The withdrawal of the U.S. and its allies from Afghanistan, and its inenluctable consequences, represent a signal retreat by the U.S. and its democratic allies from the defense of democratic values and the ideal of democracy.
The great tragedy is that 20 years of support for the democratic project in Afghanistan had produced impressive progress, in what was necessarily a long-term project. The failure of U.S. military and political leaders to understand and accept the long-term nature of the project—framing the question of Afghanistan as one of “When can we bring the troops home?”–was the fundamental and ultimately fatal flaw in U.S. strategy in the country.
Powerless. That’s how I and many others feel in the face of President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw completely from Afghanistan. Despite the wholly predictable consequences of that decision, Biden remains stubbornly defiant, ignoring or indifferent to the realities unfolding before him.
Powerless, as undoubtedly many millions of Afghans in Kabul, Kandahar, Herat and other cities must feel today.
Powerless. Powerless to affect the addled thinking of President Biden, or that of the sycophantic members of his foreign policy and national security team.
We have turned our backs on 38 million people, after exhorting them for 20 years to build and defend democracy.
Americans make arguments such as the following:
1) The United States can ‘t be the world’s policeman;
2) It’s up to the Afghans to fight for their own country;
3) These people are backward and corrupt, and have a history and a culture that cannot support democracy;
4) It’s not our problem. It’s not our concern; and
5) If we couldn’t beat the Taliban in 20 years, we never could. It’s time to get out, and to bring our troops home.
Rarely do Americans have any more knowledge of or any more informed opinions about Afghanistan and the consequences of U.S. withdrawal than those suggested by the arguments listed above.
The experts and generals and soldiers who know Afghanistan and its history and possibilities have made their arguments, or perhaps remained silent given the absence of a serious policy review and the preordained outcome of any debate.
The United States will get out of Afghanistan, because that’s what Biden in his gut wants to do. He and his team are not susceptible to being influenced by rational arguments.
Those who have made reasoned arguments have lost.
Those who argue, as does the Trenchant Observer, that Congress should rise up and demand a reversal of this disastrous decision, or that European leaders should try to get members of the United Nations Security Council to save the day, know that such developments are unlikely, however great the urgency of pursuing them.
The lights are going out for democracy in Afghanistan.
The lights are also going out in America, that former beacon of democracy that once shone so brightly both as an ideal and through its example.
We are beyond reasoned argument.
History’s tragic course, leading the world back to barbarism over and over again, resumes its flow. The bright vision of democracy and human rights and the values of the Enlightenment are in retreat, everywhere.
We have forgotten the lessons of the 20th Century. International Peace and Security cannot be taken for granted. They depend on support for and adherence to international law, and the constant reaffirmation of international law, including human rights law and humanitarian law.
We have fogotten the lesson that aggression and crimes against humanity and war crimes must be vigorously resisted, or their perpetrators, like Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, will triumph.
We have forgotten the lesson of Srebrenica, that crimes against humanity must be resisted, stopped, and punished.
Ultimately, there is no rational defense of stupidity. Stupidity may accompany a lack of empathy or sense of moral imperatives to defend sacred moral values.
Regardless of whether it is the product of callous indifference or brute stupidity, or a combination of the two, Biden’s withdrawal decision seems to be set in stone.
And even the rational analyst’s observations, like those of the historian’s, may fall like ashes into the dark canyon of oblivion.
Will the values of the Enlightenment be saved, resuscitated to light the way of a stumbling humanity which has lost its way?
It all depends on us. With deep faith in humanity, surely on a brighter day, those of us who are creatures of the Enlightenment and who still believe in the highest values of humanity, will again somehow find our way.
For we must.
The Trenchant Observer
The Trenchant Observer has been following Afghanistan closely since 2005, when he worked in Kabul as the Team Leader of group of six lawyers charged with advising the government on modernizing its criminal justice process to better meet international human rights standards.