by Roxanne Tellier
Afghanistan has a long history of defeating those that have tried to master her. As a strategic gateway sitting between Asia and Europe, the land has been targeted by conquerors as diverse as Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States.
But no one can make Afghanistan bend the knee for very long; it is an unruly country, peopled with warriors, fanatics, and militant religious zealots. No army, no matter how mighty, has ever been able to permanently alter the passionate character of the Afghan people.
America’s attempt to bring a forced democracy to the country was doomed to failure from the beginning. Democracy is a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives. Democracy must be something that ALL of the people want, not just those that wish to control them.
But when Bush, both political parties, with few exceptions, and the voters of America, decided to commit to a war of retaliation, they refused to listen or to learn from history. And once America had foisted its army and hoisted their paid political stooges into place, it became impossible to leave gracefully. The chaos and horror we see there today would have happened had they left 18 years ago, or in five years from now.
Obama tried and failed to leave the country. Trump, first as a civilian Monday morning quarterback, and later as POTUS, put a plan into place that he would not be in office to see completed. The shocking thing is that Biden simply opted to stick to the plan and promises Trump and his administration had made, without considering options that might have lessened the disastrous outcome of August 2021.
Writer and minister Randy Weir wrote a succinct piece on Trump’s negotiations with the Taliban, and it’s so good, I’d rather insert it here than paraphrase his words:
“In 2019 Trump entered into direct negotiations with the Taliban outside the presence of the Afghan government because the Taliban demanded it and Trump agreed. In these negotiations, Trump promised the Afghan government would release 5,000 Taliban prisoners if the Taliban would stop attacking US forces. So the problem began when President Trump undermined the legitimate Afghan government to negotiate with terrorists. This weakened and demoralized the Afghan government and strengthened and encouraged the Taliban.
In February 2020, Trump further agreed that the US would withdraw from Afghanistan in May 2020 if the Taliban would agree not to harbor other terrorist groups like Al Qaeda. This further legitimized the Taliban with the US assuming they would regain control of the country.
In August 2020, under pressure from President Trump, the Afghan government reluctantly released the 400 most controversial Taliban prisoners, including more than 150 that were on death row, and 44 who were involved in high profile attacks against US forces, including the deadliest attack of the entire occupation. Afghan President Ghani warned that these prisoners would pose a risk to Afghanistan and the world. So now we have a stronger Taliban, a weaker Afghan government, and we have the worst Taliban fighters and leaders out on the streets planning to retake the country when the US leaves.
On November 17, 2020, shortly after losing the 2020 election, Trump announced he would be withdrawing all but 2,500 US troops from Afghanistan. The withdrawal would happen on January 15, 2021—five days before Biden was inaugurated. Note that the National Defense Authorization Act passed by Congress on January 1, 2021 barred the Pentagon from reducing the number of soldiers in Afghanistan below 4,000, the number in place when the bill was passed, and Trump’s removal of those forces was in violation of that act.
So here’s where Biden comes in. Trump has weakened the Afghan government, strengthened the Taliban, and assumed the Taliban would retake Afghanistan. Trump had secured the release of the Taliban fighters and leaders who would work to retake Afghanistan, and Trump had already illegally withdrawn American forces who would have helped maintain the Afghan government. Biden looked at the options and concluded that Trump had stacked the deck against the US and the Afghan government in favor of the Taliban, leaving two choices: proceed with the withdrawal or send troops back into Afghanistan to re-escalate. Biden concluded that the latter would only postpone the inevitable and that it wasn’t worth wasting any more American lives to do that. He delayed the withdrawal so it could be accomplished more responsibly, then responded as conditions worsened by sending troops to assist with the withdrawal.
As the US began its withdrawal, the Taliban that Trump freed were the very people who fought and led the effort to overthrow the Afghan government. And it seems that even Donald Trump was smart enough to realize that this was exactly what would happen.
Why didn’t Biden cut a new deal with the Taliban? With what leverage? Trump had given the Taliban everything they wanted and the Afghan government was already so weakened that the Taliban have no reason to agree to anything he could propose.
Trump set the stage so that the Taliban would swiftly take control of the country and there was nothing Biden could do to stop it short of occupying the country.”Randy Weir, Quora
Choosing to ‘keep America’s promises’ rather than to attempt to thwart the deals that had been put into place, whether known or unknown, guaranteed failure for the American military, and left the Biden administration with egg on their face.
The expensively trained and outfitted Afghan military caved because they were trained to behave exactly like American military, dependent on a large land and air force behind them, along with the weight and might of the United States. They had never been trained to stand alone as an independent force; their training was designed to keep them a cog in the American military industrial complex. When the Americans closed their military base, all pretense of that great power being behind them evaporated, and the disintegration of the Afghan military was inevitable.
While the media brings us scenes of chaos and devastation, many are simply not interested in the eventual outcome of military withdrawal. We’re shell-shocked and numbed from our own problems. Governments grapple with how to expedite a potential economic recovery, while they remain burdened with the reality of hundreds of thousands dead from COVID, and a potential Fourth Wave looming.
And though it behooves us to worry and tut-tut about what’s going on in Afghanistan, many people just can’t work up much concern. Prior to Biden’s moving forward on the troop withdrawal, polls showed that most people wanted America out of Afghanistan – period. By any means.
As scenes of the Taliban taking control of the country emerged, along with photos of people desperately trying to leave, and women once more becoming invisible, and as tales circulated of streetside executions and of young girls being snatched from their families to become unwilling child brides of the Taliban, American’s, overall, yawned and turned back to their smartphones for an update on the stock market and entertainment listings.
In the bigger picture, life in North America, and most of the Western Hemisphere, will simply go on. Talking heads will soothe or harangue, based on their political affinities. People in Afghanistan will suffer, and many will die, based on their religious AND political affinities. And Afghanistan will remain, as steadfast, stubborn, and high-strung as she’s been since 500 B.C.
In the perhaps smaller picture, this debacle will have a dampening effect on what Biden might have been able to accomplish in the United States during his term. Even those who reluctantly voted for him in 2020 were encouraged by the image that had been built over his first six months in office, of a leader firmly in control, in charge, and experienced in foreign affairs. Biden as POTUS has been a breath of fresh air, a 180-degree shift from the cruelty and power mad machinations of the trump administration. He’s been the nation’s loving, old-fashioned, grandpa, easily forgiven for the odd slip up, as the communal dread of a possible march towards civil war and/or dictatorship begins to fade.
Biden’s campaign leaned heavily on competence, compassion, and a humanity that the previous administration disdained. His current defiant stance lacks not only empathy, but any hint of contrition or humility, starkly at odds with his usual stated values.
Prior to this fiasco, and with a speed and alacrity that none would have believed, he was on track to rivalling the historic and progressive records of nearly all modern-day presidents, with the exception of Roosevelt, whose New Deal ushered in what some considered to be America’s greatest epoch.
With a razor thin Democratic majority in the House and Senate, Biden’s current power position could be derailed with just one nasty slip in the bathtub, one lung rattling COVID cough, or just one octogenarian Senator’s heart tiring of beating. His belief in the Republican party ever being willing to act in a bipartisan fashion that benefits ALL Americans, regardless of political affiliation, seems close to delusional, the dreams of another time, and unless he can bring some of his own far right and far left party into line, America may let some of the most aggressively positive, nationally beneficial, actions in nearly a hundred years slip away.
With the military withdrawal from Afghanistan being painted as Biden’s baby, his approval rating is skidding downwards, and with every day, there is more danger of there being permanent damage done to the Democratic plan to ‘build back better.’
He’s now wagering on the better angels of the American people to believe that this withdrawal was and is the right thing to do, even if pulling off the war Band-Aid revealed the (bipartisan) political sepsis beneath.