Now that so many sad truths about Afghanistan are being told out loud, even in the mainstream media – let me add one more: the war, from start to finish, was political, not in Afghanistan but in the United States (US).
Afghanistan has always been a side spectacle. According to the official report, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 were launched from American soil, by people trained in Florida.
Most of the named authors were Saudis. Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden had established his base in Afghanistan after leaving Sudan; soon he went to Pakistan, where he remained for the rest of his life. Afghan Taliban leaders have not been accused of being involved in the September 11 attacks.
But the 2001 invasion was swift and apparently decisive. And so he saved the tainted presidency of George W. Bush, who was faltering at that time from a defection (by James Jeffords of Vermont) that had cost Republican control of the Senate. Bush’s approval soared to 90%, then steadily declined, although two more increases – after the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 and the capture of Saddam Hussein in December – barely made it through. the 2004 elections.
American voters aren’t the only ones rewarding quick, easy, and inexpensive victories. But they don’t like long, aimless struggles in distant mountains on the other side of the world. And they especially hate the images and stories of the dead, the injured, the traumatized and the depressed. To their credit, this view doesn’t seem to be affected by numbers; on the contrary, the life of every American soldier becomes more precious and their losses are felt more acutely, as the conflict diminishes and the number of victims decreases.
In 2009, President Barack Obama inherits an Afghan war from which he has nothing to gain, but which he supports for a political reason: to balance his opposition to the war in Iraq. Obama made almost no profit from the murder of Bin Laden in May 2011; his approval rating bounced back for just a month. His best game was to keep Afghanistan out of the news, which meant not losing while looking for resounding victories elsewhere – in Libya, Syria and Ukraine. None went well.
Following Obama, President Donald Trump took hold of America’s sour mood in the face of all these splendid little wars. Certainly, the Islamic State had emerged during Trump’s time. But ISIS was an easy target, especially if it didn’t mind destroying entire cities (Mosul and Raqqa) with air power. Trump’s wars, as they were, brought him nothing politically, and he knew it.
So it was Trump who negotiated the US surrender in Afghanistan, while pushing the final act to his second term – or, in this case, to his successor. President Joe Biden, faced with the alternative of further escalation, has chosen to take the blow and cut his losses. This, too, we will surely learn, was a decision largely based on politics. Sometimes domestic political calculation is also the right thing to do.
And now? From Vietnam through Southwest Asia to the Persian Gulf, the American Empire has been defeated, deadlocked and exhausted about as completely as the British and French had been at the start of the 1960s. At this point, it would take a far more devastating provocation than the 9/11 attacks to rally American voters to the same thing. Assuming and hoping that there won’t be, it is now possible that the audience of interventionist cheerleaders (like columnists Thomas Friedman and David Brooks, and policymakers Samantha Power and Victoria Nuland, among others ) disappears.
A cheerleader, Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute, argues that the fall of Afghanistan also represents the end of NATO. After all, he argues, who still believes the United States would go to war over Lithuania? Rubin is correct on this point, and it is also a good thing. The Baltic States – all members of the European Union – face no real threats and will do very well without NATO.
A similar calculation applies to Taiwan – for which the United States has no formal military commitment – and perhaps also to South Korea, where it does. Leaders in both places can now adjust their political calculations. This could lead to a long-term stabilization of cross-strait relations and a much-desired thaw on the divided Korean Peninsula. Meanwhile, in Latin America, Mexico is pushing for a region free of sanctions and built on the principle of non-interference – as it should be.
For America itself, now is the time to recognize that the country’s vast and costly military might no longer serves any purpose that can justify its cost. It’s finally time to demobilize troops, decommission ships, cancel fighter and bomber orders, and dismantle nuclear warheads and their delivery systems. Now is the time to take these resources and start tackling the real threats facing the country: poor public health, dilapidated infrastructure, growing inequalities and economic insecurity, and a climate catastrophe that requires large-scale transformation of the country. energy, transport and building sectors.
During a visit to Moscow in 2018, a senior Duma officer told me that Russia’s post-Soviet recovery began with the decision in 1992 to cut military spending by 75%, paving the way for a possible internal reconstruction, and even the creation of a military force that truly meets Russia’s contemporary security needs. A similar moment has arrived in the United States. Given the current American mood and the truths that are now emerging, accepting the world as it is might also prove, of all things, to be politically astute. – Project union