Thoughtless: Disjointed Reflections on Afghanistan

What follows is a chronicle of every thought I have swimming around in my head upon reading the news that now ex-President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, left the country, the Taliban took Kabul following a modern-day blitzkrieg, and we are re-introduced to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

The Law School Perspective: Separation of Powers

Our system of government is founded upon the idea of checks and balances, separation of powers. Perhaps it was an ideological tilt I didn’t pick up in my constitutional law class, or perhaps it was a simple, true re-telling of events that elucidates and illuminates the American government’s present organization, but the lesson was this: The Executive branch has taken more and more power since this country’s founding, seemingly with the consent of Congress and, at times, the Judiciary’s sanction.

Emergency circumstances—that is to say, real world application—have at multiple times clashed with the ideological intention of The Founders, some of them, anyway. In order to build the nation, the federal government needed to grow with the establishment of a central bank, following the Revolutionary War; in order to protect its existence, the Executive needed to suspend the writ of habeas corpus during the Civil War; in order to ensure its national security, this country did not battle armies, but insurgents—we did not enter wars, but became embattled in armed conflicts; no declaration of war would be needed—Congress was not needed—when America needed to fight terrorists.

20 years. The War on Terror was lost in less than a week. Did terror win? Were we fighting the Taliban? Secretary of State Blinken said over the weekend that Kabul falling was not like Saigon falling—that, actually, we had already won. We won many years ago when we worked to prevent future attacks from Afghanistan. We won back in 2011 when we killed Osama bin Laden. We put vast sums of money, resources, and personnel into the country to prepare and build the Afghan forces to fight the Taliban.

Now the Taliban have taken complete control of the country. If this is not loss, then why were we there? If it had made no difference to us what happened after we killed bin Laden, what were the additional ten years meant to achieve? I thought we were holding off the Taliban. Turns out they were only weeks away, at any one point, from completely overrunning the, so we thought, well-equipped and well-trained Afghan forces.

It would seem to me that the American people were left completely in the blind about the situation in Afghanistan. Congress, too, must have had at least one eye covered if it didn’t catch on how close the Taliban were, at all times, from wresting back control from what turned out to be an army of straw. And this is where we can make an argument for the wisdom of the Founders. It is Congress, after all, that should hold the power to declare war, not the Executive. It is Congress who handles the money and who we could hold accountable for its mismanagement.

What is this situation if not a gross, ludicrous mismanagement of funds? $1 trillion dollars. Defense contractors, aid, training, munitions, weapons, etc. etc. etc., gone. Perhaps this is too negative a viewpoint. I assume and hope we built some schools, hospitals, critical infrastructure that improved the lives of the Afghan people, particularly the women and girls. They, the women and girls, won’t much benefit now, will they? Islamic Emirate? Why was Malala shot in the head again?

I hope Congress realizes their folly now, letting this war go on for this long. Plenty in Congress were ready to continue it, in apparent perpetuity. How blighted and naked they should look now—and how disgusting their outrage that we see what they were either trying to hide or were too inept to realize. The entire venture was an utter failure. The Trump administration acknowledged there was no way forward when it invited the Taliban to peace talks. The Biden administration left in astonishing alarm, before the deadline it had set for itself passed. I remember listening to Biden on C-SPAN, when he was interviewed by reporters, respond to a question with a logical fallacy. He said Afghanistan would not fall to the Taliban because the size of the forces between the Afghan government and the Taliban was so vast, that the mere existence of the disparity in numbers alone meant the Taliban could not win. A force 300,000 forces strong means nothing, we now see, when they don’t care to fight.

If Only We Were Honest

Does America self-identify as an empire, or not? One moment we’re toppling governments and the next we’re promoting democracy and human rights. One moment we’re nation building and the next we’re imposing economic sanctions. One moment we’re intervening and the next we’re disseminating a press release that states we’re ‘deeply troubled by the situation’ in x country. If America were interested in pillaging resources in relative peace, then it could take a page from European colonial powers, declare that Afghanistan was theirs, just as Belgium claimed the Congo, and own its brutality—or oil, whatever was to be gained from our presence.

If America were interested in solely promoting its ideals, rather than empire-building, then it would never step foot in another country. At the very least, it wouldn’t seek to create an army in a foreign land. America would instead trade. America would employ soft power whenever possible and continue to develop its military might in the background. America’s vacillation between empire and not-empire characterizes the world’s superpower as the Jekyll and Hyde of international relations, though it’s increasingly difficult to tell which face is which, or whether either of them is doing any good.

And why is the supposedly secular West still keeping religion around? Here is all the worry for how women and girls are going to be treated under the Taliban now that the ruling government is going to impose an austere interpretation of Islam, as if women and girls in other Muslim countries don’t also have it bad (compared to their Western counterparts). I remember all the talk when ISIS was around not to associate them with the word Islam, because their version of Islam wasn’t the correct version of Islam, whatever that meant. How any Christian person can claim to know the “correct” version of any religion, when Christianity is only outdone in variation by the number of Hindu gods, is beyond me.

Elections

Who in government can really be trusted now? My patience will immediately disappear for any politician who screams in faux outrage over our retreat. Either make a proper declaration of war, Congress, so that we can properly own all mistakes and victories—and audit our money—or pack your bags and go. Pulling out of Afghanistan is, I believe, the right move, but it represents a failure of governance and should therefore be accompanied by the resignation of everyone who supported the deployment of our troops. This would mean that any politician who supported the War on Terror, all the way back in 2001, needs to go.

What could a proponent for the War on Terror say? That we could have stayed, that we could have destroyed the Taliban, that we could have stabilized the region? Would have, could have, should have—easy tales with no way to substantiate the fantasies. And fantasies they would be. If all you’ve accomplished in twenty years can be so quickly washed away, your foundation was obviously, woefully lacking. I always like to think that after every international blunder, America would not embarrass itself again. Iraq should have proved me wrong; Benghazi; Iran; Cuba; Paris; Crimea; Israel; now Afghanistan. I wouldn’t be opposed to America decreasing the size of its international presence—at this point, that’s probably the best thing it can do to preserve its image. This recent string of international failures, in my lifetime, point to leadership that simply can’t handle how thinly its forces have been stretched. America has seemingly failed to rouse the passions of its allies to stand with it at all times and everywhere America feels it’s necessary.

What a profound waste of lives. Hundreds of thousands of lives disrupted, wasted. The War on Terror will serve to show what happens when the American government, particularly Congress, lacks accountability. It is Congress alone that can oust the Executive. It is Congress alone that can stop the flow of money into wasteful endeavors, or at least audit its use. Deflection and blame may be cast on the Executive—who brazenly claimed power for itself—but it’s a power Congress ceded, and which it could easily correct. Watch those in Congress squirm, now that the con has been fully exposed.

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