What just happened? How did it happen so fast? What did we do wrong? I’ll tell you what we did wrong, we didn’t think it through: You don’t get to leave; unless you lose. That should have been obvious from the start.
Post WW-II we’re still in Italy, Germany, Japan; post Korea we’re still in Korea; post Viet Nam we are out from there, but we’ll have to categorize that one as a “loss;” post Iraq we had to rush right back in, in 2016, to counter ISIS, and we’re still in Iraq today. And that, I suppose, is how it should be.
Afghanistan is and was important geopolitically, in terms of it existing in the center of Asia and as it happens in-between Iran and Pakistan; and culturally, in terms of bringing that group of 30+ million people into the modern family; not to mention the explicit reason for being there which was to prevent it being a privileged site for the harboring and nurturing of terrorist groups (now that we’re leaving, it will go right back to doing just that, I am quite sure).
But the instantaneous failure of our 20-year Afghan investment and the nightmare of its president skulking off before the war was even lost with truckloads of stolen cash in tow, this has given the whole world pause…
…so it should probably give every American pause, too… and we all together are asking the same question: “Is the USA the dominant influence across the globe any longer? If not, who is?”
Maybe we in the USA are too busy to think deeply about what just happened because we’re so mired in distracting, fatuous internal debates over whether vaccines actually work; or if the election, of which over the 245 years of our history we’ve done a bunch of times, was done right; or if the Earth is flat or not? This country of ours has become indulgent and foolish beyond description, we’ve lost our way, and it appears very likely that we are incapable of leadership maybe as the USA’s detractors allege… maybe we are too soft and weak and selfish to lead the world any longer?
We need to mature-up enough to stop our un-disciplined haggling in order to take-in what just happened. The catastrophe in Afghanistan isn’t just another news story in the 24/7/365 cycle of news stories. This is a national failure of epic proportion.
Afghanistan, my friends, was much more than a war. It wasn’t as if we just went there to blow up an enemy. This was a “Pygmalion” on a massive scale. We did take on enemies there and we did that part more or less brilliantly, but above and beyond that we also made a lot of promises to the 14 separate tribes comprising the Afghan people. Remember COIN (Counter-insurgency) Strategy? Clear, Hold, and Build? We built them a representative government. We built a lot of schools. We established a free press. We convinced them –some of them, at least– to believe in Western democracy and the institutions that make it viable. We built an Army and Air Force over there, one in our own image in fact, one that couldn’t function even for a single day without us or our contractors, in fact. What were we doing? We lost a lot of men and women over there and injured ten times more, and psychologically impacted even more than that. And that’s just on our side. We had many coalition partners. We had Afghan partners. We spent $2 trillion dollars. And then it lasted ten, eleven days after we pulled out? And we didn’t see that coming? How could that be? What did we do wrong?
Was the plan to stay there forever? It might have been. It only makes sense that way. Hey, what WAS the plan, by the way. Oh yes, the Neo-cons: Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, and the lot. A quick victory in Afghanistan, to be followed by a quick victory in Iraq, and at that point we’ve got both sides of Iran covered, and we can control the Middle East. Or it was something other than that?
What is the plan now?
The fact is, somebody has to be the leading culture and force on this planet; for a little while it was us. World War II was very much about that –who would it be? The Axis or the Allied powers?– as were the wars in Korea and Viet Nam: Communism versus Capitalism. The duel is playing out still, but in a more civilized way, with respect to China’s ascendent-power “Belt and Road” initiative. And like it or hate it, our “War on Terrorism” was an attempt to bring the stickiest places on the globe a step forward.
Marx had famously predicted with the rise of Industrialization that economic development would follow that logic and move from undeveloped country to undeveloped country until all of the cheap labor sites on the planet had been exhausted, and only then would the workers of the world have more of a say in their conditions and circumstances. You gotta hand it to the guy, he had that part correct.
The terrorist phenomenon introduced the same kind of logic, which was that troubled places, like the unindustrialized ones before them, needed to be brought up to date in order for the rest of the world to be able to live in a truly modern era. Failure or not in Afghanistan (and although we’ve pulled out, the final chapter on that place is definitely not written, just yet) the job continues on. And who is going to lead it, if not US?