The chaos in Afghanistan wasn’t inevitable, and is nothing to be smug about
Joe Biden’s doing a grand job as President, isn’t he?
Before this week, the go-to stock image of American military and diplomatic humiliation would be a grainy 1975 picture of helicopters evacuating the US embassy in Saigon. Now, photo editors looking to illustrate a similar point can choose from a wider and more contemporary portfolio.
It may originally have been Donald Trump’s awful idea to mark the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 atrocities by declaring victory in Afghanistan and leaving, but Biden ignored his own advisors and accelerated the retreat. Sleepy Joe probably figured that America’s military presence in Afghanistan was unpopular with American voters, and hoped that a little short-term chaos in a far away country would all be forgotten come the mid-terms.
Still, Joe Biden was clear about one thing. “There is going to be no circumstance” he told a slow-blinking international community “in which you are going to see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy of the United States from Afghanistan.” Very shortly afterwards, as Taliban fighters closed in from all sides, helicopters started evacuating American diplomats from the roof of the embassy of the United States, and bystanders were ungenerous enough to see and to photograph it.
This wasn’t even the worst photo to come out of Biden’s chicken run from Kabul. Shadows of Saigon merged into the imagery of 9/11 itself: the falling men in this case tumbling from the undercarriage of an American transport plane in their desperate efforts to escape the Taliban. The stowaways felt the same certainty of death if they stayed in Kabul as people trapped by flames in the twin towers.
Biden blamed the rout on everyone and everything but himself and his own foreign policy failures. The anarchy was inevitable. It was Trump’s fault. It was the Afghan National Army’s fault. They should have stood and fought, the yellow-bellied, lily-livered chickens.
It may have escaped Joe Biden’s attention that the ANA were only just strong enough to hold the line when backed by the almighty force of the US military. Left alone, they were sitting ducks. Resisting the Taliban’s lightning advance would have led to their destruction, and to hideous consequences for the civilian population. The Afghan army quit because America quit, not the other way round.
Afghanistan’s new government has learned lessons from the firestorm it brought down on its country twenty years ago; at least in presentation. Taliban 2.0 is a cuddlier, more CNN-friendly version of fanatical jihad. The people cowering in desperation at Kabul airport, say the Taliban, are safe and can return home.
There will, they also insist, be no pogroms or reprisals against Afghans who collaborated with the invaders. Women will be allowed to attend school and play a full role in society “within the framework of Islamic law.” The US State Department has asked them, pretty please, to respect human rights. Britain’s Chief of the General Staff, Gen. Sir Nick Carter, suggests we shouldn’t think of the Taliban as the enemy, but as good ol’ country boys, “and the plain fact is they happen to live by a code of honour which has been their standard for many years. They want an Afghanistan that is inclusive for all.”
If General Carter actually thinks this, he’s a halfwit. If he doesn’t, he’s fooling no-one. The Taliban will behave themselves for just long enough to avoid being bombed straight back out of Kabul. It’s in the new Afghan government’s interest to maintain order in the capital. Elsewhere, Afghanistan will start to look very much as it did in early 2001.
None of this had to happen. Long-term support for the Afghan government would have been practicable and affordable; a more or less permanent NATO force of around 4500 troops, backed by the credible menace of US support, would have been enough to keep order. Blaming Boris for the collapse is a bit much, though it may be right that Britain could have explored other options –including alliances with the EU and other NATO members– to maintain a peace-keeping force in Afghanistan.
Still, Joe Biden has his supporters. The President’s line that chaos in America’s wake was somehow inevitable was gloatingly endorsed by the usual ghouls on the hard left, and, disturbingly, in a column on www.herald.wales by Carmarthen East & Dinefwr MP, Jonathan Edwards.
Edwards bangs on about the “imperial delusions” of the Westminster Government, and calls for a world in which our armed forces “aren’t sent worldwide to fight foreign wars so that the British establishment in London can fantasise that they still rule the waves.”
457 British servicemen, 32 of them from Wales, died in the Afghan campaigns. Was it all for nothing, as Edwards seems to think? Just a piece of imperialist bravado?
The invasion achieved its immediate goals. Al-Qaeda was smashed in the Tora Bora caves. Afghanistan as a haven of terrorism was neutralised. The savage repression of women that took place through the 1996-2001 Taliban regime was ended.
And not being what Jonathan Edwards calls an imperialist doesn’t protect you from terrorism or aggression. Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Switzerland –none of which are widely seen as blustering jingoes– have all had to deal with jihadist attacks on their soil. Any Western democracy is potentially a target of Islamist terrorism. An independent Wales would be no different, except in its inability to project force overseas in its own defence.
Still, Edwards knows what’s important: “The safety of women and girls must also be at the centre of the debate as they face the threat of having their right to work, have an education and go about their everyday lives taken away.”
It’s not much use debating this if you’re not prepared to do something about it. Biden’s defeatism has permanently damaged America’s prestige, but American and British troops fought in Afghanistan for a cause that was right. Unless we are prepared to project military force against terrorism abroad, we should never expect to be at peace at home.
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