Tag Archives: Afghanistan

A Big, Dumb Machine, by Richard Hanania

Governments are always filled with screw-ups, but once upon a time the military was the exception, they could get things done. No more. From Richard Hanania at reason.com:

It is common to chalk up America’s failures in Afghanistan to incompetence, ignorance, or stupidity. Yet The Afghanistan Papers, by The Washington Post‘s Craig Whitlock, shows an American government that, although it had no idea what it was doing when it came to building a democracy in Afghanistan, did an excellent job manipulating the public, avoiding any consequences for its failures, and protecting its bureaucratic and financial interests. The problem was a broken system, not a generalized incompetence.

In 2016, Whitlock received a tip that the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR) had interviewed hundreds of participants in the war, including top American and Afghan officials, military leaders, and outside consultants. When the paper tried to get its hands on the results, SIGAR fought it every step of the way; it took a three-year legal battle to get the documents. The Post then published them on its website—along with some related items, such as memos from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld—and those formed the basis of this book.

Ultimate responsibility must start on top. No matter what he told himself, President George W. Bush acted as a man who simply didn’t much care what happened to Afghanistan beyond how it influenced his political fortunes. One of Rumsfeld’s memos notes that in October 2002, Bush was asked whether he’d like to meet with Gen. Dan McNeil. The president asked who that was, and Rumsfeld answered that he was the man leading the war in Afghanistan. Bush responded that he didn’t need to see him. The president was presumably preoccupied with the Iraq war he would launch five months later. (That is, he was preoccupied with selling the war. He didn’t really think much about what the U.S. would be doing in that country either.)

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Afghanistan: Between Pipelines and ISIS-K, the Americans Are Still in Play, by Pepe Escobar

You didn’t really think the U.S. government was actually getting out of Afghanistan, did you? From Pepe Escobar at unz.com:

Something quite extraordinary happened in early November in Kabul.

Taliban interim-Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi and Turkmen Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov got together to discuss a range of political and economic issues. Most importantly, they resurrected the legendary soap opera which in the early 2000s I dubbed Pipelineistan: the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline.

Call it yet another remarkable, historical twist in the post-jihad Afghan saga, going back as far as the mid-1990s when the Taliban first took power in Kabul.

In 1997, the Taliban even visited Houston to discuss the pipeline, then known as TAP, as reported in Part 1 of my e-book Forever Wars.

During the second Clinton administration, a consortium led by Unocal – now part of Chevron – was about to embark on what would have been an extremely costly proposition (nearly $8 billion) to undercut Russia in the intersection of Central and South Asia; as well as to smash the competition: the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline.

The Taliban were duly courted – in Houston and in Kabul. A key go-between was the ubiquitous Zalmay Khalilzad, aka ‘Bush’s Afghan,’ in one of his earlier incarnations as Unocal lobbyist-cum-Taliban interlocutor. But then, low oil prices and non-stop haggling over transit fees stalled the project. That was the situation in the run-up to 9/11.

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Biden Defied the Military Establishment: Is the Kennedy-Nixon Rule Still in Effect? by Paul Ryder

Generally presidents realize who’s really running the country. Only a couple have fallen out of line and gotten their comeuppance. Will that be Biden’s fate? From Paul Ryder at counterpunch.org:

In a 2020 essay, “Removing a president without an election,” I described attempts to remove five presidents in the middle of a term: Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump.

Kennedy and Nixon, the two presidents whose terms were cut short, had made the mistake of defying the U.S. military establishment, on Cuba and Vietnam respectively. The other eleven modern presidents subordinated themselves and served their full terms in office unmolested. Even Trump, who hurled vulgar insults at the military, ended up doing what they wanted. Every time he signed an order that was out of line, they talked him out of it, delayed it, changed it, ignored it, or lied to him by saying they had carried it out.

At the core of the military establishment are the Pentagon, big tech firms and weapons manufacturers led by Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrup Grumman, Raytheon, and General Dynamics. Elsewhere in the government, it includes the Congress, Supreme Court, White House, Departments of Energy, State, Treasury, and Homeland Security, CIA, FBI, National Security Agency, and fifteen other intelligence agencies, AID, and the National Endowment for Democracy. Playing supporting roles are big media, foundations, think tanks, universities, consultants, Democratic and Republican parties, and private security services contractors.

During the 2020 election, the safe bet was that Joe Biden would join the ranks of obedient presidents. His voting record, platform, contributors, advisers, and staff all pointed to it. His foreign policy decisions as president have been largely consistent with this.

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Cool “Afghanistan Withdrawal”, Bro, by Caitlin Johnstone

Yes, the US is withdrawing from Afghanistan . . . but not really. From Caitlin Johnstone at caitlinjohnstone.com:

The US government is reportedly close to securing a deal with Pakistan that will ensure its ability to continue military and intelligence operations in Afghanistan, the nation where the Biden administration proudly “ended” a decades-long war.

“The Biden administration has told lawmakers that the US is nearing a formalized agreement with Pakistan for use of its airspace to conduct military and intelligence operations in Afghanistan, according to three sources familiar with the details of a classified briefing with members of Congress that took place on Friday morning,” reads a new report from CNN.

“The briefing comes as the White House is still trying to ensure that it can carry out counterterrorism operations against ISIS-K and other adversaries in Afghanistan now that there is no longer a US presence on the ground for the first time in two decades after the NATO withdrawal from the country,” the report reads.

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In Afghanistan, America Failed to Know Its Enemy and Itself, by Srdja Trifkovic

The U.S. did its best to make the Soviet Union miserable in Afghanistan, and then it made the same mistake as the Soviet Union, fighting a twenty-year war contrasted to the Soviet’s war that lasted half as long. From Srdja Trifkovic at chroniclesmagazine.org:

The latest episode in an ironic reversal of the roles of the foreign powers that have tried their luck in Afghanistan is unfolding before our eyes. Britain’s profitless involvement (1839-1919) is ancient history, but more recently the Soviet intervention (1979-1989) and America’s subsequent “longest war” (2001-2021) have both ended in strategic failures.

Because the United States failed to know its enemy, it appears to have cleared the ground for China’s grand entry into the geopolitical game in Central Asia. That entry may well be successful, in the medium term at least, because it will not be accompanied by Beijing’s attempts to establish an ideologically friendly government in Kabul, or to conduct experiments in social engineering in the tribal lands, as the U.S. has a history of doing.

Back in the early 1980s, following the deployment of the Soviet army in an operation which completely lacked strategic clarity, the nascent Islamic resistance movement was used by the Carter Administration as a tool of undermining Moscow’s credibility and getting it bogged down in an unwinnable war. In a memorable 1998 interview with France’s news magazine Le Nouvel Observateur, Carter’s National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski described how he advised President Carter in the summer of 1979 to draw the Soviets into military intervention.

“That secret operation was an excellent idea,” Brzezinski said. “It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap…. Indeed, for almost 10  years, Moscow had to carry on a war that was unsustainable for the regime, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.”

Asked if he regretted having armed future terrorists, Brzezinski was adamant: “What is more important in world history? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some agitated Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?” He further rejected the notion that Islamic fundamentalism was a global menace as “nonsense.”

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With All Due Respect, by Douglas MacGregor

The generals played politics and CYA for twenty years. From Douglas MacGregor at theamericanconservative.com:

President Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan has produced just the exposure the generals hoped to avoid with Trump’s defeat.

Presidents usually get the generals they want. In the last election, though, the generals got the president they wanted. Or, at least, so they thought.

It’s easy to understand. President Trump was a menace to the generals, especially the four stars in the Army and the Marines. In sharp contrast to his predecessors in the White House, Trump declined to accept unconditionally the generals’ best military advice.

As far as Trump was concerned, the answers he received from his secretaries of Defense and the four stars concerning the need to stay in Afghanistan—to build democracy, liberate women, encircle Iran, keep China out and Russia at bay—did not pass the smell test. For Trump, neither the Russians nor the Chinese were ten feet tall, and Afghanistan’s security was never as important as the security of Rhode Island, Alabama, or Michigan.

In Trump’s view, Afghanistan was never a strategic asset. The country is one of the most remote places on earth. There is no scientific-industrial base. Its geostrategic position affords little advantage in a world dominated by precision guided missiles and space-based intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. The planning and practice for 9/11 was conducted in Germany and the United States, not in Afghanistan.

Long before Trump came to the presidency, Afghanistan was an enduring entanglement with no return on investment. Economically, Afghanistan belongs to sub-Saharan Africa. An American military presence, let alone massive U.S. economic investment in Afghanistan’s society and various peoples, is one of the most extreme examples of wasteful strategic overstretch in human history.

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The Silver Lining of the Afghanistan Withdrawal: Afghanistan is No Longer Simply a US Problem, by Doug Bandow

Afghanistan is in a rough neighborhood. It might work out well for the US to let Afghanistan’s neighbors worry about it. From Doug Bandow at aeir.org:

Washington’s tragic misadventure in Afghanistan is over. Despite the botched ending, America’s withdrawal was long overdue. Central Asia never warranted so much U.S. attention.

Afghanistan first drew Washington in after the Soviets invaded. Few Americans knew where the country was. None expressed an interest in building a modern nation there. The idea was simple: arm Afghans to kill Moscow’s soldiers, thereby weakening what President Ronald Reagan accurately called the Evil Empire. Spread democracy and equal rights for women? Not so much.

A decade later the U.S.S.R.’s legions fled back into the Soviet Union. A couple years after that the Soviet-supported state collapsed, which was followed by a civil war among the victorious Mujahedeen. Washington had poured torrents of cash into Afghanistan, but foolishly allowed Pakistan to dole it out. This empowered radical jihadists, including Osama bin Laden, founder of al-Qaeda, Jalaluddin Haqqani, founder of the anti-Western Haqqani Network, and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, founder of the radical Islamist Hezb-e-Islami, theParty of Islam. Some Americans complained that Washington didn’t stick around to “help” the Afghans. Had it done so, Americans would have been treated like Russians—shot at on their way out.

In 1994 a group called the Taliban arose. It enforced a 7th century fundamentalist interpretation of Islam. By 1996, it won control of most of the country by suppressing the Mujahedeen, and ending the chaotic violence which enveloped the country. The Taliban looked inward.

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It Looks Like We Forgot, by Peter Van Buren

In Washington, nothing succeeds like failure. It’s become a hard-and-fast rule, particularly in the military. From Peter Van Buren at theamericanconservative.com:

Twenty years later, the people who ruined everything are still sitting on top.

Apr. 2, 2003 – U.S. Army Sgt. Mark Phiffer stands guard duty near a burning oil well in the Rumaylah Oil Fields in Southern Iraq. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Arlo K. Abrahamson.)

I know it’s almost October, but I’m not done with 9/11. I know we had the 20th anniversary, promised for a day to never forget whatever, and then an old-looking Bruce Springsteen rose to sing about everyone dying around him. (Read the room, Bruce.) But missing from the day was a hard look at what happened over the last 20 years.

Before we move on, can we address that? Because after the symbolic Big Two-Zero anniversary, and with Afghanistan sputtering out of our consciousness, this might be the last 9/11 article.

Part of the reason for the lack of introspection over 9/11 is the corporate media went back for “takes” two decades later to the same people who screwed everything up. It’s kind of like inviting students to grade themselves. It was familiar, like the parade of generals following the Vietnam war who blamed the politicians and vice-versa. I wanted a browser widget that blocked 9/11 commentary from any of the people who were wrong about WMD, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, or Yemen. The last thing anyone needed was to hear David Petraeus’s or Condi Rice’s take on anything.

Yet, as if to create the anti-widget of my dreams, the Washington Post instead reviewed the sprawling literature to emerge from 9/11 over the past two decades—what they generously called “works of investigation, memoir, and narrative by journalists and former officials.” The books included on the list were written by people taking post-mortem credit for issuing warnings they themselves never acted on, agencies blaming other agencies as if all that happened was the FBI lost a pickup softball game to the CIA, and, of course, journalists who helped sell the whole WMD line profiting off their mini-embeds to write a new “classic” war book about What It’s Really Like Out There, Man.

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The dangerous rise of a new stab-in-the-back myth, by Joe Cirincione

After every lost war, the cheerleaders for it always come up with some stab-in-the-back myth about why the war was lost (these myths are never called “conspiracy theories”). The cheerleaders go on to the next war and those who questioned the war from the get-go generally end up writing articles for obscure websites (like SLL). From Joe Cirincione at responsiblestatecraft.org:

The foreign policy elite are focused on defending their reputations and privileges, not in confronting failure in Afghanistan.

When the Nazi Party consolidated power in Germany in 1933, they enshrined into their version of history the myth that the German Army had not lost in the Great War but had been “stabbed in the back” by cowardly civilian politicians, Jews, communists and socialists.

After maneuvering to get Socialist political leaders to sign the armistice (and, thus, take the blame for it), German General Erich Ludendorff popularized the Dolchstoss Legende. “The lie that German democracy, not the earlier authoritarian regime, was responsible for the disaster of World War I,” writes historian Jeffrey Herf, “figured prominently in the right-wing propaganda assault on the Weimar Republic.” The Nazis then used the lie to paint fascism as a restoration of Germany’s honor and justify persecution of their domestic opponents.

President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger created a similar myth to claim that the United States could have won the wars in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos had they not been undermined by the antiwar movement, liberals and the press. “The stab-in-the-back theme developed into a full-fledged explanation for American defeat after the war ended,” wrote historian Jeffrey Kimball in 1988, “and as another, related debate unfolded over the causes of failure and the future of policy.”

Years before becoming former President Donald Trump’s national security advisor, H.R. McMaster, wrote an entire book, Dereliction of Duty, using a variant of the concept. He claimed we lost the Indochina wars because weak generals did not stand up to civilian leaders. The “war was lost in Washington, D.C.,” he claimed, barely acknowledging the tenacity and strategy of the Vietnamese.

As Kimball notes, this is not just an effort by the losers of wars to find scapegoats for their defeat. It is part of the struggle to shape future policy. After 9/11, the myth was used to counter the so-called “Vietnam Syndrome” — the twenty years when America turned away from launching major wars — and manipulate a fearful American public into waging a series of new wars in the Middle East.

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Eurasia Takes Shape: How the SCO Just Flipped the World Order, by Pepe Escobar

Lately Russia and China have been much more successful with their various initiatives across Eurasia and the Middle East than whatever the Western powers have been trying to do in those areas. From Pepe Escobar at unz.com:

As a rudderless West watched on, the 20th anniversary meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization was laser-focused on two key deliverables: shaping up Afghanistan and kicking off a full-spectrum Eurasian integration.

With Iran’s arrival, the SCO member-states now number nine, and they’re focused on fixing Afghanistan and consolidating Eurasia. Photo Credit: The Cradle

The two defining moments of the historic 20th anniversary Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Dushanbe, Tajikistan had to come from the keynote speeches of – who else – the leaders of the Russia-China strategic partnership.

Xi Jinping: “Today we will launch procedures to admit Iran as a full member of the SCO.”

Vladimir Putin: “I would like to highlight the Memorandum of Understanding that was signed today between the SCO Secretariat and the Eurasian Economic Commission. It is clearly designed to further Russia’s idea of establishing a Greater Eurasia Partnership covering the SCO, the EAEU (Eurasian Economic Union), ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and China’s Belt and Road initiative (BRI).”

In short, over the weekend, Iran was enshrined in its rightful, prime Eurasian role, and all Eurasian integration paths converged toward a new global geopolitical – and geoeconomic – paradigm, with a sonic boom bound to echo for the rest of the century.

That was the killer one-two punch immediately following the Atlantic alliance’s ignominious imperial retreat from Afghanistan. Right as the Taliban took control of Kabul on August 15, the redoubtable Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s Security Council, told his Iranian colleague Admiral Ali Shamkhani that “the Islamic Republic will become a full member of the SCO.”

Dushanbe revealed itself as the ultimate diplomatic crossover. President Xi firmly rejected any “condescending lecturing” and emphasized development paths and governance models compatible with national conditions. Just like Putin, he stressed the complementary focus of BRI and the EAEU, and in fact summarized a true multilateralist Manifesto for the Global South.

Right on point, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan noted that the SCO should advance “the development of a regional macro-economy.” This is reflected in the SCO’s drive to start using local currencies for trade, bypassing the US dollar.

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