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Friday, March 24, 2023

Curtains down on the Age of America

Future historians will almost certainly look upon the U.S.’s abrupt withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years as the sharpest inflection point which hastened the decline of America’s era from its pinnacle in 1945. Tagged, in fact, will be a precise date: 15-16 August 2021.

The retreat in reality is an abandonment and betrayal of an impoverished country divided by centuries of tribal, ethnic, and regional conflict. Just when its people had got used to basic human rights was the rug pulled from under their feet. The emergence of an educated generation, especially of women, since the American invasion after 9/11 makes the relapse into medievalism all the more painful.

What has shaken the conscience of the free world isn’t so much the U.S. decision to quit per se after expending a trillion dollars to protect its geopolitical interests. It’s rather the suddenness with which millions of helpless people have been left to the mercy of the wolfish Taliban, a ragtag bunch of 75,000 Islamic radicals armed with AK-47s who continue to commit the bloodiest crimes in the name of Allah.

Behind the bungle lies the addled brainbox of one man: Joseph R. Biden, the oldest and arguably the weakest President in American history. Not many could have imagined it would take less than eight months for him to rise to his level of incompetence. A peacenik sans compassion is difficult to comprehend. Leaders like Joe Biden give peace a bad name. 

Biden’s betrayals

Long is the list of Biden’s betrayals — from opposing giving aid to South Vietnam in 1975 to railing against the Gulf War in 1991 to wrongly backing George (Dubya) Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003 only to oppose his effective counter-insurgency strategy in 2007; and then counsel his erstwhile boss Barack Husain Obama to delay the raid which killed Osama Bin Laden. And yet it was Obama who prodded Biden to enter the primary race for the Democrat nomination.

The most damning indictment came from Robert Gates who was secretary of defence under George Bush Jr. and Obama. His 2014 memoir, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War said Biden “has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”

Chamberlain moment

The Wall Street Journal put it best by calling America’s worst strategic blunder since the Bay of Pigs as “Biden’s Chamberlain moment”, the allusion being to the infamous 1938 Munich Agreement signed by Hitler, Neville Chamberlain, Edouard Daladier, and Mussolini.

The pact compelled Czechoslovakia to cede the Sudeten region to Nazi Germany in the hope of pacifying the Fuhrer and dispelling the clouds of war louring over Europe.

The act of appeasement, in fact, only ended up whetting Hitler’s appetite for further conquest, prompting the chilling Churchillian prognosis: ‘You were given the choice between war and dishonour. You chose dishonour and you will have war.”

The U.S. too may end up regretting the Afghanistan cock-up. Never-seen-before video images of whelping women and children, thousands storming the Kabul airport, the mad scramble to clamber up the ladder to board evacuating flights, a few falling from the sky after take-off, will remain etched in public memory.

The resolve to leave had in principle been taken in February 2020 by Donald Trump, another president unfit for the Oval Office albeit not a weakling. The U.S. had over the years steadily scaled down its military presence in Afghanistan from the peak of 1.10 lakh in 2011 to less than 2,500 before the Taliban takeover of Kabul.

NATO’s international forces ended their combat mission in 2014, leaving security in the hands of the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces, a disillusioned and demoralized lot numbering not more than 1.80 lakhs instead of the three lakhs claimed by the U.S. A large number lacked military training due to shoddy recruitments in a graft-ridden system.

The CNN reported the presence of “ghost” fighters who existed on the rolls to enable their salaries to be collected by corrupt officials. 

Losing the grip

Biden’s announcement of August 31 as the pull-out deadline emboldened the Taliban to tighten its grip over the countryside. It gave them ample time and space to regroup and prepare for an assault when it suited them best.

Preparations, however, had commenced in early 2020. A military operations expert, Jack Watling, told CNBC that the Taliban began infiltrating urban areas, assassinating select people, offering commanders the stark option of capitulating to save their families or face the firing squad.

Most fell in line given Kabul’s lack of muscle to protect their interests. This was the single biggest reason why the government’s defenses collapsed without as much as a “whiff of the grapeshot”. Gone was the will to fight.

The Afghan army, in any case, was never trained to fight on its own. The only reason why the corrupt Ashraf Ghani regime survived this long was due to the presence of a few thousand American troops protected by air cover and drones. NATO support held the key to Afghan army’s efficacy. Even the fledgling desire to resist the invaders ceased to exist.

The flight from Afghanistan isn’t the first time the U.S. was made to eat humble pie in the conflict zones of the world. The long-standing Vietnam war (1954-1975) is naturally the first which comes to mind. The war at its zenith saw five lakh American troops stationed in and around Saigon.

By the time the Yankees decided to pack up, more than 57,000 soldiers (mostly draftees) had been killed apart from two million Vietnamese soldiers and civilians. Withdrawal proceedings, however, were spread over 55 days unlike the hurried skedaddle at Kabul.

A similar betrayal was witnessed in the penultimate year of the Trump era. US marines were ordered to return home from northern Syria by October 2019. Forsaken in the process were Kurdish warriors who had helped the Americans in the war against the IS and Turkish forces.

Trump justified the betrayal of the U.S.’s Kurdish allies with the counter that he held off this fight for almost three years, but it was time to get out of these ridiculously endless wars. “It’s not our problem,” he said. 

Pinning blame

Biden, on his part, defended the indefensible by pinning the entire blame on the Afghan army with the specious argument that “American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves.”

Former CIA Director, General David Petraeus, was quick to give the lie to Biden’s claim. Ever since U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan ended on 1 January 2015, Afghan soldiers, he said, had been bravely “fighting and dying for their country” until the US suddenly ditched them this summer, mortally compromising Afghan defenses.

Lest it be forgotten, Biden had made Trump’s perfidy an issue while stumping during the 2020 Presidential poll. He accused the Donald of creating a humanitarian crisis and undermining national security. Trump, he said, “was the most reckless and incompetent commander in chief we’ve ever had.”

Lessons for allies

Habitual U.S. interventions in the complex and protracted strives in West Asia may well turn out to be localized trailers compared to the global impact of the American walk-out of Afghanistan.

It poses the greatest threat to enemy-engulfed Bharat not just in Kashmir, but in every region with a vocal Muslim populace, especially Kerala and Assam. Enemies of the Modi regime are waiting in the wings to sow the seeds of disunity and dissension. The Taliban makeover has gladdened the hearts of Leftists, Urban Naxals, and home-grown jihadis.

Europe and U.S. could be sucked into the vortex in equal measure should the Taliban take a conscious decision to export terror with the help of Al-Qaeda, IS, and other terror syndicates like the Haqqani Network, LeT and JeM.

Hundreds of down-and-out Al-Qaeda fighters like Ayeman-Al-Zawahari and Saif-Al-Adel have been cooling their heels in Afghanistan under the Taliban’s care. The change in regime gives them a chance to regroup.

The paradoxes of U.S. foreign policy have done nothing to come to grips with the situation. That Pakistan is the principal sponsor and abettor of terror is common knowledge. The Taliban, whom it reared, freely runs terror training camps from its territory with the blessings of the ISI. This too is no secret.

And yet when it comes to firmly acting against Islamabad the U.S. has always shied away. The political compulsions of a Left-leaning Democrat administration hellbent on a woke agenda under Biden has further complicated matters.

Smiles from Beijing

China has every reason to sit back and feel satisfied at the sudden shift in geopolitical alignments, and a little wary too given its own problems with the Uyghurs. A spillover of terrorist insurgency into the Xinjiang province is the last thing it would want. But it knows Pakistan would not dare upsetting its cozy equations with an ally which has always stood by it.

Beijing’s preponderant interest is expanding its economic footprint in the region through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), while ensuring the military isolation of Bharat.

All said and done, the question that must trouble the minds of every U.S. ally, and NATO in particular, is whether Washington can be trusted to defend the interests of the free world against regular Islamic onslaughts. And the answer, for the first time, may be a firm ‘no’.

The Roman empire began to decline in C.E. 200. But it took another 200 years for it to perish. Those who wish to put their faith in America may do so but solely at their own peril. Afghanistan was backstabbed, and this is the bottom-line.

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Sudhir Kumar Singh
Sudhir Kumar Singh
Sudhir Kumar Singh is an independent journalist who has worked in senior editorial positions in the Times Of India, Asian Age, Pioneer, and the Statesman. Also a sometime stage and film actor who has worked with iconic directors like Satyajit Ray and Tapan Sinha.


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