Biden and Afghanistan: Only Frank Should Sing, “ My Way”.
Bob Gates is to blame. Years ago, he got under Joe Biden’s skin by saying that Biden, as Senator and Vice President, had not made one correct foreign policy decision on any topic of importance. It is now painfully clear that Joe waited for his moment. He stewed and griped and resented. In his speech, he made direct reference to his difference with President Obama on this very subject. Despite all the now evident intelligence reports, all the Afghan hands weighing in, Joe was doing it his way.
His way, by the way, will be remembered for one of, if not the most ill considered public statements a US President has ever made. Anyone who has been to Afghanistan, as I have, knows that the Afghans are remarkably tough people. They have been mountain fighters for centuries and are brave and committed. Honor and hospitality are dominant in the culture. I have had clan chiefs pledge their lives to protect me from harm as I went from village to village across from the Pakistan border. Biden did the unthinkable and called Afghan men cowards. It will never be forgiven.
His references to the Afghan army was as disingenuous as it was brazen. The country is made up of 34 provinces and over 400 districts. The role of clan and family is paramount. It is an Islamic Republic but it is not a Federation and reliance on a strong central government simply does not exist. All decisions are thus very local and this is what gives the Taliban great flexibility.
The Taliban were once fairly well thought of. The last time they took control they were seen as less corrupt than local warlords and were not enamored of the poppy crop. In time, however, their religious orthodoxy was less attractive to the rural Afghans for whom custom and family are the dominant social forces. The Chinese and Pakistan governments will give the Taliban a lot of money to spread around in the many districts but more on that later.
The National Army was hardly national in any way that we understand it. It was a good job for many young rural men, as long as they were actually paid. The Special Forces were universally thought excellent but the regular army was simply irregular. The simple truth is that we were the glue. There was no coherent or binding idea that could persuade them to continue without us.
Afghans are not stupid people, to the contrary. When they saw us simply leaving, using some nonsensical “ over the horizon” air support fantasy, they just went home. They love being Afghani but are far more local and regional than national. It is ironic that some in the US seem enamored of doing away with a governance of compromise. When you cannot hold the pieces together, you get what Afghanistan is right now.
But this is far from the worst aspect of what Biden has done. Anyone who has lived in an orthodox Islamic culture understands the risks taken by a generation of women who believed us. They broke from family, from tradition and were persuaded that Kabul was just Queens just a bit further from Manhattan. I am sure the Taliban will posture as if newly enlightened. But as soon as we turn away to focus on Britney Spears, the price will be paid. It must be or the Taliban will lose their essential identity. That will just not happen.
I can only imagine the kinds of photos or video’s that could emerge. They are my worst fear. Yet so far, it seems that the passion of our women’s movement ends at the waters edge. Some might ask why there is no outcry, a million-woman march, and passionate harangues on every channel? If I was cynical I might suggest that this suggests an attitude of privilege or that being inclusive does not have a word in Pashto.
And if you love irony…. In a few years, Afghanistan will be highly developed and prosperous. It sits near one of the 6 One Belt One Road corridors. This new massive infrastructure investment, linking the Lahore region of Pakistan to China, will be the key step to create investment in the trillions of raw materials within the nearby Afghan mountain ranges. The future of this region extending into Central Asia is very bright.
We could not have gotten this more wrong. It was a decision of ego, of stubbornness. It was amateurish, short sided and self-serving. As many have noted, we have not been in actual combat in Afghanistan for a long time, without a single military fatality for well over a year. It was a status quo but a smart one. Pakistan and China are the real beneficiaries in all of this. India is further compromised and this hurts our regional interest as well.
God help us if we next see that Americans are unable to leave and are detained. There are some 15000 distributed around the country and could make the Iran hostage experience seem a fairy tale. God help us if we see women abused for believing in us, for believing we would protect them. Imagine those images and the words.