What Will We Call This Debacle?

 

I know almost nothing about fighting a war. In earlier times, it seems that wars usually had two sides; both sides knew that the other was the enemy. Both sides knew what they were fighting for. Both sides knew there was a plan to go in, to fight, to win, to leave. But who is the enemy in Afghanistan? The Taliban? al Qaeda? Our leaders?

What is this “thing” in Afghanistan? Does anyone remember the original plan for going in? Who decided we should stay once al Qaeda was “defeated?” There are some who say we didn’t want to nation-build; others say that nation-building is the only way we would have stayed. These were an illiterate people who couldn’t read an instruction manual or a newspaper headline, but they were desperate to rid themselves of the Taliban. We wanted them to be free of these barbarians, too. Was that our purpose—to free the Afghans of these monsters, who could hide for months or years until their opportunity to raid and savage the country re-appeared? And what about the women and girls who have had a taste of freedom? Will they now be tortured and killed because they now understand what it means to live free? Must those memories be destroyed?

What do we now call this debacle in Afghanistan? Was it a foolish dream to believe we could leave quickly? How many people are at risk? How many people will die? How many soldiers are wondering what in the world they are doing as their leaders flail about, hoping a miracle will appear?

What is this “thing”? What do we call it? We are running out of words: debacle, nightmare, destruction, chaos, desperation, insanity—is there one word that will suffice? Or are there not enough words to express this “thing” that we are watching unfold in real-time? What will we call this “thing” years from now?

Our illustrious leaders are saying that we will not leave until we free each and every American (and maybe our Afghan allies?) from the country. They tell us that the Taliban will not stop us, but everyone except our leaders knows that hope is a delusion. They say that commercial airlines are stepping up to remove people, but how will these people get to the airport? Where is the strategy? Where is the will?

Where is the truth?

God help us and the Afghan people.

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  1. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    The Biden Bugout.

    • #1
  2. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    The next time Biden goes to Camp David or Delaware someone should get busy and change the locks on the White House doors.

    • #2
  3. philo Member
    philo
    @philo

    “Biden’s Summer Vacation” or “Joe and the Terrible, Horrible, No GoodVery Bad Summer Vacation”

    Biden: Afghan chaos 'gut wrenching' but stands by withdrawal -

    • #3
  4. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    If there were even a smidge of good to come out of this complete, 360-degree, all-round catastrophe, it would be that we could call it a “wake-up call.”

    A girl can dream…

    • #4
  5. Ekosj Member
    Ekosj
    @Ekosj

    • #5
  6. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    She (View Comment):

    If there were even a smidge of good to come out of this complete, 360-degree, all-round catastrophe, it would be that we could call it a “wake-up call.”

    A girl can dream…

    And we can dream together…

    • #6
  7. DonG (2+2=5. Say it!) Coolidge
    DonG (2+2=5. Say it!)
    @DonG

    Susan Quinn: What do we now call this debacle in Afghanistan?

    I assume you mean the entirety of our adventurous folly in The Graveyard of Empires and not just the recent mess.   I think the War in Afghanistan is a part of a two decade period that we might look at as the Fall of America.  It is too soon to say, we might experience a great rebirth, but the momentum is in the direction of a loss of hegemony.  I don’t think the War in Afghanistan needs another name like Bush’s Folly or the Great Comeuppance

    Going further off topic, there is a thing called Thucydides Trap.  This is an ancient notion that a challenge/change in hegemony will result in a great war.  The challenge is coming from China and there is a school of thought that thinks that a preemptive capitulation by the USA to China can avoid a nasty war.  Those people might try to create a humiliating ending, because a humiliated people and a humiliated military are unlikely to stand up to China’s takeover of Taiwan.  

    • #7
  8. philo Member
    philo
    @philo

    DonG (2+2=5. Say it!) (View Comment): I assume you mean the entirety of our adventurous folly in The Graveyard of Empires and not just the recent mess. 

    In that case, I like the symmetry and linkage of something like “The Bush-Biden Affair” with a subtitle: “A Calamity by America’s Elites in Four Acts.”

    • #8
  9. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    DonG (2+2=5. Say it!) (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn: What do we now call this debacle in Afghanistan?

    I assume you mean the entirety of our adventurous folly in The Graveyard of Empires and not just the recent mess. I think the War in Afghanistan is a part of a two decade period that we might look at as the Fall of America. It is too soon to say, we might experience a great rebirth, but the momentum is in the direction of a loss of hegemony. I don’t think the War in Afghanistan needs another name like Bush’s Folly or the Great Comeuppance.

    Going further off topic, there is a thing called Thucydides Trap. This is an ancient notion that a challenge/change in hegemony will result in a great war. The challenge is coming from China and there is a school of thought that thinks that a preemptive capitulation by the USA to China can avoid a nasty war. Those people might try to create a humiliating ending, because a humiliated people and a humiliated military are unlikely to stand up to China’s takeover of Taiwan.

    You are welcome to group any collection of events as you wish. I was mainly thinking of this last act, but I did include the history. It’s all just part of the mess, isn’t it, so I don’t want to quibble over what to include or not. And I think Taiwan should be very worried.

    • #9
  10. Rodin Member
    Rodin
    @Rodin

    Already the memes are being published and by people much cleverer than me. The cluster[redacted] is so massive it is hard to capture it with a single pithy label. “Dumbkirk” noted in comment #5 may come as close as anything to people of our generation, but it is not omni-generational. The “Afghan Face Plant” may appeal to younger generations but doesn’t convey the horror that thousands are facing as a result of our empty-headed leadership. “Afghan Brain Freeze”? Again, doesn’t convey horror as much as cluelessness. “Biden’s Senior Moment”? True, but not enough horror. (sigh)

    • #10
  11. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Susan Quinn: What is this “thing”? What do we call it?

    Failure to follow through.  No one faults us for having troops overseas in Germany, Japan, and South Korea, and it’s less likely any internal group is going to rise up and establish, say, The Fifth Reich.

    No one – not even Trump – explained why Afghanistan was and should be a long-term commitment.  Now I’m worried I’ll open up Newsmax one morning to find another US skyscraper has been knocked down . . .

    • #11
  12. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    I hope most people realize that although I appreciate the efforts to give this “thing” a name, I’m even more interested in knowing your thoughts on the entire situation, or your efforts to give voice to what is happening. I know there have been several posts, and people’s desire to rant may be wearing thin. But I think many of us feel as if we’ve been punched in the gut, that we can’t believe something like this could happen to the United States of America in 2021. But it has.

    So feel free to just rant.

    • #12
  13. Rodin Member
    Rodin
    @Rodin

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    So feel free to just rant.

    OK, with permission:

    The World Has Changed. Our American pResident has abdicated role of Leader of the Free World. Our NATO allies have to assume that they can no longer rely on us for strategic leadership. Our enemies are now updating their plans in light of current events and more (not less) challenges to the Bush-Obama New World Order will follow. We are entering a period of either no reaction or over-reaction — very unstable. It’s not the “adults” who are now in charge, it is the real “wrecking crew”.

    This is not a defense of our past strategy in Afghanistan. I think it has been wrong since about 2003. And I am not even focused on the sunk costs of our actions there,  but there are real future consequences to how we wrapped things up. And this seems to be about the worst possible way. We do not know yet how things will turn out, whether bloodshed will be bad, terrible, horrible or unimaginable. Maybe the Taliban do honor (somewhat) their safe passage agreement. But we know it will be incomplete and costly in some manner.

    And China’s moving in is not good. The USA is incredibly diminished in real ways that Democrats only fantasized that President Trump diminished. Maybe the name for this period is “Biden’s Plea Deal”.

    • #13
  14. EHerring Coolidge
    EHerring
    @EHerring

    Rodin (View Comment):

    Already the memes are being published and by people much cleverer than me. The cluster[redacted] is so massive it is hard to capture it with a single pithy label. “Dumbkirk” noted in comment #5 may come as close as anything to people of our generation, but it is not omni-generational. The “Afghan Face Plant” may appeal to younger generations but doesn’t convey the horror that thousands are facing as a result of our empty-headed leadership. “Afghan Brain Freeze”? Again, doesn’t convey horror as much as cluelessness. “Biden’s Senior Moment”? True, but not enough horror. (sigh)

    Cluster…. Works for me.

    • #14
  15. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Rodin (View Comment):
    And China’s moving in is not good. The USA is incredibly diminished in real ways that Democrats only fantasized that President Trump diminished. Maybe the name for this period is “Biden’s Plea Deal”.

    What’s especially terrible is that one would hope that from every mismanaged situation, some good could come out of it. Something. But bad decision after bad decision continues to exacerbate the goings-on. I’m not convinced that they intend to be a wrecking crew–that is even scarier. They simply don’t know what they’re doing.

    • #15
  16. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Biden’s war crimes against the Afghan people. 

    • #16
  17. Nohaaj Coolidge
    Nohaaj
    @Nohaaj

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    we can’t believe something like this could happen to the United States of America in 2021. But it has.

    To put things in perspective, this did not “happen to the United States of America”. It happened to the people of Afghanistan. They are the ones suffering and who will continue to endure unthinkable and unimaginable atrocities for as long as the Taliban and affiliated monsters remain.  As Granny Dude wrote so eloquently today:  Be grateful you are not an Afghani woman.

    • #17
  18. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    MarciN (View Comment):

    Biden’s war crimes against the Afghan people.

    Could you elaborate, @marcin? I’m not sure what he’s done would qualify as war crimes, but I’m open to being persuaded!

    • #18
  19. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Nohaaj (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    we can’t believe something like this could happen to the United States of America in 2021. But it has.

    To put things in perspective, this did not “happen to the United States of America”. It happened to the people of Afghanistan. They are the ones suffering and who will continue to endure unthinkable and unimaginable atrocities for as long as the Taliban and affiliated monsters remain. As Granny Dude wrote so eloquently today: Be grateful you are not an Afghani woman.

    I agree, @nohaaj. What has happened to us–the damage to our reputation as a force in the world, the ineptitude of a leadership that is supposed to protect us; the potential for lives to be lost as a result–is what is happening to us. In comparison, the threats to the lives of the Afghans, especially the women, is horrific.

    I also said in my post, to be fair:  And what about the women and girls who have had a taste of freedom? Will they now be tortured and killed because they now understand what it means to live free? Must those memories be destroyed?

    • #19
  20. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    MarciN (View Comment):

    Biden’s war crimes against the Afghan people.

    Could you elaborate, @ marcin? I’m not sure what he’s done would qualify as war crimes, but I’m open to being persuaded!

    What else is there to call it when we say to the Afghans, “Go engage with the enemy, the Taliban across the street. Push that button when you need our help.” Only we’re gone, we don’t respond, and the Taliban kills the Afghan.

    When we pulled out our air support, that’s what we did. We sentenced some unknown number of Afghans to their death at the hands of the Taliban.

    They wouldn’t have engaged the enemy if we hadn’t promised air support.

    Not to mention giving the Taliban the contents of Bagram Air Force Base with which they could more efficiently kill Afghans.

    • #20
  21. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    MarciN (View Comment):

    When we pulled out our air support, that’s what we did. We sentenced thousands of Afghans to their death at the hands of the Taliban. 

    They wouldn’t have engaged the enemy if we hadn’t promised air support. 

    We did indeed betray them. They had every reason to think we would continue to back them up in the interim. Thanks for clarifying.

    • #21
  22. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    And the order for American military personnel to stand down while the Taliban took the Afghans out of their homes and killed or took them prisoners came from the Biden administration (I read somewhere it came from Biden directly). Apparently, in exchange for the “safe passage” for Americans–which we didn’t get–he agreed to let the Taliban have its way with the Afghans.

    • #22
  23. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    MarciN (View Comment):

    And the order for American military personnel to stand down while the Taliban took the Afghans out of their homes and killed or took them prisoners came from the Biden administration (I read somewhere it came Biden directly). Apparently, in exchange for the safe passage for Americans–which we didn’t get–we agreed to let the Taliban have its way with the Afghans.

     

     

    I hadn’t heard this. If true, it’s horrible. Now we are making bargains with the devil–literally and figuratively.

    • #23
  24. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    MarciN (View Comment):

    And the order for American military personnel to stand down while the Taliban took the Afghans out of their homes and killed or took them prisoners came from the Biden administration (I read somewhere it came Biden directly). Apparently, in exchange for the safe passage for Americans–which we didn’t get–we agreed to let the Taliban have its way with the Afghans.

    I hadn’t heard this. If true, it’s horrible. Now we are making bargains with the devil–literally and figuratively.

    If I had my way, he’d be in jail while we found out the exact terms of the deals he made with the Taliban.

    • #24
  25. Roderic Reagan
    Roderic
    @rhfabian

    In WWII we knew what the deal was.  It was truly existential.  Americans feared that Japan would turn the West coast into a Nanjing and the Germany would turn the East coast into a German colony.  We knew that the only way to survive and insure peace was to utterly destroy the enemy in Germany and Japan and occupy those counties to make sure that hostile forces did not rise there again. 

    The Cold War was characterized by proxy wars; the object was containment.  In Korea we again at least had the determination to see it through.

    Going into Afghanistan and Iraq the attack on 9-11 focused our minds for a time.  Nobody knew how many more such attacks would occur if we didn’t fight the terrorists.  But at no point did anyone say that occupation of Afghanistan or Iraq would be open ended.   It should have been said.  It should have been established at the outset that if we attacked Afghanistan and Iraq that we’d be there for the foreseeable future.  Otherwise we should not have gone.

    We should not go to war again unless we are attacked, and in any case in order to utterly destroy the enemy and stay as long as it takes.  Otherwise we get these embarrassing and innervating debacles.

    • #25
  26. Ekosj Member
    Ekosj
    @Ekosj

    The Afghan Disaster is a lesson in tribalism.   My understanding is that in the minds of a great many of its citizens, there is no Afghanistan.   There are ethnic and tribal allegiances that are far older, deeper and more binding than any allegiance to a nation-state.  There has been tribal and ethnic warfare within Afghanistan’s borders for hundreds of years.  Thinking about Afghanistan as a coherent nation-state lay at the heart of our failure there as well as the failures of the Soviets and the Brits before us. The Taliban aren’t just fanatic co-religionists, but Pashtun tribesmen.   To quote from Frank Herbert’s Dune – ““When religion and politics travel in the same cart, the riders believe nothing can stand in their way.”

    Our initial post 9/11 success was fueled by that same tribalism.   Our allies were not necessarily Afghan patriots but an aggregation of other tribes and warlords settling tribal scores with the Pashtun Taliban.      After witnessing the end of this 20 year misadventure it is doubtful such an aggregation could be cobbled together again.    When, in a year or two, the Chinese arrive in force they will not be concerned with nation building or winning hearts and minds or coalition-building.   

    • #26
  27. Rodin Member
    Rodin
    @Rodin

    Ekosj (View Comment):
    When, in a year or two, the Chinese arrive in force they will not be concerned with nation building or winning hearts and minds or coalition-building.   

    They will only be protecting their new investments. 

    • #27
  28. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    Ekosj (View Comment):

    The Afghan Disaster is a lesson in tribalism. My understanding is that in the minds of a great many of its citizens, there is no Afghanistan. There are ethnic and tribal allegiances that are far older, deeper and more binding than any allegiance to a nation-state. There has been tribal and ethnic warfare within Afghanistan’s borders for hundreds of years. Thinking about Afghanistan as a coherent nation-state lay at the heart of our failure there as well as the failures of the Soviets and the Brits before us. The Taliban aren’t just fanatic co-religionists, but Pashtun tribesmen. To quote from Frank Herbert’s Dune – ““When religion and politics travel in the same cart, the riders believe nothing can stand in their way.”

    Our initial post 9/11 success was fueled by that same tribalism. Our allies were not necessarily Afghan patriots but an aggregation of other tribes and warlords settling tribal scores with the Pashtun Taliban. After witnessing the end of this 20 year misadventure it is doubtful such an aggregation could be cobbled together again. When, in a year or two, the Chinese arrive in force they will not be concerned with nation building or winning hearts and minds or coalition-building.

    Bravo.  Not so much in Kabul and some of the other big cities, I’m sure, but once you get out of the towns and into the country, the mountains and the desert, you’re among an essentially primitive people in a culture so alien that the suits in DC can’t, or just don’t want to, fathom, nor do they choose to listen to anyone who might.

    That’s been the thrust of a couple of my recent posts. drawing on Dad’s experiences of a not dissimilar dynamic when he was in the Colonial Service in Nigeria, where I grew up.

    Mark Steyn has a terrific column which touches on this a bit, and I find the following excerpt very revealing and (as a nineteenth-century imperialist well past my own sell-by date myself), absolutely spot on:

    A final thought in my capacity as a nineteenth-century imperialist a hundred years past his sell-by date: One of the first mistakes the new US occupiers made was not restoring the Kingdom of Afghanistan. Ahead of the 2002 loya jirga to select a new head of state, over eight hundred delegates announced that they wanted the old sovereign, Zahir Shah, returned to his throne as a constitutional monarch. That’s eight hundred out of 1,450 – so he would have won on the first ballot. Buffoon McStripedpants III from Foggy Bottom was not in favor of that, so the Yanks delayed the start of the loya jirga in order to lean on the King to back off. Washington wanted Karzai because he was the kind they can do business with – a corrupt grifter just like them. In the Muslim world, monarchy is one of the few (Saudi Arabia excepted) countervailing forces to Islam, and indeed had been in Afghanistan. But it didn’t fit Yank plans, so it fell to the American “observer” to announce to the natives that, sorry, but the King isn’t a candidate.

    The Loya Jirga is a sort of pickup team version of Parliament, where religious and cultural leaders from the tribes come together for a clambake at the capital to chose a new leader.  They did so in 2002, in concert with the US, which was pushing heavily for the installation of Hamid Karzai as President.

    I thought I’d fact-check Steyn before posting this excerpt, and sure enough: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2002/jun/11/afghanistan.jonathansteele. It seems the King was a bit long-in-the-tooth at the time, but I do get the sense that there was some “leaning on” the king and the delegates being done by the US, Karzai, Zalmay Khalilzad, and–oh, who’s this?–someone called Ashraf Ghani.  Hm.  The king was pressured to renounce the throne, and the rest, as they say is history.

    I wonder what would have happened, had the king been installed and the US been supporting a more traditional form of government that the people, if not the Americans, might have understood better. The King, Zahir Shah, was crowned in 1933 at the age of 19, and ruled until 1973 when he was deposed in a coup while he was abroad.  He appears to have been a rather reasonable fellow and popular among the Afghani people, introducing a new Constitution in 1964 together with free elections, parliament, women’s rights and universal suffrage.

    Can’t have that….

    • #28
  29. D.A. Venters Member
    D.A. Venters
    @DAVenters

    I can’t think of any empire in history, and the US is an empire in many ways, that didn’t eventually end up with troops in far flung corners of the world fighting some kind of insurgency or another.  The specifics and the justification of that may vary through the centuries but it seems to be inevitable if you are going to be a superpower.

    An empire is powerful by definition, and having power breeds enemies. Enemies require defense, and if you can avoid it, it’s better not to fight at home. Not only that, but power also breeds responsibility, because it means you have the ability to help certain situations, certain people. And, yes, power means opportunities for corruption for those who don’t mean well.

    I’m afraid these kinds of little wars will always be with us, as long as we are powerful. That’s lamentable, but I don’t know what can be done about it. History suggests that skepticism is warranted if someone tells you it’s possible to remain a superpower otherwise.

    Considering the character of our competitors – the Taliban, ISIS, Communist China, ultra-corrupt Russia, suspiciously sweet Canada, I think it’s best for us to remain powerful. Best for us and our future prosperity, and best for the free world.

    This means taking good care of our own national character, too, keeping our own house clean, so we can credibly claim to be the good guys.

    I hate it, but I think we probably should have maintained a presence there. But if we must leave, then by all means we should make every effort to get our people and our Afghan allies out of there.

    • #29
  30. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    She (View Comment):
    The Loya Jirga is a sort of pickup team version of Parliament, where religious and cultural leaders from the tribes come together for a clambake at the capital to chose a new leader. 

    Loya Jirga is Burzkashi through other means.

    • #30