by Nick Gier
should have hit that country years ago,
hit it really hard, and then let it rot.
—Donald Trump on Fox Business News
During the past 70 years, politicians and diplomats have asked, after each of the following foreign policy disasters, “Who lost China?”, “Who lost Vietnam?”, “Who lost Cuba?” As if these countries and their people were ours to lose to the Communists.
Many years ago, I read a book about Gen. Joseph Stilwell, Chiang Kai-shek’s American-appointed chief of staff, and the author blamed Stillwell for steering the Chinese nationalist leader to disaster. Many others accuse Gen. George Marshall, appointed by President Truman, to negotiate between Chiang, who was thoroughly corrupt, and the Communists.
After serious miscalculations over 20 years in Afghanistan, President Joe Biden, seven months in office, cannot be fully blamed for the chaos at the Kabul airport. Similarly, former president Gerald Ford, nine months in office, cannot be accused for the ignominious evacuation of our Vietnamese friends in April 1975.
The best intelligence did not predict the Chinese overrunning South Korean defenses in December 1950, and the U.S. scrambled to evacuate 70,000 civilians in Inchon. No one could have known that Communist forces would move so quickly in South Vietnam, and there only 71,000 were rescued. (A recent charge that Sen. Joe Biden opposed the settling of Vietnamese refugees is false. See vietfactcheck.org/2020/10/13).
Tragically and similarly, the sudden collapse of the Afghan army would have left any American president—even “only I can fix it” Trump—few options, but 124,000 have been saved and more might be coming out. Drawing on his consultations with former Trump advisers, reporter Johnathan Karl learned that “Trump had no real plan to help those Afghans who had worked alongside U.S. forces.”
After a half-hearted attempt to capture Osama bin Laden, George W. Bush, who refused to negotiate with a defeated Taliban, took his eye off the prize and started the war in Iraq instead. Kori Schake of the conservative American Enterprise Institute argues that “every action taken after the end of 2001 only made the Taliban stronger and made their return to power more certain.”
Thinking that greater fire power would lead to victory, Obama saw his surge in Afghanistan fail just as badly as similar build ups in Vietnam and Iraq. After initially supporting more troops as a senator, then vice-president Biden, seeing that it was a hopeless cause, rejected Obama’s action.
The Taliban bided their time in the countryside, just as the Vietnamese Communists did, and they easily defeated an army fully dependent upon us and led by a corrupt government in Kabul.
As early as 2011, Donald Trump perceived Afghanistan as just another “shithole” country whose people weren’t worth saving. He used the same insults as he used for the Mexicans when he warned that some of the Afghan evacuees were “criminal rapists” and terrorists in disguise.
In 2018, Stephen Miller, Trump’s adviser on immigration and former aide to racist Sen. Jeff Sessions, stunned cabinet officials when talking about Afghanistan: “What do you guys want? A bunch of Iraqs and ‘Stans across the country?” The result was that special visas for Afghan interpreters were stalled, and the Biden administration was faced with a huge backlog of applications.
Gen. James Mattis, Defense Secretary at the time, was appalled at such blatant disregard of trusted allies. Stephen Miller was repeatedly reminded that Afghan interpreters were already fully vetted before being allowed to work with U.S. troops, but he persisted in his fantasy about Muslim invaders.
GOP minority leader and fabulist Kevin McCarthy told Fox News that he was afraid that 5,000 Afghans would be making their way to our southern border. This is the exact number of Taliban fighters who were released as a condition for Trump’s “peace” deal, which left out the Afghan government completely.
With no desire whatsoever to emigrate to the U.S., these Taliban fighters went right back into the ranks of those who overran the government troops we spent billions to train. Among those released was Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who represented the Taliban in negotiations and who is determined to make Afghanistan another Islamic “republic.”
Because of fear mongering such as McCarthy’s, the number of Americans willing to welcome Afghan evacuees has fallen from 49 to 44 percent with Republicans less favorable at 32 percent. GOP Rep. Tom Tiffany spoke for many in his party when he insisted that Afghans be taken “to safe third countries for vetting before bringing thousands of unknown people into the U.S.” The only country to volunteer for this onerous duty has been Kosovo.
H.R. McMaster, Trump’s second national security adviser, stated that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “signed a surrender agreement with the Taliban. This collapse goes back to the capitulation agreement of 2020. The Taliban didn’t defeat us. We defeated ourselves.”
Conservative analyst Kori Schake agrees: “The problem was that the U.S. let itself be swindled by a terrorist organization. Because we so clearly wanted out of Afghanistan, we agreed to disreputable terms, and then proceeded to pretend that the Taliban were meeting even those.”
A New York Times editorial concludes that there are many to blame, but “in both hubris and folly, none come close to matching Donald Trump. The agreement he made with the Taliban is one of the most disgraceful diplomatic bargains on record. Coupled with President Biden’s mistakes in continuing the policy and botching its execution, the deal has now led to tragic consequences for Americans and our allies in Kabul.”
Trump actually wanted all troops out by January 12, 2020, and Col. Douglas MacGregor, Trump’s principal adviser on Afghanistan, prepared an order to that effect already on November 11, 2020. Trump’s top generals countered this hasty retreat and they managed to extend the date to May 1.
Col. MacGregor now gives full support to Biden’s decision: “If you listen to his speech, he said, ‘I ended the war.’ Bravo! Well done! Get out! This has been an enormous waste of time, money, resources and blood.”
Still, Biden could have extended the pull-out date to December 31, and he could have made much better preparations for the withdrawal of American civilians and the Afghans who served us so faithfully for 20 years.
Nick Gier of Moscow taught philosophy and religion at the University of Idaho for 31 years. Email him at ngier006∂gmail.com.