For all the fractiousness about Afghanistan over the past twenty years, finally there is unity in this opinion: What a disaster.
The situation in Kabul seems hellish. People are literally falling out of the wheel wells of C-130s, desperate to get out. The idea that a delay from the original timeline for departure would enable the U.S. and our allies to prepare looks ludicrous in hindsight, instead moving the exit into the fighting season and allowing the Taliban more time to prepare. And where is Joe Biden in all of this? On vacation, as is Jen Psaki. What a time for away messages.
In a responsible military situation, the entire brass would be out on their asses after a level of mismanagement this dire. The insulation from consequences is absurd. Whatever happened to resigning in failure? Nowadays people are only expected to resign in protest — that is, for other people’s mistakes, but never for their own. Is it time for a BRAC for generals?
Whoever Biden doesn’t fire, their performance Biden believes is acceptable. If this is acceptable, how can the American people possibly trust the NSA, CIA, or the Pentagon? Even their most recent predictions were completely off. Once again, the intel community and expert class totally failed us, predicting this would take months and the Afghan army would fight — now they’re “revising” their predictions on terrorist formation according to Milley today.
Why should we believe anything they say?
A key question here: Did Biden believe what he was saying? Go back to the speeches over the past two years, yank out all his promises about it, his denial of responsibility, assurance the Afghans would fight, etc.
Part of the issue here is that Biden is unwilling to engage in the tradeoff conversation the way Trump did — he wanted to argue that this whole thing would go well when it was clear to anyone with a brain that it wouldn’t.
The media coverage is embarrassing here as they scramble to try to make up for their prior efforts. They denounced Trump over and over again for wanting to pull out, but as soon as a Democrat gets in, they become totally fine with it — and a big part of their reaction today of hands in the air frustration is how bad the Biden administration has made them look.
It’s not about the actual consequences, it’s that they carried the water for this group being professionals and Trump’s crew being fools, and now they look like a bunch of idiots.
The Afghanistan skeptics who pointed out we were throwing good money after bad are totally vindicated by this. It is hard to imagine leaving five years ago would’ve been any worse. The wasteful spending on Afghanistan over the course of multiple administrations and military leaders resulted in a pile of apparently unused material and resources just left there for terrorists and the Taliban to try out at their leisure. It’d be nice to get a tabulation of the amount of money per minute spent on training and material to prop up an army that evaporated within days.
One key point I keep returning to is: it didn’t have to be this way.
The false choice here was Option A, stay there forever; Option B, this. But there was also Option C, which you might think of as Jacksonian withdrawal: that is, precision bomb the hell out of every Taliban camp on the way out the door, render every humvee unusable, burn every piece of material, and let the Afghans line up and execute every ISIS terrorist at Bagram. We have once again allowed a bunch of really nasty people to go free and kill again.
Why do we need to do that?
A larger question is: competence aside, if the United States is unwilling to do what is necessary to win asymmetric wars, by what moral calculus can we enter them? Part of what we talk about when we say we don’t win wars anymore is that the United States started prioritizing certain types of people’s opinions about our tactics.
Could we have won that war given the rules we now choose to follow, given a more humanitarian approach to bombing and behavior? And if we are unwilling to do what it takes to win such wars, why enter them in the first place?
Much has been made of the advances of women and children in Afghanistan since the invasion — of schools and institutions and the like. John Kerry was fond of talking about how many more Afghans had cell phone access. The whole thing turned from a terrorist-killing exercise into an attempt to transform a backward country. This, at least I hope everyone will admit, was clearly a mistake, and even those small advances will evaporate now.
I’ll have more thoughts on this in the coming days, but in the meantime, I return to this observation from John Agresto:
“Don’t all people yearn for freedom?” we have asked. And we assume the answer is yes. But the answer is no. Some people, perhaps most people, prefer other goods. Indeed, some people would rather be holy than free, or safe than free, or be instructed in how they should lead their lives rather than be free. Many prefer the comfort of strong answers already given rather than the openness and hazards of freedom. There are those who would never dream of substituting their will for the imam’s or pushing their desires over the customs and traditions of their families. Some men kiss their chains.
As good Americans, we may wish to say that all people deserve freedom. But to say that all people desire it is flat-out wrong.