An apocryphal story claims that, before the Afghanistan War, a British intelligence officer group went to Russia to study Soviet archives about Afghanistan. When they told their Russian counterparts why they were there, the Russians laughed and then explained what was going to happen if Western forces invaded. They would go in, lose a bunch of good men and women, Afghanistan would remain feudal, then we’d lose and make an ignominious retreat.
Afghanistan is hands down the most eventful issue of this century so far, throwing up questions about liberalism and nationalism, the survival of religions when they are martial versus passive, the limits of democratic governing models, culture and geography, and, most importantly, about the hubris of great powers.
As the Taliban declares the war in Afghanistan over and the Americans head for an ignominious retreat, it is time to explore some myths spouting around on Twitter.
1. Afghan Forces Lost Due to Lack of U.S. Airpower
This is something absurd I have been hearing since last week, as if 1) the Taliban had airpower advantage, and 2) there were no warfighting before airpower was invented.
Afghan troops numbered around 300,000 and were heavily armed and trained by the West for nearly 20 years. Their forces were four times those of the Taliban, and the Taliban never had any air power advantage.
Let’s cut to the chase. The Afghan forces melted, surrendered, or switched sides because they don’t give a hoot about women’s rights and liberal democracy.
The air-power argument is a cop out. Every army needs a vision to fight for—a cause, so to speak. The Taliban was fighting for a cause that is unimportant to most Afghans. The Afghan army was fighting for liberal democracy, a concept alien to that region.
Biden might be wrong about a lot, but his instinct on this is Trumpian. You can’t fight another man’s war if he doesn’t want to fight himself, for causes he doesn’t identify with and values that are alien to him.
2. 2,500 U.S. Troops in Perpetuity Would Be Good
As U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken said in a sincere moment, “I think most of our strategic competitors around the world would like nothing better than for us to remain in Afghanistan… have those resources dedicated to being in the midst of a civil war.”
We don’t get to hear such jarring honesty and realism anymore. He’s right, as is Biden: To keep a small bunch of troops in perpetuity to ensure women’s rights in Afghanistan is not what Americans want. That should be the end of that discussion.
The idea of keeping a handful of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan indefinitely is frankly clownish. The little contingent of troops were there without any casualties because a negotiation with the Taliban was going on and withdrawal was contingent. If that was cancelled, then the only option was to counter escalate, as it would be inevitable that the Taliban would assault.
The low cost was therefore contingent on withdrawal. It was a temporary peace. And watching the collapse of the “mighty,” 300,000-strong Afghan army demonstrates total withdrawal was the prudent path. Sometimes you can’t change destiny.
3. Americans Empowered Women and Civil Society in Afghanistan
How “empowered” are you if you stay in power only as long as mean men are providing security, and you wither like dandelions when they are gone? And what does that say about your social science theoretical framework?
One word thrown away the most is “empowered,” as if power can be packaged up and handed to someone by anyone else. The word is simply nonsense. “Empowered” in this context means protection. Empowered women meant women protected by men with arms, mostly western.
In a normal world, the Afghanistan debacle would mean questioning 50 years of academic feminist theory, which just went down the drain. In Afghanistan we see no girlboss groups leading, no Amazonian warriors banding together to save the country, no “we got this, sis” videos. Instead we see a massive lament about why men in the west are not dying more to save Afghan women, and the global feminist star politician begging the Taliban to “respect women’s rights.” Life isn’t Hollywood.
What is evident is that the word “empowered” is meaningless outside of a certain upper-class liberal Western context, that the use of that kind of language usually obfuscates where real power lies, and that power can only be taken by force. Next time, when anyone tells you how we are living in “The Handmaid’s Tale,” it is perhaps time to remind them what real power looks like, and that absent a benevolent and even tolerant patriarchy comes total anarchy.
So Why Did We Stay?
That brings us to the big question. Why did we stay for 20 years?
As the Afghanistan Papers highlighted, one of the prime reasons this war continued was that ideological feminists and liberals in the defense establishment wanted to continue this crusade. “Fundamental disagreements went unresolved. Some U.S. officials wanted to use the war to turn Afghanistan into a democracy. Others wanted to transform Afghan culture and elevate women’s rights.”
That’s why Gen. Mark Milley, quite possibly the most incompetent imbecile in the history of the U.S. armed forces, wept hearing the news of troop pull-out.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff breaks down and is unable to contain himself, says women’s rights "will go back to the Stone Age,” if the US actually leaves by May 1. People in the room shocked by his lack of reasoning ability. https://t.co/tqsurA2sGi pic.twitter.com/a1j3dAAc6c
— Richard Hanania (@RichardHanania) March 4, 2021
The war continued because U.S. taxpayer-funded defense turned into a giant NGO at the same time the Taliban was punishing pedophiles and providing basic order in a feudal society. Bureaucrats and NGOs are good at selling a stupid dream and drawing up PowerPoints that were never backed by martial reality. When push came to shove, they failed at organizing and executing a competent pull-out with more than a year and a half of advance notice.
There’s a contradiction in liberalism. On one hand, it preaches about egalitarianism and the need for humans to throw away the shackles of hierarchy. But when that collides with the reality of life and nature, things like Afghanistan happen.
Afghanistan is notable for a lot of reasons, but the most important among them is that cultures are not equal, and democracy isn’t the natural state of affairs. To shape a feudal culture into a democratic one requires hundreds of years of colonialism and generations of people who are molded and shaped through slow educational and cultural changes.
Given that America is a republic and average Americans have a strong republican instinct, and since even educated Americans are not brought up and shaped by the imperial universities as colonial officers, they would need to be on foreign soil to help spread democracy and liberal rights organically. The trouble is, that rarely happens.