Reflection: The Mess in Afghanistan

Image via Business Insider

I spent the day yesterday refreshing Twitter and other news sites to get the latest news out of Afghanistan. Any takeover of a country is a pretty big deal. I’ve watched some pretty unbelievable events in my lifetime, the coup in Russia, the Arab Spring, and more, and this felt like those did. Except for one important detail.

Those other events were about other countries and their issues. But this story in Afghanistan, alas, is an American story.

We started this timeline, over 20 years ago, and it continued through four presidential administrations. It is our collective failure. All the political finger pointing I read yesterday was predictable — I mean, who wants to own a failure? My thoughts on that were best summed up with this:

Watching Afghanistan fall to the Taliban once again is really rough for our friends and family in the military who have served there. Be sure to reach out to them, even just to listen.

The news and stories out of Afghanistan in the coming days is going to be hard to swallow, no matter how you feel about America’s role outside our borders.

Be kind to yourself, and take care of your friends.

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7 replies

  1. The President had two options: Keep forces in and start taking casualties in support of a government that has proven unable to govern, or pull out now. His decision probably saved the many Afghan lives that would have been lost as the Taliban executed the same operation in the face of stronger defenses. I reject the position that he “bobbled” the withdrawal. He could not have handled it any other way.

  2. Tokyo, what is written in the banner is dead-on accurate. The US, like the USSR, failed to look at history. Afghanistan is called the “graveyard of empires” for a reason. Too mountainous, too distributed, too many fiefdoms. What is happening now is only a surprise at how quickly it has happened, not that it did. We went into both Afghanistan and Iraq without a plan or definition of what success would look like. And, people died as a result. I have this one request for any leader – before you commit troops to risk their lives – exhaust all other means and have a plan. Keith

    • I remember quite clearly watching the Russian tanks roll out of Afghanistan all those many years ago. I remember my parents saying what a mistake it was that Russia thought they could control that country. If we don’t learn from history, we’re doomed to repeat it.

      • Tokyo, I do as well. Did you ever watch the movie “Charlie Wilson’s War” with Tom Hanks as Congressman Charlie Wilson who secretly (and not so secretly) gained funding for the war in Afghanistan against the USSR invasion? We actually sided with some of these now Taliban fighters to defeat the USSR, then left them hanging in a country in disarray. The point to the movie is we paid for the mess we made later as we did not help them get back on better footing. It is kind of like paying for the mistakes in Iran in 1953 later in 1979 when the Shah was overthrown. Keith

  3. Brandon Friedman has succinctly and accurately summarized the events of the past 20 years that led to the present. As a veteran of both Afghanistan and Iraq in the early 2000’s, Friedman’s words hold weight. I am not a Twitter person and would have missed this tweet, so I truly appreciate your thoughtful post. I know of Brandon Friedman due to having read his 2007 memoir “The War I Always Wanted : The Illusion of Glory and the Reality of War”. Thank-you!

  4. Mission creep is well nigh impossible to control for U.S. military. We enter a social environment profoundly different and with traditions older and more controling than our own, often with a puzzling aspect of 2-3 faced interlocutors. We think our military equipment will solve the conflict, and it may often provide some strategic advantages. But they know and we know that we will go home eventually. They will have to live with whoever is in power when we leave, hence the 2-3 faces. However, we can count as a victory the 20 yr. exposure to female education and opportunity, which will hopefully persist after the political regime changes. The Irish taught in the hedgerows when their language was outlawed, their food exported, their land ownership dissolved. The U.S. African slave population did it during slavery’s proscription against Black literacy. Education can also be “mission creep” in an oppressive society, slowly lifting the veil, questioning prevailing values (are womern REALLY the source of all sin, or do men need to keep their peckers in their pants?) We couldn’t change an embedded political system with air power, but we did give people, women and girls in particular a different view of their place in their own society. That’s half the human race, anywhere you go. That counts as a victory that needs to creep on, regardless who occupies the presidential palace in Kabul. Courage to those who will move literacy forward.

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