Has Afghanistan Changed Anything That Matters?

William Boardman / Reader Supported News
Has Afghanistan Changed Anything That Matters? A US Marine shouts as he tries to protect an Afghan man and his child after Taliban fighters opened fire in the Helmand Province town of Marjah in Afghanistan in 2010. (photo: Reuters)

Using standard death metrics, the US war on Afghanistan has been a grand success. Roughly 2,400 US soldiers died in Afghanistan during the war (only 1900 in combat), while the US and its allies killed more than 240,000 Afghans, including more than 70,000 civilians. That’s a ratio of 100 of theirs killed to one of ours. And that’s without using our full power. Why aren’t we celebrating?

One reason: another 1100 coalition soldiers were killed in Afghanistan (456 Brits, 157 Canadians, the rest from 29 other countries, including one each from Croatia, Lithuania, and Montenegro). So the kill ratio is really less than 80 to 1, but that’s still good, right? And worth every penny of the two trillion dollars that went mostly to enriching defense contractors and corrupt Afghan officials, we can all agree on that, right?

Probably all those numbers are undercounts, the allied casualties, the money squandered, and especially the Afghan civilian dead.

Afghanistan is a Texas-sized country of 38 million people (Texas has 29 million). Afghanistan never attacked the US, which is more than you can say of Texas. The US defeated Texas in 1865 and it’s still not under effective US control. The Texan who was president in 2001 thought to conquer Afghanistan on the cheap, with fewer than 20,000 troops in the first two years. The US war on Afghanistan was never anything but a stupid war, President Obama to the contrary, just not as stupid as Iraq.

The real hero of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan is President Trump, who did it by boldly waving the white flag in negotiations with the Taliban. He made the surrender clear by excluding the Afghan government from negotiations, even though they were the main reason we were supposedly there in the first place. What Trump accomplished was shameful and effective, even if he doesn’t get much credit or blame for it. Biden came along just in time to put the icing on the pre-baked going-away cake.

So the mainstream media, who have spent twenty years mostly getting Afghanistan wrong, mindlessly blame Biden for the nature of the going-away party. These nattering nabobs of negativism, both media talking heads and raw partisans shilling the same distorted scenario, are shrill and wrong, as per the example of New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd:

We feel the return of dread: We’re rattled by the catastrophic exit from Afghanistan….

The chorus of mainstream media, including many who promoted the war at its worst, has been singing variations of this refrain for weeks, the classic propaganda technique of using repetition to make it true. It’s not true. The “We” who are rattled are the insulated Washington insiders and perpetrators who are demonstrating once again their inability to learn from their mistakes or those of their predecessors. Another, different “We,” the American public, supports the withdrawal by almost 80 percent.

Calling the withdrawal a “catastrophic exit” is hyperbole verging on deceit. What was catastrophic about it? More than 120,000 people were evacuated. There was no bloodbath and almost no fighting. The car bomb explosions that killed more than 100 people were carried out by ISIS-K, foreshadowing a potential civil war for the Taliban. The US response to that attack was a bookend act of terrorism, a drone attack that killed a family, including seven children. Holding to the long-established US pattern in killing Afghan civilians, the US neither expressed regret nor acknowledged its war crime.

Outside the mainstream media, a similar false narrative prevails. Covert Action Magazine calls the US retreat from Afghanistan “an ass-kicking of Biblical proportions.” That’s as stupid as it is false (see death metrics above). What the US did in Afghanistan wasn’t much more than make a bad investment and then cut its losses. No one else’s losses matter. How is that too cynical for a US establishment itching to pick a fight over nothing with China?

If the rational lessons of Afghanistan (and military interventionism generally) were to be learned, we might expect to see a reduction of the bloated US military budget or a reduction of the largely useless military presence around the world (almost 80 bases in more than 70 countries costing well over $100 billion a year). That’s not even under serious discussion. Instead, we have a president enjoying bipartisan support for increasing the US military budget by more than $10 billion, from $703.4 billion to $715 billion a year (more than half of all US discretionary spending and more than twice as much as military spending as any other country in the world).

In a world where the military is useless in controlling pandemics or mitigating climate change or defending voting integrity, what’s the point of raising the military budget (other than funding military-industrial corruption)? The US military has long been effective in its perpetual assault on environmental and climate values. The US military is the largest single institutional generator of greenhouse gases on the planet

This is what’s happening now, in the face of multiple crises, with Democrats numerically in control of Congress and the White House. Because of a small number of DINOs, Democrats In Name Only, the Congress chases its tail instead of solutions to our most serious problems. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia is hardly alone, but he’s the poster boy for corrupt governance with his multi-million-dollar holding in coal investments that creates a blatant conflict of interest with efforts to address climate change (so he chooses coal over climate). Manchin claims that eliminating fossil fuels would make climate pollution worse. He says it with a straight face. That’s what’s going on with infrastructure spending that addresses climate change.

Manchin is a classic DINO, unwilling to risk much of anything for the good of the country, and there are enough DINOs in both houses of Congress to delay and perhaps destroy a future they won’t have to live in. They are today’s American nightmare, and their success may well foster a deeper, longer-lasting nightmare. Their reluctance to take the steps necessary to preserve voting integrity nationwide does not bode well. The elections of 2022 are coming, and the specter of 2023 isn’t pretty.

President Biden, hardly a leader dedicated to serious change, needs to find the inner strength to meet the moment. And he will need all the support he can muster to change the country’s disastrous course even a little. He got us out of Afghanistan as well as could be reasonably expected. For this he’s been widely criticized by people with little or no credibility. Against the available evidence, they (and Manchin) drum up a “weakened” president, echoing the predictable right-wing mantras.

This is the work of the Reagan “revolution,” the right wing’s determined, methodical, relentless campaign to make the ideal America impossible. The Supreme Court has already fallen. What will it take for the American Taliban to capture it all?



William Boardman has over 40 years’ experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary and a stint with Captain Kangaroo. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. A collection of his essays, EXCEPTIONAL: American Exceptionalism Takes Its Toll, published September 2019, is available from Yorkland Publishing of Toronto or Amazon.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.

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