Afghanistan is a bipartisan mess. Yes, the Bush Administration initiated the military intervention there, but people accross the political spectrum supported it, you might recall. And a surgical strike at al Qaeda in Afghanistan was justified at the time, but the Bushies went in half-assed and let al Qaeda slip away. The Taliban were still entrenched in Afghanistan, however, and I guess one set of Muslim extremists is as good as another.
“By spring of 2002, the Taliban were roundly defeated,” wrote Juan Cole. “Opinion polls showed that their favorability rating was good only among 5 percent of the population.”
By spring of 2002, congressmen visiting Centcom head Tommy Franks were bluntly told that Afghanistan was no longer the mission, and the Bush crime gang had clearly decided to set up Iraq as a fall guy for 9/11 and break the country’s legs.
The US in 2002-2003 had a good outcome in Afghanistan. We should just have left then. I can’t imagine why we didn’t. I think then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld wanted to surround Russia so it couldn’t reemerge as a peer power. It had nothing to do with Afghanistan.
The US lost Afghanistan in part by trying to occupy it militarily. In 2005 US troops used flamethrowers to burn poppy crops of Afghan farmers, who had nothing else to live on. One in 7 as a result had to sell a daughter. I doubt they have forgiven the US.
The occupation continued, and the U.S. tax dollars that poured into Afghanistan mostly funded bombs and corruption. And this continued through the Obama Administration and the Trump Administration.
Last Friday, Paul Waldman reminded us of why the U.S. gets itself into messes like this.
Back in the early 2000s, the term “Very Serious People” was coined to refer to those who were wrong about Iraq but nevertheless were treated with great deference and respect because they were mouthing conventional wisdom and taking a position that the media and the broader Washington culture treated as hardheaded and rational.
In contrast, the people who were right about Iraq — who said there was no real evidence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, or was in cahoots with al-Qaeda, or was about to attack the United States — were treated as silly, unserious and not worth listening to.
Then as now, the supposedly unserious people continued to be sidelined and ignored even after events proved them right.
It’s not just about who gets a platform in this debate. It’s also about what the limits of that debate are. As Matt Duss, a foreign policy expert and adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), told me, the debate is shaped by “a general hawkish interventionist framing you see in the media and the foreign policy establishment.” It presumes that the deployment of U.S. military power overseas is nearly always justified and likely to accomplish its goals.
A long history of not accomplishing goals doesn’t seem to make a dent in the framing.
What gets left out of that discussion? For starters, the fact that we spent 20 years trying to create and sustain the Afghan government, and it remained so plagued by corruption that it didn’t have legitimacy with the country’s population. As one 2010 State Department cable reported a senior Afghan official saying, “corruption is not just a problem for the system of governance in Afghanistan; it is the system of governance.” You can read that and an endless catalogue of horrors in this report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.
But the problem went deeper. “Even focusing on the failures of the Afghan government lets us off the hook,” Duss told me. “When we’re talking about corruption, the biggest beneficiaries are U.S. multinationals.” Indeed, another recent government report found that between 2011 and 2019 we spent nearly $100 billion on private contractors in Afghanistan.
The Very Serious People also tended to have connections to, and investments in, the military-industrial complex. We stayed in Afghanistan because powerful people were making a lot of money from it. That’s why. Juan Cole:
US officials sent out to Afghanistan knew that it was a Washington Ponzi scheme. Billions were disappearing into the pockets of contractors and warlords. Only the arms manufacturers were happy. The US was massively bombing the country every year, the only reason that it was still able to be there. US officials confessed as much to government watchdogs, and the Washington Post managed to get those interviews and publish them in 2019. Nobody believed in the mission. There was no mission. There was a morass of corruption and incompetence. Many of the regional warlords under the new government were not easier on women or minorities than the Taliban had been, and were fundamentalists of a different stripe.
This much needs to be admitted to, and understood, as media continues to clutch its pearls over “President Biden’s failures” in Afghanistan. Greg Sargent:
Let’s keep two ideas in our heads at the same time. The first is that President Biden deserves serious scrutiny over the withdrawal from Afghanistan, and congressional hearings should examine it.
The second is that no such accounting will be remotely complete if it doesn’t also examine how the current debacle is the outgrowth of 20 years of catastrophically wrongheaded thinking and decision-making spanning four administrations.
Going by the teevee news, one might assume that everything in Afghanistan was just rosy until President Biden decided to withdraw. And I confress I also have paid less attention to Afghanistan than to domestic politics. I give President Biden credit for doing the right thing to just withdraw. Why didn’t Barack Obama make that decision? I guess someday historians will sort that out.
But it’s also the case that the Trump Administration didn’t leave Joe Biden with much of a choice. Trump’s “deal” with the Taliban appears to have paved the road to the current debacle. See Scott Dowrkin at Newsweek:
In Afghanistan, President Biden got dealt yet another losing hand from the Trump Administration. Their Doha Agreement with the Taliban violated the most basic principles of self-government for the Afghan people. There was no way to enforce it or make sure the Taliban kept its word. There was no denunciation of al-Qaeda terrorists. Worst of all, the deal didn’t mandate the Taliban stop attacks against Afghan security forces.
All of this set the stage for the chaotic scenes we’re seeing on TV today.
In all the press pillorying of President Biden, which has barely mentioned Trump, I have seen no one mention that Trump once claimed that upon the US withdrawal the Taliban would take up the war on terror. Even while he was talking with them, the Taliban occasionally brought old al-Qaeda commandos to the parts of Afghanistan they controlled.
In the treaty, Trump promised to pull 8,500 troops out of the country in about 4 1/2 months. He pledged that the Afghanistan government of Ashraf Ghani would release 5,000 captured Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters. Ashraf Ghani at first resisted this provision, saying he was not party to the talks and thought it a horrible idea. But under strong Trump pressure, Ghani let the fighters go by the following October.
In return for these steps and for a promise that the U.S. would withdraw completely from Afghanistan, the Taliban pledged not to attack the remaining U.S. troops in the country by May 1, 2021. When you hear advocates of staying in Afghanistan forever say that US troops had not been attacked in the past 18 months, that is why. They stopped the attacks because Trump promised to leave. If Biden had reneged and stayed, then US troops would have been in the cross-hairs again.
The February, 2020, peace treaty was clearly rushed through by Trump in hopes it would add to his popularity and help him win the November, 2020 presidential election.