US President Biden’s speech on August 16 was a contortionist, factually-inaccurate, face-saving exercise in the wake of the worst political, martial, economic, and foreign policy disaster in recent decades. Biden will now come under tremendous fire and pressure from the Republicans, and his rhetoric will be squarely on: 1) saving American lives; and 2) blaming literally everyone else.
We will hear about how it was Trump who legitimized the Taliban after signing a deal with them, the imploding Afghan forces, the weak-willed and craven political leadership in Kabul, the China factor, the Iran factor, the Russia factor, and the biggest scapegoat of all, Pakistan and its intelligence services meddling in Afghanistan. Blame will be placed, mud will be slung, but never for an introspective moment will it ever be the Biden Administration’s fault.
Some of the statements from the president’s speech are diametrically contrary to the situation on the ground. Here is a short selection.
“Our mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to have been nation building. It was never supposed to be creating a unified, centralized democracy.”
This makes little sense given that large amounts of money were earmarked and ostensibly spent on both training and equipping the Afghan military ($83 billion), and economic/government and infrastructure ($5.8 billion). More than 80 percent of the Afghan government budget was paid by the US and its allies, according to Special Inspector General on Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko.
As a side note, the mere existence of SIGAR negates the president’s statement that the US was never interested in nation-building. SIGAR reported that Afghanistan would not be able to carry the financial burden once the US funding, which is heavily embezzled and used to line the pockets of the government, dries up.
Special Envoy on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad pushed constantly for a ‘unified, centralized government’ for years, turning this statement patently false. Not to mention, Ashraf Ghani wrote a book in 2009 literally called ‘Fixing Failed States: A Framework for Rebuilding a Fractured World’. Biden: “We should focus on the threats we face today, 2021, not yesterday’s threats… al Shabaab in Somalia, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Nusra in Syria, Isis attempting to create a caliphate in Syria and Iraq…”
This statement expertly sums up the American prerogative. It was never freedom and liberty for the Afghan people, it was never bringing democracy and stability, it was never bringing economic prosperity to the region. It was to kill the terrorists responsible for the 9/11 attacks, damned be the fact that none of the attackers were Afghan nationals.
More importantly, this obfuscates the fact that the true reason behind the rapid withdrawal and the arming and detonation of the political and martial powder keg, is the waning support for America’s longest war. Biden is between a rock (nonexistent public support) and a hard place (Republican backlash), the latter well deserved for how incredibly botched, ill-advised, and irresponsible the exit from Afghanistan has been.
Finally, if the part about Iraq was really true, why has there been a recent announcement to withdraw all troops from Iraq by the end of 2021?
Biden: “We were clear-eyed about the risks. We planned for every contingency.”
This one I am just going to leave here without further commentary: “Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country. The Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight.”
The Afghan leaders were handpicked by the US. The Afghan military was trained, equipped, and supported by $83 billion of US taxpayer money. Could it be possible that these stooges were never the true leaders of the Afghan people? Could it be possible that the $83 billion spent on Afghan troops training, equipment, and support was gobbled up by systemic corruption both on part of the elite in Kabul and American contractors?
As a small example, the US spent $547 million on refurbishing 20 G222 military transport aircraft for the Afghan Air Force. Sixteen of the twenty were later sold to scrap dealers for $40,257 because the American refurbishes supplied flawed and unsafe aircraft.
Biden: “I cannot and I will not ask our troops to fight on endlessly… in another country’s civil war… This is not in our national security interest.”
The sheer selfishness of this statement is only dimmed by the callousness exhibited towards the Afghan people. This callousness was amply demonstrated by the now infamous scene of the US Air Force aircraft taking off from Kabul with desperate, abandoned Afghans clinging on to the body, hoping for an escape from the overwhelming force that filled the deliberate vacuum.
Couple this with two additional factors.
First, that just a few months prior, Biden promised a responsible and orderly exit, and on July 8 he stated that there was no circumstance under which the Taliban would take over Kabul.
Biden: “I will not repeat the mistakes we’ve made in the past.”
This is the final icing on the misery cake left behind. Whether it was Saigon in 1975, or Afghanistan again in 1989, or a dozen other examples within and without, the abject lesson we continue to learn from history is that we don’t learn anything from history.
The writer is a senior research fellow at the Center for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad, and a freelance journalist.
Email: zeeshan.salahuddin@ gmail.com
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