“It may seem like a terrible thing to say, but a fair number of people — especially in the news media — are nostalgic about the months that followed 9/11. Some pundits openly pine for the sense of national unity that, they imagine, prevailed in the aftermath of the terrorist attack. More subtly, my sense is that many long for the days when the big threat to America seemed to come from foreign fanatics, not homegrown political extremists.
But that golden moment of unity never existed; it’s a myth, one that we need to stop perpetuating if we want to understand the dire current state of American democracy. The truth is that key parts of the American body politic saw 9/11, right from the beginning, not as a moment to seek national unity but as an opportunity to seize domestic political advantage.
And this cynicism in the face of the horror tells us that even at a time when America truly was under external attack, the biggest dangers we faced were already internal.
The Republican Party wasn’t yet full-on authoritarian, but it was willing to do whatever it took to get what it wanted, and disdainful of the legitimacy of its opposition. That is, we were well along on the road to the Jan. 6 putsch — and toward a G.O.P. that has, in effect, endorsed that putsch and seems all too likely to try one again.”
Somini Sengupta has reported on more than 10 conflicts around the world, including in Afghanistan.
“Parts of Afghanistan have warmed twice as much as the global average. Spring rains have declined, most worryingly in some of the country’s most important farmland. Droughts are more frequent in vast swaths of the country, including a punishing dry spell now in the north and west, the second in three years.
Afghanistan embodies a new breed of international crisis, where the hazards of war collide with the hazards of climate change, creating a nightmarish feedback loop that punishes some of the world’s most vulnerable people and destroys their countries’ ability to cope.
And while it would be facile to attribute the conflict in Afghanistan to climate change, the effects of warming act as what military analysts call threat multipliers, amplifying conflicts over water, putting people out of work in a nation whose people largely live off agriculture, while the conflict itself consumes attention and resources.”
“. . . Focusing on the execution of the withdrawal is giving virtually everyone who insisted we could remake Afghanistan the opportunity to obscure their failures by pretending to believe in the possibility of a graceful departure. It’s also obscuring the true alternative to withdrawal: endless occupation. But what our ignominious exit really reflects is the failure of America’s foreign policy establishment at both prediction and policymaking in Afghanistan.
“The pro-war crowd sees this as a mechanism by which they can absolve themselves of an accounting for the last 20 years,” Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, told me. “Just think about the epic size of this policy failure. Twenty years of training. More than $2 trillion worth of expenditure. For almost nothing. It is heartbreaking to watch these images, but it is equally heartbreaking to think about all of the effort, of lives and money we wasted in pursuit of a goal that was illusory.” “
“. . . We now live in a broken-windows world. I would argue that it began a decade ago, when Barack Obama called on Americans to turn a chapter on a decade of war and “focus on nation-building here at home,” which became a theme of his re-election campaign.
It looked like a good bet at the time. Osama bin Laden had just been killed. The surge in Iraq had stabilized the country and decimated Al Qaeda there. The Taliban were on the defensive. Relations with Russia had been “reset.” China was still under the technocratic leadership of Hu Jintao. The Arab Spring, eagerly embraced by Obama as “a chance to pursue the world as it should be,” seemed to many to portend a more hopeful future for the Middle East (though some of us were less sanguine). . . . “
David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
Nice column, but you reach too far, and fall short, though there are criticisms you approach that are valid. Comparing the Russian gas pipeline to other failures seems silly, like comparing apples to oranges. Everyone needs a little natural gas for the next 50 years or so. Even Biden didn’t cancel all the pipelines from Canada. Our walking out of Afghanistan doesn’t show that we are over as a great power, but that we are starting to act again like an intelligent as well as great power, with more fights in the future than just against the primitive Taliban. You are still right about several important and serious mistakes. We should be occupying Syria right now not Afghanistan. Ignoring the red line Obama had drawn himself was dumb, cowardly, and over cautious. But Afghanistan is history. We should be discussing an invasion or insurrection in Brazil, to save the rain forest. That is in our national interest.
David is a jack of all trades and master of none, and a military historian, who blogs at InconvenientNews.net.
General Sadat is a commander in the Afghan National Army.
“For the past three and a half months, I fought day and night, nonstop, in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand Province against an escalating and bloody Taliban offensive. Coming under frequent attack, we held the Taliban back and inflicted heavy casualties. Then I was called to Kabul to command Afghanistan’s special forces. But the Taliban already were entering the city; it was too late.
This is the best explanation to date that I’ve read, to understand why the Afghan army collapsed so quickly. It confirms many ugly reports. The autopsy will stink. The time table to withdraw was too fast, and absurdly, we gave the Taliban an exit date. Trump and Biden will be seen here as guilty of mindless impatience– Penny wise and pound foolish.
Mr. Azizzada is a community organizer based in Los Angeles who has been coordinating efforts to evacuate Afghans from Kabul.
“The day our lives fell apart, Sunday, Aug. 15, I received a call from a close friend in Kabul. Usually cool and confident, vital skills for a community leader in a complex, conflict-ridden place like Afghanistan, my friend now whispered in desperation. “I need to get out,” he said. “Help me.” In the background, I could hear the city bustling nervously as millions of people absorbed the fact of the Taliban’s conquest.”
David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT comment:
Thank you for this report, sad as it is. It is helpful to get details, and we could use more, about what the Taliban are doing to our friends and allies, behind their wall of rhetoric. Clearly, if they meant what they are saying, they wouldn’t be stopping citizens from going to the airport. It is significant, that a NYT commenter the other day, was a vet who served in Afghanistan. He is terrified for his translators and the people who helped his men get around and function. He is horrified by our country’s failure to these people.
David blogs on military, political and environmental matters at InconvenientNews.net
“For years, U.S. officials used a shorthand phrase to describe America’s mission in Afghanistan. It always bothered me: We are there to train the Afghan Army to fight for their own government.
That turned out to be shorthand for everything that was wrong with our mission — the idea that Afghans didn’t know how to fight and just one more course in counterinsurgency would do the trick. Really? Thinking you need to train Afghans how to fight is like thinking you need to train Pacific Islanders how to fish. Afghan men know how to fight. They’ve been fighting one another, the British, the Soviets or the Americans for a long, long time.
It was never about the way our Afghan allies fought. It was always about their will to fight for the corrupt pro-American, pro-Western governments we helped stand up in Kabul. And from the beginning, the smaller Taliban forces — which no superpower was training — had the stronger will, as well as the advantage of being seen as fighting for the tenets of Afghan nationalism: independence from the foreigner and the preservation of fundamentalist Islam as the basis of religion, culture, law and politics. In oft-occupied countries like Afghanistan, many people will actually prefer their own people as rulers (however awful) over foreigners (however well intentioned).
“We learn again from Afghanistan that although America can stop bad things from happening abroad, it cannot make good things happen. That has to come from within a country,” said Michael Mandelbaum, a U.S. foreign policy expert and the author of “Mission Failure: America and the World in the Post-Cold War Era.” “
Updated | The CIA officer sitting across from me at the Silver Diner in McLean, Virginia, seemed nothing like Hollywood’s portrayal of an intelligence agent. It wasn’t so much his appearance—bearded, bald, with glasses and a brown plaid shirt—that belied Ben Bonk’s occupation. Rather, it was the tears in his eyes.
“Maybe if they hadn’t deceived me, I could have done something,” he told me. “Maybe I could have stopped the Iraq War.”
Bonk, a former deputy director of the agency’s Counterterrorist Center and an officer responsible for intelligence on Iraq in the year leading up to the U.S. invasion in 2003, spoke with me on background in June 2010 about events leading to the disastrous war. He died eight months later. Under our agreement, everything he told me is now on the record.
And Bonk’s statements—about deceptions that prevented solid intelligence on Iraq from reaching President George W. Bush, as well as other information kept from the public during the buildup to war—are once again in the news as candidates for the Republican presidential nomination fumble with questions about whether that invasion was a mistake. This has been asked of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Senator Marco Rubio, each time with a qualifier: “Given what we know now…”
But with that parenthetical, reporters are perpetuating one of the greatest falsehoods in history. The real question should be: “Given what we knew then…” Bush hawks knew there was no good intelligence establishing that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). And in what could easily be interpreted as near-treason, they never told the president about the weakness of the intelligence, several former high-ranking officials from the administration have told me.
“The Iraq war began sixteen years ago tomorrow. There is a myth about the war that I have been meaning to set straight for years. After no WMDs were found, the left claimed ‘Bush lied. People died.’ This accusation itself is a lie. It’s time to put it to rest.”
— Former Bush administration press secretary Ari Fleischer, in a Twitter thread, March 19, 2019
“Sixteen years after the Iraq War started, the White House press spokesman at the time sought to rebut a claim he called a “liberal myth” — that George W. Bush lied about Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction to launch the invasion. (Never mind that the current Republican president also has made this claim, saying in 2016: “They lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction; there were none.”) . . . . “
“WASHINGTON — After decades of failing to curb sexual assault in the armed forces, lawmakers and Pentagon leaders are poised to make major changes in military laws that many experts have long argued stand in the way of justice.
A bill championed by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, would remove military commanders from a role in prosecuting service members for sexual assault and has gained support from scores of key members of Congress. Among them is Senator Joni Ernst, Republican of Iowa and a retired National Guard lieutenant colonel, who said her own experience with assault and her daughter’s stories from West Point helped shift her views on the issue.
“I have been torn,” Ms. Ernst said in an interview. “On the one hand, I was a commander in the National Guard and know how important that role is. But also, as a sexual assault survivor, I know we have to do more. I never really wanted to take this out of chain of command, but we are not seeing a difference.”