NEW YORK, Aug. 20 (IPS) — The writer, a professor of international relations at New York University’s (NYU) Center for Global Affairs, teaches courses on international negotiations and Middle Eastern studies. President Biden’s decision to finally withdraw US forces from Afghanistan was the right decision and certainly overdue. However, the unwillingness to do so in an orderly and safe manner was another fatal mistake in a series of mistakes that have plagued the United States since day one.
correcting the mistake
In his address to the nation last Monday, President Biden used most of it to try to justify the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, which needed no justification given that 20 years later the US is nowhere near defeating the Taliban permanently. .
The vast majority of the American people supported his decision when he first announced his intention to end the war on the basis of the agreement between Trump and the Taliban last February.
Biden’s decision to withdraw was certainly the right one, 19 years late. His determination not to pass the war to a fifth president was wise, as it would spare the country from continuing to invest blood and money in an unwinnable war.
The problem was not the need to withdraw, but the way it was done. Why in the name of heaven did he begin to withdraw troops without proper preparation to ensure that American and other foreign diplomats and civilians, along with thousands of Afghan interpreters and other support staff and their families, leave in an orderly and safe manner?
It was certainly necessary to send thousands of soldiers later to secure the airport to ensure the safe passage of departures. But that only happened in the wake of the chaos that engulfed Kabul and sent shivers into the spines of tens of thousands of Afghans, foreign diplomats and civilians.
As I see it, this latest unfortunate chapter continues a series of mistakes made by Biden’s predecessors, Bush, Obama and Trump. They learned nothing about the nature of Afghan society, nor from the experience of the Soviet Union in the 1980s when he left Afghanistan after ten years of fighting with his tail between his legs.
Miscalculation from the start
After defeating al-Qaeda and the Taliban in less than a year, former President Bush precipitated the invasion of Iraq in 2003 through the coordinated efforts of his Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney. He failed to make any arrangement with the then transitional government led by Hamid Karzai regarding the possibility of continued Taliban resistance.
He lost focus on the incomplete Afghanistan campaign and subjected US forces to an uncertain future, as neither he nor his military commanders had any plans on how to end the campaign once the main objective of removing the Taliban from power had been achieved.
The decision to introduce democracy and participate in nation building was doomed from the start. Yes, progress was made, a democratically elected government was installed, and human rights and social reforms provided the hallmark of the American project. But then the United States ignored the fact that imposing a Western-style democracy on a country that had lived for thousands of years as a tribal society would be short-lived at best.
The United States should not be in the business of spreading democracy by force. We seem to have learned nothing from Vietnam, let alone the United States’ long history of instigating and interfering with regime changes. Instead of providing a model for functioning democracy and human rights through the use of soft power to influence other countries, we have a huge military responsibility to change the political landscape, only to end up retreating and handing the country directly to the rebel forces.
Three successive presidents before Biden made their decision on continuing efforts in Afghanistan based on recommendations from military leaders who insisted the war was winnable and wanted a complete victory.
The number of troops was constantly dispatched on the promise that victory over the Taliban was imminent, which was clearly completely misleading. In addition, the military strength of the Afghan National Army has been overestimated; Thousands have deserted over the years and many have sold their weapons to the Taliban. More than 2,300 American soldiers have been killed and over a trillion dollars spent with little to show for it.
Miscalculating the source of the Taliban’s resilience
All three administrations that preceded Biden had never fully appreciated or understood the nature, culture, and history of this tribal country and the Taliban’s determination to resist no matter what heavy losses it would incur. The Taliban are indigenous people of Afghanistan, fighting for their country and culture guided by a deeply religious lifestyle, following Islamic law using a strict interpretation of the Qur’an.
As they see it, no power will be allowed to exercise any privileges in their land and they have no reason to tolerate any foreign interference, let alone invasion. They are patient and know how to persevere.
Sadly, Biden has shown no better understanding of the Taliban’s resolve and perseverance. In his press conference just a week and a half ago, Biden declared that Taliban takeover was not inevitable, as “the Afghan forces have 300,000 well-equipped and air power against nearly 75,000 Taliban,” noting later that “the Taliban invade everything and possess The whole country is highly unlikely.”
However, Biden’s announcement of the withdrawal three months ago has given the Taliban only enough time to prepare to seize power. Intelligence agencies warned the administration of the rapid collapse of the Afghan army and the high probability of a Taliban victory, and the Afghan government itself was simply not prepared for a Taliban attack.
Non-involvement of tribal leaders
Another common mistake among the four administrations is that they did not include Afghan tribal leaders, who wield enormous influence in the country, along with the central government. A tribal chief with whom I spoke some time ago was adamant that without the participation of tribal leaders, the war would continue.
After all, the Taliban come from these tribes and the tribal leaders can have more influence over the members of their tribes than the Taliban. Had the United States included the leaders in the negotiations, the outcome would have been different.
Despite US efforts to reform the country and establish a legitimate government that responds to the needs of the public, corruption by high-ranking officials and the military has consumed the country from within. The United States knows very well that unless corruption is eliminated, few social, economic, or political reforms can be made and sustained.
Unfortunately, the United States did not insist that the government do its best to systematically root out corruption. Billions of dollars were wasted, bribes were rampant, and as a result many social programs suffered.
There is no coherent and goal-oriented policy
Through mission creep, the goal of the United States became to create a functioning and stable democracy, but there was no mechanism to secure this outcome once the United States withdrew from the country. Although several sets of negotiations were conducted between Taliban representatives and US officials regarding the eventual withdrawal, the United States failed to establish a carrot and stick policy.
The United States could have committed to provide financial assistance to the Taliban in the event that it adhered to a certain level of human rights, especially with regard to girls and women, but it failed to implement any kind of arrangement in this regard.
Now that the United States is nearing the end of a war that was supposed to end 19 years ago, the question is, what have we learned from this bitter experience. Leadership bears great responsibility and foresight. We should not be the world’s policeman, but we should use our soft power to tackle injustice and human rights abuses wherever they occur. Our experience of democracy should be voluntarily emulated, not forced to concede to other nations.
Finally, now that the Taliban rule Afghanistan once again, it is time to heal the wounds and extend a helping hand to them, which may be the only way we can convince them to treat their people humanely and with dignity. If nothing else, if we can influence even such a limited outcome, we can look back and be relieved that the longest war in American history and our sacrifices were not entirely in vain.
© Inter Press Service (2021) – All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service