August 24, 2021

Afghanistan After America: An Abyss Awaits

Terrorists who succeed are no longer terrorists. Stormtroopers were once rebels who fought the empire. 

"Unlike other Democrats of the Vietnam era, Holbrooke did not rethink the fundamental role of American power and leadership in the world. “I’m informed by Vietnam,” Holbrooke told me. “I’m not imprisoned by it.”

In 1970, he became the Peace Corps director in Morocco. The next year, he visited Peace Corps operations in Afghanistan. The country left a lasting impression. He later said, “I saw this romantic, exotic, harmonious, multi-ethnic society, just a few years before it was destroyed.” 

Holbrooke once told me that three things could cause America to lose the war: the Taliban sanctuary in Pakistan, civilian casualties, and corruption. The Afghan government was so crooked that nato considered it as much of a threat to success as the Taliban." - George Packer, "The Last Mission" The New Yorker, September 21, 2009.

"The most striking example of McChrystal’s usurpation of diplomatic policy is his handling of Karzai. It is McChrystal, not diplomats like Eikenberry or Holbrooke, who enjoys the best relationship with the man America is relying on to lead Afghanistan. The doctrine of counterinsurgency requires a credible government, and since Karzai is not considered credible by his own people, McChrystal has worked hard to make him so. Over the past few months, he has accompanied the president on more than 10 trips around the country, standing beside him at political meetings, or shuras, in Kandahar. In February, the day before the doomed offensive in Marja, McChrystal even drove over to the president’s palace to get him to sign off on what would be the largest military operation of the year. Karzai’s staff, however, insisted that the president was sleeping off a cold and could not be disturbed. After several hours of haggling, McChrystal finally enlisted the aid of Afghanistan’s defense minister, who persuaded Karzai’s people to wake the president from his nap.

This is one of the central flaws with McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy: The need to build a credible government puts us at the mercy of whatever tin-pot leader we’ve backed – a danger that Eikenberry explicitly warned about in his cable. Even Team McChrystal privately acknowledges that Karzai is a less-than-ideal partner. “He’s been locked up in his palace the past year,” laments one of the general’s top advisers. At times, Karzai himself has actively undermined McChrystal’s desire to put him in charge. During a recent visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Karzai met three U.S. soldiers who had been wounded in Uruzgan province. “General,” he called out to McChrystal, “I didn’t even know we were fighting in Uruzgan!” - Michael Hastings, "The Runaway General: The Profile That Brought Down McChrystal" Rolling Stone, June 22, 2010.

Terrorists who succeed are no longer terrorists. But military success does not automatically lead to political legitimacy. 

The Taliban are hostile to Afghanistan's spiritual mosaic. Their religious orthodoxy has no popular appeal. They are an alien virus in the Afghan body politic. 

For the last twenty years America provided booster shots every year to keep this virus at bay. The original vaccine that was the invasion drove the Taliban out, but, for some reason Washington allowed the virus to regrow and reestablish itself. Instead of targeting the outbreak of the virus in neighboring Pakistan they dealt with its symptoms and let its sponsor off the hook.

But the Taliban pandemic won't be contained to Afghanistan. Its success has already inspired Jihadi terrorists in Africa and the Middle East in their pursuit to create sharia states.

There is no turning back now. The ascendancy of the Taliban and Political Islam in general won't be stopped with the use of drones or the elite special forces of Western armies. Killing a bunch of random terrorists in the middle of the night obviously had no effect in Afghanistan and it won't anywhere else. 

Killing to victory is not a strategy. Biden clearly didn't think through the exit from Afghanistan but his instinct to leave was right. The American military had no raison d'etre in Afghanistan. 

An excerpt from, "The Last Mission," by George Packer:

"Bruce Riedel, a retired C.I.A. officer, told me that in January, on a trip to Afghanistan, Vice-President-elect Joe Biden discovered that U.S. policy was in disarray. When he asked why American troops were there, no two people gave him the same answer. Shortly after the Inauguration, Obama went to the Pentagon, where the Joint Chiefs of Staff gave a slide briefing; instead of delineating a clear goal, the briefing listed more than a dozen goals."

The policy of chasing after al-Qaeda, that mythical bogeyman which still haunts the halls of power in Washington, could only be prolonged for so long. At some point children grow up and they no longer believe there are mythical monsters under the bed. The American people reached that point in Afghanistan.

But human monsters exist and they need to be slayed. Painting the Taliban as respectable statesmen doesn't make them so. They still are what their Pakistani handlers made them to be: an army of disjointed warriors who won't easily adjust to a life of peace.

Islam apparently means peace but as long as the forces of Islam rule Islamic countries there won't be any peace anytime soon. 

America, too, was never interested in peace. It lost in Afghanistan because it cast its net too narrow. It picked up small fish in the shallow rivers, avoiding the ocean. 

By the end, everyone's patience was running thin. Time ran out. The clock struck midnight and the groom left the bride behind for the evil grandmother, Pakistan.

Pakistan is a land of fairy tales. It imagines itself a handsome prince, as a warrior nation at battle with the enemies of Islam. Now that their proxy is in power in Kabul they will want to use it to full effect.

Another excerpt from Packer's "The Last Mission":

One day in June, I sat down with Nasr in the State Department cafeteria. “Pakistan has become the eye of the storm, and I don’t think the American public understands this,” he said. Washington’s focus on terrorists in the border areas had neglected the deeper problem. The Pakistani military was now fighting the Pakistani Taliban in Swat, but it was still making distinctions among extremists—maintaining support for the Afghan Taliban and jihadist groups in Punjab. Underlying the crisis was an unhappy history with the United States: on the Pakistani side, a sense of being exploited for American strategic goals; on the American side, a sense of being chronically deceived.

“Richard gets it,” Nasr said. “He knows where we are with Pakistan is a symptom of twenty years of neglect. It’s a symptom of two countries that aren’t enemies but don’t trust each other.” Pakistan was counting on something that Hafez Assad, of Syria, once said: “America is short of breath.” Eventually, the Americans would leave Afghanistan, allowing Pakistan to pursue its own interests in the region. “Countries don’t change their strategic vision overnight,” Nasr told me. “It’s not as simple as Bush saying, ‘I hate terrorism, you hate terrorism, we’re all on the same page.’ This is a long, hard battle. We need to turn the Pakistani military, but we can’t do that without getting it to see its interests differently, which means building relations.”
The day after the last American plane leaves Afghanistan's skies the revenge killings will begin in the capital. It has already started in quieter parts of the country but the Taliban, guided by their Pakistani masters, is shrewdly moving at a slow, steady pace. 

This python will takes its time to chew. The question is can it keep down its meal, or will the bones get stuck in its throat and suffocate it?