As a vaguely leftist American history buff, I have many fears about Afghanistan and my country’s relationship with that troubled nation.
In particular, I can easily foresee America’s leaders repeating many of the mistakes that led to the present debacle. The same mix of ignorance, arrogance, misguided idealism, and irrational fear that led the US into Afghanistan could easily repeat itself.
Worst of all, the horrendous thinking that drove the American Afghan War still grips our leader’s minds. Hence, I think a partial repeat of the American catastrophe in Afghanistan could be inevitable.
“History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” – Karl Marx
My fears for Afghanistan include:
First, the United States has no plan for Afghanistan
The US government has never any realistic plans for Afghanistan for a long time.
When the Soviets left Afghanistan in 1989, the United States had no plan beyond “let the Afghans sort this out.” That led to the Taliban takeover of the country. When the Taliban took over Afghanistan in 1994, the US had no plan beyond “ignore it and hope they go away.”
Lack of US engagement created a no-man’s-land in which terrorists and smugglers could operate. By failing to engage with the Taliban, the US has no influence in Afghanistan.
When the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001, there was no plan beyond “get Bin Laden.” That led to 20 years of pointless military operations in the country and the charade of “nation building.”
One reason for the occupation was that the only people in Washington, DC with a plan for Afghanistan were the neocons who want to turn America into the British Empire. An obvious lesson here is that an evil plan will always overcome no planning.
Since the antiwar and limited war advocates had no plans, they could not stop the neocons who had a plan, a bad and unrealistic plan. Hence, war opponents need realistic plans.
Today, I see the same situation repeating itself. The antiwar crowd celebrates while the neocons are drawing up plans for a new invasion and occupation.
One simple plan for Afghanistan we could follow is to leave our embassy in Kabul open and recognize the Taliban as soon as soon they reach the city. Another smart move could have been to have had our top military commanders greet the Taliban as they rolled in. IE show the Taliban we’re willing to work with them openly.
There is no plan. We did not even have a plan for evacuating the country. The neocons have won a Pyrrhic victory.
Second America’s leadership class has learned nothing
The American leadership class learned some important lessons during the Vietnam War.
Notably, the US abandoned the policies of nation building and large-scale military operations in the developing world. Instead, the US adopted a sensible strategy of limited engagement and working through whatever friends we had on the ground. That strategy blocked and defeated the Soviet strategy of exporting Communism at gunpoint.
Moreover, the elite expelled the architects of the Vietnam debacle from the citadels of power. President Lyndon B. Johnson (D-Texas) dropped out of politics and they drove Vietnam war planners such as former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara into the political wilderness.
Instead, a new generation of foreign policy thinkers such as Henry Kissinger arose. Those thinkers hoped to achieve America’s goals without war and they wanted to limit military actions. Post-Vietnam presidents such as Richard M. Nixon (R-California) Jimmy Carter (D-Georgia), Ronald Reagan (R-California), and George H. W. Bush (R-Texas) went out of their ways to avoid military action.
Today see I no such learning among other leadership classes. Instead, the architects of the catastrophes in Iraq and Afghanistan are still respected experts. For example, former President Donald J. Trump (R-Florida) named one noxious war hawk John Bolton National Security Advisor and new neocons including former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas) and embarrassing UN Ambassador Nikki Haley (R-South Carolina) to positions of power.
Similarly, the media promotes the careers of almost all the Iraq and Afghanistan war planners and promoters. The right-wing Fox, the leftwing MSNBC, and the centrist CNN all employ war hawks as experts. When they’re not on TV, these people are penning columns for The Washington Post or New York Times or seeking positions as political advisors.
The power structure that led us into Afghanistan is still in place and planning new wars. However, I think ordinary Americans, including many members of the military, gained a vast amount of valuable knowledge from Afghanistan. Unfortunately, our elite will ignore that knowledge.
Third the Unfinished Business Myth will return with a Vengeance
One of the most destructive myths of the last 30 years was the Unfinished Business Myth that came out of the First Iraq War or Gulf War. I think this myth will return with a vengeance after the Afghanistan debacle.
The Unfinished Business Myth is that the US failed to complete the job in Iraq by eliminating Saddam Hussein and his Baathist regime and “rebuilding Iraq” as we rebuilt Germany and Japan after World War II. This myth is dangerous nonsense, but it gained a grip on the American mind.
The Unfinished Business Myth has its roots in a misreading of 20th Century history. In reality, the Germans rebuilt Germany, and the Japanese rebuilt Japan. German and Japanese leaders implemented most of the policies that led to the German and Japanese success stories after the US occupations ended.
Unfortunately, the notion that non-Americans can succeed without American help never occurs to the arrogant elitists in Washington, DC. Similarly, American intellectuals cannot conceive of anything good or bad happening anywhere on Earth without American involvement.
My prediction is that the Unfinished Business Myth will become the new gospel of America’s elite because it appeals to their prejudices. Consequently, we will see enormous numbers of books, documentaries, “news articles,” op-eds, and commentaries repeating the fairy tale that America almost finished the job in Afghanistan. Yet we left too early.
Most of these stories will feature pictures of cute Afghan children and talk about the fate of Afghan women or Afghan gays. Accompanying this nonsense will be the inevitable Taliban atrocity stories. Along with claims that the Taliban, and Al Qaeda, are planning to attack America.
Fourth we will see a Stab-in-the-Back Myth about Afghanistan
One of the worst side effects of the Vietnam War was the stab-in-the-back myth. The myth usually went like this, “our brave boys won in Vietnam but those horrible hippies, peace protesters, intellectuals, and journalists betrayed them. Or we were winning until that asshole Walter Cronkite opened his mouth.”
Okay, this myth is pure nonsense. The military defeat in Vietnam came years after the Americans left. Most of the US antiwar protests were long over when Saigon fell. However, the stab-in-the-back fantasy offers a simple explanation for a complex situation and bad guys to blame.
I predict we will see similar nonsense spread about Afghanistan. Indeed, I expect to see two rival Afghanistan stab-in-the-back myths.
The Right’s stab-in-the-back myth will focus on President Joe Biden (D-Delaware) and leftists in the media. The leftist stab in the back myth will focus on former President Donald J. Trump (R-Florida) and right-wing neocons.
Both myths will contain little truth, but they will become gospel. The goal of both myths will be the same, absolve incompetent American leaders of their responsibility for the debacle. Instead, shift the blame onto somebody’s political opponents.
Fifth America could experience new terrorist attacks
My greatest fear is already coming true. I think some terrorist groups will launch aggressive attacks on Americans, American institutions, and American allies.
The motive for these attacks will be to keep American forces in the Middle East or Afghanistan. To explain, the purpose of organizations such as ISIS and Al Qaeda is to wage war on America.
These organizations justify their crimes and recruit members with their drivel about a “holy war against American crusaders.” If there are no crusaders, there is no Jihad and no reason for ISIS or Al Qaeda to exist.
One such organization, the Islamic State Khorasan, or ISIS-K, has already launched such an attack. ISIS-K claims responsibility for a 26 August 2021 attack at the Kabul Airport. The media estimates that the bomb killed 170 Afghans and 13 US military personnel.
The purpose of the bomb attack is clear: to keep American troops in Afghanistan. No Americans means no holy war, which turns ISIS-K into a group of foreign thugs killing fellow Muslims. Notably, ISIS-K and the Taliban are bitter enemies. America’s withdrawal exposes ISIS-K as hypocrites who use Islam as an excuse to wage war.
If the Kabul attack fails to keep Americans in Afghanistan, and I think it will. The next step for ISIS-K and its allies is clear. ISIS-K, Al Qaeda, and their friends will launch terror attacks in the Middle East, Africa, Europe and the United States.
Remember, all it takes to launch a “terror attack” is one imbecile with a semiautomatic rifle, a truck, or a bomb. My prediction is that ISIS or Al Qaeda will either attack a crowd somewhere in the United States or Europe with a vehicle or semiautomatic weapons. Or set off a bomb on US soil. The terrorists will claim responsibility and put out a video about the ISIS or Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan.
My prediction is that the first “news story” about the ISIS-K camp in Afghanistan training hundreds of foreign fighters will appear next week. The camp will be a figment of some third-rate journalist’s imagination, but it will become a critical component of every warhawk’s Afghanistan testimony.
The training camp will become a rationale for our return to Afghanistan, just as imaginary weapons of mass destruction inspired the Second Iraq War. Hence, the War on Terror is not over. Instead, it is entering a new phase.
Thus, America’s war in Afghanistan is far from over. I suspect the United States involvement in Afghanistan will continue for many years. Hopefully, that involvement will be rational and constructive and not involve another massive military operation.