We are living through an unmitigated disaster in Afghanistan. We created it, and we should all be repulsed and ashamed. And by “we”, I mean all of us. The disaster is worth examining on at least three levels.
At the lowest level, on the ground in Central Asia, can anyone imagine a more incompetent, ill-planned, stupid, deadly withdrawal than ordered and presided over by President Biden and his entire senior team, both civilian and military? Everything about it was backwards and defies common sense. The timing, the actions, and the betrayals could not have been worse. And the terrible repercussions for decades will haunt us and our children, from disbelieving allies to emboldened enemies to weapons in the hands of bad people on their way here across our non-existent border (another President Biden fiasco).
But move up to the geo-political/strategic level and the mantra of the last decade that “We have to get out of this corrupt place” and “We must put an end to America’s longest war.” Why? Why are those two electioneering statements more important than the reality in Afghanistan?
From a purely secular, geopolitical viewpoint, having a relatively small number of our troops in Afghanistan accomplished at least the following:
- Bagram Air Base represented a huge, scalable American military presence right where China, Pakistan, the former Soviet Union and Iran all come together. We spent billions on it. From this forward base (not unlike the bases we still maintain in Germany and Japan), we could not only project American power on small Taliban patrols, but the base gave the largest nearby nations a reason to think twice about their actions. Then last month we literally slipped out in the middle of the night, without telling our Afghan allies we were going; they found out when we cut off the power, as looters poured in.
- Kept a lid on the Taliban and other terrorist/insurgent groups. It was not necessarily tidy, and it may have cost some U.S. lives, which is absolutely terrible, but it was one of the world’s flashpoints where we could push back against authoritarian evil, and be seen to be doing so. The bad actors knew that we were nearby and could act, if they pushed too hard.
- Provided in-theater intelligence on what our enemies, big and small, were doing and planning.
- Propped up an admittedly corrupt government which, at least for the most part, defended basic human rights against the medieval brutality of Radical Islamists. Which is the greater evil: government corruption or destroying the lives of every woman and girl in the country? And when was “no corruption” made a requirement for U.S. defensive aid? All countries, because they are run by human beings, suffer from governmental corruption—some thankfully just have less.
- Prevented Afghanistan from again becoming a training and staging area for those committed to attacking us here at home, ironically on the twentieth anniversary of 9/11. And now they have literally taken over warehouses full of our own weapons to use against us and our troops.
- Showed the rest of the world that the West, working together as NATO, honored its commitments.
At this level, the blame is spread out further, to Presidents Biden, Trump, Obama and Bush, and their advisers and the media, for never articulating an important, coherent policy on Afghanistan which captured the points above while dismissing the false choice between the extremes of “nation building” and “withdrawal”.
I will make some of my conservative friends angry, but on this level Donald Trump bears a lot of the blame, not for the withdrawl debacle itself, which I’m sure he would have handled differently, but for setting up the conditions for forcing a withdrawl which simply should never have happened–see references below.
A year ago Trump released 5,000 Taliban prisoners, many of whom are now in Kabul, and came close to inviting the Taliban leaders to Camp David on the anniversary of 9/11. I guess his outsized and overworked ego imagined the ultimate Art of the Deal photo op. Then he basically told them “Don’t attack any Americans, and we’ll be gone soon.” Terrible, pitting us against our Afghan allies, and setting a fixed date for our withdrawal, which was always a bad idea, whatever the date. Awful on all counts.
Then, at the highest level, above even geo-political considerations, is the level of ideas and values. And there, too, we have failed miserably, due in part to decades of our own internal rot.
It is often said that America is, at its most fundamental, an ideal: That each individual, protected by inalienable rights which are granted by God and guaranteed by the Constitution and the Rule of Law, can, through individual application and achievement, attain any level of success and happiness that his or her individual gifts and circumstances will allow.
As I have said before and as we all know, the Founders were imperfect humans who didn’t always put into practice what they said in their words.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
Yes, at that time some of them had slaves. Women were not given equal rights. But this bold statement was like a lighthouse, pointing the way. Over the next two centuries our nation has been on a constant quest toward that light: over 600,000 Americans died in a war to free the slaves, an outcome never before seen in human history, and equal rights are now guaranteed to every American, except to unborn children.
That ideal of individual liberty, responsibility, and achievement, though acted out imperfectly, was the measuring rod for every new law, and the beacon of freedom for others around the world.
Or at least it was.
Just when our American ideals of liberty, freedom, impartial justice, and Rule of Law—which are really human ideals, appealing to all people because they are derived from our common Creator’s truths—are so needed as the foundation for pushing back against authoritarian darkness of all types in so many places, we have ourselves hollowed out our ideals with false narratives, doubts and lies.
First there was the destruction of the family, with incredibly negative results for almost every facet of our society.
Now there is Critical Race Theory. Oppressor/Oppressed. Systemic Racism. The 1619 Project. Diversity-Equity-Inclusion. Social Justice. BLM. There are several important references on these subjects below, but the point is that our education-government-corporate and even military elites now publicly question the basic goodness and truth of the American people and our institutions.
Are all white Americans racists? Is each of us inevitably an Oppressor of someone else? Is one form of government as good as any other? Are all religions the same? Do we need the elites to show us where we are wrong and what we should do to be better? Are personal redemption and transformation impossible, dooming us to remain as we are forever?
If all those negative conclusions are true about America then, yes, who would imagine us as a model? We and our nation are awful. What moral authority do we have to even suggest to others that our ideals and our morality are worthy of imitation?
Most importantly, if we are so bad, why should we defend, and others want, our values and our system?
The answer is because America is the self-governing nation whose practices often fall short, but whose values and ideals are the best hope for humankind. I believe that with all my heart, based on the divine source of those values, and on every experience of my seventy-four years.
And, tragically, what is happening in Afghanistan is both terribly tarnishing to those ideals, and making it much harder to imagine them being adopted anywhere else. The authoritarian states are now, with our help, winning the competition that President Biden correctly identified. Again, and tragically, they are winning because of our own self-inflicted mistakes.
In summary, we have questioned our own values so much and defined our “national interest” so narrowly that we don’t understandd that paying a relatively small price to uphold those values to the larger world in the face of medieval barbarism in Afghanistan is, by itself, very much in our national interest.
What is the world going to be like without a strong America as the key leader for God-given human values? Answer: a much darker, more violent, more chaotic and more hopeless place.
Somehow, and at this point I can’t see it yet through the raging storm, God will, as He always does, turn even this evil into good to fulfill His plans for us. I pray that day will come soon, and that the misery before it arrives will not be too great.
May God bless and protect with His mighty hand all those who are in harm’s way. And may He bless everyone, American and Afghan, who is working sacrificially to save lives and to uphold His truth and values.
For Further Reading:
Fault Lines by Voddie Baucham
The Diversity Delusion by Heather MacDonald
The Black Sisyphus by Marc Little
Trump: US will be out of Afghanistan by Christmas (militarytimes.com)
Military blindsided by Trump’s new Afghan troop withdrawal (apnews.com)