It is still early days, and the picture of what is happening in Afghanistan now that the Taliban has regained control of the country continues to develop. Central to affairs there is money. Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world, with about half its population requiring humanitarian aid this year and about 90% of its people living below the poverty line of making $2 a day.
Good morning everyone. So I have some thoughts (as you no doubt are unsurprised to hear!) . . .
1. The US military establishment lied and lied and lied when they talked about the combat readiness of the Afghan army. They have done so for 20 years. They even admitted that they lied a number of times when pressed. Their motive in lying was to present the military trainers as competent, when they were not. If this sounds familiar to those of us who lived through the Vietnam era, well, there you go.
2. There is not a single US administration that behaved proactively in Afghanistan. There has not been a single congressional "class" that has behaved proactively in Afghanistan. Plenty of academics--from historians to economists, to anthropologists, to sociologists--have been saying over the last 40 years that the West's way of dealing with Afghanistan was going to fail and was wrongheaded from the start. But the last 20 years has also seen the dumbing down of the federal government, the glorification of ignorance and prejudice and jingoistic idiocy. So the people who actually had a clue were ignored or vilified. QED.
3. If the people of Afghanistan had cared about the pro-Western cultural institutions that western money propped up in their country--education and rights for women, a government elected through a democratic and transparent process, an economy based on capitalism--they would have embraced this idea beyond the few elites and the dedicated female teachers of girls and women. But they did not. Because Afghanistan is not a country. It is a delegation of provinces with intimate and historical ties to traditions we dismissed and ignored. We did not make them care about women and girls. THEY DON'T CARE ABOUT WOMEN AND GIRLS. The hollering going on now about "how do we save the women and girls" is laughable because the people who should have been asking those questions are the ones who embraced TFG's jingoistic and autocratic foreign policy, who are determined to police women's bodies and criminalize women's bodily autonomy in the USA, who claim religious exceptionalism, who say NOTHING about the abuse of women and girls in their favorite countries, like Saudi Arabia, where al Qaeda came from. They are our Taliban: they just wear suits and talk about the "rights of the unborn," and claim that their militant death-cult brand of Christianity is the "true" one. And they are winning here in the USA: take a look at the judicial decision to ban certain abortions in TX.
3. We had the chance to do the ONE THING that would have broken the economic back of the Taliban: stop the growing of opium poppies and the opium trade--the market for which is THE WEST--and replace it with well-constructed, carefully planned alternatives that the people in the south and west of the country (where poppies are grown) could manage THEMSELVES. We did not consult with the people whose lives were at risk if they did not grow opium. We did not ask them what THEY wanted to do, what THEY wanted to grow. We just went in and behaved like the boorish mo****f***ers we are and claimed to know better. We did not.
4. Why are all media outlets losing their s*** trying to blame SOMEONE for this horror show? Because they think it will help their ratings. Because as institutions the commercial media are all idiots and ignoramuses, led by suits who like their corporate bonuses no matter their political stripes. Because the last person in the room is the one they blame. Why don't they instead do something useful, like re-animate the pages from the RNC website that praised TFG's "brilliant and groundbreaking deal" with the Taliban? Which they scrubbed as soon as the debacle occurred.
I could go on but I won't. Sorry for my rant of the day. I admit that I don't understand why anyone is surprised by any of this.
The lesson here might be the consequential damages that occur on a small planet with increasing connectivity when extremism, fundamentalism, anti-intellectualism take over.
US Republicans, with their increasing extremists, fundamentalists and anti-intellectualists, may not believe that we are all in this together. They may believe there are winners and losers, and winners deserve to have it all. They may believe that "you are either with us or against us" meaning against them. They may believe there are "others" here and abroad who shouldn't be here in the US. They may be a softer more kinder "Taliban". Not so sure about this.
But my point is that nations, communities, families, societies, economies, cultures, lives collapse when there is no trust, when there is no freedom to work together, when all orders come from one group, when the doors are shut. Ultimately, the money does stop flowing, systems shutdown, the anger builds and the violence grows.
Russia has never come out of its doldrums. The Dark Ages were not just one period of history. While slaves were eventually freed in the US, slave states continued to sacrifice everything to destroy the achievements of blacks and to oppress them. Whites in the free states could not see their own segregation of blacks as a liability to our own economy and morality. The evidence is and has been everywhere that humanity either works together so that all may prosper in a sustainable way, or there will be no true peace and prosperity. If Christianity and all other religions were practiced with their best intentions, there would only be enlightenment. But like all other human endeavors, those who can command power too often abuse it and destroy everything in their path. We should watch what's happening in Afghanistan with humility and know that we are next if we don't work together, while denying all resources to extremists, our own included.
Here’s an interesting article by Judd Legum about the media’s coverage of Afghanistan.
(I’m not sure everyone can read it without subscribing, so I will post it. He often has great articles. You should consider subscribing.)
After two decades of war, President Biden finally made the decision to fully withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan. It did not go as planned. The Afghan government and security forces, which the United States spent two decades building up, evaporated in days. The Taliban, the Islamist group which harbored Al Qaeda before the 9/11 attacks, quickly regained control over the country.
This was a failure that comes with real consequences for innocent Afghans. At particular risk are the Afghans that assisted US efforts, who may face retribution if they remain in the country, and women and girls, who may be stripped of their rights by the repressive Taliban regime.
But was this primarily a failure by Biden, for deciding to withdraw now? Or was it the unavoidable conclusion of failed policies in Afghanistan across four presidential administrations? Most coverage has focused criticism on Biden. And to bolster that argument, media outlets are relying on many of the people responsible for two decades of failure in Afghanistan. While there are legitimate criticisms of the way Biden executed the withdrawal, the result is an extremely distorted narrative.
Let's examine, for example, this piece in the Washington Post: "Biden’s promise to restore competence to the presidency is undercut by chaos in Afghanistan." Although this is presented as a "straight news" piece, the entire premise is that Biden's decision to withdraw reflects his own incompetence. The author, Matt Viser, reports that the decision and its execution reflected "an inability to plan" and "an underestimation of a foreign adversary."
As proof, Viser cites, "leading lawmakers and others" who believe that "the chaotic, and deadly, implementation of [Biden's] decision reflects a failure by Biden at a critical moment to deliver the steady leadership and sound judgment he promised." Who are these "leading lawmakers and others"? The same people who have been consistently wrong about Afghanistan strategy for the last twenty years.
The lead quote comes from former CIA Director and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta who said Biden's decision to withdraw reflects the fact that Biden "didn’t really spend much time on the issue" and the Biden administration was simply "crossing their fingers and hoping chaos would not result."
But is Panetta a credible voice on how policies will play out in Afghanistan? In a November 2011 interview with Charlie Rose, Panetta said that the military campaign in Afghanistan had "seriously weakened the Taliban" and now the Afghan people were "able to control their own fate." He said that the development of the Afghan army and police force was "on target" and they were "doing the job."
This was a consistent refrain during Panetta's tenure as Secretary of Defense. "[W]e are moving in the right direction, and we are winning this very tough conflict here in Afghanistan," Panetta said in December 2011.
After a March 2012 visit to Afghanistan, Panetta was even more optimistic. "Afghanistan needs to be able to govern and secure itself," Panetta said. "We are very close to accomplishing that." In January 2013, Panetta announced we had entered "the last chapter of establishing a sovereign Afghanistan that can govern and secure itself for the future."
Panetta, of course, was wrong about all of this. Afghanistan was not "close" to being able to "govern and secure itself" in 2012. The "last chapter" of establishing a sovereign Afghanistan did not occur in 2013. Nor was Afghanistan ready to "govern and secure itself" eight years later. But, year after year, that rosy picture was used to continue to sell the war to the American people.
As recently as June of this year, Panetta was touting the "progress" that had been made in building up the Afghan security forces and government.
[W]e did make gains in Afghanistan. We have made progress...We have improved their society in terms of how they operate… I saw the Afghan military do some very effective operations… So we have something to work with.
But it was the failure of the Afghan government and security forces to survive even a few days in 2021 that made Biden's withdrawal so chaotic. Had the institutions touted by Panetta held, even for a short period of time, evacuations could have occurred in a more orderly fashion. But neither Panetta's role in the failed mission, nor his history of poor judgments about the trajectory of the country, are mentioned in the Washington Post. Instead he's given free rein to paper over his involvement and place the blame on Biden.
This is not an isolated problem. Panetta was also quoted by Fox News, the New York Post, The Hill, MSNBC, NBC News, the New York Daily News, CNN and many other outlets. None of them noted Panetta's prior inaccurate predictions about the future of Afghanistan.
The next person quoted in the Washington Post piece is Ryan Crocker, the former Ambassador to Afghanistan during the Bush and Obama administrations. His criticism of Biden is even harsher. "I’m left with some grave questions in my mind about his ability to lead our nation as commander in chief," Crocker said.
Like Panetta, Crocker also touted the Afghan military and police, saying in a 2012 speech to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace that the security forces represented an "amazing achievement." He described the group as a "capable” and “multifaceted," and claimed they were "close to their maximum strength of 352,000." Like Panetta, Crocker was wrong about their capability and size.
Crocker also touted the "courage and determination" of President Hamid Karzai. But Karzai had "won reelection after cronies stuffed thousands of ballot boxes." After securing power, Karzai presided over a deeply corrupt and incompetent government. Kabul Bank, the country's largest bank, nearly collapsed under the "weight of $1 billion in fraudulent loans." Among the recipients was Karzai's brother, Mahmoud Karzai. Crocker's predecessor, Karl Eikenberry, pressed Karzai to take action in response to the Kabul Bank scandal. But when Crocker replaced Eikenberry in 2011 that ended. Crocker's "attitude was to make the issue go away, bury it as deep as possible, and silence any voices within the embassy that wanted to make this an issue,” according to interviews conducted by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.
Crocker's role in covering up the corruption of the Afghan government is not mentioned in Viser's Washington Post article or the other outlets that quoted him for criticizing the withdrawal — NBC News, The Hill, Axios, and Fox News.
The next pundit Viser quotes is Eliot A. Cohen, a prominent hawk who advised Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice during the Bush administration. Cohen calls Biden's decision "very bad" and a "moral disaster." But Cohen would likely criticize most military withdrawals. He recently wrote a book calling for "a substantially larger military" and more wars. He even suggests the U.S. should be more open to nuclear war. "The actual use of nuclear weapons by the United States is not a last resort," Cohen writes.
Finally, Viser includes brief, critical quotes about the withdrawal from four members of Congress who have supported and funded operations in Afghanistan for many years — Senators Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Lindsay Graham (R-SC), and Mark Warner (D-VA), and Congressman Seth Moulton (D-MA).
The heard and the unheard
Unrepresented in Viser's piece are any voices that supported withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan — even though a poll last month found that 73% of Americans supported withdrawal. A poll taken August 13-16, amid unrelentingly negative press coverage of the decision, showed that support for the withdrawal dropped significantly. The number of Americans who support withdrawal, however, is still substantially larger than the number of Americans who oppose it. But the Washington Post piece, and many other news articles, only include critics.
The opinions of critics of the withdrawal from Afghanistan — many of whom were complicit in the failed policy over 20 years — are then laundered by prominent media figures as "fact." As Jon Alsop notes in the Columbia Journalism Review, NBC's Chuck Todd asserted that the withdrawal from Afghanistan will "haunt Mr. Biden’s legacy" and Axios' Mike Allen called it an "embarrassment."
The one-sided coverage of the military withdrawal from Afghanistan mirrors the mistakes made in the run-up to the Iraq War. Then, "Bush administration officials were the most frequently quoted sources, the voices of anti-war groups and opposition Democrats were barely audible, and the overall thrust of coverage favored a pro-war perspective." Nearly two decades later, history is repeating itself.
As usual, HCR shines a light on what is missed by many others.
The Taliban are learning what every revolutionary discovers; it is much easier to topple a government than it is to govern. You have to rebuild all that you destroyed. You will need money; lots of it. You will need friends, and discovering who your real friends are can be painful.
Biden is taking the heat for the final (we hope) Aghanistan fiasco in order to divert attention from the multiple failures of so many over the last twenty years, the news media very much included.
My view is the President has shown leadership, and enormous courage, for doing what he knew had to be done.
As bad as the situation is in Afghanistan, the media's and Congress' attempts to focus the blame are worse, at least to me. I can remember in the early reports in the initial weeks of the 9/11 invasion telling us loyalty in Afghanistan was not to the country or government but the local warlord or whoever last gave you something.
There's plenty of blame to go around and should be equally shared by the federal government since 2001 and the media. Had Biden not won, this mess would have been on orders of magnitude worse.
“…the media portrayal of our withdrawal as a catastrophe also seems to me surprising.” I’m so glad you mentioned this-I find it extremely disturbing. They are really bashing Biden for everything they’re worth. Which could be precisely the point: just as you point out that “keeping an eye on the money will be crucial for understanding how this plays out,” it seems the media are cashing in with a story of catastrophe while they can. They don’t know how it’s going to play out. They have an opportunity to seize eyeballs and advertiser dollars right now. I fear that their avarice will further bolster the march toward right wing authoritarian leadership here at home. I’m all for a free press, but nothing about this coverage feels free.
Morning, all!! Morning, Dr. R!! My preference is that as many people as possible will be safely evacuated as soon as possible. I'm pretty sure our President is of the same mind.
In the meantime, may we give a pause to celebrate the ratification of the 19th Amendment? https://www.upi.com/Top_News/2021/08/18/On-This-Day-19th-Amendment-ratified-giving-women-the-vote/2581629248448/
If the powers to be had focused all the resources they did on starting and enabling wars since the 1960s on providing appropriate pre-K thru 12th grade educational and training programs for individuals with different learning styles and coming from poverty, what a different world America would be.
What a tangled mess. Thank you for picking out and explaining the salient threads so at least there’s some kind of way to wrap our brains around the tragedy that’s been unfolding for a very long time and is now only beginning a new chapter. Between this, COVID, and the fires that are the climate change poster children, I’m so stressed out I want to scream. But as long as I have some understanding of what’s happening, I can carry on. Bless you for that gift, Professor.
When the Shah fell in Iran no one in the American embassy spoke Farsi, when America began to intervene in Viet Nam no one spoke Vietnamese, when America fell in Afghanistan not many Americans spoke Pashtun. Rather disturbing pattern, n'est-ce pas?
I appreciate this LFAA today. What I know about this topic is miniscule, but I do know this: the retribution for the 9/11 attacks was both understandable (to a degree) and untenable. There is no way to change the nature of that country by invasion and imposition, and pure hubris to think that we could do what other nations have tried to do and failed in each of the past three centuries. It is understandable, knowing our "national makeup" that we would "go after" the person "responsible" for the attacks in our country; defensible is another matter.
I, too, note the bleating from Republiqans about "what about the women and girls" are coming from those who want to severely restrict and control women's bodies here in this country.
I have observed that the people living in a place are always much more adept at dealing with the realities of that place/time than anyone else. The Afghans have been shaped by their topography, culture, and history into a pragmatic, tough, beautiful people who do not think like Americans. We could both evaluate the most granular data sets and still arrive at vastly different conclusions about the same circumstances. There were no good choices in Afghanistan, only pragmatic ones. I do not pretend to understand the failings of the Afghan government. I do see some of the chronic failings of my own. Hubris, greed, laziness. Hubris in that we thought we knew best for all concerned. Greed is really what kept our involvement there going. Laziness in that we never were really interested in the people we were fighting against or alongside. We are who we are, so I predict that these tragedies will keep happening, just as they have for the past 60+ years.
I am not an overpaid Washington bureaucrat or even an international diplomat, altho I was in Afghanistan before any foreign invasions in 1975, but I have a way to put more economic pressure on the Taliban.
There, I said a truth that needs to be taken seriously, and ALL THE FACTS OF ADDICTION AND PROHIBITION, support that truth. While all the reactionary conservatives clutch their pearls and swoon, let me innumerate the facts.
1 PROHIBITION DOES NOT WORK. We tried the Great Experiment with booze and it failed miserably. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. (Sort of like a 20-year military occupation of Afghanistan)
2 ALCOHOL IS MORE DANGEROUS THAN HEROIN. You can overdose on either drug, but you can die from alcohol withdrawal. Ppl stoned on heroin usually nod, but those drunk on alcohol drive cars, attack others and do irrational things.
3 ILLEGALITY MAKES HEROIN MORE PROFITABLE THAN ALCOHOL. Well, at least since the Prohibition days of alcohol. If we legalized Heroin (and Marijuana, which should have never been illegal) its inflated value would crumble taking all the profit away from cartels & smugglers. Afghanistan would lose one of its major sources of income.
SO THERE, I SAID IT – PROVE ME WRONG.
Maybe, just maybe, the "300,000 person army" that was trained by the USA are living in fear, now that the Taliban have prevailed, because they have "aided and abetted" the enemy, which is us, the USA. Same goes for all the panicked translators and western oriented Afghan desperately trying to escape at the airport. Yet is it not possible to imagine that the new government will show some mercy on these people, who, after all, are talented and can help in rebuilding the country after twenty years of occupation by western forces? Could it be that the Afghans are feeling relief and joy that the war is over and normality will return? Russia and China appear to be more pragmatic and seem to have a better understanding of how to deal with the situation, which is taking place in their own back yard. Could we not be spared the spectacle of Fox News Talking Head Generals yakking away about Biden, and the MSNBC Talking Heads blaming Trump? Time for Americans to seriously reflect on the utility of the "overwhelming military might". What is next on the agenda? Iran? Or Russia? Or China? How about a society where health is a universal right and education is provided for all? And a government that can prevail on the abusive and destructive system of private monopolies?
When others have commented on how extraordinary one of Heather’s letters are over the others I have wondered what stands out to them. For me they are all extraordinary. Until this one, which for me, has insight that I have not seen anywhere else. Granted I am not the most widely read. But this struck a very raw nerve for me: “And yet, the media portrayal of our withdrawal as a catastrophe also seems to me surprising. To date, at least as far as I have seen, there have been no reports of such atrocities as the top American diplomat in Syria reported in the chaos when the U.S. pulled out of northern Syria in 2019. Violence against our Kurdish allies there was widely expected and it indeed occurred. In a memo made public in November of that year, Ambassador William V. Roebuck wrote that “Islamist groups” paid by Turkey were deliberately engaged in ethnic cleansing of Kurds, and were committing “widely publicized, fear-inducing atrocities” even while “our military forces and diplomats were on the ground.” The memo continued: “The Turkey operation damaged our regional and international credibility and has significantly destabilized northeastern Syria.”
Reports of that ethnic cleansing in the wake of our withdrawal seemed to get very little media attention in 2019, perhaps because the former president’s first impeachment inquiry took up all the oxygen. But it strikes me that the sensibility of Roebuck’s memo is now being read onto our withdrawal from Afghanistan although conditions there are not—yet—like that.”
Where were the media then? Why are they so focused on blaming Biden now, instead of questioning what is happening here? I’m glad they are calling for an investigation. Hopefully it will be a serious one and not another Benghazi. Maybe we can actually learn an important lesson?
Thank you Heather.
As this Afghanistan crisis unfolds, many questions remain unanswered. What about the minerals, opium production? Are the Taliban really up to the challenge to make the most financially from this? As financial aid will be shuttered, what have they really gained?
They remind me of the bully that just wants to "say" they won.
As with any situation of this magnitude, follow the money for the clearer picture.
Be safe, be well.