Our foreign policy elite have learned nothing from Afghanistan
Bush and Cheney sold the war, Obama normalized it, Trump disowned it, and Biden had the courage to end it.
Cecil Rhodes once said he would annex the planets if he could, and the United States, for the past four decades, has nurtured an equally supernatural ambition. Everyone (we thought) would choose our way of life if only they had the chance. It follows that we should try to bring them there through the arts, manners and commerce and, if necessary, through wars. Wars would, of course, be fought against the enemies of freedom, even if the enemies were their neighbors and compatriots.
Tony Blair presented the case in a memorable way, just three weeks after September 11, 2001: âThe kaleidoscope has been shaken, the pieces are moving, they will soon fall back into place. Before they do, let’s reorganize this world around us. What poetry! Look at the world like a toy! It was, to me, the initial impression of Blair’s words. Stranger, looking back, was the emphasis on shipping. The reorganization would be done soon and quickly, with a courageous disregard for prudential prudence.
A few days earlier, Dick Cheney had mentioned the need to work on “the dark side”. The broader context of the Vice President’s appearance on September 16 on Meet the press showed the consonance of his thought with that of Blair. âThings have changed since last Tuesday,â Cheney said. âThe world has changed in some ways. But he spoke with austere realism about the likely duration of the conflict: “There will be no end date when you say, ‘There you go, it’s over.’ George W. Bush, for his part, made a promise of both lasting determination and a happy ending: “We will not falter, we will not grow weary, we will not falter and we will not fail.” not. Peace and freedom will prevail.
The regret now emanating from the North Atlantic political elite suggests how little the fate of this project has changed their thinking. In an August 31 New Yorker Deploring the evacuation of the United States from Afghanistan, Robin Wright commented with punitive contempt: âAmerica is tired. He faltered. And it failed. Bold promises, over time, have turned into abandonment of mission. The hope for personal freedom has evaporated. But for what hope and for what mission was she speaking? Ellen Knickmeyer, in an Associated Press article on August 17, gave a more realistic count than Wright’s. In addition to the 2,500 American dead, there were 66,000 killed among Afghan soldiers and police, 51,000 among the Taliban and other opposition fighters, 47,000 among Afghan civilians.
No âevaporationâ metaphor is needed to conclude that a large portion of those 164,000 dead would not have died if the United States had never occupied Afghanistan. For a proportionate sense of the numbers, imagine a civil war on American soil – instigated, funded, and extended over 20 years by a foreign power – that ends up claiming a million and a half American lives.
The weakening of Afghan support for the US mission was not a rejection of freedom but a final wave of disgust at the staggering burden of corruption that this war has engendered and nurtured. As for the European criticism of our departure, it has been reported without the slightest irony on the relationship between the deceased empires of the nineteenth century and their successors. Britain and France have shown understandable embarrassment at having ceded so much authority to America for such a dismal result. Blair spoke again, with a magnificent ferocity of reproach, and Bernard-Henri LÃ©vy was bombastic: âThe image of liberal democracies, embodied by the greatest of them, is tragically tarnished. LÃ©vy alone denounces our exit. He is not saying that the liberal image has been tarnished by everything the United States did while occupying Afghanistan and Iraq. Regrets in a more serious tone were pronounced by Leon Panetta: “We can leave a battlefield, but we cannot leave the war on terrorism”. But Afghanistan was not just a battleground, but a testing ground for a system of corruption, bounty hunts and assassinations, as Cheney recognized early on:
Much of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussionâ¦. You must have some very unsavory characters on the payroll if, in fact, you are going to be able to learn everything that needs to be learned in order to prevent this kind of activity. It’s a mean, mean, dangerous and dirty business, and we have to operate in this arena.
Our interest in the dark side has increased the supply of dark operators.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were financed by debt at a cost of $ 2 trillion. The final health care bill for war veterans, encompassing disability, burial and related expenses, is likely to be an additional $ 2 trillion, Knickmeyer reports. The Senate Finance Committee has questioned these costs only once in the past 20 years; the Senate Appropriations Committee questioned them five times. Should this level of surveillance be taken as an example of the freedom we bring to people 7,000 miles away?
We think more easily of the rescued than of the drowned: âWe saved the women. What will the Taliban do to them now? The American intervention has improved the lives of some Afghan women, and many of those who hoped to leave will not be able to do so. It is harder to say – harder even to remember – that we also killed many innocent and tortured brothers and husbands; or that the nuptials we slaughtered in misjudged drone strikes also contained someone’s children.
A few years ago a friend, a Cold War liberal, surprised me by saying out of nowhere, âAmericans are better than the rest, don’t you think? It was clear from the context that this was not a chauvinistic remark. Rather, the feeling was that Americans, by a combination of national temperament and luck, were more generous than others; and if on occasion we really did harm, it came from a reckless exuberance of goodwill. I didn’t agree then, and I disagree now, but I think that’s how a lot of Americans think of us. We are generous judges for our own cause.