Abandoning Afghanistan: The moral costs


Angelina Jolie, “The People of Afghanistan Deserve So Much Better Than This,” TIME, August 20, 2021 ( 4:09 PM EDT).

Angelina Jolie gives expression to feelings evoked by the American abandonment of the girls and women, and the people of Aghanistan, to the Taliban.

President Joe Biden ridiculed the Afghan soldiers who did not fight after the American withdrawal left them with no prospect of holding their own against the Taliban. Biden’s remarks were a cruel attack upon soldiers who had founght valiantly over the years, at a cost of some 68,000 lives.

He didn’t mention the girls of Afghanistan, who for 20 years displayed great courage in going to school, too many times at the cost of their lives. Angelina Jolie pays tribute to these girls and women, and their courage.

Biden and his foreign policy team have advanced the cold-eyed calculations which led him to announce the American withdrawal. Actually, they have also advanced a narrative based on lies and misrepresentations of facts–a cruel and dishonorable parody of reality– to justify Biden’s disastrous decision.

But lost in their base justifications, their defenses of the indefensible, are any references to the moral issues involved in abandoning the Afghans and their democratic project, after 20 years of pledging steadfast support for both.  They don’t talk about how important it is for a nation to stand by its commitments.

Even on the cold grounds of “reason of state”, what before World War I was also referred to as raison d’état, that is, the justification of state behavior without any reference to moral values, the Biden decision was a collossal strategic blunder.

But after experiencing where reason of state can lead to, after experiencing Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich, and World War II, and Joseph Stalin and his horrrenous crimes, in 1945 the world created the United Nations and a Charter which established a framework  for international relations based on international law, and a firm rejection of raison d’état. In 1948, the U.N. General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which has been followed by many treaties upholding those rights. The U.N. has established the International Criminal Court and in its 1992 Rome Statute provided for individual criminal liability for violations of fundamental rights by committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Abandoning 38 million people to a totalitarian movement based on the systematic violation of human rights necessarily involves moral issues.

Indeed, these moral issues are the moral issues of our age.

It will take some time to digest the enormous moral catastrophe represented by Joe Biden’s decision to retreat in the face of a totalitarian regime which is the antithesis of all the United Nations stands for: the protection of human rights and the government of relations between states through law–international law–which includes the guaranty of women’s rights, the prohibition of torture, and the prohibition of war crimes such as hunting down and executing individuals who were officials and adherents of the previous regime–or simply women exercising their human rights.

Biden’s catastrophic withdrawal will be seen by historians as the greatest foreign policy disaster since the Munich Pact in 1938, by which the governments of England and France turned over the German-speaking population of the Sudetenland, a part of Czechoslovakia, to the totalitarian government of Adolf Hitler.

Biden’s surrender to the Taliban was comparable in its infamy.

It will take time for us to absorb and respond to the the moral depravity which Biden demonstrated in turning his back on the Afghan people, and the horrific consequences which will flow, and which are already flowing, from his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan.

The accounting for Biden, and for the American people, will be painful. It has only just begun.

The Trenchant Observer

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.

2 Comments on "Abandoning Afghanistan: The moral costs"

  1. Michael Mauldin | September 4, 2021 at 8:38 am |

    Moral dilemma indeed. The world is plagued by human rights issues, abuses, and terrors. We would like all of them to be resolved. So, Mr. TO, which ones are ok to resolve since one country cannot resolve them all. Furthermore, that one county has a not so shining record of its own moral abuses. So you say, well the United Nations can do it? That would be a good start. Yes, there are laws that give us guidance towards a more perfect world union. Then why are not those laws actually being actively followed by all members of the UN?
    Human nature is not perfect, will not become perfect. We are flawed in thought and action. We continue to make mistakes we know we shouldn’t be making. Power corrupts. Money or lack of it forces or persuades the few to lord over the many. Why does the many not respond to overthrow the few? Is there no end to the madness of the world?

    Holding ourselves accountable may be the goal of laws. The practice of law seems to be more about getting around the very laws we make to hold ourselves accountable.

    Insanity continues.

    Is Biden the bad guy here? Yes, whomever stands up to take responsibility will indeed be deemed the bad guy by one side or another.

    Solving world problems is hard work. Staying alive in a totalitarian or fascist state is hard work on a different level for sure. Are there any good choices that don’t involve the loss of life and liberty?

    • We are the United Nations. We act through the Security Council, primarily, and also the General Assembly. These are imperfect institutions, but they are the best we’ve been able to come up with until now.

      International Law consists of customary law we have agreed to, and increasingly it consists of treaties the nations of the world have adopted. We have created international law. Compliance depends on nations, individuals, and organizations reaffirming the norms of international law when it is violated, and collective action aimed at securing compliance.

      Domestic law is similar. It too depends on the reaffirmation of basic norms when they are violated (e.g., murder), and collective efforts to ensure compliance, including sanctions for violators.

      The Trenchant Observer

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