The Afghanistan War was a failure, but whose failure? On today’s podcast, Peter Schweizer and Eric Eggers are joined by GAI’s new Senior Fellow, author and journalist Lee Smith, to point some fingers. But there are lots of reasons to hope for a better future.
What we just saw was a failure of leadership in Afghanistan, Peter says off the bat. President Joe Biden’s unilateral decision to rush the drawdown of American military and civilian presence in the country was something tragic and didn’t need to happen this way. The logistics of pulling out American civilians and Afghans who had helped the U.S. in that country was crippled by decisions made in Washington to close the Bagram air force base and neglect to think through the security and safety needs for those people who needed to be protected.
That even included an Afghan interpreter who helped rescue then-Sen. Joe Biden in 2008 when the Army helicopter carrying him and former Sen. John Kerry was forced to make an emergency landing in Afghanistan during a blinding snowstorm. “Hello Mr. President: Save me and my family,” Mohammed, who asked not to use his full name while in hiding, told The Wall Street Journal as the last Americans flew out of Kabul on August 30. “Don’t forget me here.”
Assessing the failures points straight to the leadership class, both military and civilian, in Washington.
But if the leadership has shown its shortcomings, there are some encouraging signs, Eric Eggers points out. There are private citizens in the U.S. right now who are working, sometimes without any help from their government, to get some of these Afghans out of the country where they now face being hunted down by the victorious and bloodthirsty Taliban.
Individuals like a private-equity investor from Naples, Florida, who set up his own operation in the Peacock Lounge of the Willard Hotel, just a few steps from the White House. Working with an ad hoc collection of war veterans, Afghan diplomats, wealthy donors, defense contractors, nonprofit workers and off-duty U.S. officials to conduct a global military-style rescue operation, his group has arranged for the successful rescue of about 5,000 Afghans to other nations.
But to talk about what and who went wrong, Peter and Eric introduce Middle East expert Lee Smith, who has reported from the region for the Weekly Standard and other publications. He has written a bestselling book on the region called “The Strong Horse.”
Lee begins to answer by quoting from a friend who is a veteran of the Afghanistan War and now a journalist. His friend wrote him recently and said, “You don’t spend two decades pumping trillions of dollars into a money pit and funding all manner of transparent fantasies one year at a time with no real continuity or long-range planning, then all of a sudden develop the ability as you’re running out the door at half past midnight to make prudent decisions to secure your material interests.”
Lee and the hosts name some names, including Joe Biden, former commander David Petraeus, Stanley McChrystal, and H.R. McMaster, and discusses their contributions to the disaster. Even the Trump administration’s negotiations with the Taliban were flawed by a deep misunderstanding of the Taliban’s purposes and willingness to live up to any of their commitments.
Lee says that despite the Doha agreement the Taliban made with the Trump administration, there was no chance they were ever not going to play host to terrorists like Al Qaeda. The whole country is more or less ungovernable space, a place where no one will check on them and no one cares if they are there.
The more pressing question now is – Where do we go from here, and how can we restore America’s reputation as reliable ally?
Lee notes that Afghanistan was never strategic for the U.S., but it definitely is for Pakistan, India, and for China. The manner of our exit from the country is therefore useful to those like China who wish to undercut our claims to strength. “If the Chinese wanted evidence of American weakness this is part of it. That, and things like the FBI investigating political leaders make us look as bad as a corrupt third world country.” As the Quran says it, the U.S. has “steered from the right path.”
American renewal will have to come internally, and not from the leadership class that botched this mission so terribly.