Notes on the 'Loss' of Afghanistan
The Taliban are far from unique in Afghan life
“At that  wedding I went to, after the men ate off the giant platters of food, dogs and slaves ate, and what was left was brought to the women who had prepared the feast.”
The ‘loss’ of Afghanistan to the Taliban — if you can lose a nation you never controlled in the first place — has stolen the news cycle as pro-war Pentagon-influenced propagandists made sure to excoriate President Biden for his “failure.”
Lurking beneath this story, though, are a number of other, much more important stories involving this debacle and its end. These are a few of them.
First, the U.S. military command, all the way up to President Biden, appeared to have had no idea Afghanistan would collapse this quickly. None. Courtesy of Matt Taibbi and a public post at his Substack site, we find this:
And Joe Biden had this to say to Jake Tapper on July 8:
Q: Your own intelligence community has assessed that the Afghan government will likely collapse. BIDEN: That is not true, they did not reach that conclusion… There is going to be no circumstance where you see people lifted off the roof of an embassy… The likelihood that you’re going to see the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.
A large part of the responsibility for the events we are witnessing belongs to the military establishment and its inexplicable blindness. Did they really not know that their puppet government would fall as soon as we left? Seems everyone else did.
Second, another reason for the events we are witnessing is that Afghanistan just isn't a country in any of the traditional senses. Here’s Howie Klein, describing an extended trip he took to Afghanistan in 1969, one of several:
That's where I learned that Afghanistan wasn't a country the way we think of a country. The king, one of the prominent citizens told me while I sat around smoking hash with a dozen other prominent citizens, was the king of Kabul. He wasn't the king of Kandahar. I experienced that sentiment almost everywhere I went in the country, but it was most pronounced in Kandahar. Later Kandahar became the spiritual home of the Taliban. Last night when Yarolslav Trofimov, writing for the Wall Street Journal, reported that "the Taliban pressed their rapid advance across Afghanistan with the capture of Kandahar," he was really just expressing the inevitable, something I hope to God American war planners already understood was going to happen.
The “King of Afghanistan” is just the King of Kabul. This has been true for centuries.
The "nation" of Afghanistan is a 19th century British construct, meaningless lines on a Whitehall map. The Pashtun areas of Afghanistan have more in common with the Pashtun region Pakistan than they do with the rest of their so-called "country."
These are not nations. They became "nations" only under British imperial rule and the subsequent breakup of that brutal empire. (John Oliver, for most of his professional life, has been quite eloquent on that brutality.)
Third, the violence and retribution certain to be inflicted by the Taliban are not unique to the Taliban. Violence, including violence against women, is normal in Afghanistan, and further, also normal in every nation liberated from an invader.
Howie Klein again:
After the British were defeated by the patriots in 1783, the third of colonists-- according to John Adams-- who favored the British (the "loyalists"), were disgruntled. Some were so disgruntled that, at least 80,000 of them-- many wealthy-- packed up and left, fleeing to Britain, Canada and British colonies in the Caribbean. Here they were traitors especially those who had actively collaborated with the British, spying on and killing patriots and joining British military units. Think about the local European fascists in France, Norway, Poland, Russia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Holland, etc who collaborated with the Nazis against their own countries during World War II. A few lucky ones managed to flee to the Western Hemisphere. The U.S., Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil were especially happy to welcome fascists and Nazis. Others were punished-- anything from firing squads to social castigation. ...
You would be extraordinarily naive if you think there isn't going to be retribution from the Taliban in Afghanistan now against collaborators. Fox and the GOP will blow it up as a way to smear Biden but if there was no retribution, it would be the first time in history people who collaborated with an occupying power got off scot free. Afs know it, of course, which is way so many are absolutely panic-stricken at what is still the Hamid Karzai International Airport.
About the Afghans' historic mistreatment of women, Klein writes:
[Guardian writer Peter] Beaumont wrote [here] that women were ["]pushed from public life, [which] mostly barred them from working or studying and confined them to their homes unless accompanied by a male guardian." I was in Afghanistan for extended periods of time in 1969 and 1971 and that's the way it was then too. The Afs are pretty primitive. When I was there I kept thinking how I was back in Biblical times. I lived with a family in a tiny hamlet in the Hindu Kush for a winter-- after breaking my ankle when I fell off my horse. My close pal got married while I was living with them. I never saw his wife (or mother or sisters-- or any other women); I went to the wedding. They didn't. When the Russians took over the country, things lightened up for women. Then what we in the U.S. called the "freedom fighters"-- including bin Laden-- pushed them out with U.S. help, women went back to being treated the [way] Taliban believes women should be treated... third class citizens.
The following is especially striking:
At that wedding I went to, after the men ate off the giant platters of food, dogs and slaves (technically "servants") ate and what was left was brought in to the women at the back of the house who, had, prepared the feast all day and certainly knew what they were missing out on. I recall wondering more than once why don't the women kill the men in their sleep?
Through that whole period, "public executions and floggings were common" according to Beaumont. The Afghans were "pretty primitive" already. Not stupid, of course, but ruled by customs largely unmodified by what we in the West call "civilized life." It's a (propagandistic) mistake to attribute that culture to those evil Taliban. They merely continue it.
Fourth, massive theft, especially of American money delivered on pallets from our country to theirs, has been seamlessly woven into the fabric of elite Afghan life. Klein:
We keep hearing how Afghanistan, the most institutionally corrupt place on a corrupt planet, has a trained military force of over 300,000. Is that so? There is no effective Afghan army, at least in part because the U.S. dollars that pay them is siphoned away into the pockets of government officials and the 300,000 don't get much, if anything-- not even rations or ammunition. Why should they fight? For most of them, there isn't any reason to.
When "President" Ghani fled, he took four cars and as much American money as he could fit into his personal helicopter. What he couldn't take was reportedly left on the tarmac.
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's embassy in Kabul said on Monday that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had fled the country with four cars and a helicopter full of cash and had to leave some money behind as it would not all fit in, the RIA news agency reported.
Ghani, whose current whereabouts are unknown, said he left Afghanistan on Sunday as the Taliban entered Kabul virtually unopposed. He said he wanted to avoid bloodshed.
The bloodshed he wanted to avoid was his own. The amount he managed to escape with was not a small amount:
It's easy to point to the greed of their elites as the reason "why we failed." But if you contrast the continent-sized corruption of our elites (see below) with the relatively regional theft of the Afghan lords, you’ll see why we have precious little to criticize them for.
Fifth, the pattern in all this has been the same for decades. From Taibbi's piece:
We go to places we’re not welcome, tell the public a confounding political problem can be solved militarily, and lie about our motives in occupying the country to boot. Then we pick a local civilian political authority to back that inevitably proves to be corrupt and repressive, increasing local antagonism toward the American presence.
In response to those increasing levels of antagonism, we then ramp up our financial, political, and military commitment to the mission, which in turn heightens the level of resistance, leading to greater losses in lives and treasure. As the cycle worsens, the government systematically accelerates the lies to the public about our level of “progress.”
Throughout, we make false assurances of security that are believed by significant numbers of local civilians, guaranteeing they will later either become refugees or targets for retribution as collaborators. Meanwhile, financial incentives for contractors, along with political disincentives to admission of failure, prolong the mission.
Near the end this process "the lies become institutionalized" — perhaps the reason that Binken and Biden were so blind to easy-to-predicted events.
Or perhaps not the reason. Because, remember...
Sixth, at the bottom, each of these war-making projects is a con, a wealth transfer run by an eager Congress at the more eager urging of the big-money Military Machine — the Pentagon, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Boeing (yes, them), and the rest.
Hundreds of billions per year flow from the U.S. government into the purses of our military suppliers. Lockheed vacuums up $45 billion per year all on its own.
They then take a massive profit, turbo-charged by overruns and failures-to-deliver (we pay more for failed projects that successful ones) and return the rest as materiel to the Pentagon chiefs, who ship it to other countries to ... there's no polite way to say this ... blow stuff up. "Stuff" in this case includes millions of foreign lives — innocent fathers and mothers, helpless children, and all the soldiers and insurgents who, like every person in the United States itself, would prefer not to be invaded.
Once that money is spent, squandered, or "lost," the Machine goes to Congress for more, and it's never disappointed. Rinse and repeat forever. Half the federal budget is used this way. Half.
The estimated cost of the Afghan War through 2020 is $2 trillion. The estimated cost of the Afghan War through 2050 is $6.5 trillion, assuming we honor our obligation to the maimed and ruined soldiers we deployed there.
All the money we didn't blow up went into the pockets of the Machine — of Raytheon, your Congressional representative, former Pentagon generals and admirals, of Ashraf Ghani, Hamid Karzai, and the purse of every petty warlord we bribed and paid to pretend to want us there.
All this should be told when telling the U.S.-Afghanistan story. Perhaps in the future, when the Pentagon isn’t driving what can’t be said, it will be.
There are two for this piece:
If Blinken and Biden were as blind as they claimed to be to this monstrous systemic theft, one that has stretched unchanged through all the decades they spent enabling it, they're as deluded as the stumbling drunk who swears he “never touches the stuff.”
They’re fit for the loony bin and unfit for office.
(This is an updated version of a piece published earlier.)