Alexander’s Pope’s ominous lines from the Dunciad swirl as America’s soft-headed President Joe Biden pushes the world into anarchy if not Armageddon:
Lo! Thy dread Empire, Chaos! is restor’d;
Light dies before thy uncreating Word;
Thy hand, great Anarch! lets the curtain fall;
And Universal Darkness buries All
The recklessly hasty withdrawal of U.S. troops may prove to be more fatal than imagined if the lessons of history are anything to go by.
Not many would have predicted that the assassination on 28 June 1914 of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne, would spark the First World War. Or that Germany would start the Second by invading Poland on 29-30 September 1939 less than a year after signing the Munich Peace Agreement with Britain, France, and Italy.
If there were any lingering doubts that the decision to hand over terrorist infested Afghanistan to the Taliban, the most barbaric of Islamic radicals along with the IS, would sooner or later endanger the security of the non-Muslim world, especially Bharat, they were instantly set to rest by the death of 13 marines and scores of Afghan civilians in the twin suicide bomb attacks outside Kabul airport late August 26.
The killings were the biggest loss of US soldier lives since a military helicopter was shot down in eastern Afghanistan a decade ago, killing 31 special operation troops.
Biden’s feckless growl in his address to the nation late Thursday that “we will not forgive, we will not forget, we will hunt you down and make you pay” was the bellow of a leader who had botched things up beyond redemption. The US, he said, knew the identity of the culprits, and that the military had been ordered to plan strikes.
Biden’s tough talk came with a thick coat of fakery. The bitter reality is that even if the blowback happens, it is sure to unleash a cycle of bombings in Europe, America, and Asia. The situation can never revert to the status quo ante. This is regardless of whether it is the Haqqani Network, the IS-Khorasan, or al-Qaeda which triggered the attack. They are all sworn enemies of America, whatever their internecine quarrels or mutual games of mutual one-upmanship.
China and Pakistan will be rubbing their hands in glee at the new regional order, at least for now. Russia, though not as venal, will do nothing to harm its equation with the two, Beijing or Islamabad.
The Taliban would have us believe that Thursday’s twin blasts was the IS-K’s handiwork though it had good reasons of its own. The detonations may just as well have been intended to sabotage the evacuation process by putting the fear of Allah in the thousands assembled at the Kabul airport. The terse message: Go home!
Behind it lay a simple logic: the more Afghan nationals were allowed to leave the country, the lesser would have been the scope of finding hands to run the business of government. This, in fact, was pointed out by the Taliban spokesperson, Abdul Ghani Baradar, in one of his press meets. Predictably enough, the formal ban on Afghans boarding flights was issued soon thereafter.
Not all the pleading and sobbing of those seeking to flee in the last few days moved Biden to consider renegotiating the withdrawal with the Taliban beyond the August 31 deadline. It revealed his latent lack of sincerity and compassion. There was not a trace of emotion during his interactions with the media.
With the sudden collapse of the government, Afghans face the prospect of endemic cash shortages, rising price of essentials, and endless economic woes. But this too did not figure in Biden’s calculations. Which only goes to show that the stress on human rights these last months was nothing but humbuggery at its worst.
Kabul was a sitting duck for blasts since the commencement of the heart-rending evacuations on August 15. Intelligence had warned of tragic consequences. But they fell on deaf ears even as thousands continued to throng the Hamid Karzai Airport.
That the decision to quit the country was taken posthaste, and against the express counsel of his military commanders, cannot but raise serious questions on Biden’s core competence. It is shuddering to think of the dangers that lie ahead in the remaining 40 months of his tenure, the most forbidding of which is the prospect of a Kamala Harris accession.
The Veep has not covered herself with glory any more than her doddering boss. The general impression about her is that she is not a bad sort, only a bad politician prone to laughing fits.
One thing seems certain: given his plunging popularity ratings, Biden may go down as the most blithering, blundering, and bungling President in American history regardless of whether he completes his term in office.
He promised to be the transitional president who would lower the political temperature and heal a polarized nation. Instead, he has ended up deepening the divide not only in the U.S. but the world over.
Hoping against hope
Diehard Democrat backers hope Biden’s blunder may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. In his 16 August column in the New York Times, the three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, Thomas Friedman, invoked, “…one of my ironclad rules about covering the Middle East:
“When big events happen, always distinguish between the morning after and the morning after the morning after. Everything really important happens the morning after the morning after — when the full weight of history and the merciless balances of power assert themselves.
“And so it will be in Afghanistan — for both the Taliban and President Biden…”
Time will tell whether Biden has the last laugh. The immediate loss is NATO’s. The alliance is in tatters. European leaders are hopping mad that the U.S. did not show the basic curtsey to inform them, much less consult, before taking the momentous decision to depart from a country they had jointly administered for two decades.
Airlifting thousands of citizens and hundreds of Afghans who had helped them in various capacities strained their resources like never before.
Though British prime minister Boris Johnson preferred to be circumspect, his predecessor and party colleague, Theresa May, expressed her dissatisfaction at the manner in which Biden ignored his allies.
Johnson’s counterparts in France and Germany were more upfront. Emmanuel Macron, in fact, had in 2019 accused the U.S. of neglecting its commitments and being a shaky confederate. Broached was the need to “reassess” NATO’s relevance in the light of the U.S.’s dwindling interest.
This won’t be easy since only the U.S. has the resources to provide the formidable air cover required during a military emergency. But it is time Europe stood on its own legs.
Historically, America never gave NATO any reason to believe that the interests of its allies precede its own. “You must not speak of us … as cousins, still less as brothers,” wrote President Woodrow Wilson to King George V in 1918; “we are neither.” Sentiment was thus never a factor in US-British ties let alone with other European powers.
Head of Germany’s ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Armin Laschet, who is widely tipped to succeed Angela Markel after next month’s elections to the Bundestag, was franker. He called the Afghan withdrawal “the biggest debacle that NATO has suffered since its founding, and we’re standing before an epochal change.”
Clear and present danger stalks the alliance. Barring South America where political Islam has yet to strike root, no democratic nation can afford to ignore a country run by Muslim terrorists.
This, after 20 years during which 2,448 American soldiers perished along with 3,800 U.S. contractors, 66,000 members of the Afghan national military and police, 47,000 civilians, 51,000 terrorists (mostly Taliban), and nearly 450 aid workers.
The US spent about $83 billion in the last two decades on training and equipping the Afghan military. This covers the cost of 75,000 vehicles, nearly 600,000 weapons and more than 200 aircraft. All in vain.
That the slapdash exit of American forces would result in arms and equipment worth billions falling into the hands of the Taliban and other terrorists does not seem to have bothered Biden. This is yet another facet of his monumental ineptitude.
The mind-boggling haul comprises 25 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, A-29 Super Tocano bombers, armored Humvees, ScanEagle military drones, M4 carbines, M16 rifles and night vision goggles. By the time the last American marine leaves at the end of the month, the Taliban would be in possession of 2,000 armored vehicles and nearly 40 aircraft.
Biden has blamed everyone everyone from Donald Trump to the Afghan army for the mess of his making, but not once has he pointed an accusing finger at the Taliban which single handedly brought him to his knees.
Asked if he trusted the Taliban at the August 22 presser at the White House, he deflected the question by giving a smart aleck response. He said he trusted no one, including the reporter who had fired the query. His pusillanimity prevented him from saying that he does not trust the nation’s prime enemy for the sake of a delusional peace process.
Time to shoot from the hip. Biden is unfit to govern. The free world cannot afford an effete leader in the White House. It is unfortunate that Old Joe has more than three years to go before signing off.
But then we live in times when “things, fall apart; the centre cannot hold…the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”
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