The fall of Kabul: "Women will now be subject to laws from the seventh century" (& failure to follow the South Korea way)

August 16, 2021

Above: Time magazine's cover from 20 years ago, as a humanitarian disaster unfolds today in Afghanistan, particularly for the girls, women and minority groups such as homosexuals at the mercy of the Taliban Islamic radicals.

 

It doesn't look like Kabul will be holding a pride parade next year.

 

[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach four articles on the fall of Kabul (from Haaretz, the NY Times and Wall St Journal). All went online yesterday evening and are published in today's print newspapers.

For short videos of the desperate scenes at Kabul airport as people try and flee, see:

https://twitter.com/i/status/1427122053212098560
https://twitter.com/i/status/1427000691407654914
https://twitter.com/i/status/1427019469755404291

*

(Among recent other dispatches on Afghanistan, see the dispatch of Feb. 20, 2021, titled: "We're handing Afghanistan to the Taliban; middle class Afghans being assassinated in the run-up to US withdrawal".)

 

CONTENTS

1. "What America's Middle Eastern allies can learn from the collapse of Afghanistan" (By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz)
2. "Disaster in Afghanistan Will Follow Us home. Biden owns the moment. He'll also own the consequences" (By Bret Stephens, New York Times)
3. "Biden's Afghanistan Surrender. The President tries to duck responsibility for a calamitous withdrawal" (Wall Street Journal editorial)
4. "Nancy Pelosi on Afghan Women" (Wall Street Journal editorial)

 

(EXTRACTS from articles below)

UNFAIR TO THE SOUTH VIETNAMESE

(Haaretz) The comparisons being made between the fall of Kabul to Taliban fighters and the fall of Saigon, with its iconic photographs of U.S. helicopters evacuating American personnel from city rooftops, are unfair to the South Vietnamese. They persevered for over two years after the U.S. military departed in early 1973, until Saigon fell in April 1975. The Afghan National Army has melted away before U.S. troops even departed.

*

The United States can't fix a failed state. For Israel, which is surrounded by two failed states in Lebanon and Syria, and two others that could rapidly be on the brink of failure in Egypt and Jordan, this is a sobering conclusion.

Ironically, in the last two decades of U.S. campaigns in the Middle East and Afghanistan, the only foreign military intervention that actually achieved its objectives was that of Russia in Syria. Saving and propping up a dictator by bombing hospitals and bakeries in rebel-held areas, as the Russian Air Force did on behalf of the Assad regime, is much easier than establishing democracy and equality for women.

*

"WOMEN WILL BECOME CHATTEL"

(New York Times) The killing in Afghanistan won't stop. Watch -- if you have the stomach -- videos of the aftermath of an attack in May on Afghan schoolgirls, which left 90 dead, or the massacre of 22 Afghan commandos in June, gunned down as they were surrendering, or Taliban fighters taunting an Afghan police officer, shortly before they kill him for the crime of making comic videos.

Women will become chattel. There are roughly 18 million women and girls in Afghanistan. They will now be subject to laws from the seventh century. They will not be able to walk about with uncovered faces or be seen in public without a male relative. They will not be able to hold the kinds of jobs they've fought so hard to get over the last 20 years: journalists, teachers, parliamentarians, entrepreneurs. Their daughters will not be allowed to go to school or play sports or consent to the choice of a husband.

Afghanistan will become a magnet to jihadists everywhere. Sirajuddin Haqqani, the Taliban's deputy leader, is one of the F.B.I.'s most wanted terrorists. Don't expect him to change his spots, even if he claimed otherwise last year in a New York Times guest essay.

"WHAT HAPPENS IN AFGHANISTAN WON'T STAY THERE"

What happens in Afghanistan won't stay there. The country most immediately at risk from an ascendant Taliban is neighboring Pakistan. After years of Islamabad giving sanctuary and support for the Afghan Taliban (as long as they attacked coalition forces), Pakistan must now fear that the next regime in Kabul will give sanctuary and support for the Pakistani Taliban. There may be poetic justice in this, but the prospect of fundamentalist forces destabilizing a regime with an estimated 160 nuclear warheads is an unparalleled global nightmare.

20 VIKTOR ORBANS

Short of this, the calamity in Afghanistan is a recipe for another wave of migrants, one that will wash over Europe's shores and provoke a populist backlash. "We're going to see 20 Viktor Orbans emerge," warned Mohseni, referring to the Hungarian strongman.

THE SOUTH KOREAN WAY

In the last several years, the United States has maintained a relatively small force in Afghanistan, largely devoted to providing surveillance, logistics and air cover for Afghan forces while taking minimal casualties. Any American president could have maintained this position almost indefinitely -- with no prospect of defeating the Taliban but none of being routed by them, either.

In other words, we had achieved a good-enough solution for a nation we could afford to neither save nor lose. We squandered it anyway.

We've been in Korea for 71 years, at far higher cost, and the world is better off for it.

 

ARTICLES

WHAT AMERICA'S MIDDLE EASTERN ALLIES CAN LEARN FROM THE COLLAPSE OF AFGHANISTAN

What America's Middle Eastern allies can learn from the collapse of Afghanistan
By Anshel Pfeffer
Haaretz (Israel)
Aug. 15, 2021

https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/.premium-what-america-s-middle-eastern-allies-can-learn-from-afghanistan-1.10120495

The comparisons being made between the fall of Kabul to Taliban fighters and the fall of Saigon, with its iconic photographs of U.S. helicopters evacuating American personnel from city rooftops, are unfair to the South Vietnamese. They persevered for over two years after the U.S. military departed in early 1973, until Saigon fell in April 1975. The Afghan National Army has melted away before U.S. troops even departed.

This is a personal humiliation for President Joe Biden, who said only last month that "the Taliban is not the North Vietnamese army. They're not remotely comparable in terms of capability. There's going to be no circumstances where you see people being lifted off the roof of the embassy of the United States from Afghanistan."

Few U.S. presidents assumed office with foreign policy experience comparable to that of Biden -- accumulated over his decades in the relevant Senate committees (he was in his first term as senator when Saigon fell) and his eight years as Barack Obama's vice president. Unlike his immediate predecessor Donald Trump, whom Biden has been trying to blame in recent days for the failed deal with the Taliban, Biden reads his daily intelligence briefing papers.

Biden's blithe assurances will have been based on the assessments of the U.S. intelligence community. They will continue to haunt him personally, just as Obama was haunted by his "red line" promise to retaliate if the Assad regime used chemical weapons against Syrian civilians and his original assertion that ISIS was merely "a J.V. team."

Whether or not this will harm the Biden administration's domestic political standing or international credibility remains to be seen. Any potential domestic damage will probably be short-lived. America's "longest war" is far from popular at home. Leaving Afghanistan, even in these humiliating circumstances, is what the overwhelming majority of Americans wanted Biden to do.

What this means for America's traditional allies is another matter.

For many of those allies, his election last year was reason for a massive sigh of relief. Trump's fondness for dictators -- including many of America's rivals, from Vladimir Putin to Kim Jong Un -- alongside his unconcealed contempt for NATO, did more than any rushed evacuation to erode the U.S.' standing.

Biden has restored that trust. Even those American allies whom Trump favored -- chiefly Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- have been relieved by Biden's policies so far. He hasn't pressured Israel to make any major concessions to the Palestinians. Nor has he rushed to go back to the Iranian nuclear agreement or acted on his pre-election threats to make the Saudis pay for their human rights record.

But Biden is not the problem. The Kabul debacle is on his watch, but the failure can be shared by all four administrations since the United States first launched its Afghan campaign in the wake of 9/11, some 20 years ago.

The real effect on America's allies, especially Israel and the pro-Western Arab regimes, is that America, now and for the foreseeable future, has a heightened awareness of its limitations.

That's not entirely new. It was already clear from the later years of George W. Bush's presidency that once the Afghan and Iraqi campaigns began to bog down, there was no longer much appetite for foreign adventures. Bush stood aside in 2008 as Russia invaded Georgia, a pro-Western nation. Obama publicly abandoned America's oldest ally in the Middle East, Hosni Mubarak; reneged on his promises to protect Syrians from chemical weapons; and did nothing to help Ukraine when Russia invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014.

Obama at least paid lip service. Trump quite obviously couldn't care less. For all the talk of his striking Iran, with the exception of the assassination of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, he only ever seriously considered it once he had lost the election and his hold over the Pentagon.

Both Obama and Trump were prepared in some cases to use air power, though Obama was dragged by the Europeans to help the Libyan rebels, while it took the executions of Western prisoners to get him to sign off on airstrikes against ISIS. It was clear that the era of "boots on the ground" was long over.

The realization that the Americans are no longer prepared to squander the lives of their own soldiers is not the only lasting effect of its military failures of the past two decades. It goes deeper than that. As Biden said on Saturday, a U.S. military presence "would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country."

Whether you call it nation-building or regime-change, America has learned, at least for now, that it doesn't work unless there's a nation that wants to change its regime.

America hasn't abandoned its allies. It would be grossly unfair to characterize a 20-year investment of some 2,400 U.S. lives and nearly a trillion dollars in that way. It simply can't help them if they are incapable of helping themselves.

The United States can't fix a failed state. For Israel, which is surrounded by two failed states in Lebanon and Syria, and two others that could rapidly be on the brink of failure in Egypt and Jordan, this is a sobering conclusion.

Ironically, in the last two decades of U.S. campaigns in the Middle East and Afghanistan, the only foreign military intervention that actually achieved its objectives was that of Russia in Syria. Saving and propping up a dictator by bombing hospitals and bakeries in rebel-held areas, as the Russian Air Force did on behalf of the Assad regime, is much easier than establishing democracy and equality for women in a deeply tribal and religious society.

That's especially true when there is a deeply entrenched enemy like the Taliban, which can lose control of territory for nearly 20 years but never go away, waiting patiently until the Americans leave.

The only way, perhaps, to destroy the Taliban would have been to wipe out the villages and communities that sheltered it, and that isn't the way America fights its wars in the 21st century. That's a good thing. America, for all its faults, isn't Russia. But its limitations mean that its allies sometimes have to fend for themselves.

The most immediate conclusion for Israel is that if Lebanon is engulfed by chaos, which could be imminent, it will not be able to rely on the United States or anyone else to help prevent Hezbollah taking control of the country. It will take years, if not decades, for the memory of Kabul to fade.

 

DISASTER IN AFGHANISTAN WILL FOLLOW US HOME

Disaster in Afghanistan Will Follow Us Home
Biden owns the moment. He'll also own the consequences.
By Bret Stephens
The New York Times
Aug. 15, 2021

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/15/opinion/afghanistan-taliban-biden.html

What on earth was Joe Biden thinking -- if, that is, he was thinking?

On July 8 (video here), the president defended his decision to withdraw all remaining U.S. forces from Afghanistan. After assuring Americans that "the drawdown is proceeding in a secure and orderly way" and that "U.S. support for the people of Afghanistan will endure," he took some questions. Here are excerpts from the White House transcript.

Q: Is a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan now inevitable?

The president: No, it is not.

Q: Why?

The president: Because you -- the Afghan troops have 300,000 well-equipped -- as well equipped as any army in the world -- and an air force against something like 75,000 Taliban. It is not inevitable. ?

Q: Do you see any parallels between this withdrawal and what happened in Vietnam, with some people feeling ---

The president: None whatsoever. Zero ? The Taliban is not the South -- the North Vietnamese Army. They're not -- they're not remotely comparable in terms of capability. There's going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy. ?

Q: Mr. President, how serious was the corruption among the Afghanistan government to this mission failing there?

The president: Well, first of all, the mission hasn't failed, yet. There is in Afghanistan -- in all parties, there's been corruption. The question is, can there be an agreement on unity of purpose? ? That -- the jury is still out. But the likelihood there's going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.

*

Biden's heedlessness, on the cusp of a sweeping Taliban blitzkrieg that on Sunday saw them enter Kabul, will define his administration's first great fiasco. It won't matter that he is carrying through on the shambolic withdrawal agreement negotiated last year by the Trump administration, with the eager support of Trump's isolationist base, and through the diplomatic efforts of Trump's lickspittle secretary of state, Mike Pompeo.

This is happening on Biden's watch, at Biden's insistence, against the advice of his senior military advisers and with Biden's firm assurance to the American people that what has just come to pass wouldn't come to pass. Past presidents might have had a senior adviser resign in the wake of such a debacle, as Les Aspin, then the secretary of defense, did after the 1993 Black Hawk Down episode in Somalia.

This time, Biden owns the moment. He also owns the consequences. We should begin to anticipate them now.

The killing won't stop. Watch -- if you have the stomach -- videos of the aftermath of an attack in May on Afghan schoolgirls, which left 90 dead, or the massacre of 22 Afghan commandos in June, gunned down as they were surrendering, or Taliban fighters taunting an Afghan police officer, shortly before they kill him for the crime of making comic videos.

One Taliban official declared that their jihad was directed not against ordinary Afghans but only "against the occupiers and those who defend the occupiers." Yet the list of Afghans who fill that bill reaches into the thousands, if not higher.

Women will become chattel. There are roughly 18 million women and girls in Afghanistan. They will now be subject to laws from the seventh century. They will not be able to walk about with uncovered faces or be seen in public without a male relative. They will not be able to hold the kinds of jobs they've fought so hard to get over the last 20 years: journalists, teachers, parliamentarians, entrepreneurs. Their daughters will not be allowed to go to school or play sports or consent to the choice of a husband.

Afghanistan will become a magnet to jihadists everywhere. Sirajuddin Haqqani, the Taliban's deputy leader, is one of the F.B.I.'s most wanted terrorists. Don't expect him to change his spots, even if he claimed otherwise last year in a Times guest essay.

"The relationship between the Taliban and Al Qaeda will get stronger," Saad Mohseni, the head of the Afghan news and media company Moby, told me on Saturday. "Why should the Taliban fear the Americans anymore? What's the worst that could happen? Another invasion?

"These guys are going to be the most belligerent, arrogant Islamist movement on the planet," Mohseni added. "They are going to be the Mecca for any young radical of Islamic heritage or convert. It's going to inspire people. It's a godsend for any radical, violent group."

What happens in Afghanistan won't stay there. The country most immediately at risk from an ascendant Taliban is neighboring Pakistan. After years of Islamabad giving sanctuary and support for the Afghan Taliban (as long as they attacked coalition forces), Pakistan must now fear that the next regime in Kabul will give sanctuary and support for the Pakistani Taliban. There may be poetic justice in this, but the prospect of fundamentalist forces destabilizing a regime with an estimated 160 nuclear warheads is an unparalleled global nightmare.

Short of this, the calamity in Afghanistan is a recipe for another wave of migrants, one that will wash over Europe's shores and provoke a populist backlash. "We're going to see 20 Viktor Orbans emerge," warned Mohseni, referring to the Hungarian strongman and Tucker Carlson B.F.F.

America's geopolitical position will be gravely damaged. What kind of ally is the United States? In the last several years, the United States has maintained a relatively small force in Afghanistan, largely devoted to providing surveillance, logistics and air cover for Afghan forces while taking minimal casualties. Any American president could have maintained this position almost indefinitely -- with no prospect of defeating the Taliban but none of being routed by them, either.

In other words, we had achieved a good-enough solution for a nation we could afford to neither save nor lose. We squandered it anyway. Now, in the aftermath of Saigon redux, every enemy will draw the lesson that the United States is a feckless power, with no lasting appetite for defending the Pax Americana that is still the basis for world order. And every ally -- Taiwan, Ukraine, the Baltic states, Israel, Japan -- will draw the lesson that it is on its own in the face of its enemies. The Biden Doctrine means the burial of the Truman Doctrine.

*

But didn't we have to leave Afghanistan sometime? So goes a counterargument. Yes, though we've been in Korea for 71 years, at far higher cost, and the world is better off for it.

But wasn't the Afghan government corrupt and inept? Yes, but at least that government wasn't massacring its own citizens or raising the banner of jihad.

But aren't American casualties unacceptable? They are surely tragic. But so is squandering the sacrifice of so many Americans who fought the Taliban bravely and nobly -- and, as it turns out, for nothing.

But is there any reason we should care more about the fate of Afghans than we do of desperate people elsewhere? Yes, because our inability to help everyone, everywhere doesn't relieve us of the obligation to help someone, somewhere -- and because America's power and reputation in the world is also a function of being a beacon of confidence and hope.

Now these arguments belong to the past. The war in Afghanistan isn't just over. It's lost. A few Americans may cheer this humiliation, and many more will shrug at it. But the consequences of defeat are rarely benign for nations, no matter how powerful they otherwise appear to be. America's enemies, great and small, will draw conclusions from our needless surrender, just as they will about the frighteningly oblivious president who brought it about.

***

You can watch my conversation with Bret Stephens from a few months ago here:

http://www.tomgrossmedia.com/mideastdispatches/archives/001958.html

https://youtu.be/SkiWXs9AUWk

 

BIDEN'S AFGHANISTAN SURRENDER

Biden's Afghanistan Surrender
The President tries to duck responsibility for a calamitous withdrawal.
Wall Street Journal
Editorial board
Aug. 15, 2021

https://www.wsj.com/articles/biden-afghanistan-surrender-withdrawal-ashraf-ghani-kabul-saigon-jihadist-9-11-11629054041?mod=opinion_lead_pos1

President Biden's statement on Saturday 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. As the Taliban closed in on Kabul, Mr. Biden sent a confirmation of U.S. abandonment that absolved himself of responsibility, deflected blame to his predecessor, and more or less invited the Taliban to take over the country.

With that statement of capitulation, the Afghan military's last resistance collapsed. Taliban fighters captured Kabul, and President Ashraf Ghani fled the country while the U.S. frantically tried to evacuate Americans. The jihadists the U.S. toppled 20 years ago for sheltering Osama bin Laden will now fly their flag over the U.S. Embassy building on the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

*

Our goal all along has been to offer constructive advice to avoid this outcome. We criticized Donald Trump's deal with the Taliban and warned about the risks of his urge to withdraw in a rush, and we did the same for Mr. Biden. The President's advisers offered an alternative, as did the Afghanistan Study Group. Mr. Biden, as always too assured of his own foreign-policy acumen, refused to listen.

Mr. Biden's Saturday self-justification exemplifies his righteous dishonesty. "One more year, or five more years, of U.S. military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country," Mr. Biden said. But the Afghans were willing to fight and take casualties with the support of the U.S. and its NATO allies, especially air power. A few thousand troops and contractors could have done the job and prevented this rout.

Worse is his attempt to blame his decisions on Mr. Trump: "When I came to office, I inherited a deal cut by my predecessor -- which he invited the Taliban to discuss at Camp David on the eve of 9/11 of 2019 -- that left the Taliban in the strongest position militarily since 2001 and imposed a May 1, 2021 deadline on U.S. forces. Shortly before he left office, he also drew U.S. forces down to a bare minimum of 2,500. Therefore, when I became President, I faced a choice -- follow through on the deal, with a brief extension to get our forces and our allies' forces out safely, or ramp up our presence and send more American troops to fight once again in another country's civil conflict."

Note that Mr. Biden is more critical of his predecessor than he is of the Taliban. The President has spent seven months ostentatiously overturning one Trump policy after another on foreign and domestic policy. Yet he now claims Afghanistan policy is the one he could do nothing about.

This is a pathetic denial of his own agency, and it's also a false choice. It's as if Winston Churchill, with his troops surrounded at Dunkirk, had declared that Neville Chamberlain got him into this mess and the British had already fought too many wars on the Continent.

Mr. Trump's withdrawal deadline was a mistake, but Mr. Biden could have maneuvered around it. He knows this because his Administration conducted an internal policy review that provided him with options. The Taliban had already violated its pledges under the deal. Mr. Biden could have maintained the modest presence his military and foreign-policy advisers suggested. He could have decided to withdraw but done so based on conditions on the ground while preparing the Afghans with a plan for transition and air support.

Instead he ordered a rapid and total withdrawal at the onset of the annual fighting season in time for the symbolic target date of 9/11. Most of the American press at the time hailed his decision as courageous.

*

The result a mere four months later is the worst U.S. humiliation since the fall of Saigon in 1975. The Taliban is saying it wants a "peaceful transfer of power" in Kabul, but the scenes are still redolent of U.S. defeat. The scramble to destroy classified documents. The helicopters evacuating U.S. diplomats. The abandonment into Taliban hands of valuable U.S. military equipment.

Worst of all is the plight of the Afghans who assisted the U.S. over two decades. Mr. Biden said Saturday that the 5,000 U.S. troops he is sending will help in evacuating Afghans and Americans. But there are thousands of translators, their families, and other officials who are in peril from Taliban rule and didn't get out in time. (See nearby.) The Biden Administration was far too slow to get them out of the country despite urgent warnings. The murder of these innocents will compound the stain on the Biden Presidency.

The consequences of all this will play out over many months and years, and none will be good. The illusion, indulged on the left and right, that the U.S. can avoid the world's horrors while gardening its entitlement state, is sure to come home to haunt. Adversaries are taking Mr. Biden's measure, and there will be more trouble ahead. The costs will be all the more painful because the ugliness of this surrender was so unnecessary.

 

NANCY PELOSI ON AFGHAN WOMEN

Nancy Pelosi on Afghan Women
The House Speaker has a stern feminist warning for the Taliban.
Wall Street Journal
Editorial board
Aug. 15, 2021

https://www.wsj.com/articles/pelosi-afghan-women-biden-withdrawal-taliban-forced-marriages-misogyny-feminism-11629058703

Politics often requires blind loyalty, and on Afghanistan the word blind clearly applies to Nancy Pelosi. On Sunday the House Speaker issued a statement that began, "The President is to be commended for the clarity of purpose of his statement on Afghanistan and the actions he has taken."

Then she got rolling. "We are deeply concerned about reports regarding the Taliban's brutal treatment of all Afghans, especially women and girls. The U.S., the international community and the Afghan government must do everything we can to protect women and girls from inhumane treatment by the Taliban," Mrs. Pelosi said.

But the "international community" was doing precisely that by maintaining a modest allied force and air power in Afghanistan. Now they're gone, and we can see what will happen to the women and girls of that country.

"Any political settlement that the Afghans pursue to avert bloodshed must include having women at the table," the Speaker added. Gotta love that "must." That should impress the Taliban as it closes schools for girls, forces marriages to Taliban fighters, and bars women from public or prominent commercial life.

Mrs. Pelosi is so used to giving political lectures she doesn't seem to realize she is detached from reality.

 

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