Oh, the hysteria, the sanctimonious one-liners, the angry epithets and the instant, history-laden eulogies over the U.S.’ withdrawal from Afghanistan. Arguably the worst foreign policy calamity in U.S. history, on a par with Vietnam – a colossal, 20-year-long strategic debacle and policy failure – has come to an abrupt end. And it isn’t pretty.
It was and is very ugly, but it was also very necessary. The hypocrisy of the world castigating the United States is neither surprising nor consequential, but should not blur the main theme: President Joe Biden was right to withdraw from Afghanistan. The U.S. left because there is absolutely nothing that justifies staying.
Even those who have supported terminating the endless and pointless Afghanistan adventure-turned-quagmire are grumbling about the chaotic, disorderly, and poorly planned and executed evacuation that, they claim, will have long-term repercussions.
They are wrong. Evacuations invariably and inherently look bad.
America was “humiliated,” they acerbically determine. It “lost credibility,” its reputation is “tarnished forever.” America is “not dependable” and its withdrawal will “inevitably and inexorably” have an adverse impact on astonished, disbelieving and shell-shocked allies throughout the world.
Hundreds of armchair quarterbacks and sofa field marshals in the U.S. and worldwide have all knowledgeably opined on where things went wrong and how, if only their advice was heeded, things could have turned out more positively. Certainly the evacuation would have been smoother and more effective, and America would have been redeemed. So goes the prevailing global narrative of the past 48 hours.
“The optics,” they declare, are really bad.
Guess what – the optics of the British evacuation from Dunkirk in 1940, the U.S. evacuation of Vietnam in 1975 and Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 were also really bad. But they were all necessary and good decisions.
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“Taliban capture Kabul, stunning U.S. as a 20-year effort unravels in days,” the New York Times proclaimed ceremoniously in its page 1 headline on Monday. No sirs, the 20-year effort in Afghanistan unraveled 19 years ago, and the trajectory of where this grand exercise in futility was headed had been lucidly clear for the past 10 of them.
David E. Sanger, on that same New York Times front page, wrote sharply that “Mr. Biden will go down in history, fairly or unfairly, as the president who presided over a long-brewing, humiliating final act in the American experiment in Afghanistan. After seven months in which his administration seemed to exude much-need competence … everything about America’s last days in Afghanistan shattered the imagery.”
Time magazine pointed out that on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks next month, “a Taliban flag will fly over Afghanistan.”
Which raises the question: so what? The unpleasant optics justify another 20 years of “nation-building” in that godforsaken place? The emotional and bitter lamentations of former French diplomats or self-ordained Israeli strategic mavens, warning of the terminal erosion of America’s credibility and dependability, justify that Jimmy the helicopter pilot from Knoxville, Tennessee, be shot down and killed over Kandahar? Why the pious rhetoric and end-of-days melodrama?
The Afghanistan debacle and series of mistakes and miscalculations are covered extensively in the U.S. and European media, as well as by many former U.S. officials, ex-generals and officials serving four presidents: George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Biden. The pretentious and unviable idea of “nation-building” in Afghanistan, a distraction caused by the invasion of Iraq – another colossal failure. The $88-billion bad investment in the Afghan military. The failure to devise alternative policies when they were warranted. The overlooking of rampant corruption in the Afghan government. The insistence on “troop surges” ... the list goes on.
A war against jihadist terrorists turned into the rebuilding of Afghanistan, much like the invasion of Iraq due to its unproven involvement in 9/11 turned into the pursuit of nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, and was then redefined as “democratizing Iraq” – similar to how “containing communism” in 1964 and sending military advisers to Saigon became a decade-long involvement in Vietnam, claiming the lives of some 58,000 Americans.
In the last decade, the United States has undergone a major paradigm shift on two levels: No more foreign wars or lengthy “forever” entanglements overseas; and a gradual disengagement from the (broader) Middle East, where America no longer has vital interests. Anyone criticizing the U.S. should look at public and political sentiment in America, as well as foreign policy thinking.
The White House and other U.S. policymakers were “stunned by the rapid collapse of the Afghan army,” per the New York Times. Until a year ago, U.S. intelligence estimated that it would take the Taliban 18 months to defeat the Afghan army. Until a few days ago, the conventional, intelligence-based wisdom expected a 30- to 90-day period in which the Taliban would take over significant portions of the country. It took them six days. But this really isn’t a surprise.
In early July, when announcing that the final withdrawal would be completed by the end of August, Biden said the evacuation process would be secure and orderly, and that the probability of the Taliban “overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.”
Biden was wrong on the timing and how quickly it would transpire, but not on the strategy and policy.
Here’s what President Biden said on Saturday: “Over our country’s 20 years at war in Afghanistan, America has sent its finest young men and women, invested nearly $1 trillion, trained over 300,000 Afghan soldiers and police, equipped them with state-of-the-art military equipment, and maintained their air force as part of the longest war in U.S. history. One more year, or five more years, of U.S. military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country. And an endless American presence in the middle of another country’s civil conflict was not acceptable to me.”
He is right.