One of my favorite description’s of journalism is “writing the first draft of history”. I would certainly never presume to call myself a journalist, but I am definitely interested in history drafting. That’s definitely what I’m attempting with today’s video. I have already published a fair amount on Afghanistan, first in short angry bursts, and then in a longer live version. This is my first attempt to reckon with the legacy of Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal with a full, produced video. Among foreign policy nerds like me, there is a growing consensus that Joe Biden saved both the Afghan and American people from decades of horror by biting the bullet and dragging the US military out of there. The problem is that nobody is publicizing this emerging consensus. What the voters, and the pollsters every president listens to, will remember is the two week media freak out that we all saw in late August and Early September. That’s a very bad thing, if we ever want a US president to end a war again. No matter how disappointed I am in other areas (Yemen!), I think it’s vital to celebrate Joe Biden’s Afghanistan success. So that’s what today’s video does.
Video Transcript after the jump…
Hey there, from Yemen, to Cuba, to Australia, Joe Biden’s foreign policy mostly just makes me angry. But I think that makes it all the more important that I highlight and celebrate it when he gets something right. Like 3 year olds, Presidents need to be rewarded for good behavior, In the hope that they improve. And I think the only word that works for what Biden pulled off in Afghanistan is victory, and a stunning one. That is not, the standard story, to say the least. Well today, I will lay out why Biden’s actions are a win for the US public, the world, and even the people of Afghanistan.
The first thing to emphasize, is how crucial Joe Biden himself was to this withdrawal. I tend to downplay the power of Presidents. Five of the past five of them have campaigned on getting less involved in the world, and focusing on the problems at home, but all five have ended up expanding US intervention abroad. Trump’s presidency was a caricature of this, of course, filled with tweets that he had no concept of how to transfer into policy. But Obama, the constitutional scholar with the Muslim father, who campaigned on peace, was probably even worse for the Middle East than Trump was. The fact is that when faced with the incredible mass of pro-war media and financial power in the United States, Presidents usually can’t do much. They have to bargain. Obama agreed to destroy Libya, Yemen and Syria in return for the chance to do a deal with Iran, which really would have helped us withdraw from the Middle East… and then Trump squashed that deal as soon as he could. Presidents tend to be powerless in the face of the US war machine.
So my expectations of Joe Biden were pretty minimal. I had hopes we would get some progress on Yemen and Iran, but Afghanistan, I was convinced the US military would be there for the rest of my life. I was totally wrong about this, and I couldn’t be more happy. But I wasn’t the only one who was wrong. This decision really was all Joe Biden. Up until March of this year, not even the US military thought we were really leaving Afghanistan.
In March of 2021 it was widely reported that Mark Milley, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, apparently had some kind of emotional breakdown in a high level meeting at the very idea of leaving Afghanistan. He was worried about Afghan women, and argued passionately that we couldn’t leave. We should have made a bigger deal about this, for a number of reasons. That was March 2021. Trump, the President of the United States at the time, committed to the US withdrawal in February 2020. Yet a full year later, the guy who runs our military still thought it was up for negotiation. That’s incredibly screwed up. The words you may be looking for here are soft coup, and you wouldn’t be wrong to apply that term. This also goes a long way to explain why the withdrawal was as much of a mess as it was. The US military, despite being told by two elected US presidents that we were leaving Afghanistan, had made no plans to do so as of March of this year. When you acknowledge this fact, it gets a lot less surprising that the withdrawal was chaotic. Biden wasn’t just trying to manage the withdrawal, he also had to deal with a mutiny from US generals.
When Biden decided to blow off Trump’s May withdrawal deadline, I assumed it meant we were staying forever. But what it actually was, was the first point at which the US government faced up to the fact that the US public wasn’t going to allow it’s Afghanistan fraud to continue any longer. In recent months, we have learned more and more about just how outrageous this grift was.
The Military Industrial Complex keeps releasing stories that try to embarrass Biden, but end up humiliating the complex instead. One of their gambits was pointing out that Biden had cruelly crippled the Afghan air force by withdrawing all the US nationals that were necessary to keep it in the air. This was big in articles, and was becoming very big on Twitter… Until people started to question, why exactly it was that we had given the Afghan military an 8 billion dollar air force that could only be maintained by US contractors? This is because, despite all the lies the generals were telling us, the plan was to stay in Afghanistan forever, and have it generate kickbacks to US arms manufacturers, forever. When people started pointing this out, we started hearing the story less.
The Afghan air force stabbed in the back myth was also hurt when one of its biggest advocates, a charismatic young Afghan general, was revealed as a war criminal and profiteer about a week after his big debut in the New York Times. The New Yorker article that featured these revelations is something all Americans should read. As with most colonial projects, there was a significant slice of the Afghan population that got real rights and privileges out of the US’s two trillion dollar war. We should be concerned about what the Taliban will do to them, and they are the biggest reason we need to keep negotiating with the Taliban. But did the benefits of imperial feminism really even expand to all of the two million women in Kabul? I kind of doubt it. And 75% of the Afghan population is rural. Even when the US occupation government was at its most powerful, with over a hundred thousand US troops on the ground, it barely reached the countryside where the majority of Afghan women live. This powerful New Yorker piece adds up the true cost of two decades of US war for most Afghan women. Expensive, rarely useful and quickly destroyed infrastructure, slaughtered family, and never ending terror of robotic death from above is all we ever offered to the Afghan majority, male and female. I implore you to read this article, and then try to tell me that US withdrawal was anything other than a gift to all mankind.
The biggest story that the Pentagon and it’s henchmen have tried to sell us was that actually, the 2,500 troops we had in Afghanistan were a sustainable number, and we could have avoided the embarrassment of the withdrawal, if we had just kept up our steady diet of profitable war crimes going forever. The past week of Afghanistan testimony in Congress, however, has completely contradicted this.
The bigger news from Mark Milley and Defense Secretary Loyd Austin’s testimony is that Biden really did ignore and countermand all of his advisors to do the right thing here, and get us out. But Milley and Austin also admitted that the sustainability argument was a myth. Staying past September would have meant thousands, if not tens of thousands more troops. If we had stayed another decade, another surge would probably have been necessary, costing us yet another trillion dollars for nothing.
Biden didn’t just do the right thing in Afghanistan, almost completely on his own, he also, probably unintentionally, discredited the entire War on Terror. One of the strongest arguments the militants have is one that even I believed until a few months ago.
Well you can talk about ending forever wars, but if you end US presence, you’re not actually ending any wars. US participation brings stability, and if the US leaves, the wars will get worse. So actually, while ending forever wars is a nice slogan it’s kind of an infantile, unsophisticated suggestion, that would lead to much greater humanitarian suffering if it were ever followed through on.
Up until two months ago, I found that argument kind of persuasive. Not persuasive enough to continue the wars of course, I believe in human freedom, but I did believe that US withdrawal, especially in Afghanistan, would lead to great bloodshed before stabilization. But that’s the opposite of what happened.
Do you wonder why you heard a ton about US withdrawal from Afghanistan for a week or two, but now you hear nothing? It’s because the war ended the second we left. The Afghan government we poured hundreds of billions of dollars into evaporated before we even finished leaving. This is humiliating for the United States, but it is an extraordinary gift for the Afghan people. Everybody, myself included, expected a vicious 1990s style civil war after US withdrawal. We expected 100s of thousands of deaths. It didn’t happen. We ended our most involved forever war, and Afghanistan instantly broke out in greater peace than it has experienced in 40 years. We were the whole problem, the whole time.
To be clear certain forces in Washington DC are working very hard to plunge this long suffering country back into war. The Taliban are also, not good people. They are an insurgency that won, and I am sure there are many nasty things going on that we are not hearing about. It could all fall apart, but so far US media seems pretty desperate to find anything to complain about. Yeah, it sucks that the Taliban government doesn’t include any women, but I am pretty sure most Afghan women prefer that to getting blown up by a death robot piloted by some teenager in Florida.
The other investigation I implore you to read is the New York Times report on the horrific revenge killing of an innocent Afghan family we carried out by drone as we left the country. First the Pentagon claimed they had killed terrorists, then they claimed the innocent family was regrettable collateral damage, as a side effect of a useful killing. But in the end they had to admit that whoopsie, we just killed a family of ten, seven of them children to no benefit to anyone.
What’s so horrifying about this killing, is that this is how the Pentagon talks about all of its drone killings, everywhere in the world. This killing, that took place in Kabul, a city dense with journalists, while the whole world was focused on Afghanistan, was revealed to be a horrible crime. But most US drone attacks happen out in the middle of nowhere, where few journalists can travel, even if anybody cared enough to spend the money to send them there. How many of the thousands of drone attacks we have paid for over the past 20 years have slaughtered families just as pointlessly. Half of them? Most of them? We will never know. What we do know is that Joe Biden deserves a tremendous amount of credit for ending this horrific war.
With today’s video, I have mostly been pointing you to other news stories, and that’s intentional. Biden’s victory over US militarism here isn’t a secret. It’s obvious if you just read the reporting. The Afghan people are better off. Biden probably saved the US taxpayer a trillion dollars here. And if the obvious lessons of Afghan withdrawal are applied to the rest of the Forever wars, the world could become a much safer, happier place. We need to give Biden the courage to do it. So we need to celebrate his Afghan Victory.