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HomeForeign PolicyDi Leo: Liberal Theory Meets Harsh Reality in Afghanistan

Di Leo: Liberal Theory Meets Harsh Reality in Afghanistan



Screen Shot 2021-08-16 at 10.57.30 AM
Afghans beg to be allowed on US Air Force cargo plane out of Kabal Airport

By John F. Di Leo - 

After fifteen years of constant war in Afghanistan, President Trump believed it was time to try our best to end it.   He believed that the goal of extending our involvement beyond punishment for the 9-11 attacks into the concept of nation-building was wrong from the start, and we needed to wind down our presence and depart.   He was in fact elected, in 2016, in large part, upon this philosophy – of maintaining a powerful military that is used sparingly (rather than a weaker military, stretched too thin through global meddling).

Even so, President Trump did not take office in January 2017 and close up shop in Afghanistan six months later.  The Trump administration did its best – to the extent possible – to support our mission of leaving a trained and strong ally in place, a government that could defend itself when America someday pulled out.  The Trump administration proposed a date for our departure in 2021, conditional upon the Afghan government being strong enough to defend itself. 

By contrast, the Biden/Harris regime announced an intent to withdraw all US forces unconditionally by September 11, 2021, delivering a clear victory to the Taliban on the 20th anniversary of their evil 2001 attacks.  The Biden/Harris regime gave orders to various units to exit the country in the dead of night, without even telling our Afghan allies, leaving airfields and billions of dollars worth of American military hardware for the Taliban to grab before our Afghan allies could even secure it.

As a result, the world awoke to the news – during the weekend of August 13, 2021 -  that the Taliban had taken Kabul, and had declared themselves back in control of the country.  We read reports of the same kind of Taliban violence that has always been the hallmark of this demonic horde: rapes, forced marriages with little girls, grisly mutilations, and gruesome murders.

We cannot be surprised. It’s what they do. It’s who they are.

Who Bears the Blame?

The Left finds themselves in a difficult predicament. 

It is the Left’s idea, after all, that we can perform “nation-building” overseas.    It was the Left’s League of Nations and United Nations that insisted upon treating all nations, big or small, civilized or barbaric, as equals, with equal votes and even equal opportunities to run charities and NGOs.

It was the Left’s establishment of non-military, theoretical replacements for national service – the Peace Corps, Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders, and dozens of other such fantasy clubs – that provided a sorry alternative for military service, enabling a “world experience” resume line that has catapulted countless fools into elective office, warping the judgment of whole administrations once they started putting their dreamworld policies into practice.

In 2001, there were conservative calls for rational vengeance after the September attacks.  Overthrow the Taliban, because they supported and shielded Al Qaeda.  Destroy their ability to ever attack America again, then get out.  But the Bush administration sided with voices of the Left:  it was the Left’s desire for nation-building that pushed the Bush Administration to not only overthrow the Taliban but also to try to build a new nation along American principles… in a place that had no interest in such principles, a place whose population was and remains utterly derisive of such Western ideas.

While the war continued, the Left could blame Bush for doing it wrong.  But now that the war is over – and lost – the Left cannot help but admit – at least to themselves – that it’s the Left’s philosophy, the Left’s war, that has failed.

The New Taliban

Twenty years later, can we at least hope that that this new government will be friendlier, more appreciative, more tolerant than the old Taliban we knew from the late 20th century?

Of course not.  These are largely the very same people, many of them captured during the Bush years, then released from GITMO during the Obama years.  They haven’t changed their philosophy, and why should they?  They’ve been rewarded now, by getting the country back.

We didn’t even do what we did in Korea, splitting the nation in two and at least carving out one decent country, independent of the evil one.  No, we abandoned the entire nation to the Taliban; how can the Taliban possibly view this as anything other than an endorsement for their methods?

In the Afghanistan of the future, the five or ten years – or more – that now face us, the Taliban will double down on their traditional modus operandi.  We will see absolute obedience to the Koran and its bloody penal code, from child abuse to forced marriage, from slavery to honor killings. 

The jihadist brand of islam – from local absolutism in sharia law to global terror in support of a worldwide caliphate – has earned a resurgence.

The Biden regime’s abandonment of our Afghan allies has guaranteed it.

What should we have done?

The Monday morning quarterback is understandably derided in our politics.  It is viewed as unfair, and rightly so, to just attack the incumbent without proposing alternative courses.

Fortunately, the Right did propose alternative courses at the outset.  The Right advocated the appropriate response:  Al Qaeda had bases in Afghanistan, protected by the Taliban government.  Destroy all Al Qaeda operations, root and branch, and inflict huge damage on government military installations – bomb them back to the stone age, so to speak – so they will never consider providing cover for such an organization again.  Then leave.

But once we were in – once we had 20 years of American (and allied) troops and support contractors risking their lives there, and countless billions of dollars of materiel invested in the country, we could not just give up and leave.  We naturally should have built a plan to protect (and likely bring to the USA) all those who supported us over the years such as translators and informants, and anyone else who couldn’t be protected if the country fell.

We could have – and obviously should have – arranged the turnovers of camps, bases and airports behind the scenes, gradually leaving Afghan government forces in charge of more and more locations in a quiet, seamless transition.  Eventually, by the time it was realized that the United States had pulled out, the country would have been functioning safely for months.  This would have provided the image of a fully confident and secure local government; the image could then translate into reality, with convenient American air support close by if help is needed.

But not now.  The die was cast when US forces made a hasty and obvious exit from a major US-run airport in the dead of night, abandoning it completely, without even notifying the Afghan government of our departure until the Taliban had enjoyed a day of ransacking.  Once the Taliban realized that they could snap up all our hundreds of millions of dollars worth of US munitions just by keeping their eyes open, it was all over for the Afghan government.

With this one move, the Biden administration signaled to the Taliban that the United States were in fact not going to provide support for the legitimate Afghan government.

The abandonment of that one airport did more to encourage the Taliban – and doom the Afghan government – than any other single mistake in all these years.

Acknowledging Reality

We must state – and accept – a hard truth.

Living, as we do, in Western Civilization, our hearts go out to the people who are – and soon will be – subjugated by jihadists.

We know that the townsfolk, the regular people of Afghanistan, will again be enslaved, abused, raped, robbed, and often murdered, far more so than before, now that the Taliban have taken over the entire country.

We will feel sorry for the victims; we will cry for these innocents.  We will wish, again and again, that there was something we could do for them.

But it is important to remember that the Taliban’s return to power, and the collapse of the Afghan government, did not occur in a vacuum.  There is a reason why the Taliban were able to take over so easily, once the USA signaled that our protection was ending.

It is because, deep in their hearts, many – perhaps even most – regular rank-and-file Afghans, and even members of their government, think the Taliban are right.

The Taliban don’t say anything all that different from what the local islamic cleric says at the mosque every week.  They just enforce it.  They take it more seriously.  How can the regular townsfolk and rural tribes risk their lives to defeat the Taliban, when the Taliban’s positions don’t horrify them as they do us? 

Average Afghan muslims view their koran and its sharia law in much the same way as the Taliban do. They didn’t mind when there was a twenty-year break from such brutal enforcement, but now that it’s back… perhaps the average muslim could not find it within his heart to object? 

We Westerners can say that forced marriage of eleven-year-olds is wrong.  We can say that slavery is wrong. We can shout to the rooftops that tossing people off roofs for homosexuality or beheading them for adultery are wrong.  But the Afghan muslim is raised to disagree with us.  He is raised to believe exactly what the Taliban is telling him.

There are traditional theories about how much time nation-building requires.  Two generations, perhaps? Three?  More?  You don’t change a culture overnight.

But more importantly, it’s critical to recognize that this isn’t just a culture, it’s a religion as well.  The West expected the people of Afghanistan to adopt our ways, without reformation of islam itself, and that must be the required foundation of any such national change.  As long as the islamic clerics of the world refuse to moderate sharia law and soften its prescribed punishments, the bloodthirsty jihadists will always have a foundation of support in every Islamic community.

It is a tragic truth, but it is the truth nevertheless… and it has been our reality now for 1400 years.

Those who deny reality itself do themselves, their country, and the world no favors.

Copyright 2021 John F Di Leo

John F Di Leo is a Chicago-based international trade compliance trainer, writer and actor.  His columns have been found in Illinois Review since 2009.

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Afghanistan regional map by the Voice of America.


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  1. Excellent commentary John. Biden and his inner circle that ignored the advice of those intelligence agencies and operatives who told Biden not to leave Afghanistan in this fashion have nailed it. Once stories come out about this, Biden will have made the most egregious error of any Commander-in-Chief in our entire U.S. history.