The twenty-year war in Afghanistan has ended in a crushing American defeat. And like our defeat in Vietnam almost fifty years ago, the fallout has been spectacularly tragic and everyone is pointing fingers. But just as in Vietnam, almost everyone has a share of the blame.
Everyone except for those Americans, and their allies, who fought and bled and died in Afghanistan. This epic disaster is on the suits, not the boots.
As co-host of the Drill Down, Peter Schweizer, says in the latest episode of the Drill Down podcast: “Here’s the bottom line, corruption has life and death consequences.”
Pentagon and State Department officials have known for more than a decade that the U.S. mission in Afghanistan was ultimately doomed, owing to a toxic blend of local corruption, a feckless bureaucracy, and an aimless strategy from Washington.
Both Presidents George Bush and Barack Obama routinely neglected the war in pursuit of other goals. President Trump promised an exit, but pushed it off beyond his first term. Worst, President Biden failed to address internal alarm bells raised regarding the extraction of critical personnel.
On the latest episode of the Drill Down podcast, co-hosts Peter Schweizer and Eric Eggers are joined by GAI Fellow and former Congressman Jason Chaffetz to unpack this monumental embarrassment for the United States.
The twenty years that lead to this moment are littered with classic government mismanagement and corruption.
Consider the push in 2016 by Connecticut’s Democratic Senators, Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, to replace the existing Afghan fleet of Russian-made Mi-17 Hip helicopters with Connecticut-made Black Hawks. Barely a year-and-a-half later, the Pentagon was forced to admit that the effort was a bust — the Russian helicopters were both easier to fly and more capable than the American Black Hawks.
Or, look at Camp Leatherneck. Tens of millions of dollars were appropriated for a large and lavish US Marine base that was built—and never used. More astonishing than its abandonment is that just three months after the Pentagon requested funds for the base, it was determined that “there was no need for this facility.”
Chaffetz also recounts a story of a contractor who was awarded a contract to lay down a ten-foot by ten-foot concrete slab who “simultaneously got a contract to pull it back out.”
But let’s not forget the Ponzi schemes.
In July 2021, the Justice Department revealed that a Californian, Naim Ismail, admitted to erecting a multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme that defrauded investors in Afghanistan’s reconstruction efforts. His crimes cost investors over $15 million.
The inability of US officials to adequately prepare for a withdrawal, despite more than a year of lead time, is not just a slap in the face to the US and allied troops who laid everything on the line, but also to the tens of thousands of Afghans who are now scrambling to escape the brutal—and more politically savvy—Taliban.
After the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion, the freshly inaugurated President Kennedy took complete and total responsibility for its failure, even though most of the planning and prepping occurred under his predecessor, President Eisenhower.
President Biden should heed the wisdom of Kennedy and take full ownership of the Afghanistan withdrawal fiasco.
As Chaffetz declared in the podcast, the suits responsible for the disaster should be fired, starting with Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
And President Biden might want to act like he really believes that the buck always stops with the man at the top.