A “Reality Check” on Afghanistan

First, a bit of housekeeping.

Alas, I failed in my self-declared determination to resume blogging every Wednesday and Saturday. My mending knee has made it clear that for the time being, my posting schedule will be “whenever….”

I’ll get back to what had been my “pre-surgery normal” before long. But clearly, I can’t push too far.

So much for scheduling.

As for content, I’ve made several attempts to write about others’ views of Afghanistan that feel right to me–and have discarded the posts I began. I continue to believe that it’s not only too soon now to draw any conclusions about events in Afghanistan; it will take quite a while before we can get a clearer picture of why our withdrawal was so messy.

But a column from the brilliant Washington Post journalist Eugene Robinson is, I believe, some of the wisest coverage I’ve seen to date. I’m quoting from it liberally below, with slight reformatting.

Eugene Robinson; image from en.wikipedia.org

“How, exactly, did the Biden administration’s critics think U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan was ever going to end?

“‘Certainly not like this’ is not a valid answer, however tragic Thursday’s attacks near the Kabul airport prove to be. Please be specific. Did you envision a formal ceremony at the U.S. Embassy with the American flag being lowered and the Taliban flag raised?

“Did you see the Taliban waiting patiently while the U.S.-trained Afghan army escorted U.S. citizens, other NATO nationals and our Afghan collaborators to the airport for evacuation?

“Did you imagine that the country’s branch of the Islamic State would watch peacefully from the sidelines, or that regional warlords would renounce any hope of regaining their power, or that a nation with a centuries-old tradition of rejecting central authority would suddenly embrace it?

“This is not an apologia for the tragic and chaotic scenes that have been unfolding in Kabul. Rather, it is a reality check. If there is a graceful, orderly way to abandon involvement in a brutal, unresolved civil war on the other side of the world, please cite historical precedents. I can’t find them.”

Robinson stresses that we were never going to fight as hard as the Taliban because they’ve been fighting for their own land—and even the Pakistanis have a stake in the area that we can’t match. The war would just drag on, costing us blood and treasure year after year, while taking a huge toll on the Afghan people, fighters and civilians, as well.

And if we needed evidence of how little we understood the situation there, the rapid collapse of the 300,000 member Afghan army was proof positive.

Here Robinson makes a point that I’d like to see discussed more widely.

“Should we have begun airlifting Afghan translators and others who helped the allied effort out of the country earlier, perhaps using the now-abandoned air base at Bagram as the departure gate? Maybe so, but such an evacuation might have created a panic — ‘The Americans are leaving!’ — and a target both of the Taliban and ISIS. However we tried to leave, I believe, things were going to be bad.”

In fact, Robinson notes, the Biden administration began urging Americans to leave Afghanistan some months ago, but about 6,000 didn’t do so. Approximately 4500 have now been removed, with another 500 scheduled. Of the 1,000 or so left, according to Secretary of State Blinken, it’s not clear if they’re actually citizens or if they want to go.

At the same time,

“…we and our partners have already evacuated more than 100,000 Afghans and others who feared for their lives under Taliban rule, a truly remarkable logistical achievement under daunting circumstances. We owe a great debt to these people and we should continue the airlift as long as we can.”

Unfortunately, as the bombings indicate, we won’t be able to continue these rescue efforts indefinitely, and some people won’t make it to safety.

“That is tragic. But it would be true, I believe, whenever and however the U.S. mission ended.” (emphases mine)

“The images we’re seeing from Kabul are shocking, heartbreaking and embarrassing. But the real stain on our national honor was in making promises to Afghans that we never had the intention or even the ability to keep. Twenty years of U.S. blood and treasure gave Afghanistan not a secular democracy but its flickering illusion. And history will see this withdrawal, painful as it is to watch, not as ignominious but as inevitable.”

What are your thoughts about Robinson’s assessment?


25 thoughts on “A “Reality Check” on Afghanistan

  1. Annie, the US has let Afghans down on now two occasions. The first following Charlie Wilson’s war where we funded the Mujahideento drive out the USSR invaders back in the 1980s. We left the country in a state of disarray, to the extent the Taliban came in to take control of the country. Our failure to help stabilize the country spawned the Taliban. Now, our pulling out has caused the Taliban to reassume control. We assumed the government was more in control than they were, not realizing the level or corruption that disenfranchised Afghans coupled with the opportunism and fear of the Taliban. Keith

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, we knew the level of corruption for sure. I think the trump administration didn’t care what happened. I won’t be surprised if we subsequently learn there was some way individuals (Pompeo, et al) actually benefited from their “deal.” And Biden did what he felt had to be done, for which the callow media are excoriating him.

      Here’s a link to a terrific essay by a blogger on blogspot, which blogger silverapplequeen brought to her readers’ attention.


      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks Annie. The source on PBS Newshour noted that the US knew of the corruption, but turned a blind eye and actually made it worse. And, it was not just Trump that turned a blind eye. All presidents knew of the modus operandi and the Bush White House actually supported Karzai for president who had a hand in inviting the Taliban in the 1990s. I look forward to reading the link. Keith

        Liked by 1 person

  2. It is good to see you back at your blog… and these quotes from Eugene Robinson are very good to hear. I worry that the republicans may not want to see it Robinson’s way Sue

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Frankly, I’m tired of hearing from the people that exist in the cheap seats. I don’t know, or have the answer that would have limited the chaos that’s followed the decision to leave Afghanistan. Unfortunately, recent history tells me that we must question those from the military who continued to cling to the belief that our mission in Afghanistan could have succeeded. Since WWll, I can only think of two presidents who were successful when it came to committing our troops to a foreign conflict.
    Harry Truman refused MacArthur when he demanded that we cross into China after beating back the North Koreans in 1951. Truman was excoriated for his decision, but it proved to be correct. George Bush refused to advance deeply into Iraq following the Desert Storm conflict. Vietnam should have taught us a lesson, but it didn’t. One might argue that our second involvement in Iraq was a success. George W. Bush, Obama, and trump failed in their Afghanistan policy. Our hubris disallowed us to learn from the experience that the Soviet Union had in Afghanistan when they were there for ten years.
    We’ll have to wait awhile to see if what Biden has done is the right thing. As a former history teacher and professor, I continue to be dismayed by our failure to learn the lessons of history that have been laid out before us over the last seventy five years.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Keith,
    Yes, we’ve long known that successive administrations turned a blind eye to the Afghan rulers’ corruption. My point was that based on their shameful behavior in office, trump officials may themselves have struck deals for personal gain.


    1. Annie, true. Nothing would surprise me about the former president’s actions or motivations except that the truth is actually worse than what we already know. His history is one of taking advantage of others by any means. Keith

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you, soobloo; I appreciate your comment.

    I feel quite confident that Robinson’s comments will not move any Republicans. My concern is what impact the mainstream media frenzy against Biden will have on the public; ie, voters—and even on some Democrats— when he’s trying to enact a very ambitious agenda.


  6. Steve,
    I don’t know whom you’re referring to in the cheap seats. My point was that it’s clearly too soon to know much—but that hasn’t stopped the media frenzy of blaming Biden for two decades of failed policies and actions.

    We will never avoid replications of these failures if we start listening once again to those who were in charge of them. Yet that’s what too many in the press have been doing.


  7. I think it will be a stain on Biden’s presidency Annie, but how big a stain remains to be seen. Eventually, other more important matters will push it to the back burner. You can already see that happening with the news media focusing on Hurricane Ida.
    I think many people think it was the right decision to get out, but the manner of getting out may have been incorrect. I suspect Biden got bad advice from some of his advisors but the buck stops there. Certainly he’s been around long enough to be aware of the complicated situation there, but everyone seems to be taken by surprise by the speed with which the Taliban took control. Were they naive? Unprepared? Time will tell. I also have to wonder about some of those people who chose to stay, despite earlier warnings to get out, or worse went back when things were already bad. Sometimes, people with dual citizenship/allegiance will conveniently be Canadian when they need help in a crisis, and then a year later they are back in their homeland again when things die down. I think the US did an adequate job getting as many out as they could, but you can’t rescue everyone without also risking more military deaths.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Agree that it is too early to assess how this went and/or could have gone better. Some say “high marks” and others report a dismal debacle. Last report I heard was that all but 300 Americans were out and of those likely many if not all chose to remain. I hope that’s right.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I agree that there was never going to be a flag-running-down-the-pole moment. The lesson for me (and I don’t think any of us knows what went on in this two decades-old decision making tree) is that we failed to define success at the beginning. What did we want to achieve? What was a home run? Surely not what we see in the country today, where the Afghan women’s football team has just been forced to disband due to football not being the pastime of women. Like you say, no good choices.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think what’s so infuriating is that we now know that our officials and the military lied about what was happening—and what could happen—repeatedly. That’s why Biden’s candor seems so valuable to me.

      As more time elapses, I think the initial errors will pale in view of the rightness of the withdrawal decision. I am already hearing thoughtful journalists revisiting their initial condemnations and giving the administration more credit.


  10. I think Robinson’s assessment was very good. Biden had no choice but to leave Afghanistan after Trump had made his agreement with the Taliban. That he left when he did was due to the need to leave before the Taliban got too far but also to evacuate as many US friendly Nationals as he could. I think he did well to avoid even more casualties than the last ones affected in the suicide bombing. I doubt we’ve heard the last of Afghanistan with the Taliban’s record on the rights of women and it’s revenge on anyone who helped the US. A blanket forgive and forget doesn’t ring true. There will also be those who preferred the stable Government during the period of occupation despite the corruption which is a way of life there..
    Huge Hugs

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sorry; thought I’d responded. I agree with all your points. I think the pile on against Biden was really unfortunate, and I’ve read several thoughtful journalists say that they think their initial knee-jerk reactions were wrong. In fact, this departure had the lowest number of casualties of any when a war was lost, I understand.

      On a separate note, have you heard anything from/about Jill? I sent her an email several days ago.


      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you Annie. As for Jill, I know I have an email in my queue in response to one a few days ago, I think she’s rather frustrated at being home but not improving at the rate she expected. She still feels ill and rather low in herself. The energy doesn’t seem to be there to begin posting again. The whole episode has scared her which may be a good thing if it means she’ll be more careful and ready to see her doctors in future. (Let’s not tell her I said that, I’m fond of my kneecaps).
        Massive Hugs

        Liked by 1 person

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