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Saturday, April 17, 2021

Goodbye, Afghanistan

 I am glad that President Biden has announced that all American troops will leave Afghanistan within four months, but I was astounded that he publicly and explicitly linked the final withdrawal date to the twentieth anniversary of 9/11. The response to that event of the American political elite--of which Biden himself was already a member in very good standing--may have been the worst foreign policy blunder in American history.  It also destroyed much of the peoples' confidence in our leadership.  Biden seems quite willing to emphasize what a failure it all was.  That suggests to me that the gulf between the foreign policy establishment and the people still exists.

It was quite possible to see even in the immediate wake of 9/11 that the invasion of Afghanistan might turn out very badly.  I know, because I said so at the time in this piece, which must have been written before the invasion began. We did not trap Osama Bin Laden there, and it took ten years to find him and kill him living safely in a garrison town inside our "ally" Pakistan.  We got the Taliban out of power, but it has used sanctuary in Pakistan--and active support from important institutions in that country--to rebuild, and it now controls much of the country and some of the urban areas as well, and may well be back in power in Kabul within a couple of years.   The Afghanistan war became the prelude to the even more disastrous war in Iraq, which has still not achieved stability while falling into the orbit of Iran, another regime that Bush II hoped to topple   The democracy project in the Middle East seemed to be succeeding in 2011 at the time of the Arab Spring, but only in Tunisia has it had a good medium-term result.  Egypt lapsed into despotism, the Syrian regime defeated the rebellion against it, and Libya remains in a 10-year civil war. 

The experience of the Vietnam war changed me from a run-of-the-mill liberal cold warrior into a determined skeptic about intervention.  It did not have that effect on my contemporaries who sought power and glory as foreign policy bureaucrats or politicians elected to office.  Republicans, led by neoconservatives, blamed liberals for the defeat in Vietnam and looked for new dragons to slay in the Middle East and elsewhere.  Leading Democrats such as Bill and Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Joe Biden,  and even Barack Obama (after he became President anyway) decided that they could not risk looking soft on national security, and undertook or endorsed a series of interventions of their own.  Women's rights have become another excuse for US intervention in distant lands.  In Fear, Bob Woodward quoted Lindsay Graham telling Donald Trump that there would always be evil abroad in the world and that the US had a destiny to fight it.  Trump, to his credit, was not impressed.  Biden has endorsed Trump's withdrawal policy for now, but he has also appointed a completely traditional foreign policy team.  Meanwhile, through all this, the defense budget has continued to grow. 

Several leading Republicans, including Mitch McConnell, have attacked Biden's decision.  (To be fair, McConnell attacked the withdrawal policy when Trump announced it, as well.)  Many however have not.  For all his greed, mendacity and incompetence, Donald Trump realized that much of the American people no longer accepted the mainstream thinking of the elite on many issues, including foreign policy.  He has left a big legacy within the Republican Party and in the nation at large.  The Boom generation is falling out of power.  The question now is whether new generations can adopt genuinely new principles in foreign policy.  With real trouble brewing in both Russia and China, I suspect the answer is no.

4 comments:

Energyflow said...

Interventionism is hypocrisy. See mote in the other' s eye instead of the log in your own. Trillions could have gone into infrastructure repair or education. I see however a long term good in American emotional involvement abroad. Chinese and Japanese isolation was often total. Europeans have colonized and attempted to shape the world. One learns through mistakes. Now we know a lot more about the Middle East and hopefully after withdrawing will respect its culture. Perhaps this will be a two way street as many immigrants have arrived in Western countries. Now the Chinese with BRI are trying their hand at economic colonialism through infrastructure and debt financing. They are also getting blowback. Also from the West where millions of unemployed and heavy trade deficits make enemies. Bootstrapping yourself at other's expense and global integration has its price.

Energyflow said...

(cont.)
Soviet, British, Spanish empire and influence peddling all learned to be more satisfied in their own borders. After China and America learn this lesson then perhaps India or Nigeria will get ambitious? I have read that population estimates of China are about 200 million overdone as local cadres must fulfill baby quotas and gain central govt funding This could be same in very many countries. Chinese population could fall to between 700-400 million by century's end. America might surpass it or remain stable or fall as well. Interventionism saps a country's strength, decimating middle class and slowing thereby birth rates and economy. Ambition of rulling class, usually rich but certainly elite, technocratic upper class, destroys a country through overreach. You made quite a good point last week. Is my Xer generation like the hero generation of Civil War? Are millenials snowflake weaklings turned into a new artist/ silent generation? Then gen z should be new boomers and 60s quickly upon us. I don' t notice that. Crisis feeling remains. Like MAD doctrine in cold war nuclear race it seems no all out conflict is possible, which is needed to form strong character. So middle East forever wars will have to do. And at home culture wars. Rust belt despair on antidepressives between military tours and body sacks watching infrastructure decay, debt(credit cards, college debt)and import culture( walmart/amazon) paired with declining ethnic relevance as 3rd world immigration continues apace slowy taking political power away from mold majority similar to Irish and Italians between civil war/ww2. Deindustrialization, demographic shift in makeup and geopgraphically to south and west mean a new balance which will be expressed in a crisis moment of sorts. Stuffing the courts, reindustrializing and breaking with China. Perhaps the revolution of the left will eat its children as virtue signalling politicians, corporations, middle classes must put up for real by giving up influence, wealth to the newly arrived or black citizens. I read that whites in elite colleges were now limited in current year to 30-40% (70% pop proportion)and that protest for real change in corporate promotion and not lip service is underway. The reports of white indoctrination to self hate in elite academies ( NYC)and corporations( coke) sounds like the Maoist cultural revolution of the 1960s. Macron has rejected this as radical and banned foreign mosque funding, closing extremist mosque while Lavrov calls it ' cultural revolution against whites'. The world followed American revolution belatedly democratizing, and next two saeculum had great influence on military and social trends. Will American trend be one of integration with growing 3rd world internally? Must America renationalize and deglobalize however simultaneously? Trump' s MAGA slogan of isolationism would win the day and the democrat's left wing march of progress as well. A balance of sorts. America respects other' s borders, laws, customs physically while welcoming their immigrants. BLM, Antifa, virtue signalling internet and corporate America have many contradictions much as human rights justified invasions killing millions abroad. The way to hell is paved with good intentions. Wisdom comes with gey hairs. Youthful ardour is rash and the simplest answers are not always the right ones. Let us hope that America ages with grace and does not stumble and fall into the abyss of its own constructions.

mike said...

Am surprised that you have not accounted for the CIA, mercenaries, contractors, etc.,. that will not be leaving Afghanistan and has been reported on this week by other journalists.

Bozon said...

Professor

To put it in a nutshell that some historians would appreciate, we here are rather like a cross between Germany before Bismarck and Poland before partition.
That is rather succinct.

All the best