I am going to be writing on this topic elsewhere, and I have written about Afghanistan multiple times in the past on this blog. So, I am going to be extremely to the point.
When Bush decided to engage in nation building rather than simply going into Afghanistan to hunt Al Qaeda and supporting any naturally occurring coalition of warlords who enabled us to do so, that was a major error. The idea of a Western Hemisphere power nation building a landlocked and remote from trade route country in Asia is a blatant farce to anyone who can read a map. There were no strong U.S. allies neighboring the country and logistics were dependent on the intermittently hostile and utterly compromised Pakistan to be workable.
When Bush redirected military effort away from Afghanistan and towards the utterly unnecessary war of choice in Iraq, the error became a disaster in the making.
When Obama’s Afghan surge failed, the war was lost and no rational person could deny it. It continued because it was profitable for defense contractors and no president had the courage to own what would inevitably be a ghastly situation of Taliban resurgence when they pulled out. But with the failure of the surge if not earlier it became obvious that every second the war was continued was just putting more lives and money on the line to delay an inevitable sour end. Stay one day more or fifty years, the result would be the same. Nation building only works in countries that already have the indigenous skill sets to develop themselves, such as the industrialized former Axis powers after the war. Or in places where your objective is to annex and administer the territory directly through settlement like Roman Gaul, an impossibility here.
Biden, a man who I am not a fan of by any stretch of the imagination due to too many reasons to count over his decades in the senate, was brave to finally break with this trend and pull out. Trump, even, in negotiating an exit, deserves some marginal credit. The media, which hates ending wars and loves starting them due to its advertising being bought and paid for by so many connected to defense contracting, is throwing a fit. But Biden is correct on this issue.
The danger now is the weaponized human rights rhetoric that is easily cultivated among the “socially aware” of society, which will complete the neoconservative turn of the Democratic Party in particular. ‘We betrayed Afghan women and girls” will become a rallying cry for liberal interventionism no matter how stupid the cause. In fact, the tragic fate of Afghanistan is an argument against nation building and cultural engineering of different places. But that isn’t the lesson that will be learned by those with financial and/or ideological incentive to keep endless wars going.
Not even I, someone who was very skeptical on the long term fate of the Afghan government, saw how rapid their loss would be. I have had a great run of predictions the last few years but I definitely didn’t see just how rapid Taliban advances would be. Add this to my 2016 election prediction as my two big screw ups I will fully own. If over two trillion dollars and almost two decades of military aid was not enough to get this government to survive, than nothing was. This was already over at least a decade ago. South Vietnam stood a better chance at surviving on its own. This is more like Manchukuo.
The only rational critique, given this inevitability, is that the U.S. should have evacuated all of its allies who wanted it as the first rather than last order of business once negotiations started. They really did get screwed by Washington. But over all, Washington and Kabul had a highly dysfunctional and corrupt relationship that made a few people on both sides very rich but failed to address the actual security situation on the ground. This complicates everything in the relationship.
But even more than Washington and Kabul there is one actor who sabotaged everything continuously and cannot be overlooked as the ultimate architect of the dismal future for Afghanistan: Pakistan. The good news here is that with U.S. withdrawal, there is no longer any need for close relations between Islamabad and Washington. Having no longer any use (and actively being an impediment for warming relations with India), Pakistan will turn to its only friend, China. And China has the capacity to get them to reign in their rogue intelligence services far more than the U.S. did since they are so vital to Pakistani security vis-à-vis India. The ISI should be careful what it wishes for.
But never forget who led us into this for so long and who lied about it. How the media praised them and politicians promoted them. And how it all could have been avoided with a sustainable grand strategy and sober cost/benefit calculation of what military action can and cannot do. The Taliban controls more of the country and is arguably stronger today than it was on September 10, 2001. For the time being, there does not even appear to be a Northern Alliance. Only the future will tell if their current victory is more fragile than it appears, but no matter their fate I for one am glad the U.S. is no longer swimming against the tide in a place that did not serve its interests to be in, attempting the impossible at the greatest expense and least effectiveness it could.
Helpful Source Materials:
The Afghanistan Papers, Washington Post
U.S. costs for the Afghanistan War, Brown University Costs of War Project
Contractor Corruption 1, Michael Tracey
Contractor Corruption 2, Committee on Armed Services, U.S. Senate
Corruption in the Afghan Government, Washington Post
The Long-standing Taliban-Pakistan relationship, Human Rights Watch
Current Pakistani ISI-Taliban Relationship, Project Syndicate
The one good media take I have seen so far, Breaking Points
And more, Breaking Points
Edit: three hours later, looks like Biden agrees with me on reasoning.