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Opinion: The Taliban defeated America. Let the blame game begin.

Zarvan

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Opinion: The Taliban defeated America. Let the blame game begin.

NATO forces attend the graduation ceremony of Afghan National Army soldiers in Kabul in May 2019. (Rahmat Gul/AP)

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Opinion by
Max Boot
Columnist
July 12, 2021|Updated today at 4:50 p.m. EDT

After the fall of South Vietnam in 1975, there was an acrimonious debate over who lost the Vietnam War. Many in the military and the Republican Party subscribed to a “stabbed in the back” myth, blaming politicians and the media for supposedly preventing the armed forces from defeating North Vietnam. Many liberals, on the other hand, argued that it was a war the United States should not have fought and could not have won.

Afghanistan isn’t lost — yet — but with the Taliban advancing rapidly, the debate over “who lost Afghanistan?” has already begun. Republicans, ignoring that it was President Donald Trump who began the withdrawal, are blaming President Biden for “a disaster in the making.” Biden defended himself last week by claiming that we had achieved our “objectives” — “to get the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 and to deliver justice to Osama Bin Laden” — and, beyond that, “it’s up to the people of Afghanistan to decide on what government they want.” Retired Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, jumped in to blame media “disinterest and defeatism” for creating the “conditions for capitulation,” while progressive MSNBC host Mehdi Hasan argued “the original invasion itself was an outrage, given there were no Afghans aboard any of the 4 planes” on Sept. 11, 2001.

Suffice it to say there is plenty of blame to go around for what is likely to be remembered as the second major war — after Vietnam — that the United States has lost. But it shouldn’t fall on the media. McMaster himself once wrote that the “war in Vietnam” was not “lost on the front pages of the New York Times,” and the same is true in Afghanistan. Negative news articles reflect reality — they don’t create it.



The real blame falls squarely on politicians and generals — both American and Afghan. A succession of U.S. presidents made one mistake after another. While George W. Bush was right to go into Afghanistan (which is where the attack originated, even if there were no Afghans on the 9/11 planes), he was wrong to pivot to a war of choice in Iraq. Barack Obama implemented a halfhearted, time-limited troop surge that encouraged the Taliban to wait it out. Trump negotiated an agreement that demanded next to nothing of the Taliban in return for a U.S. pullout. Biden, instead of pointing out that the Taliban had failed to break ties with al-Qaeda, moved ahead with the withdrawal anyway despite the likelihood that Afghanistan will once again become a terrorist haven.

The U.S. military cannot escape blame for this fiasco. As The Post’s Afghanistan Papers series pointed out, U.S. forces failed to “build a competent Afghan army and police force” or to tell the truth about how badly the war was going. This was more a matter of self-deception than of conscious lying. With its gung-ho, can-do ethos, the U.S. military is inherently inclined to highlight evidence of “progress,” however chimerical, instead of focusing on far more pervasive problems.

As poorly as U.S. politicians and military leaders performed, their Afghan counterparts have been far worse. The reasons that so much of the Afghan army appears to be crumbling in the face of the enemy — just as the Iraqi army did in 2014 — are poor leadership and pervasive corruption. As a former Afghan finance minister told the New York Times: “The mismanagement has led us to where we are today.” Even now, with the enemy practically at the gates, the Afghan elite continue to squabble among themselves rather than unite to save the nation.



Given the dysfunction and corruption of the Afghan political class, it is tempting to simply wash our hands of the country, as Biden is now doing, by suggesting that we’ve done enough and now it’s up to them. There is a logic to this argument, but in Afghanistan, the United States is itself complicit in misgovernance — just as we were in South Vietnam.

For 20 years, we pumped untold billions into Afghanistan and cut unsavory deals with corrupt warlords. In the process, we empowered abusive crooks while making the Afghan military reliant on our support. The sudden withdrawal of U.S. air power has been a crippling blow, not only militarily but also psychologically, because we are also withdrawing the contractors who keep Afghan aircraft flying. By leaving, we’re not giving the people of Afghanistan the opportunity to decide how they want to be governed, as Biden said. We’re giving a barbaric insurgency the opportunity to oppress them.

After having invested so much for so long in Afghanistan, we cannot now escape responsibility for its fate. In 1975, a U.S. Army colonel famously told a North Vietnamese colonel, “You know, you never beat us on the battlefield.” His counterpart responded, “That may be so, but it is also irrelevant.”

Indeed. Guerrillas prevail not by outfighting but by outlasting a more powerful foe. The Taliban has done just that. It has not yet defeated the government in Kabul, but it has already defeated the one in Washington. Let the recriminations and finger-pointing begin. If Vietnam is any indication, the Afghanistan “blame game” could roil U.S. politics for decades to come.

Opinion | The Taliban defeated America. Let the blame game begin. - The Washington Post
 

cloud4000

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Undoubtedly, we will be seeing an endless stream of articles, books, and documentaries about America's (mis)adventures in Afghanistan. All will benefit from the luxury of hindsight.
 

PakFactor

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Undoubtedly, we will be seeing an endless stream of articles, books, and documentaries about America's (mis)adventures in Afghanistan. All will benefit from the luxury of hindsight.
With useless opinions of each author with PhDs etc who would still get it wrong. Classical authors if you read their books on wars and conflict have a much deeper understanding of it than what we have today.
 

FuturePAF

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As in Vietnam, focusing on the American portion of the war will lose sight of the greater war that was being waged and what motivated the population to join the opposition.

In the case of Vietnam, it was a “freedom struggle”, but unlike what is popularly believed, the North Vietnamese were fighting an “ecosystem”/social structure not just a regime, that was held up by the US and the French, but was really about ethnic Chinese, living in Vietnam, that dominated Vietnamese power and economics.
This may sound far fetched are first glance, but after their win in 1975, the Communist Vietnamese carried out three mass expulsions and exterminations of ethnic Chinese living in Vietnam. China was partially motivated to fight a war with Vietnam in 1979 over this issue, as I understand it.

In the same regard, the 300 year Afghan civil war between Kabul (kings and the urban elite) and the rural countryside is the wider war the American portion falls into. Not much development over the last 20 years took in the rural countryside while Kabul and the other major cities saw considerable improvement. It was the same in Soviet times. For outside powers, Afghan is a place to get through (as was the case for Alexander) or a proxy battlefield in the cold wars of other nations, but they have always had to operate in the context of this civil war, and its local players. Failure to recognize the civil war and deal with both sides will ultimately continue the conflict, which can look over when areas are temporarily subdued, but will always come back like faint embers in an overly dry forest.

(An American equivalence would be Rural Republicans and Urban Democrats. One needs in roads with both sides to be broadly popular)
 
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khansaheeb

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Undoubtedly, we will be seeing an endless stream of articles, books, and documentaries about America's (mis)adventures in Afghanistan. All will benefit from the luxury of hindsight.
And books about loser India whose grand designs failed and who ran for their lives half naked in the Afghan dusty night.

Only the fools went to fight, the smart ones had different ideas. The smart ones made money and plenty of money, to the tunes of billions.
 

cloud4000

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And books about loser India whose grand designs failed and who ran for their lives half naked in the Afghan dusty night.

Only the fools went to fight, the smart ones had different ideas. The smart ones made money and plenty of money, to the tunes of billions.
Don't underestimate India. And the Taliban are not Pakistan's friends. It's going to get interesting.
 

aziqbal

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Don't underestimate India. And the Taliban are not Pakistan's friends. It's going to get interesting.
Taliban have no issues with Pakistan Zero

Taliban worked with Pakistan for decades even during the height of the Afghan war, Americans knew it

when US targeted the mosque in 2008 Khyber Pass it was Juma prayer using a drone many people died, 2 x Hellfire missiles hit the mosque

Taliban said to Pakistan just allow us one chance and watch what we do, after that Pakistan said not only do we give you chance you have our full support, 2009-2012 the Taliban gave the forces in Afghanistan hell

in 2008 and 2009 North of Peshawar was no go zone, death everywhere you looked, RAW agencies were working with external companies causing havoc in the region

a Pakistani Check post near Swat seen PA Jawans head chopped off and put on display on the main road broad daylight

so gloves came off Pakistan launched operation in Northern Areas and opened free will to Taliban in Afghanistan

it took 5 years but victory came and enemies fled, PA and Taliban formed a bond of brotherhood
 

cloud4000

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Taliban have no issues with Pakistan Zero

Taliban worked with Pakistan for decades even during the height of the Afghan war, Americans knew it

when US targeted the mosque in 2008 Khyber Pass it was Juma prayer using a drone many people died, 2 x Hellfire missiles hit the mosque

Taliban said to Pakistan just allow us one chance and watch what we do, after that Pakistan said not only do we give you chance you have our full support, 2009-2012 the Taliban gave the forces in Afghanistan hell

in 2008 and 2009 North of Peshawar was no go zone, death everywhere you looked, RAW agencies were working with external companies causing havoc in the region

a Pakistani Check post near Swat seen PA Jawans head chopped off and put on display on the main road broad daylight

so gloves came off Pakistan launched operation in Northern Areas and opened free will to Taliban in Afghanistan

it took 5 years but victory came and enemies fled, PA and Taliban formed a bond of brotherhood
Bond of brotherhood? I think you are overstating your case. Hope you are right, but I have my doubts.
 

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