Tuesday, August 17, 2021

War in Afghanistan Ends in Ignominy and Shame

At NYT, "For America, and Afghanistan, the Post-9/11 Era Ends Painfully":

An era that began two decades ago with the shock of hijacked planes flying into American skyscrapers drew to a close this week with desperate Afghans clinging to American planes as they tried to escape the chaos of Kabul. Some fell; one was found dead in the landing gear.

A colossal bipartisan investment of American force, treasure and diplomacy to defeat a hostile ideology bent on the creation of an Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has failed. Over four presidencies, two Republican and two Democratic, more than 2,400 Americans gave their lives, and more than $1 trillion dollars was spent, for shifting Afghan goals, many of which proved unattainable.

The curtain came down on the post-9/11 era, with the Taliban retaking control of the country that served as the base for the attack on America, a full-circle debacle for the United States that will engrave Afghanistan painfully in the national memory.

Mistakes and illusions and a particular American naïveté, or hubris, about remaking the world in its image led to the swift Taliban takeover almost two decades after its defeat, but a more fundamental factor also played a part. With China flexing its muscles, the nation’s priorities shifted. The relative power of the United States is not what it was 20 years ago.

The country’s capacity and inclination to commit resources to faraway struggles ebbed. Absent the Cold War, Americans have little appetite for the kind of open-ended military commitment that cemented democracies in Germany, Japan, South Korea and elsewhere.

“As president, I’m adamant we focus on the threats we face today, in 2021, not yesterday’s threats,” President Biden said Monday, defending his decision to proceed with a rapid military withdrawal.

“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,” Mr. Biden said.

Yet if there has been a single thrust to Mr. Biden’s presidency, it has been the defense of democracies at an “inflection point” with repressive forms of governance spreading, and the reassertion of American values.

“America is back,” has been the refrain. But the question will now be raised: To do what? A planned summit in December conceived to reinforce democracies looks far less credible now that Afghan schools may be closed to girls again and Afghans who believed in freedom are desperate to flee.

“For decades Afghanistan has been the victim of people who wanted to do it good,” said Lakhdar Brahimi, an Algerian diplomat who served as United Nations Special Representative for Afghanistan and Iraq. “At this point there was no good time to leave, so this was as good — or as bad — as any,” he added.

The chaos in Kabul as the United States and its allies scrambled to evacuate their nationals, and the Afghans who had helped them, has inevitably been compared to the desperate scenes in Saigon in April 1975 as North Vietnamese troops took the city. Then, as now, a homegrown guerrilla insurgency undid a superpower’s designs.

The analogy should not be overdrawn, however. The United States was bitterly divided over the Vietnam War. Today most Americans want out of Afghanistan. Their priorities are domestic.

As Mr. Biden said, an overriding American objective was achieved: Islamist terrorism, in the form of Al Qaeda, was largely defeated over the past two decades. But the political Islam embraced by the Taliban has retained its magnetism as an alternative to secular Western models of governance.

It remains to be seen whether a newly savvy Taliban, honed by diplomatic experience that may have cooled something of the zealous ardor of the seminary, will honor promises to prevent Afghanistan becoming a terrorist haven again...

C'mon. No one believes the Taliban won't renew their global jihad. It goes without saying U.S. national security is more a risk than it was just last week.

And it's all on Biden, and he's getting hammered for it.

Still more.