Slinking Away from Afghanistan

W.J. Astore

I retired from the U.S. military in 2005. I had no direct role in America’s Afghan war, which means I have no personal stake in trying to justify it or defend it. I never understood how invading and occupying portions of Afghanistan made any sense.

In re-reading a few of my articles against the Afghan war, I came across this email from a dear friend who put it better than I ever could:

I feel sometimes like our military leaders don’t really think of the human cost [of war], even today. I went to church today and I wiped away many tears as they told the story of a member’s son whose legs were recently blown off in Afghanistan, and of a chaplain in Iraq who was there with dying soldiers. These stories, and working and living with military families for all these years has really humanized war and made it so personal to me — but I don’t think most Americans have this personal connection.

Personal email to author, 2012.

For me, my friend’s words sum up the great tragedy of this war. So many lives lost or damaged, most of them not American, and for what? What were America’s leaders thinking? What were they feeling, or failing to feel?

Obviously, the Afghan war was never America’s to win. Young troops were sent there on a fool’s errand. They may have tried hard — real hard — but they failed. Yet that failure wasn’t their fault. That failure was Bush’s and Obama’s and Trump’s. That failure was shared by a Congress that refused to exercise true oversight. That failure was aggravated by all those who profited from a doomed effort. Small wonder that Americans put so little faith and trust in their government today. We’ve been lied to so often by callous politicians with no skin in the game.

As the Taliban consolidates its control over much of Afghanistan, the entire U.S. and Coalition war effort stands in high relief as a debacle and disaster. Just as South Vietnam’s quick fall in 1975 revealed the dishonesty of U.S. government officials (along with the Pentagon Papers, Watergate, and so many other events), the ongoing collapse of America’s position in Afghanistan highlights a system that lacks integrity and honesty.

We lose because we’re craven and dishonest. We lose because we forget the personal costs of war. We lose because we fail to pay attention. We lose because we’re greedy and stupid.

Yes, I’m angry. I’ve written far too many articles against America’s Afghan war. Of course, they changed nothing. Even now, as the evidence is all around us of how much we’ve been lied to about “progress” in Afghanistan, there are still officials who argue we should stay and fight. For what reasons? To what end?

As journalist Megan Stack put it in a recent article in The New Yorker,

As the United States rushes to remove its troops from Afghanistan this summer, the Pentagon has imposed a de-facto press blackout on their departure. The military has ignored requests for embeds, denied pleas for even perfunctory interviews with troops, and generally worked to obstruct the public’s view of the United States pulling up stakes … the obfuscation was predictable. Leaving a country that many expect will now collapse into civil war, the United States has no victory to declare; it can only acknowledge the reality of relinquishment and retreat … [T]he outcome in Afghanistan was ignominious. The conflict will cost taxpayers more than two trillion dollars, including veteran care and interest on war borrowing, according to the Costs of War project at Brown University, which also estimates that more than a hundred and seventy thousand people died in the conflict, counting Afghan forces, Taliban fighters, and contractors. That figure includes twenty-four hundred U.S. troops and forty-seven thousand civilians who died in a project that failed at its most basic goal of defeating the Taliban, who are now surging back to seize control of districts and, according to human-rights groups, carrying out organized revenge killings.

Will anyone in the U.S. government be held accountable for this “ignominious” debacle? This disaster?

Isn’t it sad that we already know that “Not only no, but hell no!” is the answer here?

Update: For what it’s worth, this was my original opening to this article: As the Taliban quickly expands its control over Afghanistan, the dishonesty of the U.S. military and government is revealed. More than a trillion dollars spent over two decades, all those reports of progress in creating Afghan security forces and a centralized government, all the lives lost, and for what?

49 thoughts on “Slinking Away from Afghanistan

    1. Excellent article that should be read by history teachers to their students in all our high schools.

      I lost a girl friend years ago in August of 2000 when I defended the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki( she was a Quaker ). Like many Americans who have been lied to, I believed the story that it was to save American lives. Much later I learned the real reason. Truman did it to impress the Soviets that the U.S. had a weapon that could wipe out entire cities and they didn’t. Already the U.S. was jockeying for position in the post WWII world.

      Truman knew the Japanese wanted to surrender, they were practically pounding on his door! The only sticking point was the inviolability of their emperor. They would not tolerate Hirohito being tried as a war criminal ( which he was ). The destruction of their army in Northern China by the Soviets was the deciding factor, because the Japanese knew the Russians were intent on revenge for their defeat in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05.

      The reason I go into these historical points is that we have all been lied to regarding what has really happened in our ( U.S. ) history. I am sure every country is the same, but as an American, I am responsible for knowing what my country has done and is doing! This is why I am against all wars unless there is a real existential threat. That is not ever going to be the case for the U.S. because we have two oceans and two benign neighbors making up our borders.

      As Bob Marley sang: “Know your history, know your destiny” and
      Mark Twain: “History doesn’t repeat but it does rhyme.”

      Liked by 2 people

      1. It’s unfortunate, I believe, that you have gone from believing one wrong rationale for the dropping of the A-bombs on Japan to believing another wrong one for dropping them, the one I call the Oliver Stone rationale. Actually, the more authoritative voice for that explanation is the Japanese-American historian, Tsuyoshi Hasegawa. I believe that I blow them both out of the water with “Oliver Stone on the Japanese Surrender.” http://www.dcdave.com/article5/130122.htm

        As one who also happens to be the leading authority on the assassination of Secretary of Defense James Forrestal, I am, of course, shunned by the National Opinion-Molding Apparatus (NOMA).

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  1. As a result of the voluntary military they say that less than 2% of Americans get to actually fight and kill and be killed in these wars. So your average American is not really affected.
    The US needs to bring back the draft WJA as you suggested in your excellent blog with your 10-points of a military for America.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. and the initial troops drafted, straightaway, should be the sons, daughters, and grandchildren of the senate, house of representatives, the justice dept., the supreme court, members and myrmidons of the white house, the pentagon, and DC’s MIC lobbyists. their progeny should be called up first.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. It’s the definition of “hubris” American-style:
    The Faint Voice of Reason: “Stay out of Southeast Asia. Look what happened to the French.”
    Joint Chiefs of Staff: “That was the French.”
    (Time passes, which usually brings change, but …)
    TFVofR: “For God’s sake, don’t get involved in Afghanistan. Look what happened to the Russians.”
    JCofS: “That was the Russians.”
    And The Chorus wails on.
    Next up, Euripides reporting “live” from The Pentagram …

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I know at the time of 9/11 vengeance was in the air. We were like a heavy punching heavyweight boxer who swings from the hip. All the firepower we could muster was delivered in mass quantities. The Taliban had no chance of standing against us toe to toe.

    Once again we underestimated our enemies willingness to fight. It seems incredible in a way to read about the ferocious resistance by the German Military and Japanese in 1944-45 even when certain defeat was at hand for them. We underestimated the willingness of the VC and NVA to persist in fighting.

    I remember the ridiculous attempts by the McMega-Media, State Department and the Pentagon to portray all these local war lords, drug lords etc., as some noble Afghan allies fighting alongside us. The corruption was there we just injected it with steroids. A puppet government was set-up to be our front man, which included the facade of elections.

    I recall telling people after I came home from Vietnam in 1971, the ARVN and South Vietnamese Government will collapse as soon as the last American Combat Troops leave. All that heady bragging about the ARVN being able to hold their own was a mirage.

    Likewise the same melody played out in Afghanistan the lyrics changed but the tune was the same. The expectation of the Afghan Puppet Armed Forces holding their own was a mirage. The Taliban will now exact their own form of vengeance perhaps on a Khmer Rouge level.

    The likely message to America will be that old reliable – “We need to Move On”. There will be no introspection or analysis beyond some platitudes. Generals will write some books about “If Only we had bombed more or deployed more troops”, etc.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. There have been 2,372 U.S. military deaths in the War in Afghanistan. 20,320 American servicemembers have also been wounded in action during the war. In addition, there were 1,720 U.S. civilian contractor fatalities, for a total of 4,096 Americans killed during the war.
      All told, the cost of nearly 18 years of war in Afghanistan will amount to more than $2-trillion.
      And American veterans will be be looked after for years to come in VA hospitals and mental health facilities.
      All for what – absolutely nothing.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yup only a Dog knows better after experience to be triple dog dared into another catastrophic “Police Action” like the Country hasn’t yet. Maybe we should dress our Leaders up in silly costumes like our Dogs on Halloween then really bring shame to them for these ill ventures…!

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    2. U.S. Generals need to take the advice of one of their own a 5 Star whom you’ll probably remember, and even real Stars in the Cosmos do it too eventually too in their own life cycle… “Old Soldiers never die they just fade away”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. 5 Star Gen. MacArthur also had the Guts to say the truth as well even when it was unpopular and thought wrong by the Majority— not like these gutless wonder Gen’s we have now. If you want to be remembered in this Life you have to take a Stand…

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I guess I should clarify that if you’re going to enter into any War you’ve got to go all in…! Like MacArthur wanted to do, but of course even though we probably would’ve won the Korean War with his military strategies— the steps to do that would have proved too costly, and the Countries support wasn’t there after just coming out of W.W.ll…

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          1. This Country is now becoming like a Whipped Dog bringing shame & fear to its loved ones…:/ :o)

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          2. Yes! You caught the reference. “Slink away like a whipped dog bringing shame and fear to its loved ones.” I think you taught me that saying. 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

    3. Sarah Chayes’ book Thieves of State documents the corruption in the US-supported regime in Afghanistan and how the US leaders did not seem to care.

      Her later book On Corruption in America should be a must read for the American public.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Lifted from an Associated Press story posted on the always reliably Yahoo! News Feed:
    “The sweep comes despite condemnations by the international community and warnings from the United Nations that a military victory and takeover by the Taliban would not be recognized.”
    Gotta love the last four words. If that doesn’t stop the Taliban dead in their tracks and send them scurrying home, it will certainly strengthen the resolve of the crack US-trained Afghan security forces and comfort the general population, as well as lovers of freedom and democracy around the world.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Look forward, not backward!

      A new riddle: If a U.S.-proxy government falls in the world and the U.N. isn’t there to recognize it, can the American people pretend it never happened?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I recall that until the US started giving weapons and training Afghan ‘freedom fighters’ in the late 1970s, women in Kabul went to university, held professional jobs, and so forth.

    It seems like US tax dollars are used to support the worst thugs in every country it engages in. One might conclude that destroying societies is a feature, not a bug, of US policy establishment.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. One of the primary reasons for the Taliban forming and rebelling against the Afghan government of the time was that the government had started educating females. Zbigniew Brzezinski is on record (years after the fact in interviews but confirmed by subsequently released records) as saying he decided that arranging arms and funding for the Taliban would likely provoke the U.S.S.R. into intervening militarily in support of the government and hopefully involve them in a long, costly, unwinnable guerrilla war. He succeeded. When the U.S.S.R. withdrew (and soon after broke up) the U.S. just walked away from Afghanistan. He was proud of this. In one interview he asked the rhetorical question “What’s more important? Some riled up Muslims or the destruction of a nuclear armed existential threat to the U.S.? Amazingly, later on in the interview I listened to (well into the 90s) he was also asked about a “Peace Dividend” and whether the U.S. shouldn’t be able to reduce military spending now that the U.S.S.R. was gone. He answered that by saying that, no, reduction in military spending wasn’t a good idea because “security experts” agreed that the world had become a more unstable and dangerous place since the breakup of the Soviet Union.

      I’m not the sort of person that believes in Hell and eternal punishment but some people sure tempt me to almost wish that it existed.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, that is “conventional” Washington thinking.

        Look, the Nazis and Japanese are defeated! Let’s demobilize the military!

        No, we can’t do that! The world is now more unstable with our enemies gone.

        GIs were not having it in 1945. They almost demobilized themselves.

        But then came the new Department of Defense, Korea, and the Communist threat, and we’ve been fully mobilized ever since.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. All I can say is AMEN Brother William! Keep preaching, don’t lose faith in your mission to expose the dangerous militarisms of our time. When this gaseous, phony, propaganda pumped- up, clunker finally thuds to the ground, there will be many participants who will need an understanding soul to help sort out all the madness that this grandiose mis-adventure has placed upon the doorsteps of their minds. That is the true cost of this war… it’s the captured believers watching the efforts the participants performed come crumbling down in such short fashion. There aren’t enough therapists in the world to free the jagged memories that have been lined up in formation and will now rumble through the damaged terrains of their thought capacities. Instead of seeing the remembrance of hands extended and a helping grasp lifting another human up from desperate conditions; the MIC has gifted them with lie filled chyrons flashing across the mental screens of the horrific acts they participated in; haunted by the encouragement of greedy leaders; their deadly mantras ringing in their ears. What a colossal failure delivered by the ignorant in charge chasing a fools errand. Think they learned anything????? Nawwww!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. our assault on the benighted, besieged, and beleaguered vietnamese occurred 60 YEARS AGO, yet the gormless US flag-wavers learned nothing then, nor have their progeny and grand-progeny learned anything since. the CMIC could not care less b/c their offshore accounts remain bursting to tumescence. the CMIC’s progeny should be the first to be drafted if those heartless slubberdegulions and troglodytes are so feckless as to assault yet another nation as they commit our human and fiscal resources toward their neoteric ‘pivot’ to the asia-pacific.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Here’s a powerful piece by Caitlin Johnstone on America’s colossal failure in Afghanistan:
    https://caitlinjohnstone.com/2021/08/11/afghanistan-proves-the-us-military-needs-its-budget-slashed-to-ribbons/

    Her point about the need to slash the Pentagon’s budget is spot on.

    But my guess is this: The Pentagon is getting a budgetary boost (a bribe) to buy the generals’ acquiescence in finally putting an end to this disastrous war. Basically, Biden made a deal with the generals: don’t make too much noise against the troop pullout, and your budget will be boosted. In sum, once again the Pentagon is being rewarded for failure.

    I can’t prove my guess, but …

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I think of the “who lost China” uproar after Mao took over, as if China (or Afghanistan) is ours to win or lose. Our epic self-regard blinds us to the rest of the world.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. again clif9710, the US suffers from a mental disorder that psychiatrists might diagnose as ‘hubristic exceptionalism’. the perplexity is, how did this happen? when in american history did such arrogance raise its ugly head from the US frogbog of immigrants who summarily, savagely, and categorically wiped out the continent’s original people who had been occupying NA, including the arctic, for millennia. my grandfather emigrated from prague, bohemia [now the czech republic] in the early 20th century. was he complicit in this homicidal devastation, even tho’ he was a violinist who fiddled away w/ the cleveland symphony orchestra and the eastman school of music in rochester, NY? or my great grandfather who emigrated from edinburgh, scotland, to open a law practice in rochester? indirectly, i would have to conclude YES. they were all complicit, including my other welsh, scot, and norwegian progenitors.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree that if you don’t do anything to change a situation, if you simply ignore things, then you are complicit in whatever is done by a democracy that does it in your name. I certainly did my share of ignoring things in earlier life. Entertainment and a thousand ways of keeping busy allow us to easily ignore things that we should at least inform ourselves about. We know that the lobbies are very happy to run the government without our input, in fact in spite of it. America sets the standard for providing a system that allows, even encourages, its citizens to be ignorant to the point that quite a number of us are now defiantly so.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Afghanistan according to CNN: “The Taliban has taken control of Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city, as the group’s rapid siege moves closer to the capital city of Kabul. One expert predicted the fall of Kandahar would be viewed as a “death knell” for the country’s government and military. The US Embassy in Kabul is once again urging American citizens to leave Afghanistan immediately amid the Taliban’s recent gains. The US is also sending some 3,000 troops to Afghanistan to assist with the departure of embassy staff and to support the evacuation of other personnel, including Afghan allies who applied for Special Immigrant Visas. The embassies of Germany, France and the United Kingdom have also urged their citizens to leave Afghanistan.”

    So, who’s responsible for this? There are already people blaming the Democrats and Joe Biden, truly a sign we’re the United States of Amnesia. But it’s also a sign that Afghanistan has often largely been driven by domestic politics in the U.S., much like the Vietnam War. Domestic politics and the desire for war profits, along with the usual hubris, doomed the U.S. in both of these wars.

    Indeed, we equate Afghanistan with war. We equated Vietnam with war. We simply refuse to see them as people like us, people who resent outsiders and foreigners telling them what to do and how to live.

    As long as America’s wars are driven by greed and domestic politics, as long as we have no empathy for “foreigners” caught in these wars, they will end in collapse and defeat.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah yes, as if on cue for the “Who Lost Afghanistan” : Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell has condemned the White House for sticking to Biden’s plan of withdrawing all US troops from Afghanistan by the end of the month.

      “Afghanistan is careening toward a massive, predictable, and preventable disaster,” McConnell said in a statement.

      “The latest news of a further draw down at our Embassy and a hasty deployment of military forces seem like preparations for the fall of Kabul. President Biden’s decisions have us hurtling toward an even worse sequel to the humiliating fall of Saigon in 1975.”

      Mitch of course offers no plan to “Save” Afghanistan. As far as know Mitch has just sat on the sidelines watching for over decade. Gee, “a massive, predictable, and preventable disaster”. Massive and predictable for sure – Preventable – It was not Preventable.

      The Neo-Cons will start emerging and slamming Biden’s Premature Withdrawal. I do not believe there will be any political damage to Biden. Americans long ago blocked Afghanistan from their collective minds, except those who had loved ones “over there”.

      Probably in 10 years an NPR Documentary will air on Afghanistan – Here is the story line a Noble Cause, Noble Ambitions, mistakes were made – It was no one’s fault.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes, the 3,000 are to evacuate the US diplomats. It’s Afghanistan. How many diplomats could we possibly have there? (And while we’re at it, how many of those “diplomats” draw paychecks from that mythical hydra-headed entity know as the “intelligence community”? Just wondering. Talk about stealing taxpayer money.)

        Liked by 1 person

  10. And the hits just keep on coming … advice to the next Pentagram PR liaison officer: Going forward, avoid using the phrase “this won’t be another Vietnam.” I mean, I could be wrong, but everything about what’s going on in Afghanistan sure sounds like – how else can one put it? – Vietnam, ca 1975.

    Liked by 1 person

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