“WASHINGTON — I’m not one of those people who think women make naturally better leaders than men, more collegial and collaborative. I’ve covered enough women in the upper ranks, and worked for and with enough women, to know that it depends on the individual.
Yet when I look back at 9/11 and the torrent of tragic, perverse blunders that followed, I think about men seized by a dangerous strain of hyper-masculinity; fake tough-guy stuff; a caricature of strength — including the premature “Mission Accomplished” scene of George W. Bush strutting on an aircraft carrier in his own version of “Top Gun.”
All of that empty swaggering ended up sapping America and making our country weaker.
Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld wrecked W.’s presidency, with their overweening ideas about big-stick executive power, developed in the Ford administration when they were feeling crimped by post-Watergate restrictions; with their determination to exorcise our post-Vietnam ambivalence about using force; and with their loony plan to establish America as the sole superpower by preemptively striking potential foes. (Cheney, always ready to bomb despite his five deferments during Vietnam.) And of course, there was that most belligerent and shameful act: sanctioning torture.
This unholy pair of consiglieres played into W.’s fear that he would be called a wimp, as his father once was, if he did not go along with the guns-blazing, facts-be-damned case to sideline Afghanistan and invade Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11.”
“The war in Afghanistan wasn’t a failure. It was a massive success — for those who made a fortune off it.
Consider the case of Hikmatullah Shadman, who was just a teenager when American Special Forces rolled into Kandahar on the heels of Sept. 11. They hired him as an interpreter, paying him up to $1,500 a month — 20 times the salary of a local police officer, according to a profile of him in The New Yorker. By his late 20s, he owned a trucking company that supplied U.S. military bases, earning him more than $160 million.
If a small fry like Shadman could get so rich off the war on terror, imagine how much Gul Agha Sherzai, a big-time warlord-turned-governor, has raked in since he helped the C.I.A. run the Taliban out of town. His large extended family supplied everything from gravel to furniture to the military base in Kandahar. His brother controlled the airport. Nobody knows how much he is worth, but it is clearly hundreds of millions — enough for him to talk about a $40,000 shopping spree in Germany as if he were spending pocket change.
Look under the hood of the “good war,” and this is what you see. Afghanistan was supposed to be an honorable war to neutralize terrorists and rescue girls from the Taliban. It was supposed to be a war that we woulda coulda shoulda won, had it not been for the distraction of Iraq, and the hopeless corruption of the Afghan government. But let’s get real. Corruption wasn’t a design flaw in the war. It was a design feature. We didn’t topple the Taliban. We paid warlords bags of cash to do it.”
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.” “
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.” “
“I once boarded a flight from Dubai to Kabul alongside a team of Afghan soccer players — teenage girls in red uniforms, chatting and laughing much as they might have anywhere else in the world. I thought of those players again after President Biden announced plans for America’s complete military withdrawal from Afghanistan.
I hope they have the means to get out before the Taliban take over again, as sooner or later will most likely happen.
The United States did not go into Afghanistan after 9/11 to improve the status of women. We did so anyway. Millions of girls, whom the Taliban had forbidden to get any kind of education, went to school. Some of them — not nearly enough, but impressive considering where they started from and the challenges they faced — became doctors, entrepreneurs, members of Parliament. A few got to watch their daughters play soccer under the protective shield of Pax Americana.
Those women are now being abandoned. So is every Afghan who struggled to make the country a more humane, hospitable, ethnically and socially tolerant place — some by taking immense personal risks to help U.S. troops, diplomats and aid workers do their jobs. As George Packer writes in The Atlantic, there are some 17,000 such Afghans waiting for the wheels of U.S. bureaucracy to turn so they can get their visas. . . . “
David Lindsay Jr.Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
Thank you Bret Setphens for trying, but no thank you. In researching our fiasco in Vietnam, I discovered the writing of Sun Tzu, who wrote “the Art of War,” about the wisdom accued from about 300 years of civil war in ancient China. He collected a list of important ideas, which included: Never invade another country unless it is an emergency, and then, get in and get out, or the cost of the occupation will be more than any gain you achieved initially. He also wrote, know your enemy better than you know yourself, and, as correctly quoted in the movie “Wall Street,” don’t go into a fight unless you already know you will win. The Chinese are delighted that we waisted 2 trillion dollars in this hopeless occupation, and they would love to see us double our losses. We need to put gigantic sums into our infrastructure, and human capital, and research and developent. I admit that when David Brooks suggested last Friday on the News Hour, that we should maintain a small force as a long term deterent, I knew that that was the only viable argument. But while 500 hundred was enough in nothern Syria, 2500 wasn’t apparently enough in Afgahistan. It will be up the Afghan people to fight or change the Taliban.
David Lindsay Jr is the author of the Tay Son Rebellion about 18th century Vietnam, and blogs at InconvenientNews.Net.
Credit…Illustration by Nicholas Konrad/The New York Times; photograph by Getty Images
“When President Biden announced on Wednesday that the United States would withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, 2021, he appeared to be finally bringing this “forever war” to an end. Although I have waited for this moment for a decade, it is impossible to feel relief. The Sept. 11 attacks took place during my senior year of college, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that followed consumed the entirety of my adult life. Although history books may mark this as the end of the Afghanistan war, it will never be over for many of my generation who fought.
Sometimes there are moments, no more than the span of a breath, when the smell of it returns and once again I’m stepping off the helicopter ramp into the valley. Covered in the ashen dust of the rotor wash, I take in for the first time the blend of wood fires burning from inside lattice-shaped mud compounds, flooded fields of poppies and corn, the sweat of the unwashed and the wet naps that failed to mask it, chicken and sheep and the occasional cow, the burn pit where trash and plastic smoldered through the day, curries slick with oil eaten by hand on carpeted dirt floors, and fresh bodies buried shallow, like I.E.D.s, in the bitter earth.
It’s sweet and earthy, familiar to the farm boys in the platoon who knew that blend of animal and human musk but alien to those of us used only to the city or the lush Southern woods we patrolled during training. Later, at the big bases far from the action, surrounded by gyms and chow halls and the expeditionary office park where the flag and field grade officers did their work, it was replaced by a cologne of machinery and order. Of common parts installed by low-bid contractors and the ocher windblown sand of the vast deserts where those behemoth bases were always located. Relatively safe after the long months at the frontier but dull and lifeless. . . . “