The Oneida Daily Dispatch (Oneida, NY)
Afghanistan was always a folly
Regarding the national news media's freakout over President Biden's role in the Taliban's seizure of Afghanistan, we haven't seen such passionate unanimity among the Washington commentariat since they went all-in on invading Iraq back in 2003. They sold the war like an action-adventure film. The New York Times and Washington Post were particularly gung-ho. Even NPR covered the push into Baghdad like the world's largest Boy Scout Jamboree. CNN presented the U.S. “shock and awe” bombing campaign like a July 4th fireworks show. Meanwhile, Afghanistan got put on the back burner. Despite our NATO allies — Britain, France, Germany and the Dutch sent troops — that's basically where it stayed for 20 long years. In my experience, the more Washington pundits agree, the more they're apt to be wrong. For most, it's a TV show. Dramatic shots of panicky Afghan youth trying to climb aboard departing USAF transport planes drives the coverage. File footage of Wolf Blitzer and Lester Holt wearing soldier costumes in Afghanistan only makes them look foolish. As for all the retired generals and think-tank commandos, how about we wait to see how the Pentagon's massive evacuation from the Kabul airport goes before making a judgment? Things appear to be going smoothly, but that could change in a heartbeat. So I have more questions than answers. First, can anybody imagine Trump overseeing the orderly evacuation of thousands of Afghan Muslims into the U.S.? To ask the question is to answer it. As Max Boot points out, “As recently as April 18, Trump said: ‘Getting out of Afghanistan is a wonderful and positive thing to do. I planned to withdraw on May 1, and we should keep as close to that schedule as possible.'” And on June 26, Trump asked, “Twenty-one years is enough, don't we think?” Yeah, most people do. So should President Biden have stuck to something pretty close to the timetable Mike Pompeo negotiated, or not? It was either that or double down on a war he, too, vowed to end. Whatever they may say, no European leaders are about to send troops; their citizens wouldn't let them. Also, it wasn't Biden who ramrodded the release of 5,000 Taliban fighters last October.
It was Trump and Pompeo. Biden made a tough, you might say a ruthless, decision to cut our losses and get out. But shouldn't he have anticipated the sudden surrender of Afghanistan's papier-mache government? Maybe so, although hardly anybody else did. That State Department cable that The Wall Street Journal reported on concerned the period after, not before, U.S. troops departed. That is, after Aug. 31. That's not how critics played it, but it's a fact. But shouldn't Biden have evacuated U.S. personnel and Afghan dependents before the military pulled out? Not unless he wanted to bring the Afghan government down even sooner. The first day of any evacuation would have been the last day that government existed. The terrible scenes of last week would have happened sooner. As the president has said, it's on him either way. So could the United States ever have turned Afghanistan into a democratic country? Almost certainly not. Way back in 1976, I observed to my wife that Russians invading Afghanistan would end up “sorry they ever heard of that place.” My skepticism was based on three things: Rudyard Kipling's accounts of the British experience there; my own experience in neighboring Iran; and a knowledgeable friend's explanation that Afghanistan isn't a nation, but rather eight or 10 tribal regions more or less permanently in conflict with all the others. Hardly anybody there thinks all men are created equal, nor believes in one man, one vote. Pretending that a Kabul government could govern the territory as Paris governs France was a delusion. So of course the imaginary nation's make-believe army fell apart. Former Marine Captain Lucas Kunce, a Democratic Senate candidate who did two tours there, wrote this in The Kansas City Star: “The truth is that the Afghan National Security Forces was a jobs program for Afghans, propped up by U.S. taxpayer dollars … populated by nonmilitary people or ‘paper' forces (that didn't really exist) and a bevy of elites grabbing what they could when they could.” A boondoggle and a folly. If Biden can get the U.S. out without a catastrophic slaughter, he'll have done all right. (Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin's Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at eugenelyons2@yahoo. com.)