The fiasco in Afghanistan is a grave blow to America's standing | The Economist

  
Via:  Freewill  •  3 months ago  •  12 comments

By:   The Economist

The fiasco in Afghanistan is a grave blow to America's standing | The Economist
And much of the blame lies squarely with Joe Biden

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Much discussion has been had about this situation.  The Economist offers an accurate account and reasonable non-partisan analysis.


S E E D E D   C O N T E N T




And much of the blame lies squarely with Joe Biden


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IF THE PROPAGANDISTS of the Taliban had scripted the collapse of America's 20-year mission to reshape Afghanistan, they could not have come up with more harrowing images. As insurgents swept into Kabul, desperate Afghans, terrified about what the victorious zealots might do, chased departing American cargo planes down the runway, trying to clamber into the landing gear and inevitably falling to their deaths. The American-backed government had surrendered without a fight—something that American officials were insisting would not happen only days before. Afghans were left in such a horrifying bind that clinging to the wheels of a hurtling aircraft seemed their best option.

America has spent $2trn in Afghanistan; more than 2,000 American lives have been lost, not to mention countless Afghan ones. And yet, even if Afghans are more prosperous now than when America invaded, Afghanistan is back to square one. The Taliban control more of the country than they did when they lost power, they are better armed, having seized the weapons America showered on the Afghan army, and they have now won the ultimate affirmation: defeating a superpower.

The insurgents have made a show of magnanimity, pledging that they will not take revenge on those who worked for the toppled government and insisting that they will respect women's rights, within their interpretation of Islamic law. But that interpretation kept most girls out of school and most women confined to their homes when the group was last in power, in the 1990s. Brutal punishments—floggings, stonings, amputations—were common. The freedoms that urban Afghans took for granted over the past 20 years have just gone up in smoke. It is an appalling outcome for Afghanistan's 39m people, and deeply damaging for America.

It is not surprising that America failed to turn Afghanistan into a democracy. Nation-building is difficult, and few imagined that it could become Switzerland. Nor was it unreasonable for Joe Biden, America's president, to want to draw the conflict to a close. America has spent 20 years in a place of only modest strategic importance about which most American voters have long since ceased to care. The original reason for the invasion—to dismantle al-Qaeda's main base of operations—was largely achieved, though that achievement could now be reversed.

The claim that America is showing itself to be a fickle ally by allowing the Afghan government to fall is also overblown, given the duration, scale and expense of the American deployment. The defunct regime in Kabul was not an ally in the way that Germany or Japan is. It was far weaker, more corrupt and completely dependent on America for its survival.

But none of that absolved America of the responsibility to withdraw in an orderly fashion. Mr Biden failed to show even a modicum of care for the welfare of ordinary Afghans. The irony is that America had a plan to do just that, which had been in the works for several years. It had hugely scaled down its garrison, from around 100,000 troops in 2011 to fewer than 10,000 by 2017, along with a similar number from other NATO countries. They were not supposed to defeat the Taliban, but prevent the Afghan army's collapse, largely through air power, and so force the Taliban to the negotiating table.

Apologists for Mr Biden argue that his predecessor, Donald Trump, had already scuppered this plan by trying to rush it to a conclusion before last year's presidential election in America. It is true that Mr Trump was so desperate to strike a quick deal that he accepted preposterous terms, agreeing to end America's deployment without even securing a ceasefire, let alone a clear plan to end the civil war. He had already reduced the American presence to little more than 2,000 soldiers by the time Mr Biden took office, and had promised to get the rest out by May 1st.

But Mr Biden did not have to stick to this agreement. In fact, he didn't entirely, refusing to keep to the original timetable. The Taliban were clearly not holding up their end of the bargain, pressing their advantage on the battlefield instead of negotiating in good faith with the Afghan government. That could have been grounds to halt or reverse the American withdrawal. There was little political pressure within America to bring the war to a speedy conclusion. Yet Mr Biden was working to an arbitrary and flippant deadline of his own, seeking to end the war by the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Although the speed of the Afghan government's implosion surprised most observers, including this newspaper, America's soldiers and politicians were among the most naively optimistic, insisting that a total collapse was a vanishingly remote prospect. And when it became clear that the Afghan army was melting away, Mr Biden pressed on intransigently, despite the likely consequences.

As a result, America's power to deter its enemies and reassure its friends has diminished. Its intelligence was flawed, its planning rigid, its leaders capricious and its concern for allies minimal. That is likely to embolden jihadists everywhere, who will take the Taliban's victory as evidence that God is on their side. It will also encourage adventurism on the part of hostile governments such as Russia's or China's, and worry America's friends. Mr Biden has defended the withdrawal by arguing that Afghanistan was a distraction from more pressing problems, such as America's rivalry with China. But by leaving Afghanistan in such a chaotic fashion, Mr Biden will have made those other problems harder to deal with.

After the fall


The shambolic withdrawal does not reduce the obligation of America and its allies to ordinary Afghans, but increases it. They should use what leverage they still have to urge moderation on the Taliban, especially in their treatment of women. The displaced will need humanitarian aid. Western countries should also admit more Afghan refugees, the ranks of whom are likely to swell, and provide generous assistance to Afghanistan's neighbours to look after those who remain in the region. The haste of European leaders to declare that they cannot take in many persecuted Afghans even as violent zealots seize control is almost as lamentable as America's botched exit. It is too late to save Afghanistan, but there is still time to help its people.

For more coverage of Joe Biden's presidency, visit our dedicated hub

This article appeared in the Leaders section of the print edition under the headline "Biden's debacle"


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Freewill
Junior Participates
1  seeder  Freewill    3 months ago

Please keep comments rational and reasonable and without invective.

 
 
 
Texan1211
Professor Principal
1.1  Texan1211  replied to  Freewill @1    3 months ago

Nice, balanced reporting in this article.

Thanks for posting it.

 
 
 
Just Jim NC TttH
Senior Principal
2  Just Jim NC TttH    3 months ago

Good read.

 
 
 
Texan1211
Professor Principal
3  Texan1211    3 months ago

I believe that most Americans are glad we are getting out of Afghanistan.

And that most Americans can recognize the withdrawal was handled very, very poorly on our part.

I just don't see why we had to rush to get out before securing the safety of those who helped us.

Seems like it should have been a priority of ours.

 
 
 
Freewill
Junior Participates
3.1  seeder  Freewill  replied to  Texan1211 @3    3 months ago
Seems like it should have been a priority of ours.

Indeed.  That's the strange thing.  Surely advisors, especially military, must have been advising a more measured and properly sequenced approach.  Seems odd to override such concerns just to wrap up the withdrawal by 9/11.

 
 
 
Nerm_L
Masters Principal
4  Nerm_L    3 months ago

What has the United States lost?

The United States was only planning to remove the military contingent from Afghanistan.  The diplomatic and humanitarian efforts were going to continue.  The United States was going to continuing sending monetary aid to Afghanistan.  That's all gone now.

Are we supposed to believe that the coalition and Ghani government wasn't included in the planning?  Are we supposed to believe that withdrawal of the military contingent was done on a wild hair?  The United States has been talking military withdrawal for ten years.

The United States has no need for Afghanistan.  Whatever oil and minerals Afghanistan has is insignificant for what the US needs.  Afghanistan isn't even a suitable place to extend US influence into the region; the logistics are a nightmare.

The Taliban were in control of Afghanistan for ten years.  The US and coalition controlled Afghanistan for twenty.  Don't allow yourselves to believe the United States could not have stayed in Afghanistan if the United States had wanted to.  The point is that Afghanistan is pointless.

 
 
 
Freewill
Junior Participates
4.1  seeder  Freewill  replied to  Nerm_L @4    3 months ago
The diplomatic and humanitarian efforts were going to continue.  The United States was going to continuing sending monetary aid to Afghanistan.  That's all gone now.

Indeed.  So why is it that the withdrawal was done in such a way as to lose sight of all that and simply hand the key to Kabul to the Taliban with no conditions?

 
 
 
Nerm_L
Masters Principal
4.1.1  Nerm_L  replied to  Freewill @4.1    3 months ago
Indeed.  So why is it that the withdrawal was done in such a way as to lose sight of all that and simply hand the key to Kabul to the Taliban with no conditions?

We were handing the keys to the Ashraf Ghani government and the Afghan military.  The Afghans folded; we didn't.

Obviously the Biden administration was relying on the results of twenty years of nation building which is a function of the State Dept.  But the prerequisite conditions for nation building were never achieved in Afghanistan.  Nation building requires either unifying the population around a common cause (hearts and minds) - or - unifying the population to oppose a common enemy (down with the USA) - or - subjugate the population (kill the opposition). 

The Taliban are Afghans while the United States are foreign invaders.  The Taliban always had an edge.  The Afghan people weren't willing to fight another civil war and turn into Syria.  We're only seeing what's happening in Kabul; we don't know what's happening in the rest of Afghanistan.

The questions about the inadequacy of planning should be directed toward the State Dept. and Sec. State Antony Blinken.  The State Dept. is responsible for the planning to manage the processing and relocation of refugees; that's not a military function.  There wasn't even a plan to house refugees while awaiting security checks and processing.  The military has proven better at improvising an extraction at the last minute than the State Dept. at planning a withdrawal for ten years.  The chaos we're seeing in Kabul is an utter failure of the diplomatic corps.

Who should the United States have negotiated with to manage the withdrawal?  Those fleeing the country or those who would assume control?  The State Dept. is responsible for the mess because they apparently believed that their efforts at nation building had been successful.  The problem is that Ashraf Ghani's assurances left on a jet plane.

 
 
 
Freewill
Junior Participates
4.1.2  seeder  Freewill  replied to  Nerm_L @4.1.1    3 months ago
We were handing the keys to the Ashraf Ghani government and the Afghan military.  The Afghans folded; we didn't.

True enough.  Good article about that HERE with stories from those that were and are still there.  Given all of our military personnel who were reporting the problems with the Afghan forces as far back as 2010, I do not understand how Congress and the State Department didn't see this coming.  They had the "intelligence" they just didn't pay attention to it.

Also disturbing were the Afghan soldiers who were told by their Government not to fight, to stand down.

As the Taliban advanced throughout the country during those final weeks, the commandos faced a chilling reality. One commando from the south told us that no one in his unit wanted to surrender. They were there to fight the Taliban. But the Kabul government ordered them to lay down their arms.

"We were no longer safe," the commando said. "We had to take refuge in our friends' houses, and now we are hiding."

Another commando from the Kabul unit shared a similar story. "Yes, everybody hide themselves, and I'm really scared and I have not been outside like three days, four days," he said.

Once all the commando units throughout the country broke down, the Kabul unit was the last one standing. "We didn't fight because the government didn't say you have to fight it," the Kabul commando said. "The Ministry of Defense didn't say you have to fight." It's a political decision, he added — it's not about the willingness to fight.

How did the State Department not know how weak the spine of the Ashraf Ghani Afghan Government was?

 
 
 
Nerm_L
Masters Principal
4.1.3  Nerm_L  replied to  Freewill @4.1.2    3 months ago
How did the State Department not know how weak the spine of the Ashraf Ghani Afghan Government was?

That's a question for Antony Blinken to answer.  Lloyd Austin is the wrong guy to hold accountable.  The military didn't screw things up.

Wasn't there a prominent Democrat serving as Secretary of State when the military mission in Afghanistan achieved its stated goal?  I seem to recall the military withdrawal began after we got Osama bin Laden.  Of course the coalition objected to the US withdrawing.  Wasn't the then Sec. State reassuring Europe and NATO and shifting the mission parameters in Afghanistan?

As I recall, Europe was concerned about Afghan refugees adding to Europe's problem with handling Syrian refugees.  Or has that history been rewritten?

 
 
 
Freewill
Junior Participates
4.1.4  seeder  Freewill  replied to  Nerm_L @4.1.3    3 months ago
As I recall, Europe was concerned about Afghan refugees adding to Europe's problem with handling Syrian refugees.

They are even more worried about that now!  Seems to be their primary concern about what is happening now.

After getting bin Laden hiding in Pakistan, seems it would have been a good time to explain/admit to the world the link between the ISI in Pakistan and the origin of the Taliban years before.  And a good time to wind down our presence in Afghanistan right then and there.  But yet that did not happen.  Why?

It appears that the level of corruption in the Afghan government and high level Afghan military was essentially enabled, covered up, and/or glossed over by our own State Department and leaders in the past 4 administrations.  All the way up to this inevitable conclusion.  Back to square one, perhaps something even worse than what existed at square one.

 
 
 
Nerm_L
Masters Principal
4.1.5  Nerm_L  replied to  Freewill @4.1.4    3 months ago
They are even more worried about that now!  Seems to be their primary concern about what is happening now.

Europe has always been worried about Europe.  That's the whole reason NATO exists.  The Europeans have always been consistent in looking after their own interests first.

After getting bin Laden hiding in Pakistan, seems it would have been a good time to explain/admit to the world the link between the ISI in Pakistan and the origin of the Taliban years before.  And a good time to wind down our presence in Afghanistan right then and there.  But yet that did not happen.  Why?

The Obama administration did exactly that.  The country was informed in detail why Pakistan was not notified when special forces were sent into Pakistan to get Osama bin Laden.  The country was informed that the Taliban were hiding in Pakistan and that hampered the US doing more to address Taliban supported terror in Afghanistan.  There was even a brief spate of anti-Pakistan sentiment in the press and public opinion.

And there was European opposition to a US withdrawal then just as there is now.  The Obama administration focused attention on military operations which was the primary reason for the US being in Afghanistan.  The Europeans were focusing attention on diplomatic and humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan.  Yet the Europeans never assumed a leadership role in diplomatic and humanitarian efforts.

The US has been bogged down in Afghanistan after getting Osama bin Laden to reassure NATO and the European Union by shifting mission parameters to focus more attention on diplomatic and humanitarian efforts that Europe said was necessary for withdrawal.  Many of those European arguments had more to do with Brexit than Afghanistan.  And Europe was attempting to suck the United States into the morass of Brexit diplomacy.

It appears that the level of corruption in the Afghan government and high level Afghan military was essentially enabled, covered up, and/or glossed over by our own State Department and leaders in the past 4 administrations.  All the way up to this inevitable conclusion.  Back to square one, perhaps something even worse than what existed at square one.

Hamid Karzai was groomed by the US as Afghan President because of his ties to the Taliban and Pakistan.  The military needed sufficient stability in Afghanistan to conduct its mission.  Logistics was a nightmare and the US needed someone Pakistan would accept to keep the supply routes open.  And, it was hoped, that the Taliban would moderate its terrorist attacks because Karzai was sympathetic toward the Taliban.  

Hamid Karzai, as President, kept the Taliban and Pakistan in the game politically.  Karzai provided an incentive for moderation from the Taliban and Pakistan.  Hamid Karzai is still in Afghanistan and, apparently, doesn't feel threatened by the Taliban.  The calculus was quite straightforward; corruption provided stability.  And that's all the military needed to prosecute its mission against Al Qaeda.

 
 
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