By David Gespass
What we are now witnessing in Afghanistan is not just Biden’s fault. It certainly appears that the departure was bungled, but the failures in Afghanistan are bipartisan and go back more than forty years. They began with Jimmy Carter and the CIA’s “Operation Cyclone,” the program to fund and arm the Mujahadin against Soviet Occupation. It continued for ten years, through much, if not all, of the Reagan administration. Because it was deemed to be in the “national security interests” of the United States, getting the Soviets out of Afghanistan was seen as worth the investment, even if the likely replacement of the Afghan government would be a fundamentalist theocracy. U.S. policy makers plowed on, not really caring who they were supporting, so long as they were anti-Soviet. The result was the Taliban, whose leadership was made up almost entirely of Mujahadin fighters.
It did not occur to any of these policy makers that the U.S. would be just as unwelcome as were the Soviets, or the British before them or all those others, going back past Alexander the Great. Nor did they care that the Taliban’s views on almost anything were squarely opposed to the ideals of democracy and equality that the U.S. claims to support.
Then George W. Bush (with the support of Barack Obama) chose to invade Afghanistan in response to the 9/11 attacks, allegedly in order to capture the perpetrators, Osama bin Laden in particular. Bin Laden left Afghanistan and wasn’t caught for another decade, but the U.S. remained there through the next two presidential administrations. While the armaments industry got rich, a trillion or more dollars was spent and thousands of Americans and uncounted Afghanis were maimed, killed or otherwise irreparably damaged.
Trump, of course, made a deal with the Taliban to finally remove all U.S. forces. Biden made good on that agreement. Most Americans and most elected officials were in favor of the decision to leave, despite partisan sniping, at Trump by Democrats and at Biden by Republicans. The withdrawal (read: defeat) of American forces has been disastrous, but no more so than the last twenty years of occupation and the propping up of a puppet government that had no real legitimacy or support of the Afghanis. Predictably, that puppet government fell with the ignominious defeat of the U.S. Notably, the Soviet-supported government held on for three years after Soviet forces withdrew. Also notably, that government provided Afghanis, particularly women, with far more personal freedoms than they had ever enjoyed. It is likely that all the “progress” of the last twenty years apologists for the war talk about was simply restoration of the progress made by the Soviet-backed government and curtailed by the Taliban.
In the meantime, thousands of Afghanis who worked for and assisted U.S. occupiers, whose lives were and are at risk because of that cooperation, either have not applied for visas or have been waiting years to have them approved. It is questionable whether those with visas will get out of Afghanistan and questionable whether the U.S. will do anything to assist them. It is almost certain it will not do enough. Those without visas, whether their applications are pending or whether they have not yet applied, are unlikely to either get visas or, if they do, to get out. It has always been thus. The U.S. consistently abandons those who support it in its foreign adventures. What we see in Afghanistan now is all too reminiscent of what was seen in Vietnam.
With the invasion of the tiny, virtually unarmed, island nation of Granada, launched by Reagan for no apparent reason, the U.S. proclaimed the end of the “Vietnam Syndrome,” its reluctance to engage in foreign wars for fear of quagmire and defeat. The lessons of Vietnam – that an occupying force can never defeat the people of the country, that puppet governments cannot survive without the continued support of the puppeteers – were ignored or forgotten. The predictable result in Afghanistan was quagmire and, now, defeat. One can only mourn the wasted lives and the misspent money and be prepared to fight against the next imperial adventure that would, if carried out, enrich the war profiteers at the expense of our troops and the population and land of the target of our “national security.” Perhaps we can recognize that the U.S. is not only not “indispensable” (as Madeleine Albright proclaimed), but is the purveyor of death and destruction wherever it chooses to intervene. And its national interest is not that of the Masters of War (see video below), but of those who have been used as cannon fodder to line the pockets of the military-industrial complex.
David Gespass is a co-founder of MLTF and has formerly served both a member of the Military Law Task Force Steering Committee and president of the National Lawyers Guild.