Ignore The Fake "Experts" — The Real "Catastrophe" In Afghanistan Was Always The War Itself
It’s always enlightening to observe when corporate media organs temporarily transition from their standard posture of shrill, nonstop, apocalyptic threat-inflation about the supposed existential danger of conservative Republicans and find a different, less overtly partisan drum to beat for a while. That’s certainly what has been happening in the past several days, as the longest war in US history finally comes to a preposterously overdue close. Significantly more money, adjusted for inflation, was spent by US taxpayers on state-building in Afghanistan than was spent on the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after World War II. And yet huge sectors of the media, in their pea-brained emotionalistic frenzy, have decided to impart the theory that just another few weeks/months/years of “conditions-based” US military engagement would’ve produced a withdrawal that passed all the requisite tests for nice-looking “optics.”
Watch any corporate TV network this week and be treated to the ghoulish spectacle of indignant retired Generals trotting themselves out, one after another, to provide gravely judgmental commentary. David Petraeus somehow managed to find time between his many commitments on corporate boards and venture capital funds to opine that the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan has been “catastrophic.” Which is perversely fitting, in a way, because if anyone knows about Afghanistan-related catastrophe it’s David Petraeus.
Seemingly forgotten in these solemn, reflective interviews is that under Petraeus’ command, the US incurred more fatalities than at any point over the course of the 20 year war — a fact that gets more insane the more you think about it. There were 917 US military fatalities in Afghanistan from 2010-2011, when Petraeus was head of the war effort. As we know, Osama bin Laden wasn’t even physically located in Afghanistan during that time; ask any average American what the purpose of those casualties supposedly was, and you’re bound to get blank stares. Somehow, though, that “catastrophe” has never quite tarnished the good image of Petraeus — he gets to put his legal troubles behind him and still play “expert” on TV.
The sage “expertise” of Petraeus is compliantly sought even at nice liberal outfits like NPR and MSNBC, where he’s made the rounds in the past few days bemoaning how things ever could’ve gotten this bad in Afghanistan. In a sicko political and media culture, demands for resignation and cries of “shame” are not being directed at the likes of Petraeus — one of the intervention’s many failed architects — but instead at the officials who finally bit the bullet and terminated an intervention that was intrinsically doomed. HR McMaster has also jumped into the media fray, denouncing the withdrawal as a “catastrophe that we helped to precipitate.” He joins Petraeus in advocating for his long-felt wish of a “sustained commitment” in Afghanistan: in other words, staying forever. No word from McMaster on whether he helped “precipitate” any catastrophe by agitating for pointless continuation of the war while actually serving in government.
The only “commitment” that the Afghanistan War “sustained” was to deceit, corruption, waste, and failure — a cycle that would’ve never been broken until the plug was belatedly pulled. The narrow outrage on display now about the allegedly “incompetent” execution of the withdrawal reflects a misunderstanding of the entire intervention, which was predicated on “incompetence.” And “incompetence” is an overly-kind word. More like systematic plunder, graft, and propaganda. If the Afghan government could collapse so quickly after billions and billions of dollars were funneled into it over 20 years, why would anyone expect a withdrawal to be carried out with seamless or “competent” precision? If you expected that, it’s safe to assume you’ve indulged in the same fantastical delusions that persisted throughout the whole conflict. I encourage everyone to watch this explanation given by Richard Hanania about how nit-picking the “incompetence” of the withdrawal is a fallacy that deflects from the “incompetence” at the very heart of the entire mission.
Biden might be losing his marbles, but at least he made a firm decision to end the war and has stuck with that decision unrepentantly — even as he’s now swarmed by a furious political backlash. That’s more than can be said for his most recent two predecessors, both of whom went against their instincts and prolonged the war at the urging of chronically-wrong military officials — in many cases the same ones now on TV expressing sanctimonious outrage. Just breaking that repetitious cycle is an accomplishment unto itself. Despite being polar opposites temperamentally, Donald Trump and Barack Obama justified extensions of US military presence in Afghanistan by invoking speech-written cliches that were almost carbon copies of one another:
In his remarks Monday defending the withdrawal, Biden repeated — as has been well-documented — that he was against the 2009 surge in Afghanistan ordered by Obama and administered by Petraeus. Twelve years later, who looks better in that argument?
Meanwhile, former George W. Bush Administration officials are being summoned from their crypts and propped up on Fox to make loony “Bay of Pigs” comparisons. Jack Keane, another fossilized General called on to share his fake expertise with conservative TV viewers, cited the standard parallel to the Saigon evacuation — but added his apparent opinion that US forces never should’ve left Vietnam. So that’s the level of self-delusion we’re dealing with here. (Maybe I shouldn’t call them “fake experts.” They’re certainly among the world’s preeminent experts in military and strategic failure.)
Again: all this sputtering outrage because an “endless war” is actually, for once, “ending.” Which so many people across the political spectrum claim to want in the abstract. Yet the minute the ugly reality of that process gets broadcast in some viral videos, they suddenly begin singing a different tune. It’s vastly more outrage than most of these people have mustered about Afghanistan in years — and it’s being directed at the decision to finally cease an intervention which most of them now admit was misbegotten.
Shrieking pundits evidently ignored the release of the “Afghanistan Papers” in 2019 (which did get buried at the time, due to the first impeachment of Trump over something to do with Javelin missiles in Ukraine… who can even recall anymore?). Sifting through those documents, the only viable conclusion is that the entire war effort was rooted in out-and-out fraud. Just one example of the countless from that archive: an official reported that he/she was required to spend $3 million per day in each Afghan district with a USAID presence, and estimated that 90% of this money was straight-up squandered. This individual recounted asking a visiting Congressman if he could “responsibly spend that kind of money” in his own district at home. The Congressman replied, “hell no.”
With such voluminously documented proof that the intervention was a bottomless pit of failure, there’s nothing surprising about a swift Taliban offensive to recapture the country — an eventuality which would assure any US departure was going to be flush with embarrassment. The only outstanding question was the precise logistical details.
If you’re a MAGA supporter and you were earnestly in favor of withdrawing from Afghanistan — rather than just self-branding as vaguely “war-weary” — what exactly is the alternative scenario you’re envisioning here? Are you saying that if had Trump withdrawn by May 1, as his deal with the Taliban called for, the Afghan government wouldn’t have collapsed just as quickly? That the last Americans exiting would’ve been showered with rose petals as they boarded their outbound flights? Or would you have been fine with yet another indefinite delay, stretching the war into its 21st year, thus calling into serious question your stated commitment to “ending endless wars”?
The strategy Trump adopted in Afghanistan, of mostly relying on air power, achieved no discernible good. Far fewer Americans military personnel were killed than under Obama’s even-worse “counter-insurgency” strategy, but Afghan civilian casualties peaked in 2018 — a full 17 years after the war began — with approximately 3,800 killed. Why is that not a “catastrophe,” according to Petraeus, McMaster, and all the likeminded pundits claiming to be oh-so-outraged? Why didn’t the same pundits and operatives now opportunistically posturing as pure-hearted “humanitarians” seem to mind, or even notice, when those US-subsidized deaths were piling up in the very recent past with no strategic gain to speak of? Do you actually care about dead Afghans, or do you only incidentally care when those dead bodies help you make a cheap political point?
Republicans now insist that the Trump withdrawal plan was in fact fundamentally different than Biden’s because it would’ve been “conditions-based,” which is just code for “the withdrawal never actually would have happened.” The basic “condition” in Afghanistan is that the government was non-functional — so weak as to essentially be fictitious — and therefore was unable to facilitate anything like a pleasant “orderly” evacuation of Kabul. “Conditions” were never going to improve! That’s the whole point! Because the intervention had failed a long time ago. We’re supposed to believe that the state capacities of the Afghan government would’ve been built up sufficiently under Trump to ward off the symbolic embarrassments of the past few days? Please.
No doubt if Trump had followed through on his stated desire to finally end the war, the chaotic scenes emerging out of Kabul would’ve been portrayed as somehow part-and-parcel of his secret desire to upend the American-led world order at the behest of Vladimir Putin. The media outrage would’ve been even more apocalyptic and frothingly conspiratorial. Which actually gets to the interesting insight here: although the media’s affinities are largely against Trump and largely for Biden, both still attract hyper-animosity when they seek to end wars. That’s how pathologically screwed up US political and media culture is, and how warped the incentives are. It happened over and over again with Trump — remember when he bombed Syria, and for one wonderful night was no longer a maniacal tyrant, but noble and “presidential”? And then when he announced his intention to withdraw troops from Syria — later aborted — the media had a near-fatal panic attack?
Similarly, what does it tell you that a corporate media which mostly treats Biden as a lovable, doddering Grandpa is suddenly ruthlessly critical of him in this one narrow circumstance? Wherein he actually does something unusual for a US President, by taking a defiantly hard line to fulfill his pledge to end a war? While also accepting that the resulting imagery might be ugly? If you really want to “end endless wars” and mean that as anything more than a hollow slogan, then implementing said “ending” is probably not going to be the prettiest picture.
In any event, there are no reports of any Americans being killed over the course of this evacuation. There are no direct hostilities between Taliban and American forces taking place, at least according to the Pentagon’s latest updates, despite the psycho calls by war-crazed politicians for a re-commencement of those hostilities. All things considered — in light of the Afghan government’s outlandish incapacities — it’s one of the better outcomes that could’ve been imagined.
Just last month I published an interview (read the whole thing) with an Afghanistan vet who was personally involved in collecting and transmitting data that was supposed to have provided updates on the status of the security forces which the US spent billions to “train and equip.” What the veteran told me is that these data were systematically manipulated to depict the Afghan government as more adept than it ever really was.
Let me give you some context on how fucked up the flow of information was. For example, a big part of my job there was tracking the number of police recruits that would complete their training cycle — you know, every month or however many times a month, I was there when there were over a dozen different police training camps throughout the country, and they would have different training cycles for different groups of police. And then I would contact those training facilities and be like, OK, how many police were expected to have graduated this month? How many actually completed training and how many recruits showed up?
And what was funny about that whole system was these training camps were not operated by the US military. They are operated by contractors like MPRI or DynCorp. And those contractors were being hired through the US State Department, even though the DoD was paying for them. But it was the State Department that was hiring them. And then what made it even more ridiculous was the nature of these contracts made it so that the number — the training figure, the number of police that made it through training this month — that number was proprietary to the contractor. So they owned that number — they didn't actually even have to give that to us. I’m a Captain in the Air Force working for the Command, calling and asking, “How many police did you guys train this month?” And they didn’t have to actually tell me that.
Given that foundation of ineptitude, corruption, and deceit — and no sign that it ever fundamentally changed over the course of the intervention — is it any wonder that these same security forces crumbled in a matter of days? Or that the final evacuation is occurring under duress? Sure, there’s always a possibility that various mechanical details might’ve been handled differently. But getting excessively mad about this is like getting excessively mad that your arm was mildly scratched as you were being extracted from a horrific car wreck.
The only solution from the standpoint of US policy was to terminate the policy. That’s what Trump at least purported to be attempting to do, and that’s what Biden has now done. And yes, it’s extremely telling that a media milieu which is otherwise very eager to excuse Biden’s “foibles” has decided to get worked up into a frenzy over the one thing he’s done that required some semblance of genuine political resolve. It all goes back to the continuous pathologies of American political and media culture, which virtually always celebrates the deployment of gratuitously wasteful military force, and then throws up every obstacle under the sun to prevent the cessation of those hostilities.
Maybe the most obnoxious withdrawal-related tendency is US politicians trying to turn this into yet another round of phony partisan bickering. That’s helpful for political elites, because it obscures the reality that the entire bipartisan war-making apparatus is deeply implicated in this epic failure. So they roll out fake concepts like “credibility” to justify their simple-minded partisan complaints. “US credibility has been destroyed,” they shriek, with “credibility” being a kind of fake currency invented by self-appointed “experts” to give the impression that they possess some hidden, privileged knowledge about the conduct of foreign affairs. In reality their profession has failed spectacularly, over and over again, and they’ll never admit it because their livelihoods and social prestige depend on pretending otherwise.
One of the most dimwitted members of Congress, Eric Swalwell, thought it was super clever to call me “Einstein” because I pointed out that his facile anti-Trump criticisms — denouncing the previous Administration for negotiating directly with the “terrorist” Taliban — would necessarily indict the Biden Administration as well, seeing that the Biden Administration is currently in direct negotiations with the Taliban. But don’t expect any Low IQ partisans on either side to have a firm grasp of what their grievances are even supposed to be.
Here’s the bottom line. If you wanted the Afghanistan War to end after two decades of misery and waste, you just got your wish. Fixating on “execution” merely distracts from this simple fact. Because if “execution” is what you’re really concerned with, you should direct your anger at the countless officials who insisted year after year that the “execution” of the war was going fabulously well. They lied.
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