Afghanistan Lessons For Syria | Syria 31

As it becomes more and more clear that getting out of Afghanistan was the right thing to do, we should look to apply these lessons elsewhere… like Syria.

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Video Transcript after the jump…

Hey there. Last week’s video on Joe Biden’s Afghanistan victory generated a ton of great comments, so I felt like I had to go ahead and do a part 2. Today I think it makes sense to explain further why withdrawal was so good for Afghanistan and the United States, and also add in a few of the ways a similar policy could help out Syria.

My main focus in part one, was something that has been covered very eloquently in mainstream reporting. For 20 years, rural Afghanistan, the Afghanistan where 75% of Afghans live, was terrorized from the air. Bombs from the US and US proxy Afghan government were a constant risk. Military documents from recently convicted whistleblower Daniel Hale indicate that as many as 90% of the people killed by drones in Afghanistan were not the intended targets. In 2019, even the New York Times admitted that the US and it’s proxies killed more civilians than the Taliban did. And that’s based on the often fraudulent math and comically bad intelligence that the US military uses to exonerate itself. The New Yorker the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal have all reported that a strange calm has fallen on the Afghan countryside. The Taliban may be cruel, but it has brought peace, and that’s a wonderful thing.

Many have brought my attention to the fact that there is still violence in Afghanistan. ISIS-K has claimed responsibility for Friday’s horrific bombing of a mosque in Kunduz. Terrorism still exists in Afghanistan, but it seems transparently obvious to me that the Taliban will be better at fighting these insurgent groups than the United States was. Now people have told me that I don’t persuade anybody by calling arguments stupid. So I won’t do that. I will say that that argument that the US is good at fighting insurgencies requires complete ignorance of the history of the past 20 years, and basic logic, let me draw you a picture.

Assad of Syria and the Taliban of Afghanistan are two actors that really couldn’t be more different, but the structure of the counter terror problem in these countries is very similar. They are nasty actors, but both governments have demonstrated extraordinary tenacity, and they would not have survived the past decade without some degree of local legitimacy. The Washington DC argument, in both Afghanistan and Syria, is that, actually the US military would be better at fighting the Islamic State than these tenacious, brutal governments with local legitimacy and knowledge. This is the US military that functions as an unwelcome outside invader in both places. It’s an institution that has stubbornly refused to learn anything about the languages, histories or culture of the places it has been bombing for the past 20 years. Oh yeah, it’s also got a demonstrated record of extraordinary failure over the past two decades. But that’s not even the silliest part of the argument.

No, the silliest part of the Washington DC argument is that the US military will somehow do a better job of fighting ISIS in these countries, while also fighting the government that controls the majority of the territory. This is absurd! Instead of letting the local strongmen crush these insurgencies, something which is very much in their interest to do, the US comes in and tries to fight everybody. A simple sense of logic or geometry should tell you that the situation Washington DC wants is guaranteed to be more unstable and violent. History will tell you this as well. Washington DC loves to tell you that we beat the Islamic State by befriending the socialist Kurdish militias, and all it cost us was our relationship with Turkey, a NATO Ally and a top 20 economy. What Washington DC doesn’t like to tell you is that the Islamic State was a US proxy before we decided to start fighting it. I have a video making that case at length that I will link at the end of this one, but it’s obvious if you look at the timeline. The Islamic State didn’t solidify as a territorial entity in Syria and Iraq until 2014, three years after Obama had declared Assad an official enemy, and after the US and our allies had poured billions into arming every Jihadist we could find in Northern Syria. Washington DC loves to pretend that it was our leaving Iraq that allowed the Islamic State to arise, leaving out the fact that it’s first big conquests were in Syria, with weapons our allies paid for, in territory that was ungoverned because of US policy.

These unstable situations, with the US trying to fight the local government and Islamic State insurgents at the same time, do not bring peace and safety. In fact, its situations like this that create and perpetuate insurgencies like the Islamic State. Sadly, insanely, this situation persists in Syria. The past four years have demonstrated that final defeat of ISIS is impossible as long as the US presence keeps Syria unstable. As the growing peace in Afghanistan has demonstrated, it’s the US presence that is the main problem. I expect that Biden’s heroic withdrawal from Afghanistan will allow the Taliban to stamp out the mosque bombers, rather quickly. If Lindsey Graham and the rest of Washington DC can be restrained from starting a new civil war in Afghanistan that is.

There is an argument against US withdrawal that I do not mock. It’s an undeniable truth that there are Afghan women who will lose rights because we are leaving. I have had a number of fruitless arguments in the comments, and even with myself over this question.

How do you balance the rights of women against the right to live without war? It’s a very serious question. All week Commenters have been telling me that Afghanistan under the Taliban will become a rape camp, with young women forced into marriage. This is a horrible future to contemplate, but its important to point out, that it’s already Afghan reality. Fertility in Afghanistan is among the highest in the world, and under US occupation the population has almost doubled. No country with numbers like that is a feminist paradise. Afghanistan already kind of was a rape camp. Just because we were the ones running the camp doesn’t mean it was any better for most Afghan women. I honestly think it’s possible for women’s rights to improve under the Taliban. Because what the Taliban might be able to provide is peace and unity. The US built a lot of schools, and had a lot of programs to help women. But what did that matter if US control was never established over the countryside for more than a year at most? Most of Afghanistan’s population is rural after all. If the US allows NGOs to work with the Taliban, throughout a unified Afghanistan, the international community’s ability to access and aid women will dramatically improve, not get worse. Oh, and in Syria it’s even more straightforward. The US and our Turkish Ally remain the funders of all the most violently anti-women forces in the country, including Al Queda. Assad is a brutal dictator, but he’s also firmly secular and Western Oriented. US withdrawal from Syria is the obvious feminist position.

To be honest, I could be wrong about US withdrawal being the best possible thing for the Afghan people. I don’t think I am wrong, but I could be. What I know I am right about is that US withdrawal has been phenomenal for the United States. One of the most laughable claims made about withdrawal is that it is similar to the Suez crisis that ended the British empire. I happen to be obsessed with Suez, and described it in an earlier video.

“Historians favor many different dates for the end of the British Empire. But the one that makes the most sense to me is 1956, with an event we know as the Suez crisis. In 1956, Britain, France and Israel invaded Egypt. It was a classic piece of imperial skulduggery. Supposedly in the name of peace, Britain took back the Suez canal that Egypt had just nationalized. It looked like a success. Then the United States intervened.

This intervention in the Suez crisis didn’t involve a single US soldier. US president Eisenhower wasn’t interested in backing this 19th century play from fading European powers. He simply told the British that if they continued their occupation, the United States would no longer support the British pound. Britain had no choice but to back down.

This destroyed British prestige forever. Though only 16 British soldiers died, it was the end of the Empire. After 1956 if the British wanted to look like a big deal on the world stage, they could only do it by allying with the US. Independent British power in the world ended with the Suez crisis. “

I mean, I guess both of these situations do involve a withdrawal, but I think the US bailing out of Afghanistan is actually the anti-Suez. It’s a sign that the US world System has decades of power to come, not a sign of failure like Suez was for the British.

Suez was about Britain not getting the point. It was about prime minister Anthony Eden in particular failing to recognize that 19th century imperial tactics were no longer appropriate to the 20th century. And, importantly, somebody else had to force Britain to get the message. They didn’t choose to withdraw, Eisenhower forced them to. In the US it was the US public and two presidents they elected, Trump and Biden, who forced the Pentagon to give up its shitty little empire of rape and wedding bombs. And nobody forced us to do it. Our European allies all threw temper tantrums over our leaving, and even our rivals were shocked and dismayed. We chose to leave Afghanistan, because we could see that our old patterns were a waste of time. Nobody forced us to do it. We have already saved billions of dollars by not being there. By leaving we haven’t just freed up resources to retain world leadership, we have provided long overdue evidence that we might be smart enough to hold on to world leadership as well. Afghanistan withdrawal isn’t a sign of American decline, it’s a sign of American renewal.

As much as I dislike developments in Asia over the past two months, they indicate growing US power, not decline. Australia’s eager signing up for US bases and submarines with AUKUS is one indication, and China’s meek acquiescence to the presence of US troops on Taiwan is another. I wish we would use our power more responsibly, but it’s pretty clear that leaving Afghanistan has given us a shot in the arm.

Leaving Syria would be even better. We are currently maintaining an incredibly unstable system that drains our resources, and makes it easy for the Islamic State to flourish in the chaos. If we left, the multipolar conflict would quickly become a much simpler bipolar one. This colder conflict would keep Russia and Turkey busy, lead to the quick annihilation of the Islamic State remnants, and cost us nothing. It’s yet another opportunity that’s just waiting for the US to pick it up, by quite literally doing nothing.

One of the classic militarist lines of the early century was Decline is a choice. The argument was that if we didn’t spend all this money on military occupation we were giving up somehow and choosing decline. It’s becoming clear now that the opposite was true. Decline is a choice we made by wasting trillions on 19th century empire in Afghanistan. Decline is a choice we are making by staying in Syria and Iraq when we could be spending that money here at home. Its really nice that we have a president who seems capable of making better choices. But I would like to see those choices being made faster, please.