As the Taliban have now effectively taken control of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, there is much that our political class, policymakers and media talking heads should reflect on and many lessons to learn. But it appears unlikely that this will happen.
I remember going to my first antiwar rally in October of 2001 to protest our attack on Afghanistan in retaliation for 9/11. No one I knew wanted to go with me. I didn’t see how dropping bombs on regular Afghanis who had nothing to do with Bin Laden or the 9/11 attacks would help anything, especially after the Taliban had offered to hand over Bin Laden if the U.S. would stop bombing their country – an offer George W. Bush refused. It was a fairly small protest in San Francisco organized by the ANSWER coalition. I wouldn’t stop feeling like an outcast for my views until a year and a half later when antiwar protests swelled in the leadup to the invasion of Iraq. But the Bush administration merely blew off the largest and most coordinated antiwar rallies in the history of the world as “a focus group” that could be ignored.
As Sarah Lazare said on Twitter, the US press should be talking to those of us who were against this debacle to begin with, who could foresee the problems with trying to oppose a tactic with war, with trying – in the case of Afghanistan – to build a modern democratic country that is far from even being an industrialized country in terms of development and has no experience with democracy but is still largely a tribal nation that has been at war for most of the last 40 years (see my previous post on Afghanistan). I feel terrible for the plight of Afghan women and the prospect of sharia law, but we really had no business giving false hope to the women of Afghanistan that they could live as a modern western country when that was not the conditions that exist in Afghanistan – even with a western country propping up a corrupt and unpopular government. It certainly wasn’t going to be the conditions when that western country leaves. Now I see pundits and even left-leaning commentators on Twitter using this as an excuse for why we should have kept delaying the inevitable and stayed forever. If the government we are propping up collapses after 20 years, it will collapse after 25 or 30 or 50. The problem isn’t leaving too soon, the problem is the original policy of going in in the first place and thinking we can throw money at people who will then build a functioning democratic government with no skills, history or experience to do so. Sticking with something that doesn’t work after 20 years won’t make it suddenly work, it is just a form of denial.
Ironically, some of us are old enough to remember when George W. Bush campaigned on a more “humble” and less interventionist foreign policy and railed against “nation-building.” Watch this clip for yourself.
As for the speed with which the Taliban have accomplished taking over many provincial capitals and now Kabul, I can only wonder at how utterly inept our intelligence analysts must be to have predicted last week that Kabul could fall within 30 – 90 days and then have it happen less than a week later. This begs the question: do these people have a clue what’s going on anywhere in the world? Below is a press conference from a couple of weeks ago in which Biden says he doesn’t think the Kabul government will collapse upon the exit of US troops. Though Biden deserves some credit for following through on Trump’s withdrawal process, It would have been better to have prepared the American people for the fact that the Taliban were likely to take over and that the logistics of the withdrawal were not going to be pretty. But that would have entailed acknowledging that the policy was misguided to begin with and reminding us that we have been consistently lied to for years by military leaders and politicians about the situation in Afghanistan.