The war is over, for in battle we lost the peace.
How we lost this one will have lasting effects on how we lose the next one.
The images this weekend were stark. Sycophants in the Biden administration telling us as recently as three weeks ago that the Taliban were in check and the Afghan government was stable, that the Afghan military would be able to hold off the advances of the medieval cultists that the Pakistanis created and have harbored for so long.
President Biden, flummoxed at his own ineptitude, promised more troops to deploy for what could best be articulated as the singular purpose of getting remaining Americans out of harm’s way, with no interest in protecting what became, a day later, the flatlined Afghan government.
He did make it a point to blame President Trump, though. This ham-fisted deflection of blame has some merit in it. Trump certainly packed the explosives and lit the fuse. Biden accelerated it with gasoline.
It bears remembering why we went into Afghanistan to begin with… the utter failure of the Ottoman Empire.
After WWI the Ottoman Empire collapsed under its own decrepit weight and making a seriously bad bet waging war against the Allies. We were assisted in our sideshow war against the Ottomans by a variety of Bedouins and we (when I say we I am referring to the West in general, but the French and the British in particular) wanted to reward our newfound allies. Put another way… we wanted stability and economic profitability to flow from the Levant, and the easiest way to do this was to engage in the same type of Empire building that has been done for thousands of years. We placed our friends into seats of power.
We did it a little differently though. Because of the vastness of the Ottoman Empire, we needed to carve up the place and make it more “manageable”. To that end we created more or less the modern map of the Middle East and Iran.
This actually worked for a time, but then three major events happened that screwed up the whole plan. First, Germany decided to do a bit of military adventurism through Europe that devastated the economies of both England and France. Second, colonialism took on a pejorative term and “empires” started articulating a “British First” or “French First” mantra (sound familiar?). Then third, and this is a biggie, globally we developed a robust industrial economy based on the issuance of credit. This last aspect probably had the greatest impact since the consumer economy of the planet is essentially based on petroleum.
The Middle East got rich. Really rich. Stupid rich. With wealth comes bizarre counter movements, ascetic religiosity being one of the more profound ones. On the flip side some of the new rulers in the Middle East wanted a little more “walking-around room” and decided to engage in a bit of neighbor squashing themselves.
Enter Saddam Hussein.
Facing ever more domestic issues at home (dictators constantly have to look over their shoulders) and reeling from a prolonged war with Iran, Saddam decided he needed to put some points on the board quickly, and who better to do that with than his feckless neighbor to the south, Kuwait?
This did not sit well with the rest of the planet that relied not so much on Kuwaiti oil, but rather on Kuwaiti infrastructure and transportation hubs. More importantly… he did not seek out specific permission to do this. Who knows… a little piety to the international economy, maybe things would have been different.
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Regardless, we went into Kuwait to “liberate” them. Sigh… sometimes success can be your own worst enemy. We did liberate them… and we did it quickly, efficiently, and terrifyingly well. So much so that it kinda shocked the rest of the Arab world. Norman Schwarzkopf went full Scipio Africanus on Saddam and literally destroyed his army overnight. He did not, however, take the fight to its logical conclusion. He was ordered not to go into Baghdad. Like a civil case where punitive damages are awarded, Saddam was to be hurt, but not decimated.
During this time a religious zealot named Osama Bin Laden decided to use our own strength as a foil against us. Knowing the emotional state of his neighbors had been shaken by the realization that the U.S. could kick the crap out of them at anytime, he decided to convert us from a Republic to an Empire. He was successful, at least in the eyes of the religious extremists who were adopting a new form of asceticism in the Levant. “Americans are the new crusaders!”, became a rallying cry to anyone who would listen to him.
He needed a base of operations though. What better place to go than Afghanistan? The Taliban were taking over the country and, while not exactly adopting his own version of Islamic Asceticism, it was close. Moreover, he could assist them in eradicating the Northern Alliance and cementing their own hold on power. This would then free him up to go low tech and start striking blows against America. He never intended to “take over America”… that was never the plan. He wanted to use his attacks against us as a recruitment vehicle to gain new supporters to ultimately take over the Middle East. That was always the goal.
So he engineered 9/11. When we realized who was behind it, and the fact that he was being harbored by the Taliban, we went into Afghanistan on what could best be described as a revenge mission.
But then something funny happened on the way to the forum.
We did a number on Al Qaeda. We drove the Taliban from their positions of control in the local villages, but now we needed to do something about the chunk of land we were occupying called Afghanistan.
Thus, we started to “nation build.” Something we really, really suck at.
The United States does, in fact, operate in a fairly ridged moral framework. We don’t pursue the enemy with the same barbarism that they pursue us. We micromanage our commanders and allow politicians to dictate appropriate military outcomes. We abhor the opposite: Military commanders dictating political outcomes.
We homogenized and sanitized our war-fighting capabilities, and as President Obama famously stated: “[We] care more about process than product… we have to get the process right.”
Then we started to get bored.
The romanticism of Afghanistan started to weigh. These people were not playing the game! The one thing we are really good at, extending credit and building infrastructure, we didn’t do. Well… that is not entirely accurate… we did, we just didn’t do it for the regular Afghani. There is not a thriving mortgage industry in Afghanistan, no homes being built by the Toll Bros. There is no thriving service sector. These things create debt, debt creates stability, and nobody bothered to get around to doing this.
Afghanistan in 2021, for all intents and purposes, looks like Afghanistan pre-9/11.
Then President Trump said he was going to “get us out” of Afghanistan. People cheered! After all… America First, right?!
When Biden took the helm he switched staff, created new “plans”, and decided to move up the date of departure.
Not surprisingly, two groups took notice: the Taliban (who wanted their towns back) and the Chinese (who wanted potential working relationships with whomever wound up in charge).
The government… our government… assured us that our withdrawal would be orderly. The Afghan government had sea legs and it could hold onto its power. Sure… some concessions to the Taliban might be necessary, but don’t worry… everything will be fine!
Then, in a matter of three weeks, the entire place went to crap. The president of Afghanistan has fled the country (probably a smart move), and we have our second Saigon moment as we burn documents in our embassy and flee by helicopter.
(Well… our Secretary of State Blinken did tell us that this is nothing like Saigon… so… I guess we have that going for us. Besides, those who are carrying water for the Biden Administration have told us that they are really, really smart, and well… we are kinda stupid, aren’t we? They’ve clearly got this covered! Then they wonder why we don’t trust them on COVID vaccinations! Ugh… don’t get me started.)
Does this withdrawal have consequences? You betcha. Our ability to secure alliances, marginal under Trump, is now pathetically low under Biden.
But in the ashes of anything, there is hope… and hope exists here too. We can learn from this. We can understand that there are two types of wars we can fight in the future: 1. Limited military action… totally cool, and as long as they are proportional to the harm inflicted on us, rock and roll baby. 2. Then there is occupational. Occupational needs to be total war. One that not only involves a complete submission and eradication of the enemy, but a pre-fab, ready-to-deploy alternative economic and political system to the subject country.
Hopefully, this is not going to be lost on deaf ears.