Afghanistan — Putting lipstick on a pig — August 18, 2021

The U.S. surrender to the Taliban and the botched U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan have produced days of stressful attention and observation, first, as the Taliban’s military campaign yielded lightning successes day after day, and, second, as the reality of what has happened and the human tragedy that is unfolding begins to sink in.

It has been shocking to see the way Joe Biden and his coterie of apologists have sought to justify the withdrawal decision and its implementation, with distortions, omissions, and outright misrepresentations of the history, the policies, and the facts of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan.

They are trying to put lipstick on a pig, but in doing so they are demeaning both themselves and their country.

Biden’s callousness about the fate of those who we promised to always support, and are now abandoning, has ripped away the last illusions we may have had about him being a decent human being worthy of our admiration.

Yet most striking, perhaps, has been the revelation of the full extent of Biden’s poor judgment. We knew he had picked a foreign policy team of cronies, and some appointees chosen over more qualified candidates because of their race.

We saw and warned against the great risk of “groupthink” leading to disastrous foreign policy decisions.

Still, when it all came together in an explosion of personal arrogance and dug-in emotional thinking, rejecting the advice of the country’s highest military leaders, and produced decisions of stunning ignorance and stupidity, we were knocked flat.

We knew it was a catastrophic decision, and wrote about it, hoping that it might somehow be changed.

We were struck by the shallowness of the commentary that followed from many “commentators”–including some like Thomas Friedman and Fareed Zacharia, who seemed to be collapsing all of the arguments about the war over the last 20 years into a kind of theoretical construct which was confused with the situation as it actually existed on the ground, in the present.

Others who supported Biden’s decision seemed to know little about the current situation in the country, or even the real history of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan.

Many inveighed against the corruption of the Afghan government, for example, without recalling how the CIA delivered millions of dollars in cash each week to the office of the president of Afghanistan, and maintained virtually all of the principal ministers on the CIA payroll, for many years.

The cosmic irony was that so many commentators phrased the argument about Afghanistan in terms of a war by U.S. forces that was no longer being fought. The last U.S. fatality was 18 months ago.

The U.S. had maybe 6,000 troops in the country, serving in a training and advisory role though at the same time providing critical air support for the Afghan army. That number was being reduced to 3,500. Talk of American “occupation” of Afghanistan–a country of 38 million people twice the size of Texas–was in 2021 utterly ludicrous.

These are just a few thoughts. Others are forming, and will follow.

Except for one final thought: President Biden, by his disastrous withdrawal decision and implementation, has not only ensured that he will be a one-term president, but has also put continued Democratic control of both houses of Congress seriously in doubt, as the 2022 elections approach.

Democrats, to save their seats, and their party’s control of Congress, will need to sharply distance themselves from Biden on foreign policy. They will also need to mount vigorous oversight hearings to help steer Biden and his team and to avoid further disastrous foreign policy decisions.

Those responsible for utterly bungling the Afghanistan withdrawal should be held accountable. Democrats should press for Lloyd Austin’s and Anthony Blinken’s resignations and their replacement by strong and independent-minded individuals of great accomplishment and stature.

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.

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.

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