The Times Afghanistan Editorial

new yorktimes

The New York Times’ editorial on the debacle in Afghanistan is many things. Mostly, it is schizophrenic. The paper’s unshakable bias and determination to serve as the Democratic Party’s Pravda constantly leads the editors into self-contradiction and hypocrisy. They know they have to be critical, but they feel they have to be supportive at the same time. This is a case study in how bias not only makes one stupid, but how it also makes integrity impossible. Here is the whole thing; I’ll break in when appropriate:

The rapid reconquest of the capital, Kabul, by the Taliban after two decades of a staggeringly expensive, bloody effort to establish a secular government with functioning security forces in Afghanistan is, above all, unutterably tragic. Tragic because the American dream of being the “indispensable nation” in shaping a world where the values of civil rights, women’s empowerment and religious tolerance rule proved to be just that: a dream.

This is more anti-American nonsense. The United States has successfully advanced all of those values and more by simply existing and thriving. It undermines those values, and our unique founding principles, when it appears weak, incompetent, and feckless.

This longest of American wars was code-named first Operation Enduring Freedom and then Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. Yet after more than $2 trillion and at least 2,448 American service members’ lives lost in Afghanistan, it is difficult to see what of lasting significance has been achieved.

The Times gets this right.

It is all the more tragic because of the certainty that many of the Afghans who worked with the American forces and bought into the dream — and especially the girls and women who had embraced a measure of equality — have been left to the mercy of a ruthless enemy.

There is the manipulative and misleading use of the passive voice to avoid pointing the finger where it belongs. WHO left them to the mercy of a ruthless enemy? We need to find that villain!

The Biden administration was right to bring the war to a close. Yet there was no need for it to end in such chaos, with so little forethought for all those who sacrificed so much in the hopes of a better Afghanistan.”

Again, the rhetorical trick of avoiding direct assignment of blame.

“Numberless Afghans who had worked for years alongside American troops, civil society groups, aid organizations and journalists, including the many who had worked with The New York Times, abruptly found themselves in mortal danger on Sunday as the Taliban swept into Kabul as leaders of the Afghan government, including President Ashraf Ghani, headed for the airport.”

One would think the Times would be more direct here, especially considering this desperate plea.

It was tragic, too, because with the bitter political divide of today’s America, efforts to draw critical lessons from this calamitous setback have already been enmeshed in angry recriminations over who lost Afghanistan, ugly schadenfreude and lies. Within hours of the fall of Kabul, the knives were already out.

This is rank hypocrisy. The Times is prime among the culprits who made the entire Trump Administration a battleground where the news media engaged in recriminations schadenfreude and lies regardless of what that President did or said. It has fertilized the political divide, profited off it, and deliberately magnified it. The Times is ethically estopped from calling its results “tragic.”

While the speed of the collapse of the Afghan government was shocking, the result should not have come as a surprise. This calamity cannot be laid alone at President Biden’s feet, but it is incumbent on the current administration to make right what has gone wrong with the withdrawal plans. The U.S. military is, if nothing else, a logistical superpower, and it should move heaven and earth and anything in between to rescue those people who have risked everything for a better future. Mr. Biden on Monday said that evacuation efforts will continue, a welcome development. Red tape shouldn’t stand between allies and salvation.

Shocking, but not a surprise! And of course the calamity has to laid at the President’s feet. If this had happened under trump, is there any question whether the Times would seek to diffuse blame?

The war in Afghanistan began in response by the United States and its NATO allies to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as an operation to deny Al Qaeda sanctuary in a country run by the Taliban. How it evolved into a two-decade nation-building project in which as many as 140,000 troops under American command were deployed at one time is a story of mission creep and hubris but also of the enduring American faith in the values of freedom and democracy.

…which led directly to hubris and mission creep. See Rationalizations #13 and 13A.

“The Afghanistan papers published in The Washington Post — including a confidential project to identify “Lessons Learned” conducted by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, an agency created by Congress — painted a devastating picture of corruption, incompetence, lack of motivation and other flaws among the Afghan forces that the United States and its allies were trying to mold into a serious military. One Navy official said Afghans viewed their police as “the most hated institution” in Afghanistan. Other officials described systematic looting by soldiers and officers, as well as Afghan casualties so huge — 60,000 killed since 2001, by one estimate — that the government kept them a secret. The corruption was so rampant that many Afghans began to question whether their government or the Taliban were the greater evil.”

See the Times shifting the narrative away from the issue? The matter at hand is the incompetent manner in which the withdrawal has been handled, not whether it was time to exit Afghanistan.

The Pentagon and the U.S. Congress deserve a share of the blame for the debacle, and certainly for the rosy progress reports that so often emerged. But what the United States or its allies could or should have done differently — and whether that hoary cliché about Afghanistan as the graveyard of empires has been validated once again — is a debate that should consume politicians, pundits and historians for years to come. The responsibility lies with both parties. President George W. Bush launched the war, only to shift focus to Iraq before any stability had been achieved. President Barack Obama was seeking to withdraw American troops but surged their levels instead. President Donald Trump signed a peace deal with the Taliban in 2020 for a complete withdrawal by last May.

More distraction, deflection and diffusion. The Pentagon opposed Biden’s actions. Congress wasn’t involved. Anything but focusing on the President…

When Mr. Biden came to office, some Defense Department and other officials urged him to keep a small counterterrorism force in Afghanistan for several more years. But Mr. Biden, old enough to remember Vietnam and a veteran of foreign relations from his years in the Senate, became convinced that a few thousand troops remaining for a few more years in Afghanistan would not prevent an eventual Taliban victory. On April 6 he told his staff that he wanted all the troops out by Sept. 11. “I was the fourth president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan — two Republicans, two Democrats,” he said later. “I would not, and will not, pass this war on to a fifth.” It was a decision that took courage and wisdom.

Ah, there he is! And the Times praises him! Oddly, there was no praise coming from the Times President’s Trump’s way when he announced that the U.S. would be leaving. Trump certainly didn’t intend to “pass the war on” to Biden. How is it “courageous and wise” to resolve to do what the previous President had already announced? Surely not because Trump was attacked for it. If anyone knows how the media double standards work, it’s Joe Biden.

“The president knew full well what his critics would make of it — what they are already making of it. There will always be the what-if, that if only American troops had stayed longer, the outcome would have been different. Mr. Biden himself has been somewhat disingenuous in blaming Mr. Trump for his deal with the Taliban, which the president said “left the Taliban in the strongest position militarily since 2001.”

Somewhat disingenuous!

It has long been clear that an American withdrawal, however or whenever conducted, would leave the Taliban poised to seize control of Afghanistan once again. The war needed to end. But the Biden administration could and should have taken more care to protect those who risked everything in pursuit of a different future, however illusory those dreams proved to be.

…but considering how courageous his decision was and how everyone else screwed up, we shouldn’t be too hard on him.

15 thoughts on “The Times Afghanistan Editorial

  1. . The U.S. military is, if nothing else, a logistical superpower, and it should move heaven and earth and anything in between to rescue those people who have risked everything for a better future.

    I have a question for the Times: Why?

    When you throw in with another country to try to make your home a better place and that effort fails, why do you get a free pass to immigrate to that country?

    I don’t get that. It’s as if we just can’t allow people to suffer the consequences of their actions. If they had so little skin in the game that they are begging to abandon their country after a criminal gang takes it over, that says a lot about them — and none of it good.

    Look, I’m sorry for what they have to put up with and I’m sorry that their trust in us was misplaced. But that’s life. Sometimes, the very best of plans with the very best of intentions don’t work out. As a reward for their own failure as much as ours, they get to come to the USA and live off our taxpayers?

    This is more, “you broke it you buy it” stuff, I deem. I’m not a fan.

    • On a practical level you bring them here because eventually people in countries we mess with are going to notice that people who help us keep getting left behind to be tortured and shot. When our military needs information or translators, this isn’t the reputation we want.

      On a more emotional level… I want immigrants to the US who stood next to our military working for freedom, knowing that it could mean their torture or death, about a million times more than I want people who couldn’t find jobs in Mexico. I feel like if those people want to be Americans, we should want them to be Americans.

      • That’s going to happen anyway. Whether they actually helped or just didn’t oppose the US, they are going to be tortured and shot. We can’t bring the whole country here, and we can’t be responsible for the failure of the Afghans to take advantage of the opportunity our presence provided.

        If we don’t let ourselves get into the nation-building business to begin with, there’s less chance of that happening. Go in, break what needs breaking, kill those who need killing, and leave. Having the reputation of being there for everyone who can’t be bothered to do the hard work of winning from the inside, by convincing people and opposing the oppressors, is exactly how we got into this mess. At what point do we say enough? When we replace our population with displaced, uneducated, unskilled people?

        Doesn’t sound like a good idea to me.

        • I’m not talking about bringing everyone in danger here, I’m talking about our responsibility to those who actively assisted American troops. Even if we limit our military interventions (which I am so 100% for) we will still want a reputation for protecting our assets as best we can. Going in, breaking stuff, and getting out still requires assistance from people who speak the language, know what to break and where it is, and noticed the opposing military happens to be around that next corner. We want those people to think that helping the US will be a win-win situation, rather than “thanks for the help, good luck with the torture.”

          And, like I said, in terms of displaced, uneducated, unskilled people, I’d put my money on the ones who risked their lives to help us when we needed it to be the ones ready to bring something to America. Not all immigrants are worth inviting here, but we’re the country we are because some immigrants from all over the world — even some unskilled, uneducated ones — have what it takes to be American. I think the ones willing to risk their lives for us are likely to be among those.

          • I’m not opposed to giving those who risked their lives on our behalf shelter if they want it. But I am opposed to giving everyone who might be in danger from the Taliban in Afghanistan shelter, and that’s what I’m seeing — multiple tens of thousands, perhaps even more. I can’t get behind that.

            The problem with all these foreign adventures — and I supported this one, so in that sense I own it — is that we seem to be acting out the definition of insanity. I have come to the conclusion that we are doing it wrong. We don’t think through the types of countries we try to remake in our image. Afghanistan’s culture is diametrically opposed to Western values. We can call them uncivilized if we want, but I believe it’s just how people evolve in more hostile, landlocked regions, and their belief system is much less inclusive than ours.

            A closing question — where do we draw the line? How much assistance was enough to get you a visa?

            • Totally fair question!

              In an ideal world, I’d like to see this sort of thing offered and approved in advance at the time of service, a conditional visa that would be activated only if we withdrawal under threat of an enemy regime. Then it could be offered based on the balance of various criteria: the amount of risk the individual took, the length and dedication of service, how publicly it was known they were collaborating with us, etc.

              Obviously that didn’t happen this time, so I would take a recommendation from someone in the US military who held a command position in the area, and possibly on a case by case basis if an enlisted soldier wanted to make a case for an individual (in case there were people who were especially helpful in the field in a way overlooked by command.)

              Some logical standard for people who helped the State Department is trickier, and they have a more direct line of authority to the people doing the decision making on this, so they’re likely to be first in line anyway. But I think some limited number of visas per official would make sense.

              And I generally assume the CIA can and will do whatever it wants, no matter what we say, so no point in pretending there.

              • I guess we’re pretty close to being on the same page, then.

                My biggest issue is this: We come in to attack the people who did us harm, either directly or by aiding and abetting. We ask the Afghans if they want self-government, they claim they do. We spend decades over there sacrificing our young blood and treasure supporting and training their fledgling government and defense forces against an enemy that they are a) far better equipped than, and b) ostensibly larger and stronger than. The enemy are a guerrilla group, which makes removing them hard, but a reasonable level of security should be attainable.

                Finally, we leave (granted, in an incredibly stupid and dangerous way), their “government” and armed forces surrender almost without a fight, and they want to come along with us rather than facing the reality of what happens when you fight the power. They don’t want to stay and fight and offer up their lives if necessary for the democracy they claimed they wanted, or the country they claim to love. They want to run and hide to the safety of the USA, and oh by the way, they’ll be allowed to avail themselves of the social safety net supposedly created for US citizens.

                Fundamentally, there is something wrong with this picture. Worse, reports say Biden won’t even assure American citizens in Afghanistan that they’ll be protected and gotten out, yet I see demands to save the poor Afghan collaborators.

                Am I the only one who has a problem with all this?

                • Not at all. And frankly, my concern is that I’ve read a number of reports that suggest that much of the Afghan government was corrupt, and a lot of the help we offered was lost in embezzlement. I’ve also heard that it was the government who gave the order for the Afghan troops to stand down, suggesting that the order might have had more to do with the money train running out than any concern for their people or military. I’m afraid that these same people who never had any concern for their country or freedom are going to be the ones with connections that allow them to get out first, or be the people whining the loudest about being left behind. That’s a major reason I’m inclined to give priority to military recommendations and limit what the State Department can offer: the people working with the military are more likely to have taken greater risks with less chance of reward and much less power over the decision making regarding overall strategy.

                  As to logistics, obviously we have royally messed that up already. I agree American citizens should take priority, and our allies should be next. I think it’s only worth bringing them up now to emphasize how very, very badly we screwed this up: we should have been sorting this out months ago. We knew it was coming, we’ve already been through this in Vietnam and Iraq, and now not only do we have American citizens to get out, we once again have no idea who among our Afghan allies/collaborators/at risk people we even should be bringing here, let alone how we should get them here. And as a result, we’re going to miss deserving people who went above and beyond for us in the mess and see totally avoidable tragedies play out. And when we do we need to remember that some of those are on us, not for our failure in defending the country but for our incompetence in making an exit.

    • If you are so callous as to not see the obvious utility and ethical necessity of protecting those who volunteered to serve our military in hostile territory, then perhaps you should reevaluate your values.

      • I don’t object to that at all. What I object to is bringing every Afghan who did not oppose American intervention over to America to prevent them from suffering at the hands of the victors. That’s what I’ve seen being discussed. We are talking multiple tens of thousands of people, or more.

        Where do we draw the line? At the entire civilian population?

  2. But Mr. Biden, old enough to remember Vietnam and a veteran of foreign relations from his years in the Senate, became convinced that a few thousand troops remaining for a few more years in Afghanistan would not prevent an eventual Taliban victory.

    I’m old enough to remember Vietnam as well. It wasn’t just our troop withdrawal that led to the fall of South Vietnam, it was our withholding of the munitions and logistical support that we had promised. The South Vietnamese had been trained with the American way of fighting, but that generally entails massive amounts of indirect fire support — artillery and air strikes. In turn, those require large, ongoing stocks of ammunition plus ongoing support (repairs and replacements) for the weapons systems — artillery, planes, helicopters, etc. Those machine break down and wear out and need constant attention (which is one reason we have such a large support tail for our combat arms).

    I believe we trained the Afghans the same way and, with a relative handful of support troops and contractors, they would likely have been able to continue this kind of fighting. That’s why a few thousand troops (plus more thousands of NATO troops that pulled out when we did) could well have made a huge difference in the outcome.

    Take away the weapons you use to fight with and it is less surprising that your troops don’t put up much of a fight.

    Comparing Afghanistan to Vietnam breaks down further when you compare the forces involved. South Vietnam did not fall to a guerrilla force. What finally happened is that North Vietnam sent its regular Army — which was a pretty potent force — on a conventional invasion of South Vietnam, using tanks, air power, artillery, and all the trimmings. The Taliban versus the North Vietnamese Army is a totally different ballpark — more like a kid with a BB gun up against a man with a Bradley AFV.

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