I have been hesitant to write about the current situation in Afghanistan. There are thousands of articles on the topic, not to mention 24/7 news coverage. Also, I am not an expert on Afghanistan, though recently I have not been very impressed by Afghan experts. Frankly, the issue is too emotional and political right now. It is never a good thing to comment on emotional events. People cannot think clearly and react emotionally. It would take a few years to calm people down. Despite this, I will make a few observations.
To start, we should put aside political chatter. There are a bunch of vultures who view current events in Afghanistan as an opportunity to score political points that might help them in the immediate future. These people don’t care about anything going on in Afghanistan; it is, and always has been, all about themselves. We need to ignore them because they won’t provide a solid analysis of what happened and will happen.
In addition, there is a lot of finger-pointing going on, and, to be honest, there is enough blame to go around. Yes, the withdrawal was poorly handled. These types of operations are always complex and difficult, but it did not have to be this chaotic. However, we did not lose Afghanistan in the last few days. We lost this war over a period of 20 years. Plenty of mistakes were made, starting when we shifted focus from Afghanistan to Iraq, before the Afghanistan issue was settled. We made the mistake the U.S. seems to always make: mission creep. We went from destroying Al Qaida to nation-building. In nation-building, we emphasized the military rather than the civilian. The military is not a nation-building organization, it is a nation-destroying organization. Yes, you need a degree of pacification to build, but way too much emphasis was placed on the military rather than the State Department and AID doing nation-building.
We also chose a government that was corrupt, inefficient and had little popular support, as we seem to always do. This, in turn, did not provide a serious cause to fight for. The Taliban’s cause was religion, a powerful motivator. What cause did we give the Afghan people? The Taliban also had a safe haven, so even when we were victorious, the enemy had a place to run to where they would be safe, could recuperate and rearm. We did not understand Afghanistan, despite all the well-meaning work civilians and military did there. In the end, we do what Americans do best and assume everyone is like us.
Who gets the blame for all of this? Everyone, my friends. The politicians who were the ultimate leaders of the war are guilty of not developing a realistic strategy to win in Afghanistan. The military command, with their can-do attitude that painted a rosy picture and instead, ended up lying to the American people and the civilian leadership. The Afghan government for being so weak and corrupt. The American people bear a share of the blame too—yes, you and I—for not really caring enough about Afghanistan, for not letting it upset our dinners and weekend barbecues.
We are to blame because we allowed multiple administrations to do as they willed without serious checks by the people. We could have protested policies, we could have let it be known that we were either willing to commit ourselves and our children to another 20 years of war, willing to have our taxes raised to properly fund the war, or that we were done and should have pulled out sooner. We could have pressured senators and representatives to do more or do less. That is what democracy is about.
In a democracy, the people are the final arbiters of policy and government. Too often we merely vote politicians into power and basically tell them to do something without really bothering us about it. We only react when things turn really bad. We have allowed one percent of the population, usually the same families, to wage our wars, while we comfortably sit at home and enjoy the liberties they defend. We didn’t want to be bothered by year five of the war. We had grown bored. As long as the military and intelligence agencies were able to keep us safe at home, we really did not care about events in far-off Afghanistan.
That is on us. We can never let up when American men and women are in combat. We need to remain engaged, informed, and actively pushing our elected officials to carry out the will of the people. The writing was on the wall for Afghanistan. For years it was obvious that the military assessment was false, that the Taliban remained strong while the Afghan government was weak and corrupt. We could have demanded accountability, we chose not to.
To the men and women who served in Afghanistan, I say your sacrifice was not in vain. You did destroy Al Qaida, making the U.S. safer. You sacrificed for one another, you saved each other’s lives when you could, and hold dear their memory when you could not. You did your duty; you did America proud. No one could have asked more. I understand the frustration, the emotion, the anger. This is not your failure. You were not defeated.