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President Joe Biden is taking heat from Democrats, not for his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan — that’s popular — but for his haphazard pullout that, self-serving Rumsfeldian “stuff happens,” “wars end messily” platitudes aside, could have been executed more efficiently. They blame George W. Bush for starting America’s longest war, arguing that what he began inexorably led to our most shocking military defeat and its humiliating aftermath.

I am sympathetic to any and all criticism of our intervention in Afghanistan. I was an early critic of the war and got beaten up for my stance by media allies of the Bush administration. But the very same liberals who now pretend they’re against the Afghan disaster stood by when it mattered and did nothing to defend war critics because Democrats — political leaders and voters alike — went far beyond tacit consent. They were actively complicit with the Republicans’ war at the time of the invasion and throughout the decades-long occupation of Afghanistan.

Now, the deadbeat dads of defeat are trying to stick the GOP with sole paternity. This is a ridiculous attempt to rewrite history — one that damages Democratic credibility among the party’s progressive base, which includes many anti-war voters, and risks the possibility that they will make the same mistake again in the future.

Twenty years later, it is difficult for some to believe that the United States responded to 9/11 by cultivating closer ties to the two countries with the greatest responsibility for the attacks, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, and attacking a country that had nothing to do with it, Iraq, and another one that had tenuous links, Afghanistan. Yet that’s what happened. And Democrats participated enthusiastically in the insanity.

The sweeping congressional authorization to use military force against Afghanistan and any other target chosen by the president was introduced in the Senate three days after the attacks by Tom Daschle, the then-Democratic majority leader. Every Democratic senator supported destroying Afghanistan. So did every Democratic member of the House of Representatives, except for Barbara Lee, who was roundly ridiculed as weak and naive, received death threats and was denied leadership posts by her own party to punish her for refusing to play ball. The legal justification to attack the Taliban was a bipartisan affair.

Democratic support for Bush’s war reflected popular sentiment: Voters of both parties signed off on the Afghan war by wide margins. Even after weeks of bombing that featured numerous news stories about innocent Afghan civilians being killed willy-nilly, 88% of voters told Gallup that they still approved of the military action. Approval for the war peaked at 93% in 2002 and started to decline. Nevertheless, popular support still hovered around 70% throughout the 2008 presidential campaign, a number that included so many Democrats that then-Sen. Barack Obama ran much of his successful primary and general election campaign on his now obviously moronic message that “we took our eye off the ball in Afghanistan” when Bush invaded Iraq. “Our real focus,” Obama continued to say after winning the presidency, “has to be on Afghanistan.”

Nine months into his first term, Obama felt so confident that Democratic voters supported the war that he ordered his surge of tens of thousands of additional soldiers above the highest troop level in Afghanistan under the Bush administration. Fifty-five percent of Democrats approved of the surge. Domestic support for the war only went underwater after the 2010 assassination of Osama bin Laden by U.S. troops in Pakistan seemed to render the project moot.

There was a strong anti-war movement based on the left throughout the Bush and Obama years against the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of protesters marched against the Iraq war. Opposition was sustained over the years. Far fewer people turned out for far fewer protests against the Afghanistan war. It’s impossible to avoid the obvious conclusion: Even on the left, people were angry about Iraq but OK with Afghanistan.

There is nothing wrong with criticizing the Republican Party and Bush for the decision to invade Afghanistan. The war was their idea. But they never could have started their disaster, much less extended and expanded it under Obama, without full-throated support from their Democratic partners and successors.

This story has few heroes.

 

If crisis creates opportunity, we couldn’t possibly have squandered the possibilities presented by 9/11 more spectacularly. We certainly couldn’t have failed its tests more completely. Twenty years after 9/11, it is clear that the United States is ruled by idiots and that we, the people are complicit with their moronic behavior.

“We had to do something.” That was, and remains, the generic explanation for what we did in response to 9/11: invading Afghanistan and Iraq, directing the CIA to covertly overthrow the governments of Haiti, Venezuela, Belarus, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and a bunch of other countries, lamely legalizing torture, kidnapping via extraordinary rendition to Guantanamo and other concentration camps, building a drone armada and sparking a drone arms race.

Acting purely on speculation, news media was reporting as early as the afternoon of Sept. 11 that al-Qaida was responsible. That same day, Vice President Dick Cheney argued for invading Iraq. We began bombing Afghanistan Oct. 7, less than a month later, without evidence that Afghanistan was guilty. A week later, the Taliban offered to turn over Osama bin Laden; Bush refused. Before you act, you think. We didn’t.

What should we have done … after giving it a good think?

A smart people led by a good president would have had three priorities: Bring the perpetrators to justice, punish any nation-states that were involved and reduce the chances of future terrorist attacks.

The 19 hijackers were suicides, but plotters such as al-Qaida’s Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who lived in Pakistan, were not. Since we have an extradition treaty with Pakistan, we could have asked Pakistani authorities to arrest him and send him to face trial in the U.S. or at the international war crimes tribunal at The Hague. Instead, we kidnapped him to CIA “dark sites,” including Guantanamo, and subjected him to waterboarding 183 times. Because of this and other torture, as well as his illegal detention in violation of habeas corpus, Mohammed can’t face trial in a real, i.e. civilian, court. Not only will 9/11 families never see justice carried out, but we’ve managed to turn Mohammed into a victim, just as he wanted.

The Inter-Services Intelligence agency, Pakistan’s CIA, financed and provided intelligence to al-Qaida. Pakistan harbored bin Laden. Pakistan played host to hundreds of al-Qaida training camps. Pakistanis I talked to after 9/11 were shocked that the U.S. didn’t attack their country, instead giving its Taliban-aligned dictator Gen. Pervez Musharraf billions in military and financial aid.

Evidence linking top Saudi Arabian officials to 9/11 has been scarce. But 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi, several are reported to have met with midlevel Saudi intelligence agents before the attacks and, most notably, Saudi Arabia exports its radical brand of Sunni Islam, Wahhabism, all over the world. The Taliban and al-Qaida initially recruited many of their members from Wahhabi madrassas financed by the Saudis in Pakistan and Central Asia.

We should have treated 9/11 for what it was — a crime. Police officers, not soldiers, should have tracked down the perpetrators. They should have been given lawyers, not torture. They should have faced fair trials. But if we had to go the military route, we should have invaded Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the two countries responsible, not Afghanistan and Iraq, two countries that had nothing to do with it. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were, and remain, far more dangerous to their neighbors than Afghanistan or Iraq.

Occupying Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest exporter of Islamic extremism and global terrorism, would have done a lot to reduce the threat of another 9/11. But the most effective way to make us less of a target is to make the rest of the world look upon us with favor. Some people will always hate us; that’s inevitable. Our goal should be to reduce their number to as close to zero as humanly possible.

We can’t eliminate anti-Americanism by killing its adherents. We’ve been trying to do that for 20 years using drones and missile strikes. All we’ve accomplished is killing a lot of innocent people and making the rest of the world look at us with disgust and contempt. You kill anti-Americanism by treating people everywhere with respect and kindness. That includes those we suspect of doing us harm.

Unfortunately for us and the world, we learned nothing from 9/11. Not even losing Afghanistan back to the Taliban in the most humiliating U.S. defeat since Vietnam, having nothing to show for 20 years of war, has taught us a thing. We’re still a hammer that sees everything as a nail — a blunt, stupid people whose idea of a plan is to keep indiscriminately bombing innocent civilians.

Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.”

 
• Category: Foreign Policy, History • Tags: 9/11, CIA 

Taxes are the price we pay for government. But a government that doesn’t provide basic bureaucratic services is no government at all, and it doesn’t deserve our tax dollars.

Afghan translators and others who worked for the U.S. military, American journalists and nongovernmental organizations aren’t Americans and don’t pay taxes, but the U.S. government’s failure to process their applications for Special Immigrant Visas in a timely manner highlights the breathtaking scale of dysfunction, or nonfunction, to which too many Americans have become accustomed.

When the Biden administration took over in January, it inherited a backlog of 18,000 SIV applications filed by Afghans who wanted to leave before the scheduled U.S. pullout on Sept. 11. Biden’s folks managed to process 100 a week before stopping entirely because of a spike in COVID-19 cases in Afghanistan, though no one has explained what the novel coronavirus has to do with immigration, given the existence of vaccines and quarantines. Even if they hadn’t quit, at that rate the State Department would only have processed 3,200 applications by Sept. 11, 2021, leaving almost 15,000 Afghans out of luck. And that’s not counting the additional 70,000 applications that came in after January.

We discovered water on Mars. We beat Nazi Germany. The IRS processes 240 million returns a year, many of them complicated. If we left the Afghans hanging as the Taliban closed in, it’s because we — well, President Joe Biden and his administration — wanted to.

The president’s eviction relief package is another example of bureaucratic no-can-do.

Anyone could see the right way to pay off back rent for Americans who lost their jobs through no fault of their own, but rather because they or their employers complied with the government’s orders to stay home and away from work: Administer the program federally under the Department of Housing and Urban Development, keep paperwork simple, set up a fully staffed 1-800 number to help distressed tenants and wire money directly to landlords so the dough doesn’t get diverted to other bills. These days, however, the last thing anyone, including the government, wants to do is to hire full-time employees — an attitude that is, of course, a big part of the joblessness problem. So Congress outsourced Biden’s \$46.5 billion federal rental aid program to the states. Because the feds didn’t offer to compensate them for the extra work, many states didn’t bother. As a result, only about 10% of the rental assistance funds have been disbursed. Now the Supreme Court has stopped the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction moratorium, and Americans who should have received help will lose their homes.

Even the IRS, an organization whose mandate is to extract cash from companies and individuals, has collapsed. Millions of people are waiting for refunds. The agency has a backlog of 35 million unprocessed returns — a fourfold increase from two years before.

Government doesn’t work. Contact a representative or senator via their official website and you may not even receive an automated acknowledgment, much less actually hear back about your concern.

Call a government office — local, state and/or federal. If they’re not closed for some obscure holiday, you’ll wind up on permahold. Or they’ll hang up on you after ages.

Americans are self-reliant. If you want something done, do it yourself. I’m fine with that.

What I’m totally not fine with is paying good money for a service I don’t get. That’s a rip-off. If you advertise that you perform a service and I pay for that service, you had better give me what I paid for. To do otherwise is fraud.

Our government commits fraud every day. Members of Congress promise to serve their constituents. Their websites say they reply to queries. If they don’t, why are we paying their salaries?

I don’t want to hear excuses about being short-staffed. Early American politicians such as Thomas Jefferson set aside hours a day to reply to letters from citizens. “From sun-rise to one or two o’clock,” our third president noted, “I am drudging at the writing table.”

You know neither Ted Cruz nor Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spends 15 minutes a day doing that. It’s a bigger country now, but computers and freelancers easily make up for the higher volume of correspondence.

About Afghanistan again: What’s the value of American citizenship if your passport doesn’t get you out of a war zone? Many Americans were stuck in Kabul, unable to get to the airport due to large unruly crowds and Taliban checkpoints. Yet the military refused to leave the airport to escort them from their places of shelter. Only when news accounts emerged about other countries such as France and the United Kingdom — real countries with actual governments that work sometimes — sending their troops into the streets to rescue their nationals, did the U.S. order a few desultory forays into Kabul which, by the way, the Taliban had no objection to.

Oh, and State Department officials: There is no excuse for leaving the U.S. embassy in Kabul, the biggest consular operation in the world, empty. The Taliban didn’t ask us to do so; to the contrary, they’re guarding the compound in the hope that we’ll return. Abandoning that facility is a cowardly abdication of our duty to U.S. nationals and allied Afghans who need diplomatic assistance and representation. It is absurd that, if I return to Afghanistan, there will be no U.S. presence in a country that actually wants it. There’s danger, but many career diplomatic corps types would gladly accept the risk. I’m not a tax resister, but why am I paying taxes?

For Christ’s sake, hire some staff!

Ronald Reagan campaigned on the joke that some of the scariest words in the English language are, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” That joke would fall flat now. No one from the government promises anything, assuming they exist in the first place. They don’t even bother to return your phone call.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Afghanistan, Government waste, Joe Biden 

How will the Taliban govern Afghanistan? It may be up to us.

The U.S. is out, but what the Biden administration and its Western allies do in the weeks and months ahead will have a big influence on whether the Central Asian country reverts to the insular, medieval barbarism of the 1990s or modernizes in order to conform to major international norms.

The Taliban is far from monolithic. They have common values: adherence to Sharia, resistance to foreign interference, the traditional Pashtun tribal code of Pashtunwali. How those general values manifest into specific policies and laws will be subject to interpretation through the movement’s fluid internal politics.

Divided along regional and tribal lines, an alliance between anti-imperialist Afghan nationalists motivated to protect the country’s sovereignty and Islamic fundamentalists, and partly composed of former Ashraf Ghani regime soldiers and policemen who defected under pressure, the Taliban is a highly decentralized movement whose desperate leadership could tilt it toward the hard-liners, or more liberal and modern.

Right now, the Taliban are saying the right things and sending positive signals about keeping girls schools open, allowing women to work as well as amnesty for Afghans who worked for the NATO occupation force. Clearly the order has gone out from the Taliban shura to their fighters to behave correctly. Images from a Taliban press conference reveal that the presidential palace has not been vandalized or looted. In a signal that this is not your father’s Taliban, high-ranking Taliban official Mawlawi Abdulhaq Hemad sat for an interview with a female television journalist whose face was uncovered. Former President Hamid Karzai is safe despite having remained in Kabul. While Western news media made much of the Taliban firing their guns outside the airport, firing over people’s heads was clearly an attempt at crowd control.

Americans would not have voted for the Taliban to govern Afghanistan. But we don’t get a vote. For the foreseeable future, what seemed inevitable to anyone who was paying attention over the last 20 years is now a fait accompli. The question now is: Which Taliban will we and, far more importantly, the people of Afghanistan be dealing with?

The Taliban who are allowing French, British and other nations’ troops to travel inside the capital in order to escort their citizens to the airport for evacuation — who even risked their own lives to evacuate Indian embassy staff — and who have left unmolested old Afghan government posters of ousted president Ashraf Ghani and iconic Northern Alliance commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, a sworn enemy of the Taliban assassinated by al-Qaida?

Or the thugs who tortured and assassinated nine members of the Hazara minority and have threatened to subject women to forced marriage?

The U.S. and its Western allies face a choice. We can exert pressure through de facto economic sanctions, as the Biden administration has done by freezing the Afghan government’s \$9 billion in assets and cutting off half a billion in International Monetary Fund funding, and via airstrikes, another option the president is keeping on the table. Alternatively, we can offer economic aid and diplomatic recognition. Or we can tailor a middle path that ties rewards to our perception of the new government’s behavior.

Pouring on the pressure would be a tragic mistake. It would strengthen the hand of the most radical Taliban hard-liners at the expense of relative moderates who want Afghanistan to look and feel more like Pakistan: undeniably Islamic in character but connected by trade and communications to the outside world. You don’t want your adversary to feel as though it has nothing left to lose — so give them something they want to keep.

Let’s be mindful of how the blunders of American policymakers in response to the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran needlessly radicalized a revolutionary government.

Had President Jimmy Carter not admitted the deposed shah to the U.S. for medical treatment, radical college students would not have seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran or taken 52 staffers as hostages. Supreme Leader and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, by temperament a moderate who opposed hotheaded tactics, was forced to side with the student radicals during the hostage crisis or risk being pushed aside by his own uprising. After the embassy was taken over, there was too much national pride at stake for either party to back down. The U.S. and the new Iranian government dug in their heels, leading to decades of misunderstanding and antagonism.

While a total absence of pressure would be politically unpalatable and unrealistic given the Taliban’s 1990s track record, U.S. policymakers should deploy a light touch with Taliban-governed Afghanistan. Playing the tough guy will strengthen the hand of hard-liners who don’t want girls to be educated or for women to fully participate in society and who would prefer to return to the bad old days of stonings and demolishing cultural treasures. Right now, the relatively liberal wing of the Taliban is in charge. Let’s try to keep it that way.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Afghanistan, Iran, Joe Biden, Taliban 

Thousands of dead Americans, tens of thousands of dead Afghans, \$2 trillion down the toilet, a Taliban victory that leaves America’s international reputation in shambles. This disaster didn’t happen by itself. Political and military leaders, aided and abetted by the news media, are responsible and should be held accountable. Voters let themselves be led by the nose, and they should take a long hard look at themselves in the mirror because what they did and didn’t do caused many people to die.

Antiwar heroes deserve recognition and respect for telling us not to go into Afghanistan, and after we did, telling us to get out despite being marginalized and ridiculed. They were lonely. Despite widespread reports of casualties among Afghan civilians and the glaring fact that the Taliban had nothing to do with 9/11, 88% of Americans — Democrats and Republicans alike — supported former President George W. Bush’s war three weeks after U.S. bombs began raining down on Kabul, Afghanistan.

Let’s celebrate the good guys.

During the fall of 2001, tens of thousands of demonstrators marched against the war in Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and other U.S. cities. The marchers were too few and too peaceful to move the needle. But the judgment of history is now final: the tiny minority who opposed invading Afghanistan were morally upright and correctly skeptical about the outcome. If you know any of these true American heroes, thank them for their service and buy them a drink.

While nationalist nimrods drove around with their cars idiotically festooned by American flags, intelligent ethical individuals spoke out for what was right. “Under the (U.N.) charter, a country can use armed force against another country only in self-defense or when the (U.N.) Security Council approves,” said Marjorie Cohn, president of the National Lawyers Guild. “Neither of those conditions was met before the United States invaded Afghanistan. The Taliban did not attack us on 9/11. Nineteen men —15 from Saudi Arabia — did, and there was no imminent threat that Afghanistan would attack the U.S. or another U.N. member country. The council did not authorize the United States or any other country to use military force against Afghanistan. The U.S. war in Afghanistan is illegal.”

All 98 senators present, including Bernie Sanders, voted to bomb the hell out of Afghanistan and install the puppet regime whose corruption led to the Taliban takeover. In the House of Representatives, the vote was 420 to 1. There was only one sane, only one correct voice in opposition in the entire Congress: Rep. Barbara Lee of California. “As a member of the clergy so eloquently said, as we act, let us not become the evil that we deplore,” she implored.

“For her lone stance,” Glenn Greenwald wrote in 2016, “Lee was deluged with rancid insults and death threats to the point where she needed around-the-clock bodyguards. She was vilified as ‘anti-American’ by numerous outlets including the Wall Street Journal. The Washington Times editorialized on September 18 that ‘Ms. Lee is a long-practicing supporter of America’s enemies — from Fidel Castro on down’ and that ‘while most of the left-wing Democrats spent the week praising President Bush and trying to sound as moderate as possible, Barbara Lee continued to sail under her true colors.’ Since then, she has been repeatedly rejected in her bids to join the House Democratic leadership, typically losing to candidates close to Wall Street and in support of militarism.” Two years later, pro-war Democrats denied her yet another post, as chairperson of their House caucus, to punish her for voting against the Afghan war.

Every congressman and senator who voted for this stupid Afghanistan war is a fool who should resign at once.

Americans who supported this stupid Afghanistan war should refrain from voting ever again.

Media outlets that editorialized in favor of this stupid Afghanistan war deserve to go out of business.

American history has been defined by war, mostly illegally and unjustified on the part of the United States government. That history will continue unless we recognize, elevate and employ the voices of people who speak out against stupid wars before they start.

Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer,” now available to order. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.

 

You’re going to read a lot of Afghan War postmortems in the coming days. Some have already been published.

Don’t listen to anyone who was ever in favor of occupying Afghanistan. They were wrong for thinking that the United States could have won. They were stupid to think that invading Afghanistan would prevent another 9/11, a horror for which the Taliban had zero responsibility. Afghan War supporters were immoral for supporting the bombing of civilians that were so routine that blowing up wedding parties became a joke, for backing the invasion of a sovereign state that never posed a threat to us and for justifying the violent imposition of a corrupt puppet regime. Anyone who ever believed that going into Afghanistan was a good idea is too stupid to deserve a job in journalism, academia or military command.

Don’t listen to anyone who criticizes President Joe Biden for sticking to his promise to withdraw U.S. forces. We were always going to lose. The Taliban were always going to win. Biden and his team recognized reality. Accepting reality is a rare trait among our foolish leadership caste, one that should be praised.

Don’t listen to anyone who cries over the fate of Afghan women under Taliban rule. If they had really cared about gender equality on the other side of the planet, they would have criticized the soon-to-be-overthrown puppet government in Kabul, Afghanistan, for tolerating honor killings, child marriage, systemic rape and even stonings throughout their benighted 20-year rule under U.S. subjugation. They were silent and therefore complicit. Afghan women never stopped suffering; American liberals simply stopped caring.

It’s unfortunate that political punditry isn’t subject to the same performance standards as other fields in which a writer issues prognostications. A financial consultant who recommends that her clients buy a stock that loses value is likely to find herself out of work. A meteorologist whose incorrect weather predictions lead to a lot of picnics and rained-out weddings will probably suffer lower ratings and eventual dismissal. A film critic who raves about bad movies won’t be taken seriously.

Politics, particularly when it comes to international affairs, is different. Newspaper columnists and cable news talking heads never get ghosted, much less fired, for being wrong about war. From David Brooks to Thomas Friedman to Max Boot to William Kristol, helping to talk the American public into disastrous foreign adventures in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq results in zero accountability. To the contrary, these elite idiots keep getting invited back to share their stupidity in high-profile television appearances and lucrative book deals. Unlike the stupid stockbroker, the incompetent weatherman and the movie reviewer with poor taste, the implications of their incompetent prognostications are staggering, costing hundreds of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars.

In a nation where one of the major national religions is militarism, this is a feature rather than a bug. Right or wrong about the outcome, it always pays to be pro-war. If you are a pacifist or skeptical about wars of choice in general, or you merely anticipate problems with a particular military incursion, it doesn’t matter if you are 100% correct 100% of the time — you will be blackballed, ridiculed, disappeared. Whether you watch CNN or MSNBC or Fox News, you will never see a guest unreservedly opposed to a war.

The editorialists aren’t just on the editorial page. One major tell to reveal biased, pro-war and therefore worthless news coverage is when a supposedly objective reporter inserts loaded adjectives into what is supposed to be coverage of a foreign conflict where the United States has an interest. As the Taliban continue to sweep across Afghanistan, seizing control of one city after another, allegedly impartial journalists express dismay at the “deteriorating security situation” and the “bleak future” of that country. It’s OK to be against the Taliban, even to support the ridiculously corrupt puppet regime in Kabul, but why can’t they tell us what’s going on and keep their opinions to themselves?

For whatever it’s worth, I was one of the few American journalists and commentators who went to Afghanistan and traveled unembedded and independently of the American military. I was one of the few who told you in cartoons and essays and books from the beginning, and repeatedly throughout the last two decades, that the war against the people of Afghanistan was stupid, immoral and unwinnable.

It wasn’t worth much.

For my efforts I was ruthlessly and consistently censored, even by so-called “progressive” media outlets for whom Afghanistan was, in the immortally wrong words of former President Barack Obama, the good war. It was frustrating to know that I could have doubled my income by coming out as pro-war.

More importantly, a lot of people died because the voices of people like me were stifled. Because the American people were denied the truth about what we did in Afghanistan, we fought and killed and died for nothing.

Antiwar voices are still marginalized. Countless more will die.

 

Better late than never: Most Americans now believe that invading Afghanistan was a mistake. But what good does it do to recognize a screw-up unless you learn from it?

Failure to understand what went wrong and why sets you up for doing the same thing later. That’s what happened after Vietnam; rather than face the truth that we went there to prop up a corrupt puppet regime and exploit natural gas, we wallowed in a ridiculous “Rambo” mythology about politicians stabbing our valiant warriors in the back by not allowing them to win. We also purported libels of vicious hippies who supposedly spat on veterans returning to their hometown airports, which never happened.

It’s tempting to kick the dust of Afghanistan off our metaphorical boots and, as Americans prefer, look forward rather than backward. But an advanced civil society requires an after-action report. That’s what the military and other organizations do after an engagement in an intelligent effort to repeat what worked and avoid what didn’t.

Unless we conduct a sober reassessment of Afghanistan, ideally in the form of a congressional investigation, there is nothing to indicate that we wouldn’t start a similarly stupid war again in the future. That’s because the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan was based on a big lie — and that lie is still circulating as widely as it was when the first bombs started raining down on Kabul, Afghanistan, in October 2001. If we want to avoid another \$2 trillion war that claims thousands of American lives, we have to drive a stake through that B.S. narrative.

Big Lie: Afghanistan and the war against it was revenge for 9/11.

American voters like wars that are framed as righteous retribution against unprovoked acts of naked aggression, such as the Spanish-American War (“Remember the Maine!”) and World War II in the Pacific (“Remember Pearl Harbor!”). Never mind that we invaded Cuba over an accidental explosion that Spain almost certainly had nothing to do with and that a U.S.-led oil embargo drove Japan to the desperate act of bombing Hawaii. A war that seems to come out of thin air, such as the Bush administration’s 2003 invasion of Iraq, on the other hand, prompts big protests and widespread opposition.

So it’s easy to see why the White House and its press allies marketed the Afghan war as revenge against al-Qaida. We were attacked. It was unprovoked (not really, but that’s what Americans thought). We had to strike back.

Al-Qaida was based in Pakistan. 9/11 was planned in Pakistan. Osama bin Laden, the man held most responsible, lived in Pakistan. Much of the money came from Saudi Arabia, by far the largest international funding source of radical Islamic fundamentalism. The hijackers were Saudi and Egyptian. Not a single hijacker was Afghan. The hijackers had attended training camps in Afghanistan for jihad generally, not 9/11 specifically. If we were interested in getting even for 9/11, we would have attacked Pakistan or Saudi Arabia instead.

This information is well known and widely available. Yet President Joe Biden, who deserves accolades for sticking to his guns and pulling out U.S. troops, chose Sept. 11, 2021, as the final deadline for the withdrawal and the official end date of the war. “Setting the 9/11 date … underscores the reason that American troops were in Afghanistan to begin with — to prevent extremist groups from establishing a foothold in the country again that could be used to launch attacks against the U.S.,” the Associated Press reported on April 14.

“Again”?!

There it is, 20 years later, the big lie again. 9/11 wasn’t planned by terrorists from a “foothold” established in Afghanistan. It was planned by terrorists from a foothold established in Pakistan , specifically in the city of Karachi, precisely at the home of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

In total opposition to the facts, Biden keeps repeating the big lie. “As I said in April, the United States did what we went to do in Afghanistan: to get the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 and to deliver justice to Osama Bin Laden, and to degrade the terrorist threat to keep Afghanistan from becoming a base from which attacks could be continued against the United States. We achieved those objectives. That’s why we went.”

Afghanistan never was a “base” of attacks against the United States; said attacks couldn’t possibly “continue” because there never were any originating from Afghanistan. Bin Laden, of course, was assassinated in Pakistan, which is an entirely different country from Afghanistan. And no, we didn’t follow any trail from Afghanistan to Pakistan.

Biden piles on the lies. People remember symbolism.

Choosing the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks as the official withdrawal date was the White House’s way to reinforce the long-standing national slander against Afghanistan, while leaving our frenemies Pakistan and Saudi Arabia off the hook.

We have got to stop talking about 9/11 and Afghanistan in the same breath.

The lie that links Afghanistan to 9/11 is so powerful that even people on the progressive left bought into it. Only one member of Congress, Rep. Barbara Lee of California, had the courage and brains to vote against the Afghanistan war. The antiwar left cobbled together a few pathetic protest demonstrations during the September-October 2001 run-up to the U.S. invasion, but their number and turnout was a tiny fraction of those who marched against the Iraq War. Even now that it’s clear that both wars were equally unjustified and based on lies, liberals get much more agitated over Iraq than Afghanistan.

As usual, the media is the guiltiest cog in the machine of militarism. “Americans like me ignored — or scorned — protesters who warned of an endless quagmire in Afghanistan. Next time, we should listen to the critics,” Conor Friedersdorf kindly acknowledged in The Atlantic in 2019. Perhaps that will happen somewhere somehow. But not in The Atlantic. Like every other corporate media outlet, the magazine refuses to hire me or any other writer or artist who criticized the Afghanistan War when everyone else was all in.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy, History • Tags: 9/11, Afghanistan 

Americans are politically fractured, but they agree that our longest war was a mistake. Seventy-seven percent of Americans, including many Republicans, told a recent CBS News poll that they agree with President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. That’s a reversal from the conflict’s early days, when between 85% and 90% of Americans supported the invasion.

What changed? We were lied to; now we know it. The Taliban were characterized by the news media as primitive religious fanatics, a fringe group that ruled by fear in a power vacuum created by our abandonment of the anti-Soviet mujahedeen in the late 1980s. In fact, they were a popular, homegrown phenomenon perfectly situated to frame themselves as a nationalist resistance organization. To whatever extent that Afghans felt “abandoned,” they wanted cash and infrastructure with no strings attached. Instead, we imposed a corrupt puppet regime that they viewed as a humiliation.

The main casus belli, revenge for 9/11, fell apart after the world’s most wanted man was found and assassinated in Pakistan in 2011. If Osama bin Laden had been living in Pakistan for years, why were we still looking for him in Afghanistan? Why were we paying his Pakistani hosts billions of dollars? Voter support for the war evaporated after the killing of bin Laden.

Former President Barack Obama said “we took our eye off the ball when we invaded Iraq,” which he called a “dumb war.” He argued that “our real focus has to be on Afghanistan.” Now most people agree that they were both dumb.

How do we avoid fighting more stupid wars in the future? How can we stop ourselves from wasting trillions more dollars and thousands of more lives?

First, we must remember how most wars start — with government lies. From the Tonkin Gulf nonincident to fairy tales about Iraqi soldiers yanking Kuwaiti babies out of ventilators to Saddam’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, American presidents, generals and media stenographers have conned one gullible generation after another into killing and being killed. The truth eventually comes out. By then, though, it’s too late.

The next time a president goes on TV to tell us we ought to go to war, we should turn our skepticism dial up to an 11. After all, we’ve been lied to so often in the past — why give them any benefit of the doubt?

Ironically, for a country whose values center around free-thinking and rugged individuality, naively going along with the call to war is hardwired into our political culture, no matter how outlandish the justification. If the president asks us to sacrifice our lives in a war, we’re expected to comply, no questions asked.

Consider the infamous Supreme Court decision in which Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. famously wrote that “protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theatre.” During the case in question, Holmes continued, “the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger.”

In Schenck v. United States, the court ruled that, when it comes to war, there is no room for vigorous debate, much less dissent — First Amendment be damned.

The subject of that case is lost to history: Socialists Charles Schenck and Elizabeth Baer were jailed for the crime of mailing out flyers urging men to resist the military draft during World War I. The “clear and present danger” was not to the country itself. It was to pro-war propaganda. What if the leftists’ argument were to succeed? What if the government had to work harder in order to convince young men to fight and die in the charnel house across the Atlantic?

Holmes came to regret his decision, and Schenck was partly overturned and discredited. Yet schoolchildren are still taught that the First Amendment runs into limits with “shouting fire in a theatre.” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who ought to know better, went so far as to write that “while the First Amendment protects freedom of speech, no one has a right to falsely shout ‘fire!’ in a crowded theater” in an op-ed favoring gun control in 2012.

As Christopher Hitchens noted, the governments of Europe and the United States lit and fanned the flames of a war that most of its combatants believed to have been pointless. The socialist pacifists were trying to restore sanity.

Someday, no doubt sooner rather than later, this president or the next will take to the airwaves in order to ask us to support another war. War is the most serious undertaking that a nation-state ever considers. It is therefore the highest duty of every citizen to carefully weigh the evidence and justification given to attack a foreign adversary with an open mind counterbalanced by the jaundiced knowledge that such arguments often unravel after the spilling of a lot of blood.

If we had lived up to our civic duty back in 2001, we would have done a little digging ourselves. We would have paid attention to the fact that none of the 19 hijackers was from Afghanistan. We would have noted from the news reports that bin Laden was already in Pakistan and the majority of al-Qaida’s training facilities were also in that country, not in Afghanistan. We would have listened to academic experts and veterans of Russia’s failed occupation during the 1970s and 1980s, who warned that Afghanistan was the “graveyard of empires” because the one thing that pulls its people together is a hatred of foreign invaders.

We should not have given former President George W. Bush a blank check to invade a sovereign state that never attacked us and never meant us harm. We should have withheld our support and tacit consent. We should have protested and demanded that Congress stop the war before it began.

We should never again take a presidential call to war at face value.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Afghanistan, American Military 

Concern-trolling over the dismal plight of women in Afghanistan is powerfully appealing to liberals who look for reasons for the United States to maintain a military presence there. If and when the Taliban return to power, the warmongers argue, the bad, old days of stonings, burqas and girls banned from school will come back — and it’ll be our fault because we didn’t stick around.

Outrage over women’s inequality is often only ginned up in the service of some other aim, such as invading Afghanistan or banning transgender women from high school girls’ sports teams. Scratch the thin veneer of phony feminism, and the true agenda, which has nothing to do with women or girls, is quickly exposed.

You may be surprised to learn that, according to a U.S. News & World Report analysis of data provided by the United Nations, Afghanistan isn’t among the 10 worst countries for women. Which nations do have the worst gender inequality?

A list of staunch pals of the U.S.

But you’ll never see “woke” news media go after the U.S.’ best bros for treating women like dirt, much less the suggestion that these countries, such as Afghanistan, ought to be bombed, droned, invaded and subjected to two decades of brutal occupation under a corrupt U.S.-installed puppet regime.

The No. 1 worst nation in the world for women is the United Arab Emirates (“close friends and strong allies … with shared interests and common values,” crows the UAE’s embassy website, which showcases a cute photo of Biden). Common values that we apparently share with the UAE are its form of government (tribal autocracy), the torture and disappearance of political dissidents, female genital mutilation, wife beatings (perfectly legal), marital rape (perfectly legal) and “honor killings” (frowned upon and largely ignored). Women may vote, drive, buy property, travel and go to college. But they need signed permission from their “guardian” — usually their father or their husband.

Continuing down the list, we find U.S. “strategic ally” Qatar (No. 2), U.S. ally Saudi Arabia (No. 3), U.S. “treaty ally” India (No. 4), U.S. “partner” Oman (No. 5), major recipient of U.S. military aid Egypt (No. 6), U.S. “major non-NATO ally” Morocco (No. 7), U.S. ally South Korea (No. 8), U.S. “regional strategic ally” Sri Lanka (No. 9) and U.S. “key partner” Jordan (No. 10). Anyone who cares about the oppression of women should put Afghanistan on the back burner, start with the UAE and work their way down this list of misogynistic, nightmare nations.

Not to say that the women of Afghanistan don’t have anything to worry about as the Taliban return to power. They do. Taliban spokesmen tell reporters that they’ve moderated their views about the status of women since 2001; they would even allow women to work as judges and will now allow girls to continue their education and women to work so long as they wear a hijab . “Local sources told us the Taliban removed art and citizenship classes from the curriculum, replacing them with Islamic subjects, but otherwise follow the national syllabus,” the BBC reports from Balkh province near Mazar-i-Sharif. “The government pays the salaries of staff, but the Taliban are in charge. It’s a hybrid system in place across the country.”

Reality in areas controlled by local Taliban commanders hasn’t corresponded with this relatively cheery and pragmatic vision. There are reports that the Taliban have demanded that girls over 15 and widows under 45 are forcibly married and, if they aren’t Muslim, converted to Islam. Taliban rule will likely be harsher and stricter in more rural areas.

It is perfectly reasonable to worry about the future of Afghan women. Though, to be fair, many were viciously oppressed, forced to wear the burqa, denied an education and even stoned to death throughout the last 20 years of U.S. occupation. If you don’t worry, you are morally deficient.

But don’t forget the hierarchy of needs: Women are even worse off in a number of other countries, all of which get a pass from the American press and receive giant chunks of American tax dollars from the American government. So the next time you hear someone affiliated with the U.S. government or in mainstream corporate media talking about how the Taliban mistreats women, remember that their real agenda is oppression and militarism, not emancipation.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Afghanistan, Feminism, Taliban 

Now that President Joe Biden has pulled the U.S. military out of Afghanistan, it’s clear that we have little to show for more than \$2 trillion and thousands of soldiers killed over two decades of occupation. We will soon be back where we were on Sept. 10, 2001, when the Taliban governed Afghanistan.

Afghan government troops have neither the will nor the training to protect their corrupt leaders in Kabul. The defeat of an Afghan government sinking in passivity and denial will occur within weeks or months.

Soldiers of the regime installed by the administration of President George W. Bush that were propped up by his successors are deserting and fleeing across the border to Tajikistan. Taliban troops have surrounded and briefly taken over both Kunduz, a city whose wobbly back-and-forth allegiances make it an Alsace-like wartime bellwether, and Herat, long considered unconquerable because it was controlled by Ismail Khan, a former Northern Alliance warlord long considered the nation’s fiercest and most competent opponent of the Taliban. The Taliban can and will return for good.

They recently captured key border crossings with Iran, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. The Iran border post alone generates about \$20 million per week in customs duties — revenue that now belongs to the Taliban.

Kabulis await the inevitable triumph of the Taliban, resigned to whatever fate awaits them.

Even the tongue-shaped Badakhshan province on the remote northeastern border of China is “on the verge of falling completely” to the Taliban. Badakhshan was the Northern Alliance’s last redoubt, the only section of the country that successfully resisted the Taliban when the militants ruled between 1996 and 2001.

Media coverage about the coming transition will focus on the plight of women, the role of ISIS, reprisals and the return and style of Sharia. What will be lost but deserves to be noted as well is that the Taliban have just achieved a stunning military victory.

Never in recent history, not even in Vietnam or in Afghanistan against the British in the 19th century, has a rural guerilla army achieved such a dramatic defeat against a colossus that held every military, political and economic advantage.

With the most sophisticated fighter jets in the world, hundreds of cruise missiles and a huge fleet of assassination drones, the U.S. enjoyed complete dominance of the skies throughout the war. The Taliban didn’t have a single plane. Whereas the Viet Cong were enthusiastically armed and trained by China and fought alongside the nation-state of North Vietnam, poorly sourced reports allege that the Taliban may have received — at best — sporadic, extremely limited support from Iran and Russia. They were forced to live underground, constantly hiding from American forces.

Not only did the Taliban win a protracted war against the world’s biggest superpower, but that superpower is leaving them a brand-new nation built from the ground up. Twenty years ago, Afghanistan was a failed state with 14th-century infrastructure. Roads, all unpaved, didn’t even have names. There was no electricity, phones, sewage or running water. There wasn’t even a banking system.

The United States is leaving them \$8 billion worth of roads and highways, a \$1 billion power grid, dams, canals, levees, drainage systems, bridges, tunnels, airports, the internet, you name it. Eighty-five percent of the country’s population is covered by cellphone service; that’s not even true of the Hamptons.

We have gifted the Taliban \$36 billion in infrastructure spending.

You’re welcome.

Military historians will study the Taliban insurgency for years to come. In the meantime, empires such as the U.S. and resistance movements such as the Taliban can each draw important lessons.

Whether they are an indigenous movement such as the Taliban resisting foreign invasion or a revolutionary organization seeking to overthrow a domestic government, anyone who seeks to take on a state with superior manpower, training and weapons should take the failure of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan as proof that an inferior force need not be intimidated by such daunting disparities. From the revolutions in France, Russia and China to the anti-colonial struggles in Africa and Asia, many notable regime changes have succeeded despite the odds. If you have the support of the people and relentless dedication to fight steadfastly through countless setbacks, you can prevail in an asymmetric conflict. This is particularly true if your adversary is foreign and requires domestic political will to maintain long and expensive supply lines.

Big powers like the U.S. can impose their will overseas within limits. It is possible to imagine an alternative scenario in which the U.S. might have succeeded in Afghanistan. First and foremost, the United States should have allowed Afghans, a fractious people united only by their opposition to foreign domination, to choose their own leaders rather than sidelining the exiled king at the 2002 Loya Jirga. Installing Hamid Karzai, a paid CIA operative, as president was a catastrophic misstep. Brazenly interfering with Afghanistan’s internal politics relegitimized the Taliban’s message that Westerners are corrupt and exploitative hypocrites, which exposed our rhetoric about self-determination as hollow.

Allowing democracy to run its course would have been risky but smart. Walking our talk and keeping our thumb off the scale would have outweighed the downside risk that Afghans might have elected the “wrong” leaders.

Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer,” now available to order.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Afghanistan, American Military, Taliban 
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