I fully support President Biden’s decision to extract us from Afghanistan.
The 20-year war was not a Scrabble game. The end was bound to be messy, and the professional chaos-makers will be the first to point the finger. Then will come the ex-soldiers who want to promote their novels (I’ve read one such commentary in The New York Times) and the Republican presidential hopefuls who wish to promote their candidacies or prove their devotion to the former guy. The former guy grumbled the other day that he would have handled the end of the war better (just as he did the pandemic). Let us note that the evacuations are proceeding, that the international financial system gives us broad control over Afghanistan’s monetary reserves and that the Taliban are smart enough to know they no longer have a state to overthrow, but a country to govern.
The Taliban won because they played the long game. We had to leave their country eventually.
Afghanistan did not fall at the end because they laid siege to cities. It fell because the Taliban were busy anticipating the endgame. This spring they practiced what an 8/19/21 article in The New York Times described as “coercion and persuasion.” The Taliban “cut multiple surrender deals that handed them bases and ultimately entire provincial command centers.” They entered cities almost without any need to fire a gun.
What were we doing in Afghanistan? Revenge is never a good foundation for policy. Neither is that other essential American motivator: Let the insiders make as much money as possible for as long as possible. This was true for the warlords and the everyday Afghanis who served as police and military because there was no other way to work for a payday. At all levels, we paid indigenous mercenaries who served simply to make their buck.
The invasion of Iraq and the eventual destabilizing and restructuring of the Middle East, and the loss of many American and Iraqi lives, were premised on the greed of American oilmen and their related industries to grab the oil of Iraq, which they piggybacked on our invasion of Afghanistan. It was all destined to end in Hell.
War is Hell, and the guardian of Hell, Cerberus, had three heads. So did our own recent Cerberus: Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld, a/k/a The Decider/Halliburton’s Hustler/The Known Unknown. Bush could have had Osama bin Laden early in the war, but by that time his two puppet masters had their eyes set on Iraq, with Afghanistan an afterthought. Our Republican-led government lied our way into a second front, much to the surprise of the man they deposed, Saddam Hussein, who despised Al Qaeda – a feeling that was mutual. If you were too young to understand this lie, please look it up: Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11, and he had no weapons of mass destruction. Our Iraq invasion was premised on a lie.
Days after 9/11, the House granted wide latitude to President Bush to wage war against Afghanistan by a vote of 420-1. Congresswoman Barbara Lee was the only member of Congress to vote against invading Afghanistan. On the floor of the House, she stood to say, “[Let us] think through the implications of our actions today so that this does not spiral out of control.” She said, quoting the dean of the Washington Cathedral, the Rev. Nathan Baxter, “[Let us] not become the evil we deplore.”
President Biden, you have taken the necessary step. History will remember you well for having disengaged the United States from a moral and financial sinkhole. I fervently hope you aid effectively in the rescue of Afghanis who helped, and whose own sense of the possible had been broadened through their work. I fervently hope the raised hopes and expectations of Afghan women and men will change the facts on the ground within families and tribes, so that the Taliban’s medieval thinking is forced to make accommodations with the modern world. I fervently hope that the Taliban, now returning to power, will find surprising new ways to exist with the community of nations. Our ongoing, worldwide climate catastrophe requires no less of all of us.
For the men and women who served and died in Afghanistan, and their families, I mourn with you. I mourn the loss of life and limb; I mourn the dashed illusions of the nobility of war. On the ground, the shedding of blood is doubtless always accompanied by noble acts and the cementing of brother/sisterhood. But on the day after, while tallying the trillions wasted on a tragic loss of blood and treasure for the enrichment of the influential few, will we have awakened to a new day where our nation’s honor is determined not by the caliber of our guns, but by the actual and highest ideals of our nation’s character?
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