At long last, two decades of spending American blood and treasure comes to an end as the U.S. makes a hasty and chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, while the Taliban overrun the country and pick up right where they left off back in 2001. Here are a few reflections (albeit a layman’s) on this inglorious end to yet another failed American foreign intervention.
1. The Old Grey Military Ain’t What She Used to Be
In the end, it seems that bureaucratic and institutional incompetence in our military leadership, intelligence community, and State department still reigns supreme, regardless of who is in the White House. The same lack of imagination and will that failed to deal with Al-Quaeda in the 1990’s which culminated in the disaster of 9/11, also brought us into Afghanistan where we remained long passed any discernible reason. As Ben Domenech over at the Federalist has stated, “this is a perfect example of what happens when you have a foreign policy that is run by bureaucrats and not by commanders-in-chief.” Elsewhere he states “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." Finally, he asks the rhetorical question that never seemed to be answered at any point along the decision-making process, “if the United States is unwilling to do what is necessary to win asymmetric wars, by what moral calculus can we enter them?”
2. Now We’re the Weak Horse
Osama bin Laden famously said that “When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse.” Even though the United States has the most well-trained and lethal military in the world, it has and now once again it is perceived as a “paper tiger” by Islamic militants throughout the world. Whether it was in Iraq, Somalia, Syria, or Afghanistan, Islamic forces have always known that they cannot defeat the U.S. militarily, and instead play the long game by wearing down U.S. forces through weapons, wounding, and wasting resources. Time and again, the battle with Islamic militants has devolved into a war of wills between a world superpower who is more worried about not losing and forces who have nothing lose and everything to gain by fighting.
As Michael Brown over at The Stream has written, the manner in which we are withdrawing from Afghanistan, “sends a signal that America, representing the West, is feeble and has no will to stand against the will of Islam.” And why shouldn’t they believe that? After all the Islamic world has probably seen and laughed at the Army recruiting cartoon where a female recruit with two moms thinks that fighting for civil rights will help her fight wars. Or the CIA profile video that advertised for the whole world to see that at least one of those tasked with hunting down the next Osama Bin Laden thinks that their sexual orientation and “generalized anxiety disorder” are assets in doing so. In Bin Laden’s own estimation, now more than ever, we will be seen by the Islamic world as not only a weak horse, but a decrepit and aged gelding that is ready for the petting zoo.
As a final note, the U.S. muddled withdrawal from Afghanistan, will not only be seen as America leaving another ally (like the Kurds) in the lurch, but will also raise questions about whether we will defend our other allies in the future. After all, China, who has had designs on the region for some time, Tweeted out through its mouthpiece at the Global Times that “after what happened in Afghanistan, those in Taiwan should perceive that once a war breaks out in the Straits, the island’s defense will collapse in hours and US military won’t come to help. As a result, the DPP will quickly surrender.”
3. Life, Liberty, and Happiness are Blessings, but Sometimes the Pursuit Can be a Curse
The same fervor and drive which brought the original colonists across the sea to carve out a new home in the wilds of early America, in order to have the freedom to improve and live their lives as they saw fit, went on to fuel the American notion of “Manifest Destiny.” The desire to just be a shinning city on the hill was a powerful one, but it was never enough. The American spirit sought to carry its blessings from sea to shinning sea, and eventually across the world could, but at times it could get out of hand.
The ghostly echoes of the “Destiny” are still with us today, as in my lifetime I have seen the providential power of American exceptionalism, the one that defeated the Nazis, Imperial Japan, and eventually wore down the Soviet Union, brought to places where it ought not to have been taken. Places where we had no pressing national interests or nothing to gain, such as Haiti, Somalia, Iraq, Syria, and of course Afghanistan. Granted, back in 2006 an aerial survey revealed that there were trillions of dollars worth rare minerals hidden within the mountains of Afghanistan, but nothing ever came of it. And even if there had been an attempt to mine those elements, someone, somewhere would’ve complained “no blood for aluminum!’
However, there is a reason that Afghanistan is called the “Graveyard of Empires”, as its land and culture are some of the most isolated and primeval on earth. Thus, short of a missionary miracle, for the foreseeable future it is “manifest” that Afghanistan’s “destiny” will remain as it always has, albeit under the auspices of the Taliban. Even if China has its eyes on the land and is willing to form alliances with the Taliban for their Belt and Road Initiative, China will inevitably dig their own empirical grave when they discover that Afghanistan is not filled with chanting Tibetan monks and the Taliban are not the Uygurs. Likewise, the Taliban will realize that China is not the U.S. and has near-limitless men, material, and the imperialistic will to have their own way.
4. And Now They Are Coming Here?
Already progressive politicians like AOC are talking about our duty to resettle Afghan refugees in the U.S. While all available aid and sanctuary should be given to those who helped us in the war effort, I would remind the former bartender that we are supposedly in the midst of a pandemic, we are being swamped with illegal crossings at our southern border, we are blowing out the budget with unbridled spending which is causing inflation, and the economy is not fully functioning yet. So what exactly does she expect us to do?
It is time that we start working, and become more insistent, with other Islamic countries to help resettle these refugees, so that they will have an easier time assimilating. At the risk of sounding like a--let’s call it a culture-a-phobe--I have seen the effects of unassimilated immigrants firsthand here in my home state.
Where, after the nation-building debacle in Somalia in the early 90's, refugees from there settled in the city of Minneapolis where they formed their own enclaves, some of which only marginally assimilated- they gave us Representative Ilhan Omar after all. While acknowledging a few notable exceptions such as the Afghan girls robotics team, we cannot afford to be overly optimistic about bringing in still more refugees from parts of the world that are radically different from our own.
And after reading the accounts of American soldiers who were ordered to ignore the rampant pedophilia while in Afghanistan, I will just come right out and say it- we need bacha bazi in America about as much as we needed female genital mutilation to be brought to this country- which is none at all.
5. Please Stand for All Those Who Served
Finally, the greatest lament of the whole Afghan affair is with lives of the men and women who served their country, especially those who died or were permanently scarred from their time there. They did what was asked of them, even if they didn’t agree with the policy makers or the military brass who were issuing their orders. Many of them are angry at being perceived as cutting and running, while others knew that, as John Zmirak remarked, as awful as the Taliban takeover will be and “as ugly and bloody as the process will prove — and we’ll read countless horror stories in coming weeks — no other outcome was ever possible.”
After all, in terms of the “destiny” that brought our forces to Afghanistan in the first place and then kept us there for almost a generation, it is clear that the war served the same purpose that the Philippine and Moro Wars (1902-1913) and the “Banana Wars" of the 1920’s did. As online commentator Felix Rex explained our prolonged presence in Afghanistan, “it was a calculated geo-political stratagem that in time became a kind of sandbox for the American military to sharpen its spear, and give battle experience to its military as well as test new equipment and ordinance, as well as to use up the older munitions.”
In the end, all the men and women who served in Afghanistan will deal with the war and its aftermath in their own way. With a war that lasted 20 years it should not seem unusual to have a whole host of feelings and thoughts about what the war meant and how it will be viewed when they are older and have children and grandchildren of their own, and will tell them what they did in Afghanistan. And perhaps all they can hope for is peace of mind and the grace of God that in time they will find the answers and healing they are looking for. In the meantime, at least do them the courtesy of standing or removing your hat for those who served.
Photo Credit- Yahoo News