Published in The Jerusalem Report on September 13, 2021.
Score one for Sunni Jihadism. Twenty years after 9/11 and two years after America’s victory over ISIS, another Islamist caliphate has returned to the scene, this time in Afghanistan, where scores of Muslim terror organizations will reconstitute under the umbrella of the new Islamic emirate.
Shi’ite jihadism in the Islamic Republic of Iran is also in ascendancy with the withdrawal of America from the Middle East. There is likely to be a lull in any overseas terror operations with a patient Taliban and al Qaeda, but what about the future?
Will Americans forgive their leadership, if terror strikes the homeland or if the US is forced to return to the Middle East as it did after the Iraq withdrawal to confront ISIS? ISIS and the Taliban are two sides of the same coin.
Was the withdrawal a wise and courageous decision, as US President Joe Biden’s defenders claim, or was it foreign policy malpractice? The administration is trying to make the case that the choice was a renewed war with many more troops on the ground or a complete withdrawal.
This was and is a straw-man argument to cover a blunder that will undermine US and allied security interests for years to come. More mistakes are on the horizon as Biden is an enthusiastic supporter of returning to the ill-conceived Iran nuclear deal, another foreign policy catastrophe he would add to his repertoire.
Just days before the chaos at the Kabul airport with Afghanis storming the airport in total panic, Biden said, “The Taliban is not the North Vietnamese army. There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy of the United States from Afghanistan.”
Yes, the Taliban are not the North Vietnamese. They are more akin to ISIS and al Qaeda, jihadists who use religion to rationalize taking young women as sex slaves, living in the dark ages.
Let us remember who the Taliban are. They are one of the world’s great drug dealers, ruining countless people’s lives. According to an article in Foreign Policy by the Bureau Chief for AFP and AP from 2009-2017, the Taliban were first the opium kings, but recently their insurgency runs on the sale of billions of dollars in methamphetamine made from the ephedra plant, a cheaper and more profitable business.
Its product ends up on the shores of the US, just as their jihadist cousin Hezbollah sends its additive drugs from South America to poison young Americans, both fueling an opioid epidemic while bankrolling terror. Who said Sunni and Shi’ite jihadists didn’t have anything in common?
You know that something is amiss when CNN, a reliably pro-Biden media outlet, has wall-to-wall coverage eviscerating the president’s judgment on Afghanistan. Showing videos of streets without women who are too afraid to leave their homes, chaos at the Kabul airport with desperate people falling from the sky as they cling onto the fuselage of American planes as they departed Afghanistan, the public relations nightmare makes Joe Biden look like Jimmy Carter during the Iran hostage crisis. No one can say that Biden was not warned of what could occur.
In an NBC News interview, the head of US forces in Afghanistan, Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie said, “What we’re here for is to prevent al Qaeda and ISIS from being able to reconstitute in the ungoverned spaces, generally of eastern Afghanistan, and be able to plot attacks against our homeland… That threat is still here today.”
McKenzie said US counterterrorism forces had made it impossible for al Qaeda to regenerate and carry out its plans against the West. “If that pressure comes off, I believe they’re going to regenerate… and I think it’s only a matter of time before we see them assert themselves and begin to plan attacks against our homeland.”
Axios reported that chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley told senators on the day Kabul fell that terrorists will reconstitute in Afghanistan sooner than expected. Ryan Crocker, Obama’s ambassador to Afghanistan, said I think it is damning for him (Biden) to have created this situation…It’s an unforced error.”
Biden should have learned how a premature withdrawal can go profoundly wrong after he witnessed this firsthand as Obama’s VP, Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 that created the conditions for the rise of the Islamic State, only to have America pulled back into another war under much worse circumstances. As politics, not American security interests, obscure an honest debate of what went wrong in Afghanistan, it is worth pausing and remembering America’s original goal for Afghanistan.
Our original goal was not nation-building but to take the fight to the terrorists, giving them no safe haven, so there would be no more attacks on the American homeland. There has not been an attack on American soil from Sunni terrorists given safe harbor in Afghanistan for twenty years. That mission was accomplished and could have continued with a small American footprint, but Biden thought he knew better.
A Wall Street Journal editorial pulled no punches, hitting the nail on the head. “President Biden’s statement (during the fall of Kabul) washing his hands of Afghanistan deserves to go down as one of the most shameful in history by a Commander in Chief at such a moment of American retreat.” Biden refused to listen to his advisors or the Afghanistan Study Group. “Mr. Biden, as always too assured of his own foreign-policy acumen, refused to listen.”
The US’s small presence gave it disproportionate leverage to keep the status quo. Biden was untruthful when he said the 3,500 US troops were doing the brunt of the fighting for the Afghani soldiers. The mission could have continued if Biden hadn’t removed the very small contingent of soldiers. America has not lost a single soldier in Afghanistan in the last 18 months. Although the nation-building experiment was at best a mixed result, there is no question that millions of women’s lives in Afghanistan changed for the better, and yes, the US did have that objective in mind while it was there.
Kimberley Motley, a human rights attorney who worked in Afghanistan for 13 years, called the current situation a “human rights nightmare.” The administration may still try to put lipstick on this generational foreign policy humiliation, but it still will stink like ten-dayold fish.
As chaos reigned in Kabul, Biden “warned the Taliban that any action on their part on the ground in Afghanistan that puts US personnel or its mission at risk there will be met with a swift and strong US military response.” Who was he kidding?
Biden was disingenuous when he said he inherited Trump’s deal with the Taliban and couldn’t have done anything about it. Just as Trump reversed Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, and Biden is trying to re-enter that same agreement, Biden could have easily bypassed the Trump agreement with the Taliban mainly because the Taliban had already reneged on its obligations. Trump was wrong on Afghanistan as he was about the Kurds, but Biden uses him as a fall guy for his own incompetence. It’s even unfair to Trump to presume to know what he would have done, as circumstances evolved; he changed course on many things in his tenure; that’s for sure.
During the August weekend of the fall of Kabul, the Democratic leadership paraded Jake Auchincloss, a progressive Massachusetts Congressman who was an Afghan war veteran, on all of the Sunday talk shows. He said, “This president inherited a decision that was wrenching – it was not status quo or withdraw, it was to ramp up American forces in Afghanistan to hold the Taliban at bay… or it was to end a failed forever war finally.” Or was it?
With many more Congressional war veterans excoriating the Biden administration for gross negligence and mismanagement, Mr. Auchincloss was sent out as a sacrificial lamb against the tide of evidence showing America as an unreliable ally, a paper tiger, bungling its withdrawal, looking more like the Keystone Cops than the world’s superpower.
Revealingly, the congressman misspoke when he said that if we stayed for 20 years, “we would keep the wolves at bay.” That is precisely the point. The US could have kept Afghanistan from becoming a terrorist nation for years to come with a minimal American commitment. We just needed to maintain the status quo and control the Bagram airbase to back up an Afghani army that could hold off those wolves enough for years to come.
So who are the winners and losers? In the region, American allies are the big losers. Israel, Jordan, what is left of pro-America Iraq, Egypt, and the Gulf states now realize that America can make profound decisions undermining their interests at a moment’s notice, leaving them to bear the consequences alone. Iran and Israel’s jihadist neighbors in Gaza and Lebanon have been filled with more self-confidence.
The Taliban can thank Pakistan for refuge and support. But will the Pakistani Taliban rise and try to establish a caliphate in Islamabad? Qatar may be prescient, knowing that the US has foreign policy ADHD, attention deficit disorder. Qatar for years hosted Sunni Islamist extremists like Hamas, the Taliban, and the Muslim Brotherhood, as an insurance policy against American impatience with the region.
It is a two-way street for the Taliban’s superpower neighbors. On the one hand, the hated Americans are humiliated. On the other, there is a concern in Russia and China that the Islamist victory will inspire their repressed Muslim populations to agitate for change. Russia has terrible memories of Afghanistan; its invasion was in part responsible for the fall of the Soviet Union.
As Victor Davis Hansen says, “China, Russia, and Iran surely interpret this shambolic performance as a sign of exploitable weakness and poor judgment. From the peaks of Pakistan to the sands of the Sahel, fanatical jihadists discouraged by the failure of ISIS sense a fresh and favorable turn of events with the arrival of their greatest victory since 9/11.” Russia will realize that it can take more risks in Ukraine and with its former satellites.
As for the Far East nations, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, etc, will they trust America to keep its word and help them defend themselves from a predatory China? At the very least, it will be a more challenging lift for the US to convince them.
As Noah Rothman writes in Commentary, “It is unnervingly obvious what we’ve lost: national prestige, vast sums of political capital, credibility on the world stage and, most tangibly, our security. The world is much more dangerous today.”
No amount of political spin can change that.