Government Watch / National Security / Politics

Rout – Hindsight on Afghanistan

afghanistan

As they say, hindsight is always 20-20. Afghanistan is in freefall, American troops in a dash for the door, Kabul near falling, fear in full control. Other outcomes were possible but fumbled by politicians. What will Kabul’s fall now mean? What lessons does this rout teach us?

First, what is happening now in Afghanistan – after the Biden Administration gave up on seeking a negotiated peace – was predictable. Gradual withdrawal, conditioned on enforceable peace, was always the goal. Biden lost the con.

Force remains decisive in post-war environments until a nation’s popular will gains the upper hand, directing civil and military power, bringing to life “rule of law.” While we almost got there in Afghanistan, it never happened.

Why? The easy answer is that Afghanistan is different, not easily governed, thousand-year history of tribal warfare, a culture of violence, indifference to life, endemic corruption, awash in heroin. These are true, but not the real answer.

The real answer is a shared failure, shared between Republicans and Democrats, Afghans and allies, American military and civilian leaders over 20 years.

After 9-11, the US moved against al Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan. In October 2001, military operations commenced. Taliban was gone in two months; the international coalition installed Hamid Karzai as leader.

After much work – including training security forces – Karzai was elected in 2004, stayed through 2014. Throughout, the Taliban pushed an insurgency, whittling down resolve and expectations of stability.

As an Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, we initiated Afghan police training in seven provinces. Meeting Karzai in Kabul was notable, chiefly for atmospherics. His presidential palace was filled with bullet holes.

Clearly, Afghanistan was different.

During two terms of Bush-Cheney and two of Obama-Biden, countless opportunities to secure peace existed. Days turned to months, months to years, years to decades. Time was lost.

Second, the Bush national security team, especially a senior cadre of interventionists, none with combat experience, few legal experience – thought 2003 an opportune moment to convert public 9-11 outrage to combat in Iraq.

Sober minds counseled against it, but ire was high. Clearly, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was a house of horrors. Once begun, the mission – equally fraught with tribal challenges – had to be completed.

Opportunity costs – regrettable consequences – flowed from committing young Americans to two wars. Separate wars became a “Global War on Terror.”

Missed by Bush’s national security team – and bipartisan Hill enthusiasts – were big issues. Iraq was not East Germany, Poland, or Soviet Union. This was not going to be easy, just topple some statues, declare peace, instant democracy.

Iraq, like Afghanistan, was tribally divided, emotionally damaged, vast human hurt. To imagine we could be in and out, replay of Eastern Europe, was folly.

Worse, diverting major combat resources – manpower, equipment, moral authority, international prestige – to Iraq from Afghanistan meant, with limited bandwidth, weakening our ability to bring Afghanistan to a swift close.

Combat and stability operations in Afghanistan were – another predictable opportunity cost – weakened, taper to peace lengthened, another error.

Third, when Obama-Biden took control in 2009, bad became far worse, again with limited expertise in the White House, no military experience at the top, bobbled diplomacy, little understanding of cut-and-run consequences.

By the time Obama-Biden left office in 2017, Iraq and Syria were largely owned by terrorist ISIS, Iran a major force. Fear held the upper hand. See, e.g., The Mess Obama Left Behind in Iraq.

Meantime, no peace deal in sight, Obama authorized a mass troop drawdown in 2014.

Any chance for peace was punted. That pullback betrayed indifference to securing a conditional peace, no gradual withdrawal, just eagerness to leave.

Genies, once out, are hard to put back in the bottle. When Trump appeared, he was an avowed non-interventionist. Still, he proved straight talk can get peace.

Fresh dialogue with China, Russia, North Korea, Europe, and Mexico turned pages. He inked peace deals between Israel and UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco, made steps toward Oman, Saudi, Egypt. He changed the paradigm.

What he was unable to secure – was peace in Afghanistan. Would a second term have done it?

No knowing, as Trump threatened withdrawal to push the Taliban and Afghan government toward each other, but time ran out.

What we know is if you wish to stop a train, gradual beats train wreck every time.

Put differently, while peace was elusive for Trump – as for Bush and Obama – it is impossible with cut-and-run.

Biden chose the train wreck, cut-and-run. So, what comes next? Unfortunately, a lot of regional – likely fresh global – chaos and heartache.

Biden’s tail-between-legs scamper means Taliban win big. They will bring back al Qaeda, execute those loyal to us, use our equipment against us, seek legitimacy from China, Russia, and Iran. Biden’s move mocks peace promises.

Worse, images of the US fleeing Kabul – like a jackal in the night – will hearten China, Russia, Iran, and others. The notion that we cannot even conduct an orderly withdrawal, but abandon the battlefield in fright, invites future conflict.

Finally, the idea that we would do all this before the 20th anniversary of 9-11, which started with Taliban and al Qaeda control of Afghanistan – is stunning.

Net-net, this is a dark day – one that did not need to be this dark. Opportunities for peace for legitimate, professional, historically grounded peace among all parties in Afghanistan were possible.

This is a product of feckless fumbles.

Our task is not to forget, to understand the lessons. Peace when possible is worth every effort. Combat is engaged to suppress evil but secure equitable peace. Wars are easy to start and hard to end.

Democracy depends on conditions, not happy talk.

America is strong, but strength is challenged – and will be again. Amateur leadership, wishful thinking, overextension, expending the lives of others’ sons and daughters causes heartache.

Things did not need to end this way, but they have. We must brace for what comes next. We must learn from mistakes; remembering “peace through strength” beats war through weakness – every time.

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Rosalee Cavanaugh
2 months ago

No worries. The USA left ammo, guns, armor trucks, etc behind, again, enough to supply the enemy for yrs. God forgive us for the weaponry we have supplied to our enemies.

Stephen Lykins
2 months ago

I’m not now, nor ever have been either in the military or a politician and even I could see this happening a mile away!

M.B
2 months ago

Another bumbling , idiotic mistake from this administration. Leaving our munitions there too, is a stain on America. This could have been handled much differently, if whoever is in charge would have learned by our prior mistakes in Vietnam . You know . . . . that thing called history ! Now the war is here with an open boarder. Who knows what kind of people we are letting into this country. I hope everyone is happy that they voted for Biden. God willing 1/2 the people in this country, who voted for President Trump, overturn this administration in years to come, or we’re doomed. God bless America.

Arthur R Whittaker
2 months ago

Did we really need another reason to impeach Biden? The man is incompetent and senile and needs to be gone now, Harris is not any better. Americans made a big mistake in voting Democrats into office no matter what they thought of President Trump. At least under him we were secure.

Stephen Lykins
2 months ago

The problem with impeaching him is the line of succession after a successful impeachment.

Kim
2 months ago

Sad, sad day for the people of Afghanistan. How the U.S., the most powerful country in the world, followed by our allies, can abandon the people we made these promises to is unconscionable. I’m not saying nation-building should be our goal, but once we’ve made the commitment to help, we certainly should have followed through.

Many, including a generation of women, gained by our presence. They made steps toward a more modern society. And now, for Biden to pull out of the country as he did, with no thought to the dire consequences those left behind will experience, I have no words to describe my disappointment, my anger with this administration, and my sympathy for the people of Afghanistan. Hearing first-hand accounts from the Afghan people themselves–the interpreters, the teachers, doctors, and soldiers–as one put it, he didn’t know if his head would still be attached the next day.

I can’t believe our military didn’t have the means, the might, or the will to do right by the Afghan people, to rid that country of the terrorists’ homeland. Oh, right… add leadership to that list.

We betrayed them, and for that, I’m sorry.

Steve
2 months ago

We spent 18 years, countless trillions and thousands of dead and wounded to find out the afgans do not fight ? How does a nation this stupid deserve to stay independent. We are run by liars and losers and we can only blame ourselves. You get the govt you deserve and we are proving we are perfectly happy being dupes.

John Karkalis
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve

Sad but true for any nation that refuses to remain vigilant, and would rather engage in mindless pursuits.

Steve
2 months ago

What we are now hearing is that we knew the afgans would not defend their country. This is a total shock to me. After spending trillions killing and wounding our youth to defend this gutless nation we now know the truth. I was totally opposed to this pullout until this information was revealed. Now we need to urge our elected reps to jail or at least fire and publicly defame all of those involved in this coverup. There should be dozens. In the private sector, these liars would all be gone by Friday. But in govt incompetence and corruption is revered.

John Karkalis
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve

Well, Steve, there is Vietnam. Tens of thousands of young Americans lost, uncounted billions spent. And for what?
So that Saigon could be renamed “Ho Chi Minh City”?

Steve
2 months ago

xxxx

Tim Toroian
2 months ago

Afghanistan should have been like Korea, a cooperative occupation. Biden has DESTROYED our international reputation and scared the hell out of our allies.

Laura
2 months ago

Our big mistake is always “nation building.” We should have kicked the Talibans’ ass and gotten out. We make it clear to all, If you cause any trouble we will be back to kick your ass.

Rich
2 months ago

Biden IS the train wreck. Why can’t the U.S. go in and take out the bad guys and leave. Then tell them if they continue to play stupid, we’ll be back, to win. Why do we have to pump money into a country that really doesn’t care? Only to make the rulers rich in too many cases. Many of these countries don’t care about democracy. The ordinary people want freedom, unfortunately there are just too many forces at work from decades of changes that prevent that. If the U.N. is so powerful, they should be the ones to make freedom work. A humanitarian crisis is a horrible thing; we can’t however be the traffic cop of the world any longer. There are now too many other players involved. Protecting our interests abroad is one thing, turning every country into America is another. Unfortunately for Afghanistan, they are on their own now.

John Karkalis
2 months ago
Reply to  Rich

You make a good point. Our knowledge of many of these nations is abysmal. We see only through our Western eyes. More than once it has landed us in deep trouble. Nation building is sheer arrogance a fools errand. When we assume a military venture, the one invariant should be to win not to temporize with an adversary.
A wink and a nod at the gross corruption of the regimes we support is a prescription for disaster.
We never learn.

Lee
2 months ago

I fear with an open border, and the rush to “save” Afgans that helped us, we may be importing or allowing terriots into the country on a massive scale. While the song was, if we fight them over there, they will not come over here, may no longer be heard. We may just see a good number of attacks from within. Our current administration is not concerned with keeping America safe and secure.

M. Edmond
2 months ago

In an effort to become “greater than FDR,” Biden makes the biggest mistake of his short term as President. The damage he’s done may be undoable. He just made peace in the Middle East a fairy tail. Thanks, Joe!! All I can say is, Mr. Trump had it right. If Mr. Biden only had a brain… he’s really the Scarecrow.

Ertis Crumpler
2 months ago
Reply to  M. Edmond

Joe O.Biden looks and is the spitting image of the Jeff Dunnam dummie Walter, and believe me O’Bama is the one pulling Joe’s strings to take this country down since he couldn’t do it in his eight years there.

Ray
2 months ago

Does this sound/look like our involvement in ending our stay and depart from Vietnam?

Carla Garraway
2 months ago

Heartbreaking. This mismanaged exit will have far-reaching/adverse effects around the World. Also it is the go sign to the CCP to take Taiwan, computer chip capital of the world.

AjB
2 months ago

Well once again Barack O’Biden makes another blunder in typical Democratic strategy causing thousands of additional needless deaths and a safe haven for the JV team…you need to thank all the Hollywood celebrities, professional athletes and billionaires who fraudulently elected this dementia ridden potato!

PaulE
2 months ago

RBC,

The original premise of going into Afghanistan was to get Bin Laden and his people sheltered by the Taliban in Afghanistan. That’s it. With support of the local warlords, the CIA and a small group of special forces military personnel were able to route the Taliban and clear a path for a larger ground presence to pursue and kill or capture bin Laden and his people. Again, the mission objective was to capture or kill bin Laden and his people, nothing more for the attacks on 9/11. The warlords only backed this effort, because they were led to believe the mission was limited in scope and that the U.S. would leave their country after completing the mission. Unfortunately, the month long delay by the Bush administration after 9/11 before launching the U.S. response, afforded bin Laden and his people the opportunity to slip out of Afghanistan over the mountains and into Pakistan where he remained for years until Seal Team 6 finally caught up with him.

Once we confirmed that bin Laden and his people had successfully escaped from Afghanistan in late 2001 to early 2002, the vast majority of U.S. forces should have been withdrawn from the country. That is what the local Afghan warlords, that initially helped us displace the Taliban expected. If the Afghanistan people wanted to keep the Taliban from coming back into power, we could have provided the local warlord militias with some additional arms to allow them to achieve that goal on their own. We also should have made it abundantly clear before leaving that if bin Laden were to return and be allowed to use it as staging area for terrorism in the future, the country would be reduced to a parking lot next time.

Where the mission in Afghanistan went horribly wrong was the decision by the neo-cons in the Bush administration to try their hand at nation building. To try and transform a backward nation of goat herders and poppy growers into a so-called 21st century democracy with modern western values. Obviously none of them learned anything from the Soviet experience many years before into the country. Afghanistan has been essentially a 7th century Islamic backwater of a country for centuries, but when has that ever stopped the inside the beltway crowd from moving full speed ahead. All without asking whether the vast majority of the Afghan people, if they wanted or were prepared for the wholesale changes to everything they knew and frankly, by the action of the last several weeks, didn’t want to change. Nation building of the sort Washington envisioned, only works if the people of that country want it to succeed. Otherwise, it is an exercise that is doomed to fail as soon as we are not there anymore to prop it up.

So we show-horned a western style government in place and spent a trillion dollars, thousands of lost lives and injured soldiers over 20 years to train over 300,000 Afghan soldiers and thousands more Afghan police, who for the most part threw down their weapons, abandoned their vehicles and equipment all without a Taliban force of roughly 75,000 poorly equipped goat herders having to do much if any shooting in most cases. Will Washington finally learn the lesson that nation building only works, if the people of that nation actually want the proposed changes Washington wants them to adopt? Sadly, not likely.

Did Biden withdrawn in the most insanely bad way possible? You bet he did. There are too many items to list here. He basically had the remaining American forces leave in the middle of the night, leaving behind two multi-billion dollar military air bases fully intact, hundreds of millions of dollars in weapons, vehicles, aircraft, high tech drones and other technologically sensitive equipment for the Taliban to either use or sell to the Iranians or the Chinese. Thus allowing the Iranians, Chinese and other U.S. adversaries to reverse engineer how how communications and advanced weaponry works or can be disable in future military engagement against the U.S..

Biden also didn’t obviously plan for the total evaluation of American embassy and civilian personnel after ordering the military to bug out in the middle of the night. Now we’re stuck with relying on a unprotected civilian airport in the heart of now Taliban controlled Kabul to get our people out. This makes the disaster of the Vietnam evacuation look infinitely better planned and executed. In short, Biden has created a worst case example of how NOT to do things. This would be shocking, if not for the fact that virtually everything the Biden administration has done since Day One has been one massive bad decision after another. Then again, over the past 47 years Biden has held public office, he has never positively distinguished himself in any area.

Now to wonder how long before President Xi decides to invade and take Taiwan. Thus making the world fully dependent on China for everything electronic. Biden…the gift that just keeps on giving…to our enemies around the world. You can’t make this sh*t up.

John
2 months ago
Reply to  PaulE

You nailed it!

F Gerard
2 months ago
Reply to  PaulE

Totally agree!

Max
2 months ago
Reply to  PaulE

Thanks again for your thoughts. Did you mean “evacuation” instead of “evaluation” ,second to last para?

Rich
2 months ago
Reply to  Max

I don’t understand why when we “leave” a country, we cannot destroy every piece of military hardware we came with. Who cares if it leaves a giant wrecking yard.

Max
2 months ago
Reply to  Rich

Good question. In my day, NO MAN WAS LEFT BEHIND and any material that we couldn’t take with us was destroyed or rendered unusable as best as we could. I can’t make a judgement call of the situation since I was not there during this fiasco.

Max
2 months ago
Reply to  Max

If I was the on scene commander, I would have ordered as many vehicles and equipage destroyed as possible through the troops of my command, helo/airstrikes by USAF/USN assets, cruise missiles and drones. I know that with the current administration, my career would be over and if any civilian casualties occurred, that I would be branded as a war criminal and prosecuted by the World Court system with no support of my country. This would be ACCOUNTABILITY.

PaulE
2 months ago
Reply to  Max

Yes

John Karkalis
2 months ago
Reply to  PaulE

A comprehensive but very somber chronology, Paul.
Will we ever learn that nation building is much more complicated and unpredictable than a graduate course in geopolitics at Harvard might suggest? Probably not.
I commented in an earlier post that I can hear the tinkling of wine glasses in Beijing over our folly. China lost not a single soldier nor did it waste a single “red” cent in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan was never ours to lose, but the abandonment of our loyal Afghan aides is ever our shame.
This is so sad.

PaulE
2 months ago
Reply to  John Karkalis

China has already negotiated mining rights in Afghanistan with the Taliban for the hundreds of billions in valuable rare earths and other minerals the country has. The Chinese paid off the necessary people, so there won’t be any threat to them. Besides, the Taliban know full well NOT to threaten or attack the Chinese miners or the large contingent of Chinese military there to ensure their safety. The PLA rules of engagement are that they have NO RULES OF ENGAGEMENT. They simply kill whoever attacks them by any means that is the most expedient.

Last edited 2 months ago by PaulE
John Karkalis
2 months ago
Reply to  PaulE

Paul, one might say that he who controls access to rare earth elements controls technology. There is only a finite amount of these materials in the earth’s crust.
Sadly they don’t fall like manna from heaven.
Well put. The Taliban recognize Shih Jinping as a no nonsense ruthless player. An infidel by their calculus, but one not to be trifled with.

PaulE
2 months ago
Reply to  John Karkalis

As for those Afghans who aided us, Biden opted to abandon them and disregard the plans Trump put in place to evacuate them all in an orderly fashion. Like everything else the Biden administration has done since Day One, it is the exact opposite of what Trump had already planned to do. Tens of thousands of loyal Afghans will be slaughtered in the next few days as the Taliban is already going door to door and dragging people out to be killed.

Max
2 months ago
Reply to  PaulE

How correct you are!

John Karkalis
2 months ago
Reply to  PaulE

Paul, your observation might serve as a banner in 2022 and 2024.
No! We should not forget this betrayal, but with the short attention span of the American people……….?

Wbre
2 months ago

Biden is a total failure. Just run and hide is all he has ever done.

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