Confronting Afghanistan: Day of Darkness

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By Quentin Choy

The scenes in Afghanistan are chilling. As the Taliban slowly conquered regions over the last few weeks, their march on Kabul was imminent.

President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan was the correct decision in the long-term, but the devastating short-term consequences we are seeing are haunting.

Following two decades of war in Afghanistan, the U.S is ending the longest war in its history with very little to show for it.

“Our mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to have been nation building.  It was never supposed to be creating a unified, centralized democracy. Our only vital national interest in Afghanistan remains today what it has always been: preventing a terrorist attack on American homeland.”

President Joe Biden

The Taliban have defeated the Afghan military who were trained and funded by the United States. With about 300,000 people serving in the Afghan army, such losses against the much smaller Taliban forces shows a failure in Afghan governance despite American support.

The president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani fled the country, and he admitted defeat to the Taliban.

“In order to avoid the bleeding flood, I thought it best to get out. Taliban have won the judgement of sword and guns and now they are responsible for protecting the countrymen’s honor, wealth and self esteem.”

President Ashraf Ghani
President Ashraf Ghani with Biden.

Over $2 trillion was spent by the United States in the war, and there were “2,500 U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan and nearly 4,000 more U.S. civilian contractors killed” according to Forbes.

While the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan was a good one, the way it was executed was messy. Quick evacuations from American embassies, the fleeing of Ashraf Ghani, abandonment of American bases without coordination with the Afghan military, and failed combat training of Afghan troops made the Taliban takeover seemingly inevitable.

“American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves.  We spent over a trillion dollars.  We trained and equipped an Afghan military force of some 300,000 strong — incredibly well equipped — a force larger in size than the militaries of many of our NATO allies. We gave them every tool they could need.”

President Joe Biden

If after 20 years of support and training by the United States couldn’t prepare the Afghan military to fight the Taliban, then a Taliban takeover seemed to be inevitable no matter when the United States decided to withdraw.

The horrific scenes of Afghans fleeing Kabul on runways are tragic, and the United States can continue to support Afghanistan from afar whether through diplomatic means.

However, the objectives of the Afghanistan War have already been achieved by the United States, and the resurgence of the Taliban is not an issue that the United States needs to deal with militarily.

The Taliban’s rise is an internal issue within Afghanistan, and the Afghan government failed to prepare for it, despite support from the United States.

Maintaining a presence of American troops will only continue to see more loss of life. The Taliban is stronger today than they were before the start of the Afghanistan War.

“And here’s what I believe to my core: It is wrong to order American troops to step up when Afghanistan’s own armed forces would not.”

President Joe Biden

Calls for the Biden administration to rescue translators and Afghans who supported the United States during the war are justified, and these people should be saved and brought to the United States for their service.

Failure to rescue those who helped us would be one of the worst stains on Biden’s record in regards to his conclusion of this war.

President Biden maintained that the decision to leave Afghanistan was the correct one, and while this is true, many things were left unaddressed, leading to the messy, jumbled, and violent conclusion of America’s longest war.

The road ahead for Afghanistan looks terribly dark, and I hope the United States can find new ways to support Afghanistan aside from military presence.

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23 comments / Add your comment below

  1. How’s that working out for the Uyghurs or Yazidi? Who does the announcing? Who is then responsible for what? Sure, one world without borders sounds just peachy. It’s the pragmatics, however…

  2. I am told that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. I don’t know about that. But I do know that for every human action, there is a consequence, sometimes good, sometimes neutral, sometimes bad. The West entering Afghanistan has had a lot of consequences, some good, mostly bad. Now the piper needs to be paid, except it is not the West who is physically suffering, but the friends of the West, the abandoned friends of the West still in Afghanistan. Maybe this time we will learn to consider the consequences BEFORE we decide to act. The problem, of course, is that most consequences cannot be predicted, which makes it all the more necessary to proceed with caution.
    War-like people, those not on the front lines, do not proceed with caution. Let’s put THEM on the front lines, and then see how war-like they really are.

    1. rawgod,

      It will truly be a test of the world’s democracies and institutions to see if a diplomatic way of interacting with anti-democratic governments like the Taliban can be found. I hope this is true and that Afghanistan will be a lesson for American policymakers the next time talk of war begins to brew.

      Thanks!
      Quentin

  3. Excellent analysis, Quentin. If we had stayed another 20 years, the end result would likely have been the same. I do fear, though, that this may be President Biden’s Waterloo.

    1. Thanks, Jill. I think it will definitely impact his presidency in the short-term but that as time passes, people will see the bravery and courage it took to stand up against such strong political forces and set his foot down. I think he did himself a favor in saying that whoever withdrew as president would receive the backlash he is receiving right now, but that doing so is necessary.

      Thanks!
      Quentin

      1. I hear that the Republicans are now talking about impeachment, or invoking Amendment 25. What a double standard, yes? They put up with the machinations, broken laws, lies, dishonesty and corruption of the former guy for 4 years and still adore him, but Biden is trying to do the right thing and they want to impeach him! 🙄

      2. Jill, you likely know this all too well, but this is the perfect example of how much partisanship has consumed our modern politics. While the Democrats aren’t fully clean on this, this example of wanting to impeach a president for ENDING a war is absolutely ridiculous.

        Quentin

      3. Oh yes, how well I know! It is the very thing that keeps anything meaningful from getting done in our Congress. Both sides have been guilty to an extent, but the Republicans much more so — to the point of being full-out obstructionist. Yes, Biden made some mistakes in this withdrawal, but I believe he was trying to do the right thing. He cannot be hung (impeached) for errors in judgment, especially when he inherited this mess from the Republicans to begin with! But let’s face it … they were just looking for an excuse to impeach him anyway. Remember the big brouhaha over President Obama wearing a tan suit one time? I thought they were going to try to impeach him over that!

      4. Jill, yes. His presidency in terms of scandals has been sort of lowkey. This withdrawal was the biggest thing that the Republicans could leap on in an effort to catch him!

        Quentin

      5. Oh, they will no doubt try to turn this into his Waterloo. If they can, they will keep it in the forefront all the way up until November 2024 to try to turn the tables in their direction. Unless, of course, something else comes up that they can pummel him for. Sigh.

      6. Jill, it’s sad to see Biden attacked for one of the best, bravest things he has done during his presidency, especially by his own party and from European allies.

        Quentin

      7. It is, but we both knew it would happen. He is damned if he does, and damned if he doesn’t. The Republicans fully intend to draw and quarter him in his first year … I hope he’s strong enough to throw them all off! There’s plenty of blame to go ’round, and yes, Biden’s implementation needed better planning, but frankly Dubya and Trump earn a greater portion of the blame in my book.

  4. Titania points out the truth: Now that the white western colonisers have left Afghanistan, the Taliban can get on with implementing their progressive intersectional feminist policies.

  5. I cannot say that I am surprised at what happened. It is about what I have been expecting for 20 years. It was a mistake to enter Afghanistan the way that Bush (dubya) did. We should have learned our lesson in Vietnam.

    1. The Afghan Taliban government aided and abetted an act of war on the US… killed lots of Americans ’cause they could… and this the result. The Taliban are back in full control. Iran is stronger. Russia is stronger. China is stronger. In every way, they won. That’s the real world result.

      How does that sit with you?

      What lesson from Vietnam should we have learned? To make a half-hearted attempt to ‘nation build’ without first deconstructing the nation? How can that EVER work? The North Vietnamese conquered the South by military conquest. That’s the lesson. Military conquest works.

      The world is now a much more dangerous place and liberal democracy weaker than ever. The West is much weaker inviting more not fewer challenges and attacks because too many people in the West think military intervention isn’t about war, isn’t about killing, isn’t about delivering destruction, isn’t about military conquest, but is a diplomatic tool all about forcing others into negotiation, talking and dialoguing and getting stake holders around a table.

      But that’s not war. That’s diplomacy. And losing wars is not a very good way to bolster diplomatic efforts. It’s a guaranteed way to weaken it.

      The Taliban conquered Afghanistan by determined military conquest. And the US and its allies allowed it to happen. That’s the lesson the West needs to learn. The lesson is: If you’re going to fight, fight to win. But who is learning this? Military conquest means great destruction, means every institution will be torn down starting with customs and tribalism and laws. THEN, and ONLY then, can we rebuild a nation not as a conquest but as an ally with new, with better, with principled institutions backed up by military force willing and able to conquer. That’s how you nation build. That’s how Canada was built. And the same approach worked in Japan, Germany, and Italy. Unconditional surrender. Complete occupation. Not waving a negotiated piece of paper that supposedly guarantees ‘peace in our time’. That ‘negotiated’ approach has never worked. Never will work.

      Neither does isolationism.

      1. Neither does war. War breeds war and more war. We (meaning all the people of this world) have to find a new way, and we have to find it soon. My best suggestion, crazy as it sounds, is to remove all borders and declare the world as one, the home of human beings, and all the other living beings who make up the ecology of this planet. As long as borders exist, we will never have peace! And peace is the best possible state for all life.

      2. The way this blog is configured doesn’t allow me to reply to rawgod directly, so I have no choice but to reply to you, tildeb. What I want to say is simply this:

        We (meaning all the people of this world) have to find a new way, and we have to find it soon. My best suggestion, crazy as it sounds, is to remove all borders and declare the world as one, the home of human beings, and all the other living beings who make up the ecology of this planet. As long as borders exist, we will never have peace! And peace is the best possible state for all life.

        Abso-bloody-lutely!
        (And now, I’ll head over to rawgod’s site to follow it, as he’s clearly a kindred spirit.)

    2. Neil,

      Efforts to democratize and nation-build in completely different societies are a waste of time. The best way the United States can promote global democracy is to strengthen democracy within its own borders rather than attempting to force other nations to democratize.

      If the U.S. goes to war, they should focus on short-term goals and declare victory – not adding more and more goals, leading to the quagmires we’ve seen in Afghanistan and Iraq.

      Thanks for your comment!
      Quentin

  6. This is inevitably what happens when foreign policy serves short term domestic politics: inevitable defeat and a direct blow to reputation. The question this 4 presidential term equivocation produces is, can the US be trusted as an ally?

    The answer is… maybe. For while. When it suits. If it’s convenient. What’s in it for me?

    The repercussions from this kind of debacle are not trivial and so the US once again loses credibility and face in the eyes of the world. Enemies of liberal democracy celebrate today. The true victims in this case are Afghani women who just went from being people to being chattel but the collateral damage is to people around the globe who think human rights matter more than a tinker’s damn and look to the US for leadership, example, and policy to uphold them. You know, behavior and decisions we expect from responsible grownups. The US for the past 20 years in foreign policy has been more like the spoiled and self-centered teenager open to bribery and immediate gratification but without principle.

    This is an opportunity to learn for the US what all Great Powers already know: say what you mean, mean what you say, and do what you say you’re going to do. It’s not rocket science. But it does take maturity, which is exactly what is missing from the US today.

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