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Home/Rod Dreher/The Wreckage Of The American Empire

The Wreckage Of The American Empire

A Taliban commander with ammunition captured from an abandoned US military base (Sky News)

Makes you proud to be an American, doesn’t it?:

American forces left Afghanistan’s Bagram Airfield over the weekend without notifying the new commander from the Kabul government — giving looters precious time to swipe anything that was not bolted down, shocking photos show.

The US announced Friday that it had vacated Bagram as part of a final withdrawal the Pentagon says will be completed by the end of August. It is Afghanistan’s largest airfield and was the hub of America’s 20-year campaign to remove the Taliban from government, track down Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda cohorts, and keep the country’s fragile elected government in place amid a Taliban resurgence.

However, they apparently forgot to tell the Afghans, cutting the electricity within 20 minutes of their departure and plunging the base into darkness. That acted as a “go” signal for teams of looters who smashed through the north gate and ransacked barracks and storage tents before security forces who had been patrolling the perimeter managed to evict them.

From the Washington Post‘s 2019 scoop on The Afghanistan Papers:

A confidential trove of government documents obtained by The Washington Post reveals that senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable.

The documents were generated by a federal project examining the root failures of the longest armed conflict in U.S. history. They include more than 2,000 pages of previously unpublished notes of interviews with people who played a direct role in the war, from generals and diplomats to aid workers and Afghan officials.

The U.S. government tried to shield the identities of the vast majority of those interviewed for the project and conceal nearly all of their remarks. The Post won release of the documents under the Freedom of Information Act after a three-year legal battle.

In the interviews, more than 400 insiders offered unrestrained criticism of what went wrong in Afghanistan and how the United States became mired in nearly two decades of warfare.

With a bluntness rarely expressed in public, the interviews lay bare pent-up complaints, frustrations and confessions, along with second-guessing and backbiting.

The U.S. government tried to shield the identities of the vast majority of those interviewed for the project and conceal nearly all of their remarks. The Post won release of the documents under the Freedom of Information Act after a three-year legal battle.

In the interviews, more than 400 insiders offered unrestrained criticism of what went wrong in Afghanistan and how the United States became mired in nearly two decades of warfare.

With a bluntness rarely expressed in public, the interviews lay bare pent-up complaints, frustrations and confessions, along with second-guessing and backbiting.

Click any underlined text in the story to see the statement in the original document

“We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations, told government interviewers in 2015. He added: “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”

“If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction . . . 2,400 lives lost,” Lute added, blaming the deaths of U.S. military personnel on bureaucratic breakdowns among Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department. “Who will say this was in vain?”

Since 2001, more than 775,000 U.S. troops have deployed to Afghanistan, many repeatedly. Of those, 2,300 died there and 20,589 were wounded in action, according to Defense Department figures.

The interviews, through an extensive array of voices, bring into sharp relief the core failings of the war that persist to this day. They underscore how three presidents — George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump — and their military commanders have been unable to deliver on their promises to prevail in Afghanistan.

With most speaking on the assumption that their remarks would not become public, U.S. officials acknowledged that their warfighting strategies were fatally flawed and that Washington wasted enormous sums of money trying to remake Afghanistan into a modern nation.

The interviews also highlight the U.S. government’s botched attempts to curtail runaway corruption, build a competent Afghan army and police force, and put a dent in Afghanistan’s thriving opium trade.

The U.S. government has not carried out a comprehensive accounting of how much it has spent on the war in Afghanistan, but the costs are staggering.

Since 2001, the Defense Department, State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development have spent or appropriated between $934 billion and $978 billion, according to an inflation-adjusted estimate calculated by Neta Crawford, a political science professor and co-director of the Costs of War Project at Brown University.

Those figures do not include money spent by other agencies such as the CIA and the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is responsible for medical care for wounded veterans.

“What did we get for this $1 trillion effort? Was it worth $1 trillion?” Jeffrey Eggers, a retired Navy SEAL and White House staffer for Bush and Obama, told government interviewers. He added, “After the killing of Osama bin Laden, I said that Osama was probably laughing in his watery grave considering how much we have spent on Afghanistan.”

The documents also contradict a long chorus of public statements from U.S. presidents, military commanders and diplomats who assured Americans year after year that they were making progress in Afghanistan and the war was worth fighting.

More:

Several of those interviewed described explicit and sustained efforts by the U.S. government to deliberately mislead the public. They said it was common at military headquarters in Kabul — and at the White House — to distort statistics to make it appear the United States was winning the war when that was not the case.

“Every data point was altered to present the best picture possible,” Bob Crowley, an Army colonel who served as a senior counterinsurgency adviser to U.S. military commanders in 2013 and 2014, told government interviewers. “Surveys, for instance, were totally unreliable but reinforced thateverything we were doing was right and we became a self-licking ice cream cone.”

John Sopko, the head of the federal agency that conducted the interviews, acknowledged to The Post that the documents show “the American people have constantly been lied to.”

The interviews are the byproduct of a project led by Sopko’s agency, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. Known as SIGAR, the agency was created by Congress in 2008 to investigate waste and fraud in the war zone.

Read it all.Read all the gritty details.

Our military is led by liars. Our civilian leadership for the past 20 years? Liars. Close to one trillion dollars, down the rat hole. Over 2,300 dead American soldiers, and 20,000 wounded US troops. For what? So Afghanis can loot our abandoned bases, and the Taliban, whom we could no more defeat than the Soviets could defeat their fathers, can have nice new weapons?

There was no reckoning after the 2008 financial collapse. There will likely be no reckoning after this disaster. Who in the military will be forced to answer for the lies that kept us there for so long? Who in the civilian leadership?

From 2006:

Coalition and Afghan forces hunting a Taliban commander said that they killed an estimated 30 extremists Tuesday in a raid on a hide-out in southern Afghanistan as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, visiting Kabul, expressed confidence that the insurgents would be defeated.

The firefight came a day after a U.S. warplane bombed another militant hide-out in southern Afghanistan, killing more than 40 Taliban fighters, the military said. Wounded Afghans from Monday’s raid said that women and children were killed.

The renewed violence came as Rumsfeld made an unannounced visit to Kabul on Tuesday for talks with President Hamid Karzai on the escalating violence.

At a joint news conference with Karzai, Rumsfeld said that militants “don’t want to see a country like Afghanistan have a successful democracy.” He added: “They won’t succeed.”

Rumsfeld is dead. The Taliban are about to be the next government of Afghanistan.

From 2010:

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday he is guardedly optimistic about the U.S.-led military campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeared at a Senate hearing in support of the Obama administration’s request for additional funding for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Gates says that while most of the 30,000 additional troops President Obama has ordered sent to Afghanistan have not yet arrived, there are reasons to hope that the tide may be turning against Taliban forces.

Gates and Secretary of State Clinton appeared before a  Senate Appropriations subcommittee in support of more than $35 billion in supplemental funding for this fiscal year, mainly to support a surge in both U.S. military and civilian personnel in Afghanistan.

From 2017:

The Secretary of Defense outlined his current assessment of the conflict in Afghanistan – which was generally positive. He said that all six Afghan corps were on the offensive against the Taliban. Mattis outlined the new Afghanistan strategy by introducing a new acronym – R4&S.  He went on to emphasize the continued support of NATO and Coalition partner nations involved in the fight. He estimated current troop levels at 11,000 U.S., 6,800 NATO / Partner Nations, and about 320,000 Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF). He believed that the new Trump administration’s strategy has provided renewed confidence in the Afghan government and military that they will be supported by the U.S. and NATO over the long-term.

Remember that for the last twenty years, Congress and the American people were told by US military officials and administration officials that things were going well, and we were doing a swell job building up the Afghan military (which is on the verge of collapse).

Who can possibly trust these people again? 

Who can send their sons and daughters to fight under the command of such an institution led by liars? I hate to say that, but what else can you say, when faced with the evidence of your own eyes? And now the top military brass, in all its wisdom, has decided that wokeness is the way of the future for our military, which has been so badly treated by its leadership, both civilian and uniformed.

Do you want to send your sons off to fight to make the world safe for wokeness? Here’s the part of the new US Army recruiting ad in which a currently serving soldier, Emma, says her military service is an extension of her childhood spent marching in gay pride parades with her lesbian moms:

I don’t want to see Emma sent off to fight some useless war either, led by senior brass who lie about their prospects for victory. I don’t want to see anybody sent off to fight under the command of a senior leadership who believes that military service is a form of social activism. The cause of queering the Donbass is not worth even the sweat of a single Alabama infantryman.

How schizophrenic it is to be a conservative today. All our instincts say to rally behind the country, and to support the military. But look what the military and civilian leadership for the last twenty years has done with that trust! It’s infuriating.

I’m going to post something separate about this Tanner Greer essay a reader pointed me to, but I want to quote one part of it in this context.

Culture wars are fought for the hearts of the unborn.Future generations will be open to values the current generation rejects outright.

This will not be apparent at first. Beneath the official comings and goings of the cohorts above, a new consensus forms in in the cohorts below. Ideas will fester among the young, but their impact will be hidden by the inability and inexperience of youth. But the youth do not stay young. Eventually a transition point arrives. Sometimes, this transition will be marked by a great event the old orthodoxy cannot explain. At other times it is simply a matter of numbers. In either case, the end falls swift: the older cohorts suddenly find themselves outnumbered and outgunned, swept up in a flood they had assumed was a mere trickle.

For them it was a trickle. They spent their time with members of their own cohort. The revolution occurring below did not echo in their souls. It won no converts among their friends, nor even among their rivals. The new values remained the preserve of weirdos and extremists. Not so for the rising generation!

The rising cohort has many reasons to thirst for new ideas. Old orthodoxies, designed to solve the problems of a past age, will have difficulty explaining crises in the new one. These events will be formative for the new generation; a group of insurgents who can explain these formative events in terms of their own program will win converts to the cause.

The 2008 financial collapse destroyed confidence in global capitalism. Obviously global capitalism is still with us, and is doing good things for people. But gone are the days when the uncomplicated confidence in it was generally held. Why do you think so many of the young are socialist, or socialist-friendly? People my age and older can talk until we are blue in the face about why Reagan and Thatcher were necessary, because of the stagnation and decline of the postwar order, but the young are incapable of taking that seriously. The confidence that my generation had about the free market does not explain adequately the post-2008 economic world.

This doesn’t make us older folks wrong — Reagan and Thatcher were needed in their era — but it doesn’t make the young wrong either. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not making excuses for their socialism, not at all. I am saying simply that this is why rehashing Reaganism no more works with the young today than rehashing FDR did with my generation.

My generation (I was born in 1967, so am Gen X) has no memories of Vietnam. The older ones of us remember the humiliation of America in the Iran hostage crisis, and how after the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, we felt that our country was feeble. Then came Reagan. You had to be there to appreciate what a change he made. We felt that we could believe in our country again. It was a heady feeling. Then his successor, George H.W. Bush, won the Gulf War, and presided over the peaceful transition out of Communism. What a time to be alive! Bill Clinton completed the Democrats’ transition to a free-market party. For those on the Left who criticize Clinton, let me remind you that the Democrats had to have a pro-market presidential candidate to win. Reagan won that argument decisively.

Both the Reagan Republicans and the Clinton Democrats proved to have been very wrong about their faith in Wall Street, as 2008 demonstrated. Reaganism died in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in the 2008 financial crash. Reagan-era dogmas — most of them taken up by Clinton Democrats — did not survive the George W. Bush administration. Reaganism could no longer explain the world we were in. Everything that has happened since 2008 — Obama, Trump, wokeness — has emerged from the shattering of that worldview.

And now Afghanistan. I don’t know what’s coming next for our country. Maybe we will all just forget about it, and then sleepwalk into the next war led by leaders who don’t deserve our trust gaining it anyway, and telling us that this time, it’s going to be different.

All those Americans who died in Afghanistan, or who came back wounded. Pray for them and their families. They deserved better than this country’s leaders gave them. At least Joe Biden has stopped the bleeding. I’ll give him that.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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