Ukraine (Russia), who now would actually believe that Joe Biden is willing to take his country into an open-ended, massive war with no certainty of victory and a solid guarantee of hundreds if not thousands of casualties?
If the United States can be forced to rush its evacuation a place it has invested twenty years, thousands of lives, and billions of dollars because it fears a fight with insurgents driving pickup trucks, how can it be expected to hold off China or even Russia in a fight near their frontiers?
Those are the questions being asked in capitols around the world right now. The image of America as a leading power is broken — it does no one any good for Biden or anyone else to pretend otherwise.
One of the basic rules of national leadership is that you can’t ever be seen as weak or unreliable. That is what leads a country to isolation in the end— and why China and Russia engage in so much intensive diplomacy abroad, especially with regimes like those in North Korea and Belarus where buying off the right people gives you the whole country.
It’s why the Cold War 2 hawks are always yammering about containing China and Russia. That’s code for isolating them, leaving them exposed to economic leverage.
But right now, America is the one being slowly contained by its own inept leadership caste.
Making the case that Biden was right to evacuate Afghanistan whatever the collateral cost in order to avoid the American military casualties a fight with the Taliban might bring is just an attempt to spin a self-inflicted defeat. If all an adversary has to do is credibly threaten American casualties in order to win concessions, every American soldier or civilian abroad becomes a hostage waiting to happen.
A new crisis is guaranteed to emerge from the wreck of Afghanistan, and I can’t imagine America will be ready. Humiliation that feeds the rising hard right or miscalculation that leads to a tragic conflict are very real dangers.
It sounds grim, I know, but sometimes making it absolutely clear you are ready and willing to fight is what avoids one from breaking out. That’s why countries rattle sabers, why the US is obsessive about keeping an aircraft carrier ready to confront China over Taiwan on short notice.
Even if it can’t itself do much, that it could makes a potential opponent factor it into their calculations. If and only if that opponent believes it will be used.
Every signal to the Taliban and its semi-covert backers, China and Pakistan, the Trump and Biden administrations sent for over a year was that so long as Americans didn’t die, the Taliban could run wild. The US threatened airstrikes if they hit the Afghan government too hard, and it launched some when they did — but too few to do much good.
Which proved how weak the US will to fight really was, and revealed to the Taliban that American threats weren’t serious so long as Americans weren’t dying. So they deliberately continued to avoid inflicting American casualties despite the US openly violating the Doha Agreement by not evacuating on the original deadline of May 1 — the point when the Taliban intensified their offensive.
Biden committed the ultimate cardinal sin in foreign relations: he let the enemy dictate the course of events. He then made another when he chose a symbolic date for completing the evacuation — September 11 — before moving it up to August 31 as Afghanistan deteriorated.
Democratic party mouthpieces writing for outlets like The New Republic, Vox, Slate, The Atlantic, and The New Yorker are determined to offer a first draft of history that is as favorable to Biden as possible. This kind of inability to offer honest introspective analysis is precisely why Biden’s polls have crashed so hard — except among hardcore Democrats.
Backing the team is all that matters in American politics these days, and doubters of the accepted mythos must be shunned or argued down. One must perform as a loyal member of the team and defend others of the tribe even when it makes no sense.
Which, of course, turns people off to politics and any future claims you make — possibly why Kamala Harris’ polls are higher than Biden’s for the first time. Well, that and his people finally stopped using her as a human political shield.
The irony of Liberalism as a philosophy is that it promises open debate will reveal hidden truths, but in practice important discussions usually degenerate into articulations of wildly different truths. This is because people are people, and no matter how you educate them they never come into a given discussion on a truly equal basis. Hidden hierarchies bias the proceedings — then those who refuse to accept the ruling of the designated authorities on the matter are cast out.
Schism results, society ruptures, then there is open conflict.
Trying to spin away the basic facts and consequences of the Afghanistan debacle will only delude Americans into allowing the same mistakes to happen all over again. The lessons of Vietnam were not learned — the conflict was merely re-fought not once but twice with starkly similar results.
The truth about what happened in Afghanistan is that Joe Biden made a terrible decision against the advice of many of his advisors then stubbornly stuck by it, too fearful as white men in the Democratic Party always are of being blamed for military casualties.
Vietnam syndrome took over, and a lot of people died who didn’t have to.
Days before Kabul fell I posted a piece on Medium that proved too prescient: at the same moment the Biden Administration was proclaiming confidence in their strategy I and I’m sure others saw, even using only open source data available online, exactly what was happening.
Yet the Biden Administration apparently only realized how grave crisis was about the same time I was writing up my piece. Which ought to be an indictment of his entire National Security Council — they must have more and better information and analysis than I have access to!
Yet summer I watched the conflict progress with rising alarm. The Taliban were quite clearly conducting a deliberate, carefully-planned campaign. They were wearing the Afghan Commandos out fighting in half a dozen key districts, and seizing border crossings to isolate the country.
Throughout the US failed to effectively respond. A single aircraft carrier battle group a thousand miles from away and a few bombers were all that were dispatched out of America’s massive arsenal. American soldiers were effectively hostages to the Taliban, and only a single brigade and a Marine expeditionary force were dispatched to the Gulf as a hedge much, much too late — many had to divert mid-flight to Kabul.
Small wonder the initial stages of the evacuation were a horror to witness.
It was clear by August that Afghanistan’s government was becoming exhausted — collapse was inevitable, but the administration continued to believe rosy intelligence reports and discard dissent we now know was being voiced by military and intelligence specialists. That was why I argued an international force was needed to protect Kabul —as it turns out, American generals were desperately trying to work out how to keep Kabul safe even as the rest of the country fell, promising airstrikes if the Taliban got to close that never materialized.
Then Ghani left, days after after a prominent commander from Herat was captured by the Taliban and reportedly sent to Kabul with an ultimatum. I suspect we’ll eventually learn that Ghani did a deal with the Taliban then, paying the Americans back for disappearing from Bagram without warning earlier that summer —well, for leaving at all given that was all that kept him in power.
The bottom line here is that Biden had so much leverage he chose not to use — and his sycophants are trying to salvage his doomed Presidency by pre-writing history and subjecting it to partisan politics.
As their kind always does. That’s why every President’s former senior staff write tell-alls. They’re trying to influence the way history is written the same way all the captured German generals after the Nazis’ defeat coalesced around a convenient story about just being apolitical professionals forced to work for a madman.
Many were. Others were actively complicit in the Holocaust, collaborating with the SS.
What the United States of America did to Afghanistan over twenty years will forever be a tragic stain on the nation’s history. Biden isn’t solely to blame — America’s racist foreign policy establishment can’t seem to cast off its imperialist blinders — but he is solely to blame for everything that happened on his watch.
Biden had choices, he had leverage, he had power. He is Commander In Chief. The failure is his alone.
He chose the path he chose, and no matter how you spin the facts it is and will always be clear that more careful, skillful management of the crisis could have led to a far less gruesome outcome. Evacuation did not need to be that painful — and would not have been necessary had the administration not simply let the Taliban take Kabul.
Deploying thirty thousand troops to secure and defend Kabul alongside our NATO allies was both feasible and justified and would have been popular among Americans so long as it was short-term, only to secure an honorable exit. When a ruthless enemy comes for people you call allies, you are honor bound to do what you can to defend them, even at the cost of your own.
It was entirely feasible, necessary, and justified to deploy to Kabul to keep it out of Taliban control. Local people in Kabul would have mobilized to defend their homes if they knew the government was about to abandon them — they had no time. The Panjshir Valley and other anti-Taliban strongholds could have been reinforced and fortified.
The Taliban, had it chose to attack fortress Kabul, would have charged into a meat grinder. With the help of local militias and airpower the US could well have halted the Taliban offensive with fewer lives lost among American soldiers and Kabul’s civilians.
By staying and holding places that hated the Taliban, the group would have been forced into meaningful negotiations. The damage done by Trump’s legitimizing the group would have been partially reversed — the Taliban would have scored a partial triumph, to be sure, but wouldn’t be forming an exclusive hardline government.
It’s diplomatic wing would have had power so long as it was needed to avoid the Taliban’s strength being eroded the longer the fight dragged on. Now apparently sidelined, the dominant Taliban are the extremists who are also most likely to let Al Qaeda reconstitute.
Yes, it could have also been much worse. But you can’t decide how to act based on the worst-case outcome — honor matters. Lines have to be held, to prevent future and potentially even more disastrous defeats.
Ironically, Biden’s bungled pullout has made it likely American forces will return — or at the very least, will continue to murder Afghan civilians with failed “over the horizon” anti-terror strikes. Involvement in Afghanistan will be left to the United States Air Force — and gods help the poor civilians who wind up as collateral damage in their eyes, uncounted and blamed for getting in the way.
It’s time for the Biden backers to shut the hell up and stop denigrating American veterans by pushing partisan hackery on their readers. Afghanistan was a true disaster, a failure of choice and a moral injury to all American service members.
Stop pretending otherwise. You’re only making it worse — and that it happens all over again.