Act sooner, and trigger collapse sooner. Act later, and trigger collapse later. The most salient fact about Afghanistan—or any country—is that it can only stand if the people are willing to hold it up. Nation states do not operate on magic. They operate on action and belief in the cause of society.
The belief that holds up democracies is the same belief holds up strong men. It is the belief in the persistence of the power structure that holds a nation up, not the power structure itself. The difference for weak-core nations like China and Russia is that the authoritarian imposes the belief in power by threat of violence, where the democratic structure’s belief is by invitation. The authoritarian says, “You must build our society,” while the democrat asks, “Would you like to build society? And how?”
The media, as surprised as most at the precipitous fall of Afghanistan’s government, has gone into overdrive to try to deflect from their own unpreparedness for the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban. All of that is set atop the worry over how women and girls will fare under an archaic belief system imposed by lupine violence.
But after 20 years, more than eight percent of America’s life, the government and military were not functional enough to fight. The international community did not rally to the cause. The anti-democratic axis supported the Taliban. The Afghans were ill-trained, perhaps. The plan for saving allies was half-cooked. The thing fell apart.
Congress has the power to declare war. If they want to send troops back, they need only pass a declaration. If they want more liberal refugee policies, they can pass that law. If they want to investigate or even to impeach Biden for a two-decades-long string of mistakes, that’s their prerogative. The media can crucify him until the cows come home. They can buy their nails by the barrel, their crosses by the cargo ship.
Congress will investigate the exit strategy, and if there were particular planning problems and lessons to be learned, and if there are ways to still save people who otherwise would fall under Taliban boots, I hope Congress gets there with all haste. God knows that we need Congress to step up and take more responsibility, that the executive can’t do it all, and that congressional ownership for the output of our national government is sorely needed.
But whatever the findings of the media and Congress, they must own their shares of the blame for not being more proactive in reporting. There were some in both camps that tried and failed to force refugee policy changes. One hopes investigations will focus on why they were ignored, both from an administrative and a legislative standpoint. One suspects the reasons are several, including a lack of State Department partnership with the military in overseeing policy development, lack of legislative bandwidth (both in terms of political prioritization and in terms of funding).
It doesn’t change the sad facts. The Afghan government had 20 years to push for a better-trained military, to design and set up better logistics. Maybe they could have bought Toyota trucks, copied the Taliban. Maybe some other formulation of military. They did not. Our allies did not refocus the training either. The last president—Donald John Trump—struck a world-class-turd of a deal with the Taliban, and given Biden wanted to exit, he chose not to try to leave by picking a new fight.
I don’t see how much blame can be laid at Biden’s feet on this—with the caveat that is based on current reporting. If the media or Congress finds different information, that will change. I know people want to blame Biden, because the situation sucks. But unless you’re calling for a return to Afghanistan, it’s hard to understand what could have been much different. Without a remnant force of Afghans defending their cities, it was always going to go like this.
If they had begun pulling people out earlier, it very well could have signaled the end and I would have written this, slightly modified, back in May or whenever. Or maybe not. Again, if the media or Congress can produce credible reporting that the administration rejected a reasonable alternative that would have worked better, let’s hear that if and when they are able to say it. And then let’s also hear why it wasn’t loudly voiced by the media or enacted by Congress.
There will be resistance to the Taliban, unless they decide to beat their swords into rakes and use their trucks for farming. Perhaps the opulence of the new cities will restrain them, as they whiff the possibilities of modernity. Perhaps not. But there will be Afghans who will fight for a free Afghanistan. They may not be many, but they will exist and will persist. Some day, we all can hope, it will come.
In the meantime, blame President Biden, if it makes you feel better. It doesn’t do anything for me. I feel pretty shitty about the whole thing, but I know that staying in Afghanistan wasn’t going to change this result. That’s something only Afghans can do.