For the first time since I’ve been of voting age, I finally managed to support an anti-war president; and to think I almost didn’t.
Not that I don’t continue to have reservations about Biden’s political record; I absolutely do. In the sixties he called mixed-race schools “racial jungles” and he worked on legislation empowering private prisons and the drug war. Considering how the enforcement of drug laws has typically been carried out, it paints a scary picture in conjunction with the “racial jungle” comment. He even co-authored a bill with Strom Thurmond that expanded civil asset forfeiture to those convicted of drug crimes. He then laundered his image by running alongside Barack Obama in 2008.
(To clarify: civil asset forfeiture is when the police are empowered to preemptively seize property or money if they think you are going to use them to commit a crime. Essentially, it’s when law enforcement takes your stuff because they think you might do something illegal)
Joe Biden’s record could reflect corruption at worst or political opportunism at best. But the withdrawal from Afghanistan has, in my opinion, proven that Joe Biden is already twice the President that either Trump or Obama was. What he has done was both necessary and profoundly brave.
Some obvious objections are the American collaborators we left behind and the return of Islamic theocracy with the Taliban. Regarding our collaborators, it is possible that there was some sort of miscommunication: before the withdrawal, Biden said that military intelligence projected months before any possibility of a Taliban incursion. Right now, though, military intelligence liaisons are telling the media that they always knew the Taliban would instantly take control.
As of this writing, it doesn’t look like the precise mechanics of what wires were crossed with what is in any way clear. But there is room for legitimate criticism there.
The resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, though, has a simpler context which I believe is causing subconscious angst in the media coverage of the withdrawal.
Put simply: it was preventable. Easily preventable. And easily preventable by the Afghans.
America spent roughly eighty-nine billion dollars training the Afghan army. An army that numbered some 300,000, armed with modern American weaponry. The Taliban had 75,000 combatants on their side, with artillery from the eighties and nineties. The Taliban was vastly outnumbered and outgunned.
Yet the stronger Afghan army instantly cleared the way for them and the Afghan head of state disappeared. The only way that could have happened is if they wanted it to.
America gave Afghanistan every means of support we could possibly offer. But all the money and weapons in the world can’t make a nation do what she does not want to.
The shallow and obtuse pearl-clutching in the mainstream media strikes me as more psychological than moral. If a western-style democracy is not the prerogative of the Afghan people, it makes it impossible to avoid the conclusion that our stated motive of benevolent statecraft was never truly about the Afghan people.
Let us be clear: our recently stated motive of benevolent state craft.
After the death of Bin Laden, it became impossible to pretend that our military presence in the Muslim world had anything to do with 9/11. So the justification then had to be an altruistic effort on behalf of the people of Afghanistan and Iraq.
This reframing took place during the administration of Barack Obama. After quarantine and the end of the Trump presidency, nostalgia is now more sacrosanct than ever. Everyone wants to get back to normal and Barack Obama is one of the symbols of life before 2016-2020.
To admit that an altruistic effort to establish western-style democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq was never the desire of those nations touches a nerve. Both Trump and Obama won droves of voters with the promise to end American intervention in the Middle East. Many (perhaps most) Americans probably voted for one President or the other. And both of them welched on their anti-war platforms. To cling to the fantasy that either Trump or Obama represent some lost state of greatness is to buy into the belief that A. we were right to support their anti-war platforms and B. they were right to welch on them.
These two articles of faith are reconciled in a narrative of maturation: we were once youthful idealists but we learned hard lessons. In this narrative, it follows that the fine points of responsibility require us to eradicate tyranny in the Muslim world and leave them with representative governments. This leads to a perpetually receding goal post and permission to chase it forever.
To let go of what Obama and Trump represented is to admit just how deeply we were lied to. And the last thing anyone wants to do as they pine for the good old days is to lose more of their illusions.
The falsehood of our altruistic claims is particularly glaring in light of the parties who have benefited from our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. Jon Schwarz, writing for The Intercept, reports that a 10,000$ investment in defense stocks at the beginning of the Afghan war would now be worth 100,000$. A recent tweet from Public Citizens listed the returns on defense stocks during the Afghan war:
Now that we realize that our stated aspirations could not have been realized, we are forced to ask who benefited from it all. The answer to that is a tough pill to swallow for a lot of us. We pursued a political program for those who did not want it for no better reason than the enrichment of defense contractors. We are now forced to grapple with this, and hopefully we will be more clear-eyed in our voting and political scrutiny.
Less money squandered on foreign occupations can also allow us to re-allocate resources to fight climate change. Billions to trillions of dollars every year, now freed up. You know, so there can be some humans walking around after we’re dead carrying our genetic code.