We must not allow the tragedy unfolding in Afghanistan to be used to rewrite history and teach the wrong lessons.
The rapid fall of the US-backed government in Afghanistan and the takeover of that country by Taliban extremists stunned the world. President Joe Biden nonetheless defended his decision to withdraw US forces, arguing that Americans should not be forced to fight and die for a government when the Afghans themselves are unwilling to do so.
Yes, the Biden administration grossly miscalculated how quickly Afghanistan would fall into Taliban hands and there should be a full investigation. And there should have been broad and concrete plans to open the United States to Afghan refugees, as Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Barbara Lee are now proposing. However, Biden was still right to follow through on Donald Trump’s agreement to withdraw US forces, which polls The show received the support of nearly three-quarters of the American audience.
We must not erase the long-standing role of the United States in creating the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan: the current chaos and violence has lasted for almost 20 years. Indeed, Biden actually delayed the withdrawal for several months beyond Trump’s May deadline, claiming through the former president and his supporters that Biden suddenly decided to “abandonment” to the Taliban particularly absurd.
Gerald Ford is generally not blamed for the Communist victory in Vietnam simply because he was president when the US-backed regime in Saigon finally collapsed. Likewise, Biden should not be primarily blamed for the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan.
The Afghan army officially numbered 300,000 soldiers, four times the number of Taliban soldiers. In addition, they had air power, heavy weapons, and received hundreds of billions of dollars in training, weapons and equipment from the global military superpower. In contrast, the Taliban had no significant foreign support, no air force, and only small arms that they had captured or managed to procure through underground means. Likewise, since there were only 2,500 American troops in Afghanistan for most of the past year, their withdrawal should not have made much of a difference in terms of strategic balance.
Militarily, there was no reason the Afghan government should lose, and the United States could do little more. So it was not a military victory for the Taliban. It was the political collapse of the US-backed regime. It’s hard to imagine that after nearly 20 years of American support, if Biden had decided to send more weapons, more money, or more troops, it would have led to a different result.
professor at the University of Michigan Juan cole, one of the most prescient observers of US policy in the Middle East and South Asia in recent decades, has described US policy in Afghanistan as essentially a Ponzi scheme based on a totally unsustainable system. dependent on foreign support in which a possible collapse was inevitable.
While Biden was right to point out the corruption and incompetence of the Afghan government, he sadly failed to acknowledge how much the United States was responsible for setting up and maintaining this decrepit system. And the costs were enormous: over $ 1,000 billion and the deaths of 47,000 civilians, 2,500 American soldiers, 1,000 NATO soldiers, 4,000 civilian contractors and 70,000 Afghan soldiers and police.
It would be ironic if a story claims Biden is not militaristic enough – given his vehement support for the invasion of Iraq, his defense of Israel’s recent war on Gaza, his insistence on maintaining an obscene attitude inflated military budget, his support for Allied military dictatorships, it provides jet fighters to those responsible for the terrorist attack in Yemen, and other policies.
There are certainly areas concerning Afghan politics for which Biden should be criticized, such as the failure to adequately prepare for such a rapid collapse of the regime in terms of the evacuation of Afghan translators, government officials, activists from the human rights and others who are now at grave personal risk. under Taliban rule. Moreover, he should never have supported the war authorization of September 2001, which went far beyond targeting Al Qaeda and left the door open to decades of indefinite conflict in Afghanistan. On this war resolution, of course, he was certainly not alone: only one (Rep. Barbara Lee) out of the 535 members of Congress voted against this resolution, despite people like me. warning at that time that sending US ground forces to Afghanistan would result in “an unsuccessful counterinsurgency war on hostile ground against a people with a long history of resistance to foreigners.”
Even more problematic was Biden’s key role pushing the 2002 Iraq war authorization through the Democratic-controlled Senate, which – unlike the Afghanistan war authorization – was opposed by the majority of Congressional Democrats. The Taliban had essentially been defeated by then. However, the administration of George W. Bush, supported by then-Senator Biden and a few others, decided not to finish the job but to focus instead on our troops, our generals, our intelligence, our satellites, our money and pretty much everything else on the invasion and occupation of Iraq. It was during the years of the counterinsurgency war in Iraq that the Taliban made a comeback, returning from Pakistan to reconsolidate their control in rural Afghanistan and begin their gradual takeover of the country, culminating in their recent takeover. control. If the Bush administration and its congressional allies like Biden had not insisted on invading Iraq, the Taliban may have remained a small group of exiles in Pakistani tribal lands.
The Washington Post published a series of articles on how, particularly under President Bush, the US government has systematically lied to the American people about supposed progress in the war in Afghanistan. Despite claims of strategic gains by US and Afghan government forces, intensive campaign shelling, search and destruction, village raids, and tolerance for endemic corruption have come to alienate a much of the Afghan population of the United States. and its allies in Kabul. Much of the support for the Taliban over the past decade has not come from the small minority of Afghans who embrace their reactionary misogynist ideology, but from those who saw them as the vanguard of resistance against the occupiers. foreigners and their corrupt puppet government. The United States has allied itself with warlords, opium tycoons, ethnic militias and other unrepresentative leaders simply because of their opposition to the Taliban and with little input from the Afghans themselves.
In my nearly 20 years of working with Afghan and Afghan Americans, including those from prominent political families, I have a strong sense that most of them in principle supported an active and continued American role in Afghanistan. , but thought it should have been around 10 percent military. and 90 percent focused on grassroots sustainable political and economic development, in particular the empowerment of civil society. Instead, US funding and the overall goal of US officials was 90 percent military, and much of the development work consisted of top-down projects of questionable merit led by corrupt elites.
And no analysis of the Afghan tragedy would be complete without observing how the United States played a critical role in the emergence of the Taliban in the first place: supporting the Communist dictatorship only to prolong a counterinsurgency war that would weaken the rival superpower of the United States. United States. They believed that the more intransigent elements of the anti-Communist resistance were less likely to reach a negotiated settlement. Of the six main mujahedin groups fighting the Afghan government and its Soviet allies, 80% of American money and arms went to Hesb-i-Islami, led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who later became a close ally of the Taliban. For similar reasons, the United States and its Saudi allies promoted religious studies along extremist and militarist lines among Afghan refugees in Pakistan, from which the Taliban – the Pashtun word for “students” – emerged in the 1990s.
There is much to be blamed for the tragic turn of events in Afghanistan. However, we should not focus on Biden’s reasonable refusal to break the withdrawal agreement of his predecessor, which would inevitably have led to the resumption of endless combat operations by US forces in Afghanistan.
As reports of Taliban atrocities are released in the weeks, months and years to come, we must not allow the advancement of a narrative that argues that the US war in Afghanistan should have been bigger and bigger. long or that Biden does not sufficiently support US military intervention abroad. . While we should certainly hold Biden accountable for his role in starting and fueling this war, it is also important to refute false accusations from the Right, which could lead future presidents to unnecessarily prolong impossible-to-win wars. .