Our Best Stuff From a Frustrating Week
The situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating quickly.
Hello, everyone. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. It was a pretty awful week for the people of Afghanistan. A few months ago, the Biden administration announced it would withdraw the remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September 11. The precise timing struck many of us as odd, if not downright offensive. It would have been one thing if we were leaving because we’d driven out the Taliban and al-Qaeda and helped the Afghans build a stable government. But we hadn’t. So it seemed cruel to the memories of those who died—whether on 9/11 itself or in the war that resulted—to mark the 20th anniversary of that horrific day as a final retreat from those who helped perpetuate it.
Now, however, it seems like the anniversary of 9/11 could be even bleaker. The Biden administration eventually moved up the deadline, to August 31. Troops have been departing for a few weeks now. And, as you’ve no doubt noticed, it’s the moment that the Taliban has been waiting for. As of Friday, jihadists had taken over 16 of Afghanistans’ 34 provincial capitals, including Herat and Kandahar, two of the three largest cities in the country. A military analysis says that the capital of Kabul “could become isolated in 30 to 60 days and could fall to the militant group in 90 days.”
Much of our content this week—on the website, in our newsletters, and on our podcasts—has been devoted to this important and frustrating topic. A recurring theme is that it didn’t have to be this way. We detail the intelligence and diplomatic failures that got us here and critique the Biden administration’s statements that are at odds with the situation on the ground. Let’s get right to it.
There are few voices with more authority on the war on terror than Thomas Joscelyn, author of Vital Interests. He’s a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, he’s testified before Congress more than 20 times, and in 2017 he and Steve led the effort to have the CIA declassify thousands of documents seized in the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. In his newsletter on Friday, he addressed the Biden administration’s claim that the Afghan military had sufficient manpower and resources to hold the Taliban at bay. “The U.S. military has repeatedly reported—again, on paper—that there are hundreds of thousands of Afghans ready to defend their country. While U.S. generals have expressed reservations at times, they’ve also portrayed the ANDSF as a much more capable force—one that certainly wouldn’t be routed within just a few short months. It was all a mirage. Wars aren’t fought on paper.“
In the French Press, meanwhile, David tackled the policy failures that plagued our efforts. “The military accomplished the mission (defeating the Taliban in battle) that our military could reasonably have been expected to accomplish,” he writes. “It did not accomplish the mission (building a competent Afghan government and military) that our military cannot reasonably be expected to accomplish.” He highlights our disadvantages—the Taliban enjoying sanctuary in Pakistan and the Afghan government being corrupt, for example—but also reflects on what we accomplished during the two-decade deployment: a better standard of living for the Afghan people and no major terror attacks on U.S. soil.
Paul D. Miller is not just a veteran of the War in Afghanistan. He also served as director for Afghanistan and Pakistan on the national security council staff for Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. He looks at the justifications being put forth for our departure and decries them as myths. Was our failure inevitable? Was our presence unsustainable? No. “If the United States had maintained a small presence (perhaps marginally larger than what Trump left behind), it could have kept the Afghan army in the field indefinitely, giving time and space for the political situation in Kabul to sort itself out, for a fresh round of negotiations with better leverage against the Taliban, and for reconstruction and development to continue.”
Finally, Jonah looks at the statements being put out by the State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Kabul—complaints that the Taliban is not adhering to the peace deal and a promise of aid if the militants can just be kind enough to spare the embassy—and is a little embarrassed. And angry. He takes on the idea that it’s not “in our interests” to stay in Afghanistan and makes a powerful case that our honor is at stake. “People who relied on us are going to be murdered—lots of them,” he writes. “And if reports are true, many of them will be murdered with the war materiel we abandoned alongside the Afghan people. That is a blow to American honor. It is shameful. And we’ll be paying a price for it internationally and in our hearts for a long time to come, because this sorry chapter in the story we tell ourselves about ourselves will be written in the blood of people who took our commitments seriously.”
We covered a few other topics this week. Here you go.
Oregon has passed a law allowing high school students to graduate without being able to read, write, or do math. Frederick Hess dismantles the argument that such measures advance “equity” among minorities.
In Uphill, Harvest and Ryan cover the passage of the infrastructure bill in the Senate and look ahead to a fight over the debt ceiling.
Speaking of the infrastructure bill, in Capitolism Scott Lincicome looks at all the “green energy” subsidies that are tucked into it.
The GOP primary to replace retiring Sen. Roy Blunt in Missouri is … getting interesting. Chris Stirewalt has thoughts.
And on the pods: On Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah discuss the Dominion Voting Systems lawsuits against Sidney Powell, Rudy Giuliani, and Mike Lindell. Jonah welcomes Florida man Charles W. Cooke to The Remnant for a discussion on Ron DeSantis. And on The Dispatch Podcast, Steve talks to Tom Joscelyn about Afghanistan.