America Worst: Biden’s mistake in abandoning Afghanistan
Biden inherited a divided nation during a period of domestic self-reckoning, but the biggest blunder of his presidency may be in the Middle East
Wars always last too long. Remember summer 1914, when the British troops landed in mainland Europe believing they would be home by Christmas. Instead, for four hellish years, they lived in the ground. Post-traumatic stress disorder was so commonplace that it received such an unremarkable name as ‘shell shock’. Many more suffered debilitating injuries, and many thousands lost their lives.
The Second World War seemed so endless that the States decided it necessary to unleash the untested danger of atomic bombs.
More recently, a twenty-year tirade in Vietnam has evoked the label of a ‘forever war’. For all the sacrifice and hardship, though, and the bottomless budgets of the U.S. military, the Western war effort equated to one step forwards and one step back.
Fearing another forever, President Biden has pressed on with the withdrawal of all American troops from Afghanistan. And in a number of days, the Taliban have captured Kabul. The Western withdrawal has become a rushed escape.
Like Vietnam, the (latest) Afghanistan War, started twenty years ago by a Bush administration seeking to avenge 9/11, looks to be ending in vain. By doubling down on Trump’s commitment to bring the last of the troops home, the 46th Commander in Chief has inadvertently allowed the Taliban to capture the entire country. Viral images of the extremists horsing around on trampolines in Kabul and enjoying the gymnasium at the presidential palace make a mockery of the two-decade struggle – the mission – to liberate the country from those very people.
Arguably, no subject is more divisive than the deployment of citizens in a foreign conflict. The stakes are high, more so than any domestic squabble. Over 3,500 from the Western coalition lost their lives serving in Afghanistan, over half of which have been American. For every American service person that lost their life, there have been thirty reported deaths among the Afghan citizenry and security forces. Some nineteen thousand U.S. veterans survived with serious or life-changing wounds; the number of wounded, physically or mentally-scarred Afghans is likely to be much higher. The pacifist case against war is clear.
In an indirect sense, too, the Afghanistan War has affected civilian’s lives in the West. This year, Brown University in Rhode Island estimated the cost of America’s participation in the war since 2001 at $2tn. Using very crude calculations, if one could simply wipe Afghanistan off the chequebook, the federal government could have increased spending on their sub-par education system by 15 percent, or doubled their spending on transport. Without the War in Afghanistan, perhaps the U.S. could have made great strides forward on electric vehicle technology, or have the AmEx train system that Biden has always dreamed of.
Suddenly, it makes tremendous sense why Trump was keen to bring an end to the war: it was very expensive in terms of human life and government spend.
By insisting on withdrawing the troops, though, the current Commander in Chief has made the most costly decision yet. 2,400 deaths, 19,000 wounded veterans and two trillion dollars has resulted in no progress. In fact, the conclusion is worse than a stalemate: the Taliban have actually gained territory. Now, their control over the country is absolute.
Speaking to a nation that was coming to terms with the Taliban’s takeover, Biden told the cameras: “American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war […] that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves”. Frankly, accusing the Afghan people and the forces that represented them of surrendering the fight is outrageous. They became passive because the Americans left.
Afghanistan didn’t have to be a forever war. The West could have agreed to maintain a residual presence in the troubled country – enough to deter the Taliban from taking over the capital and foster an element of stability in the long-troubled country. The U.S. still has 28,500 troops in South Korea, 68 years after the conflict cooled. Why can’t it do the same for Afghanistan?
The ‘forever war’ misnomer may have tainted the rationale of U.S. administrators. More Afghans may die in a lawless, Taliban-led regime, than would have with a residual force of U.S. troops. If the West proceeds with abandoning Afghanistan, it is surrendering the country to a ‘forever’ future of austerity, insecurity and oppression – and there is nothing American about that.