Ethics And Leadership Failure On Afghanistan, Part I: In And Out

I’m not a foreign policy expert. (Is anyone a foreign policy expert?) so Ethics Alarms will go light on what “should” have been done by the U.S. in Afghanistan. The one thing I am unalterably convinced of now, as I was in 2001, is that the U.S. had to take strong military action against the Taliban after it aided and abetted Osama bin Laden. No nation can just shrug off a fatal, ambush attack on its citizens with a finger wag and a stern, “Now don’t do that again, or you’ll be sorry!”

Obviously staying twenty years in the pseudo-nation was way, way too long, expensive and costly in American lives, but dreaded mission creep set in. My approach after 9/11—and I think that of several past Presidents, including Eisenhower and Truman—would have been to strike hard, make sure as many military and government officials as possible were among the dead, accept the civilian casualties as unavoidable, and make sure that a properly frightening death toll—ten times what we lost on 9/11, perhaps, 30,000?—made the necessary point: “Don’t mess with the United States of America.” Once that message was delivered, get out. Colin Powell’s too often quoted nostrum that if you broke a country you were obligated to fix it should not have applied. Afghanistan was already broken; it was and remains a chaotic mess of warlords and medieval thinking supported by the heroin trade. Nobody can “fix” it. However, the Taliban was bad, and worst of all it oppressed women, so all of a sudden our objective became an ethical one, not retaliation but reform.

In 2010, Barack Obama’s administration was engaged in allowing Iraq to go to rack and ruin, though we had actually begun the process of “fixing” that country, which is to Afghanistan what New York City is to Skull Island. The Obama strategy ended up giving Iraq over to the Iranians and ISIS while all the resources were to go to the fight in Afghanistan, the Good War. You know: we were fighting for feminism, the defeat of intersectionality and “Think of the Children!” In the process, we were encouraging desperate Afghans to trust us and put their lives and hopes in our hands. We were also putting American power and credibility on the line.

The debacle we can see on television unfolding now, even with all of the accumulated mistakes over two decades, was still avoidable by simple care and competence. Ian Miles Chong’s tweet is not unfair…

Chong tweet2

Astoundingly, the facts are so damning, and the statements from Democrats so cringingly dishonest and insulting…

Pelosi tweet

…that even the supine mainstream media isn’t doing its usual pro-Biden propaganda. There was literally no excuse for what has happened.

The disaster’s first and primary ethics failure was management and leadership incompetence, mixed into a toxic soup, as they often are, with arrogance and bias.

I’ll examine the other ethics and leadership failures in Part 2.

51 thoughts on “Ethics And Leadership Failure On Afghanistan, Part I: In And Out

  1. July 8, 2021
    “The Taliban is not the south — the North Vietnamese army. They’re not — they’re not remotely comparable in terms of capability. There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of a embassy in the — of the United States from Afghanistan. It is not at all comparable.” Joe Biden

  2. Having participated in the Vietnam war and watched the collapse of the South I developed a strategy that should have been followed in Afghanistan. That strategy would have been to turn their rocks into pebbles and use our supply of Agent Orange on their poopy fields.
    With the strategy of this administration, we have left the incoming Taliban a regime 5G communication system, uncountable armory, and now probably a group of people we trained, now deserted who will swell the ranks of The Taliban and Al quida.

  3. Forget hindsight now. We need foresight. We have suggested strongly to the world we cannot be trusted to back up our allies nor do we have the stomach for civilian casualties. The best thing Biden can do now is launch an unrelenting cruise missile attack against every provincial capital in that country. The Afghan army turned tail and ran so if the are some of the casualties to effen bad. We need to think about Taiwan and other strategic allies right now. And Joe: if your trained and equipped Afghan army is afraid of some throwbacks to the stone age and can demand unconditional surrender from the US and its partners in the region how can you say the 2nd amendment does not protect Americans from a tyrannical autocratic government. Disarm Americans and China will be in charge here.

  4. https://publicintelligence.net/u-s-army-human-terrain-system-afghanistan-pashtun-tribal-analysis/

    Some cultures, such as the Apache, or the Nazis, need obliterating.

    Doing so without committing genocide is tricky.

    Remember, our “friends” in Pakistani Waziristan made it certain that the Taliban could not be extirpated, root and branch, which was what was needed.

    I don’t blame Trump too much for surrendering, and putting his successor in an impossible position. I do blame the State Dept and Pentagon for giving as poor advice as they did in 1975 in Cambodia.

    • “We were going to not let people get slaughtered,” Trump said flatly. “I wanted to get out. But you have to get out safely and you have to get out with respect …

      “We had all sorts of conditions … All civilians were going to come out before the military. Everyone should have been out before they took our military out …

      “I was going to close this ridiculous embassy they spent a billion dollars on and move everybody out …

      “I was going to blow up every military base [before we left]. I was going to take out every single piece of equipment. I said, ‘I don’t want anything left [apart from] leave each soldier a gun …’

      “Plus, I had a relationship with the Taliban where they knew they weren’t allowed to do this. They understood they were going to get hit very hard … What I had was conversations with the [Taliban] leadership where I said, ‘If you do anything,’ we were going to hit them like they haven’t been hit before.”

      Trump said the Taliban “no longer has fear or respect for America …

      “It’s a terrible, terrible black eye for this country.

      “We’re a laughingstock. The whole world can’t believe it.

      “And there was no reason for it.”

      • You can make carrying on certain cultural traits very uncomfortable and unsustainable. It’s not pleasant work, but if you have the stomach for it, you can force cultural change without killing everybody, though you will probably have to kill quite a few to get the message across.

        There are lots of Japanese people still around, but the vicious, militaristic, Imperial Japanese culture that existed for the latter half of the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries was thoroughly eradicated.

    • The Apache? Other than resisting our expansion westward, what is so abhorrent about their culture that we must wipe it out? If they lived in some distant land, we would have never heard of them.

      But I think I get your point: they were in the way and had a culture incompatible with ours and so had to be subdued.

  5. Once that message was delivered, get out. Colin Powell’s too often quoted nostrum that if you broke a country you were obligated to fix it should not have applied.

    That should always be the approach. We should abandon the Powell doctrine for good and all. Okay, let me slightly revise that — we should abandon it as a default position.

    The disaster’s first and primary ethics failure was management and leadership incompetence, mixed into a toxic soup, as they often are, with arrogance and bias.

    The big question is, “Does anybody care?” Honestly, the only thing I can muster real outrage about is the ridiculous amount of blood and treasure trying to build a primative, feudal, fundamentalist society that utterly rejects the idea of western civilization into a functioning country.

    Every country that has tried this before in Afghanistan met some version of the same fate. Just as Russia for a somewhat recent example. Some places just need to be left alone. If they send terrorists, slaughter their leaders and fighters in job lots with bombs, ignore the civilian casualties and prepare to do it all over again in ten years or so.

    Politically, I’m glad Biden was president when it happened becuase it illustrates how weak he and the Democrats are. That’s important for the future of our country. But it just as easily could’ve happened to Trump, who desperately wanted to abandon Afghanistan. The generals talked him out of it, and at least he was capable of listening to those with more expertise despite his absurd hubris.

  6. There is no such thing as a foreign policy expert EXCEPT in the instance of needing to understand the legalese necessary for drafting such policies.

    All anyone needs in order to have even a rudimentary opinion on foreign policy is a firm understanding of their own value set, the value set of their nation and a general attitude about how their nation sits in the world.

  7. The United States will rue every singe day they spent training the Afghanistan Army both on how to train soldiers and tactics. Each and every one of those trained by the USA soldiers will either be absorbed into the Taliban’s army disseminating all that training to the their fellow soldiers or be killed. Training the Afghanistan Army in the midst of a war with their own people and then leaving behind USA military equipment for them to use was a mission creep that should never, EVER, have been allowed to take place.

  8. “Obviously staying twenty years in the pseudo-nation was way, way too long, expensive and costly in American lives, but dreaded mission creep set in.”

    This is fundamentally untrue.

    And no one is to blame for having this attitude, I had this attitude. Most Americans have this attitude because we stopped being informed on the war in Afghanistan.

    Operation Enduring Freedom, in Afghanistan, which charts the national attitude towards the conflict from 7 October 2001 to 31 December 2014, cost us 2,218 soldiers and 4 DoD civilians. Casualties include deaths not related to combat.

    Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, which represented the mission-shift from Combat Operations to Counter Terror AND Training and Support, from 1 January 2015 until the present debacle. That period of time cost us *94* soldiers and 2 DoD civilians.

    That is slightly more than 1 soldier per month. Yes, doing such cold arithmetic sounds awful, because each of those deaths is someone’s child…someone’s spouse…someone’s parent. BUT, if we are making geopolitical calculations, there’s a very likely chance the answer is *yes*, the deaths are worth it.

    And no, not for some godforsaken spot of dirt on the other side of the planet. But rather for millions of Afghanis who represented the first generation of a multigenerational effort to transform that culture while the fringe Taliban would eventually age out of existence. Yes, I know they get fresh recruits, but changing culture takes time. Welp. They are all set back to 1996 now. The ones that aren’t murdered for helping Americans that is.

    Now, when we go back, if we go back, no one local will help us.

    And it isn’t just for the benefit of those people. Afghanistan sits comfortably at the back door of China, Iran, and the Russian sphere of influence. A perennial jumping off point for efforts on the weak flanks of our competitor nations if in 20 years or 40 years our children and grandchildren find the nation at war with those miscreants. But that flank is gone now. Surrendered to the Taliban which will soon come under sway of the ascendant world order of thug-states and bad actors. Afghanistan will very rapidly become a client state of China, when before it represented an obstacle to Belt and Road, and China will have no qualms about “human rights violations of the new government”. No, they’ll happily tolerate Taliban rule of Afghanistan.

    Well done guys.

    We may be avoiding tiny casualties NOW while we’ve set up conditions for an awful world environment in another decade that will cost our follow on generations thousands and thousands more.

    • I don’t get the theory. How many other oppressive regimes and cultures is it “worth” trying to reform? Why pick this one. and not, say, Saudi Arabia? We didn’t attack Afghanistan to save the women, and we would not have if we hadn’t been attacked by a Taliban-assisted terrorist.

      You think it IS worth 20 years of lives and treasure to try to reform a sick culture in a hell hole? Isn’t the argument “well, it wasn’t THAT many casualties” the ultimate #22 rationalization?

      • Did you quit reading halfway through?

        As for why we don’t fix every bad nation…? Easy, some bad nations don’t attack us. Which means they are less bad than the ones who do, for us to not go ransack them.

        • “Fix” means “turn them from chaotic toxic cultures into civilized, ethical cultures.” That’s not feasible or sensible in extreme situations. Hasn’t the US learned this by now?

          • Where were we supposed to have learned this? Somalia? Where we didn’t try? Iraq, where below, you mentioned they actual could be fixed? Philippines c. 1903, where we tried and succeeded?

            What extreme situations should we have learned from by now?

        • Michael
          Your argument is best served by Afghanistan’s strategic location. Other nations like Yemen seek our destruction but Yemen or Somolia hold far less strategic import as you pointed out. We should ask Biden if based on his logic we should withdraw from South Korea.

            • Except that in South Korea, we virtually did take an analogous approach to “Operation Freedom’s Sentinel”. For the most part we put in minimal state-building efforts for the South Koreans, who were run by a virtual dictatorship until the 1980s.

              We put our military there with a mission to stop communist encroachment at the DMZ.

              There were periodic bloody insurgencies we fought off. But for the most part we stayed there to stop communists and generally left the South Koreans to figure themselves out.

              In Afghanistan, prior to the Trump draw-down we had a minimum of soldiers to back up the just born Afghani Army while they built a sense of themselves while not being in serious risk. Again, the casualty counts are proof we weren’t in heavy risk.

              Again, the next 10 years will show the colossal failure in ethics that withdrawing will turn out to be. And that isn’t consequentialism or moral luck. It’s easily predicted from a balancing of values before hand.

              • Keeping a security force in the country isn’t fighting, and isn’t reforming anything. Keeping minimal troops on hand makes sense from a sunk costs perspective. But we never should have gotten to that point. I heard Dan Crenshaw today arguing, “sure, we could have gone in in 2001, hit hard and left. But what would be the point? Revenge?”

                Exactly. Revenge and retaliation.

                Otherwise, what a system! Attack the US, and jump to first in line to be the beneficiary of US efforts to reform the nation!

        • Frankly, the more I think about this, if you’re claiming I’m using a “It’s not that many casualties” as some sort of a #22, then by extension no one can use casualties at all as an argument, lest on the other end you are using an “if it saves just one soldier’s life” rationalization.

          But I think we all know, in war and geopolitics, counting casualties is most certain a fair assessment when considering the ethics of any particular military engagement.

          • It’s a fair calculation if something is accomplished that needed to be accomplish or that it was worth trying to accomplish. Neither was the case here, and that’s not hindsight. As I wrote, and as is true, Iraq has a past that indicates it can adopt a civilized culture: Afghanistan has never had one. It was worth however many casualties that was necessary to deliver the message: help someone attack us again, and we make you a parking lot. No, one soldier’s life isn’t worth a hopeless, futile mission (and the money matters too.) How does this wreck of an area have any significance in geopolitics that we could control short of taking it all over, which would be insane?

            • We wouldn’t need to take it all over. After the mission shift and prior to the Trump draw down, the ANA was holding the Taliban in check with minimal investment on our part.

              The facts are there and values have been explained. It’s up to you to decide whether or not the balance makes sense.

              To me it does.

              And I’m reasonably certain the next 10 years will show my assessment to be correct.

              China will make bold moves – most certainly to adopt the Taliban as a client state – possibly a move on Taiwan.

              Russia will make moves sooner while it still has some sort of demographic hope.

              Iran knows Democrat presidents are easy marks. They’ll do something.

              Our prestige is so badly damaged now we’ll not lead a coalition on any proactive expedition for 2 decades and in all likelihood, the ONLY way we ever lead a coalition sooner than that will be if a conflagration equaling WW2 pops up – the odds of which are much higher when bad actors think America is weak.

              But hey, it’s just a spot of dirt with no hope of civilization, so that’s why we should cut and run. Nothing else to consider.

              • This is reminding me of Ann Coulter’s column after 9/11 when she said the U.S. needed to just invade all of the Muslim countries, force them to adopt Christianity and democracy, and that would fix everything. (She really wrote this.) I thought the US as the police/savior/teacher/ messiah of the world theory had been pretty much abandoned because it’s impossible. You explain why, in fact: if it takes so long, a change in political power is inevitable, and the public loses patience with the expense in lives and money. What we did in the Phillipines is now widely regarded as racist imperialism, at best utilitarian in the extreme, at worst an abuse of power. Once a nation could kill a lot of people to “civilize” a nation. Now we won’t kill civilians even when we’re fighting a war, and when we weren’t the aggressors.

                When you have no option, you have no problem. If the Afghans won’t civilize themselves, then the spot of dirt and poppy fields will just have to continue being a breeding ground for evil. We have neither the time, money, will or solution for it, geopolitics or not.

                • “We have neither the time, money, will or solution for it, geopolitics or not.”

                  The only thing you are correct about in this assessment is “the will”. The half of the nation that still believes in our nation had the will.

                  • Well Michael, we certainly don’t have the money. We didn’t have the money when we started in 2001! Three trillion dollars, and all of it borrowed. And we don’t have the time because the time it would take, assuming it could ever be accomplished, is longer than any practical democracy will tolerate.

                    As for “half,” I am absolutely certain that if you laid out the costs in lives and money and told the US public it would take more than 20 years to turn that country into a non-Hellhole, less than 10% of the public would say, “Sure! What a great idea!”

          • I mean, given that no one in this country has been properly informed on Afghanistan since about 2014, it’s understandable that this is the attitude. Afghanistan was always going to take time. And from what I’ve read, fledgling institutions were, indeed, slowly getting established. Anyone expected a magic utopia over night is intentionally establishing obtuse standards so they can say “see, it’s impossible!”

    • The unethical choice (by Trump and continued by Biden) to drawdown in Afghanistan and the unethically incompetent manner in which that unethical decision was carried out (by Biden) is becoming more apparent by the minute.

  9. See also https://docs.google.com/document/u/0/d/19kdWaUP47-rCDcApQasyATGarkTgjW0qipfl1nJVxwI/mobilebasic

    Read it entirely.
    Upon exiting the Mullah’s compound, I was confronted with an irate neighbor—a man in middle-age, clean and apparently relatively wealthy in appearance… He expressed his horror that I, a woman, was present with the patrol. He would not make eye contact with me or shake my hand, but instead only referred to me with angry gestures. I maintained a respectful distance while he sat nearby to engage the men of the patrol.

    When formally addressing the men, his demeanor changed. He shook hands with each, with every display of gentleness and respect. The traditional first handshake between Pashtun men grips only the first joints of the fingers, and he used this with each, along with much bowing. It was explained to him that I was present in order that men would not enter a compound where women might be seen, and he was significantly appeased…

    After this conversation, as the group said their goodbyes and began to move away, the neighbor approached me and extended his hand. I took this to be an invitation to a handshake, offered now that he understood that I was there out of respect for the traditions of his culture rather than in an attempt to disrupt them. When I offered my hand, he took it in a crushing grip and with unexpected strength bent my wrist back into a painful joint lock.

    I ultimately wrenched myself from his grip, and as I sought to rejoin my patrol, I was mobbed by the village boys, who I had previously showered with gifts of candy and school necessities, led by the neighbor’s oldest son. This boy appeared to be approximately 11 years old. Grabbing my arm, he attempted to practice the same maneuver his father had demonstrated, to the delight and cheers of the younger boys.

    The noise of the children caught the attention of our American interpreter, who returned and scolded them for their behavior. He attempted to shame them by asking “is this the way you would behave at home?” The oldest boy proudly answered that it was, indicating that his mother and sisters were treated with the same violence and disdain. While the encounter with the father hurt my wrist, the encounter with his sons broke my heart.

  10. “My approach after 9/11—and I think that of several past Presidents, including Eisenhower and Truman—would have been to strike hard, make sure as many military and government officials as possible were among the dead, accept the civilian casualties as unavoidable, and make sure that a properly frightening death toll—ten times what we lost on 9/11, perhaps, 30,000?—made the necessary point: “Don’t mess with the United States of America.” Once that message was delivered, get out.”

    But neither Truman NOR Eisenhower fought in or led the nation in wars in which we did any of that *AND* got out ‘once the message was delivered’. To wit – we still have military establishments dotting Europe and Japan as a reminder of our willingness to stay, pacify, and rebuild. Unless you count WW1, and I think it’s pretty apparent what the results of not completely winning followed by getting out leads to.

    We crushed a rebellion in the Philippines using heavy handed tactics over a period of 15 years. Then we stayed for another 33 years turning it into a viable Republic by 1946. One that has done quite well until the most recent decade when some stressors have begun cracking it’s society.

    We’re still in South Korea after 60 years. Even when “Combat Operations” ended in 53, the occupying forces sustained occasional insurgent attacks for a few years after.

    No, we stopped having the backbone to see things through properly (that is winning a war outright) and stopped having the backbone to finish things properly (seeing a nation through until enough institutions are solidly in place to leave). We stopped having that backbone because we stopped teaching our children to love this country. Instead we now have several generations worth of Americans who wholeheartedly doubt and despise the fundamental values and goodness of our country.

    So demoralized, why on earth would we expect to do things with the kind of vigor and stick-it-out-ness necessary?

      • But in fairness, even I’m pressed to be sure that these are American cultural traits. Our entire history is one of novelty. Did we stay in Europe and Japan and the Philippines and Korea because of inherent American doggedness? Or did we stay because pro-government types have held such sway over the nation that we were “coordinated” to do so? The same pro-government mindset that we mostly decry today.

        It’s hard to see a dividing line in there where I can have my cake and eat it too. It may very well be an “American” attitude to hit hard and cut loose once initial objectives are complete.

        But I’m still leaning toward the attitudes of my initial post. I’ll have my small-government-leave-America-alone cake and eat the need-to-stick-with-countries-we-ransacked cake as well.

  11. The bleats already emerging from the chattering class are drawing all the wrong, and perhaps deliberately wrong, lessons from this, talking about “the graveyard of empires” and how this whole war was a bad idea from the beginning, in the hopes of scraping some more fault off the Biden administration and putting it on the GOP, where, in their view, it belongs, since no Democrat can ever do anything wrong and no Republican can ever do anything right.

    Frankly, Afghanistan, a mountainous, rocky, harsh country in the middle of Central Asia, really wouldn’t have much to offer anyone, but for the fact that it happens to occupy a strategically important location between what was the Russian Empire and what was the British Raj. It has swallowed up more than a few expeditions by imperial powers. For a time it came under the rule of the Median kingdom waaaay back in the 11th century B.C., but little is known about that. Alexander the Great invaded in 330 B.C. and a lot of folks seem to be under the impression that he just gave up, because it was tough going, and his men refused to go on to the ends of the earth. Nothing could be farther than the truth. In fact he did conquer much of the country, and his armies stayed long after his early death and the partition of the empire. In fact, the generals there decided they didn’t want to be ruled by the Seleucids in Babylon, the same guys who tried to snuff out Judaism in the last century before the birth of Christ, and created the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, which stood, mostly cut off from Europe, until 10 A.D., when the Kushans came.

    A few centuries later came the Persians, newly converted to Islam, and the place was absorbed into the huge, but nor forgotten, Empire of Khwarezm. It’s forgotten because its last ruler, Shah Jahan, decided he was untouchable, and mistreated ambassadors sent by a certain ruler far to the east who was born Temujin, but who we all know as Genghis Khan, and the rest is history. After him came another emperor you might have heard of named Tamerlane, and after that the place was under the rule of the various sultans in Delhi. After that, as we start to move into the 1800s, the place became the strategically important square on the chessboard between the British and Russian empires that we usually think of when we think of Gunga Din, et al. Three times the British invaded. The first time they failed miserably, and almost no one from the expedition returned, which is where the legend of the country as a swallower of empires comes from. The second time the British, led by the redoubtable Frederick Sleigh Roberts (one of the four great Victorian era captains) won pretty decisively and destroyed the central citadel and bazaar. It would remain a semi-independent buffer between the two great empires until after World War I, when the Soviets would intervene three times, the last time in 1979, in a foolhardy attempt to turn the place into another semi-independent “republic.” The rest is history there again, but it does bear noting that it had now passed to being a square on the board between a different two empires. It also bears noting that this is where bin Laden, who’d been kicked out of Saudi Arabia as a disruptive influence, got his start as a guerilla. It should be noted that he was based here when he made his first move internationally against American embassies in 1998 in Kenya and Tanzania. No one cared much, especially not Bill Clinton, who launched a few missiles and declared victory. Throughout all of this there were always clans and tribes who did not recognize the empires, and sniped and raided, but they never could dislodge these empires, until, as almost always happens in history, they ended.

    Frankly, after the Soviets left and the Taliban took over, I don’t think the rest of world really gave much of a damn about the place, which had become essentially a failed state by then. A slowly modernizing nation where the capital had gardens and a zoo, where girls went to school and even hoped to become doctors, and a road system was being built, pretty much from that time reverted to a collapsing nation ruled by thuggish pathological liars who pretended to be pious religious scholars. In reality they were drug-dealing tyrants who would use any excuse to beat or kill anyone who didn’t obey slavishly. You could be executed under their regime for owning a TV or not wearing your beard long enough. Still no one cared, although there was some feeble protesting about the destruction of culturally significant art. The only thing that got the West’s attention, finally, was 9/11. No one gave a damn about the Taliban’s poor treatment of their own people, or their treatment of women, or even about the occasional embassy being hit, but that was too much.

    The rest is history. It took the US not even six months to scatter the Taliban, who were not up to a pitched battle with the world’s most powerful army and air force. However, we failed to get bin Laden early. It would take a decade to finally nail him, in Pakistan, where the government there was perfectly ok letting him hide out. It should be noted that then-Vice President Joe Biden was against Operation Neptune’s Spear, which finally killed that evil terror master. What the US also didn’t do was wipe out the Taliban leaders. Most of them escaped into Pakistan, which welcomed them. In fact Obama traded five of them for deserter Bergdahl, which made no sense. What Obama didn’t do, though, was withdraw prematurely. He’d seen what happened in Iraq when he did, and wasn’t going to risk it here also. He himself didn’t trust Biden to handle this, and once said not to underestimate his ability to screw things up. Trump was not entirely wrong to decide two decades were enough, and that it was time to draw things down and leave Afghanistan to the Afghans. However, that was always, I hope, assuming that the Afghan security forces were, like the Iraqi security forces, trained, equipped, and ready to handle security at all levels. It was also, I hope, assuming that we were not going to let the country fall. It was also, I hope, predicated on the idea that there would be an agreement with the Taliban that would be honored. We’ve kept forces in Germany, in South Korea, in Japan, and in a bunch of other places a lot longer than 20 years to make sure things didn’t go wrong. We withdrew from the Philippines partly because of a natural disaster, partly because the government there didn’t want us there any more. How did that work out? Not so great. The place is falling apart. We withdrew from Vietnam because a lot of our own people made a lot of noise about ending it. How did that work out? Ask Mr. Nguyen in his corner store, or Ms. Trinh, “Trini” to her friends, who runs the nail place.

    Afghanistan is no ungovernable destroyer of empires. What it is is a strategic square on the world chessboard that is so used to being controlled by empires I think it has forgotten how to control itself, and really hasn’t had the time or chance to develop a stable and ethical local modern leadership or a sense of national identity. This is really no different than what we saw in the Middle East when the Ottoman Empire collapsed after WWI and the great powers withdrew after WWII. Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt, none of these places were really ready for self-government, and what did we get? At best we got strongmen like Nasser and his dream of Pan-Arabism, at worst we got psychopaths like Saddam Hussein (who but a psychopath uses acid baths and rape rooms?).

    Oh yes, one more uncomfortable parallel to Vietnam. As I recall, although not from my own memory (it would be a few more years before I was born), LBJ had assured the American people that we were holding the line and even winning. Then came the Tet offensive, which we actually won, ultimately, and even Walter Cronkite was left saying “what the hell is going on?” That’s where the end began for LBJ, who chose not to run for a second full term, and where the end began for the US effort in Vietnam, as America turned on itself. America had already turned on itself last year, as you know, and not even two weeks ago Biden was telling us that the very thing we see happening today would not happen, and that the Afghans were ready to keep the Taliban at bay. When LBJ told us we were winning even though we were not in such great control, the war would drag on for seven more years before South Vietnam would fall. When Richard Nixon tried to get “peace with honor” there were still two years to go. They may have been painting a rosy picture, even a distorted one, but what LBJ and Nixon said had some basis in fact.

    This fall didn’t come in years. It didn’t come in months. It didn’t come in weeks. It came in DAYS. Either American intelligence screwed the pooch, they were out and out lying, the military did one or the other, or Biden’s flunkies were out and out lying to the American public. It couldn’t be the first, could it? All those career intelligence people who were so much smarter than Trump and who he supposedly wouldn’t listen to couldn’t have screwed up THAT badly, right? There’s no way it could be the second, right? All those lifers who were sick of Trump, happy to see him go, and might have stopped just short of sabotaging him wouldn’t pass bad information or false information to a DEMOCRATIC president, would they? The military? The most intelligent, competent military in the world, run by the best and most ethical officers the most intelligent, competent military in the world could produce, so ethical and so loyal to the Constitution above all they stood up to Trump? They wouldn’t lie to THIS president or try to sell him a bill of goods on what they had done or could do, would they? That leaves the last, and that’s not possible, right? Biden picked the most competent and honest people for the job. We know because 1. he told us so himself, and 2. most or all of them served under His Hipness and Coolness, Obama. They wouldn’t try to sell the American public a bill of goods, right? They COULDN’T do that, it’s just not in their nature, right? Somehow this all has to trace back to Trump, right? He was the one who decided to leave Afghanistan, right? Somehow this all has to trace back to GWB, right? He got us INTO this mess to begin with, right? Maybe this traces back to Reagan, for supporting the Afghan resistance?

    WRONG. If you’re going to trace this as far back as 2 decades, you might as well trace it back to Bill Clinton, who could have actually tried to strangle the al Qaeda serpent in the cradle, BEFORE bin Laden realized he could hit embassies and the US would do essentially nothing, but instead was worried about income redistribution and chasing interns. You might also look to Jimmy Carter, who did nothing about the Soviets going into Afghanistan in the first place but crush the dreams of American athletes. Let’s not also forget Obama, who had plenty of chances to walk away from this on our own terms, especially once bin Laden was dead. This is the same intelligence community that didn’t see 9/11 coming, and the same military that botched as many operations as it executed without flaw, including letting bin Laden escape at Tora Bora and losing 19 of our most elite in Operation Red Wings. OK, it’s not the same people, but its their successors and the same culture. Who also knows how many of those intel people were in on the attempt to stab Trump in the back with a phony dossier?

    The fact of the matter is this is the greatest example of the failure of American intelligence and both political and military leadership since 9/11. Even then, we had been a decade in peacetime and two terms devoted to domestic politics, so it was SOMEWHAT more understandable that we got caught napping. There is no excuse for not understanding this situation or what we needed to do now. The only reason for this is incompetence coupled with, frankly, selfishness on the part of our leadership, thanks to stupidity and emotional action on the part of the American people. Biden was not up to the task of being president now, if he ever was. Anyone who has followed his performance during his nearly five decades in Washington knows that. His old boss knew it. Harris was not up to the job of being an active Vice-President who would do more than attend funerals. The intelligence leadership has been working for decades with one eye on their pensions, and the last four years with their other eye on tripping up the president, leaving no eyes looking where they should be. The military brass are still mostly those who came in under Obama, and most of them are thinking of fully-funded retirement, corporate board seats, professorships, and the speaking circuit, not tactics, battles, or operational or national security.

    I said we’d institutionalized incompetence. Any questions now?

      • The problem with a cesspool like Afghanistan is that there aren’t any real numbers to work with. There is no national death registry. A not-insignificant portion of their population is more likely to sacrifice a goat than go to in patient, so you have to read between the lines;

        “And the United Nations says that nearly half of all people being tested in recent weeks — 42% — are positive for the coronavirus, suggesting it is widespread.”

        […]

        “”If I scroll on my [Facebook] news feed, [it] would be at least like more than 30[%], 40% funeral announcements or announcements about deaths of Facebook friends, relatives,” Salarzai says.

        “All those funeral announcements are due to COVID-19. People keep sharing the pictures and announcement of their relatives, their loved ones, their family members. So that has actually created a lot of panic.””

        […]

        “”One lady, she was nine months’ pregnant and COVID positive,” Akbari recalls. “She had preeclampsia and high blood pressure, and I personally wanted to help with the management of this patient.

        “But our hospital at the time did not even have a scalpel for a C-section. This COVID hospital is not multidisciplinary. I requested other hospitals take her, but everybody was afraid because she had COVID.” So they wouldn’t admit her nor would they come to the COVID-19 facility to manage her condition.

        “She died, and her baby died. We were all crying. She was only 24 years old and recently married.””

        […]

        “”It’s not just ventilators,” Akbari says. “We have only 25 CPAP devices — that’s a device that helps the patient take oxygen regularly. Today in the hospital we have 78 critical patients. All of them need CPAP.””

  12. Talking points. Read ’em and weep.

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