For nearly 20 years, American men and women have gone to Afghanistan and performed heroically. But they were asked by our leaders to do an impossible task: to turn a mountain backwater into a thriving democracy. We lost our best and brightest in those mountains—men and women who would have started families, built businesses, and sustained communities.
My heart breaks that these dead may have died in vain. But they won’t if we learn the long-term lesson of Afghanistan: the people who lead this country aren’t fit for the task.
In this moment, it is tempting to focus on the short term. Undoubtedly, the Biden administration has failed miserably in the short term.
They telegraphed and delayed our departure date, maximizing the Taliban’s planning abilities, and they abandoned Afghanistan at the peak of Taliban fighting season. They allowed critical weapons technology to fall into the hands of the enemy.
Perhaps most inexplicably, they abandoned the most important airbase before they ensured safe passage for Americans leaving the country. This is why the world’s media is plastered with images of American planes taxiing down runways overrun with Afghans.
But this is not merely the consequence of seven months of disastrous Biden policy, it is the failure of the entire American regime. Every major institution in our country revealed itself as a farce.
Let’s start with U.S. generals. Over 20 years, we have spent $1 trillion and lost nearly 3,000 Americans. Our leaders told the American people that Afghanistan was slowly becoming a more peaceful, stable country. In June, Mark Milley, our nation’s highest-ranking military officer, warned of “white rage” in the U.S. military. In July, he assured our nation that Afghan security forces had the “capacity to sufficiently fight and defend their country.”
In reality, it turned out that the Afghan national army couldn’t withstand four weeks of Taliban assault. Why was Milley focused on fake problems like white rage as he failed to do the job we pay him for? And why won’t Milley face an ounce of consequence for so clearly failing at the job he was given?
The answer runs so much deeper than the Pentagon bureaucracy. Consider U.S. media. In November 2020, The Daily Caller reported that military leaders had lied to former President Trump about troop levels in the Middle East to prolong our conflicts there.
In a functioning country, this would be a national scandal, because it strikes at the heart of civilian control of our military. Corporate media instead focused on a fabricated story about President Trump doing nothing in the face of Russian bounties on American soldiers in Afghanistan.
How did our leaders become so dumb that they ignore real scandals in favor of fabricated ones? Look no further than our universities. Americans spend trillions of dollars on education, and much of it goes to ensuring the people who call the shots aren’t wrong all the time.
At Yale University, where I went to law school, a cross-disciplinary “Grand Strategies” course exists to prevent future leaders from making terrible strategic blunders. I’m sure similar schools have similar courses. Yet the elites who train in these universities somehow persuaded themselves that a few miles of roads and women’s rights pamphlets would turn a nation of feuding tribes into a functioning democracy. How could anyone believe that?
A successful university system would teach that those who believe such nonsense are dangerous and should never get anywhere near power. Our universities instead take the bright young minds of America and train them to think the opposite. They increasingly encourage the type of intellectual conformity so prevalent among U.S. journalists, politicians, and, tragically, military generals.
Having told us for decades that we are “fighting the terrorists over there so we don’t have to fight them over here,” our leaders appear ready for a great bait-and-switch. We learn today that 30,000 unvetted Afghanis will be transported to U.S. military bases all over the world, including some in America. The Biden administration will doubtless push for hundreds of thousands more.
This will be justified by appeals to America’s sense of compassion: many of these Afghans helped us, we are told, now we must help them. But this is wrong on multiple levels.
First, for more than a decade, we have been helping the Afghans, not the other way around. The men who refused to fight for their own nation and let Kabul fall should not be rewarded with a first-class plane ticket to the United States.
Second, there are undoubtedly Afghans we should help, but we should reject the idea that the only way to help them is to resettle them in the United States. Joe Biden hasn’t spoken to the leader of Pakistan since his presidency began. Our closest ally in the region is Saudi Arabia. If we cannot appeal to these nations to resettle desperate Afghans, then our diplomatic efforts are as much a failure as our military ones.
Finally, let’s be honest with ourselves: do we really trust our government to properly vet thousands of people, given its recent failures in the region? The Biden administration can’t secure an airfield, and it won’t be able to properly vet thousands of refugees in this chaotic moment.
If we resettle tens of thousands of Afghans in the next year, there will doubtless be many good people among them. But there will be bad people too, and we cannot let our country become a refugee camp.
If we avoid that fate, and put our own citizens first, it will be no small miracle. But our people should not have to rely on miracles for good policy. What they do is evidence of a deep failure in American government and institutions.
What Afghanistan shows, not just over the last two chaotic months but over the last two tragic decades, is that the American regime is not fit to lead this country. That regime, unfortunately, operates independently of political leadership. It is the Pentagon bureaucracy that lies to our president about troop levels, the State Department that thinks the women of Afghanistan need gender studies programs more than security, the “top” universities that teach our elites to be stupid conformists, and the media that cover for these institutions instead of telling the truth about them.
We tried to change the regime in Afghanistan, and we failed. If there is a silver lining in that failure, it reveals that one regime in the world is desperately in need of change: America’s.