The fall of Afghanistan

As Americans, we too often punish political courage and reward incompetence.

The great weakness of the United States since World War II is being drawn into conflicts that are not in the U.S. geopolitical interest and that diffuse U.S. power for an extended period of time.” (George Friedman, “Facing Reality: The New American Strategy”: Geopolitical Futures).

I was traveling in Montana on Monday, Aug. 16, and missed the news of the fall of Kabul and Afghanistan. When I found out about it on Tuesday, I was shocked by the speed of the collapse, though not at the final outcome.

Afghanistan will cost us $6.5 trillion by 2050 when adding the cost of care for wounded soldiers and interest on the loans used to finance the war (Ellen Knickmeyer, “Costs of the Afghanistan War, in Lives and Dollars”: 8/17/21 Huff Post).

President Joe Biden is being blamed for Afghanistan’s collapse, which is like blaming a recipient of a 20-year-old used car for it breaking down. Afghanistan fell because of bad decisions beginning with George W. Bush. After routing the Taliban, Bush tried to nation-build. We should have pulled out before that point. Instead, Bush diverted and diffused attention against Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda by invading Iraq, trying to nation-build there, too. Bin Laden was thus able to escape capture. We were then caught in two unwinnable wars.

According to Beau of the Fifth Column, President Barack Obama also shares the blame. He was actually the smartest of the four presidents during the war, but he didn’t pull out lest he be accused of being weak. His use of drones only inspired Muslim youth to join extremist groups to fight against us – “The Great Satan.” Drone warfare has now morphed into one more instrument of destruction that will and has come back to bite us.

According to Beau, Donald Trump had the right idea about getting out, but because he only saw the war as a real estate transaction, he made too many concessions to the Taliban, legitimizing their existence and discouraging the Afghan democracy.

The generals who ran the war presented an inaccurate picture to Biden of what was going on; underestimating and understating the weaknesses of the Afghan government and army in the face of how determined the Taliban was. We wanted to get out. The Taliban wanted to win.

Biden made his decision to pull out largely on the basis of the “rosy” picture painted by the generals.

The fall of Afghanistan mirrors our failure in Vietnam. We fought a war there against a determined foe, without understanding the geography or culture or our enemy. They understood our culture better than we understood theirs.

George Friedman makes this assessment: “We won World War II because we overwhelmed the Germans and Japanese. World War II was an existential war where our existence was threatened. Therefore we fought harder and with great focus.”

Neither Vietnam nor Afghanistan was strategically necessary to us. They presented diversions that drained our resources and killed millions of human beings, all in losing causes.

Friedman notes: “The two wars lasted as long as they did because the presidents involved (it is always the president) found it easier to continue them than to end them. Losing a war is hard. Deciding that you lost a war still under way and stopping it is harder. And that is the price you pay for non-strategic wars.”

Biden made a good call in a bad, no-win situation. Typically for American culture, he is being criticized for it. He doesn’t want to burden a fifth president and the nation after him with an unending war.

According to Beau, the final blame lies with the American citizens. We should have risen up to protest sooner than 20 years. We should have held George W. Bush’s feet to the fire when he allowed mission creep through nation-building in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Instead, we waited until we had expended our blood and treasure in losing wars that had no strategic value.

We live in a democracy under a Constitution that states “We the People” in the preamble. We have blamed our presidents for our failures in wars since World War II but the final blame lies with us. We punish political courage and reward incompetence. It’s time for Americans to grow up and face reality.