On the menu today: looking down the road at the ramifications of President Biden’s withdrawing all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, the long-term prospects for Islamist jihadism, and how environmentalists continue to demonize common choices and avert their eyes from the most carbon-intensive actions of wealthy progressives.
A Choice in Afghanistan We May Come to Regret
This morning, discussing President Biden’s announcement that all U.S. would leave Afghanistan by September 11, Vox, the Daily Telegraph, and The Atlantic all refer to Afghanistan as “the Forever War.”
I find the use of the term “forever war” to refer to Afghanistan disingenuous, as the state of U.S. troops over there cannot accurately be described as a war, particularly in the past year or two. There are certain allegedly bright foreign-policy minds who never really updated their rhetoric or thinking from the late Bush years, and who apparently can’t be bothered to notice changes in circumstances on the ground.
The last U.S. casualty in Afghanistan, as of this morning, was on November 27, from a non-combat vehicle accident. The last hostile-fire casualty was on February 8, 2020. The Afghan army is fighting the Taliban; we aren’t.
The cry, “Our guys are dying over there!” applies to almost all foreign counties that host U.S. military forces, as well as our home soil. Nearly three quarters of active-duty personnel who have died while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces since 2006 have not died in Iraq or Afghanistan and have not died in Overseas Contingency Operations — that is, combat-focused military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria:
Between 2006 and 2020, a total of 17,645 active-duty personnel have died while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. (Throughout this In Focus, the designation “active duty” refers to all active duty troops, including mobilized Reserve and Guard components.) Of those that died, 26 percent were killed while serving in [Overseas Contingency Operations] — primarily within the territory of Iraq and Afghanistan. The remaining 74 percent died during operations classified in this In Focus as Non-Overseas Contingency Operations, or Non-OCO.
Approximately 13,068 servicemembers have died in circumstances unrelated to OCO operations since 2006. On average, this amounts to approximately 913 non-war-related deaths each year (excluding 2020). Personnel perished in more than 70 countries (and at sea), with the majority (93 percent) of deaths occurring in the United States. Other locations included Germany, Japan, Korea, Italy, and the United Kingdom.
Generally, servicemembers died as the result of accident, self-inflicted wounds, or illness. Approximately 16 percent (1,915) involved vehicles. Alcohol was a factor in 14 percent of all accidental deaths. The data do not indicate whether alcohol was also involved in deaths due to self-inflicted wounds, illness, or vehicles.
The presence of U.S. military forces in Afghanistan — down to about 3,500 in the past few months — is much more comparable to a “normal” non-combat U.S. military presence than the fighting which most Americans picture when they think of Afghanistan — that is, when they think of Afghanistan at all.
Our presence in Afghanistan has grown so small and low-profile, it seems reasonable to ask what the consequences will be of removing those 3,500 or so troops. As luck would have it, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released its annual threat assessment earlier this week. The appraisal of Afghanistan is grim: “We assess that prospects for a peace deal will remain low during the next year. The Taliban is likely to make gains on the battlefield, and the Afghan government will struggle to hold the Taliban at bay if the coalition withdraws support. Kabul continues to face setbacks on the battlefield, and the Taliban is confident it can achieve military victory.”
If the last U.S. troop leave on September 11, 2021, the Taliban will celebrate and tout it as a victory that expelled the foreign infidels. You don’t have to support staying, but you have to have a clear-eyed view of the likely consequences. If our 3,500 troops stick around in these low-to-no-active-combat situations, the legitimately elected Afghan government remains standing. If they leave, there’s a good chance the Taliban takes over again.
The New York Times assures us that: “The agencies do not believe Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups pose an immediate threat to strike the United States from Afghanistan, an assessment that the Biden administration considered pivotal as it weighed continuing the war or pulling out forces this year.” The problem is, at some point later this year, or next year, or the year after that, there is a good chance we will see the headline, “TALIBAN RULES AFGHANISTAN AGAIN.” Ask yourself how that development would impact global Islamist jihadism.
Mr. Biden’s decision to remove U.S. forces by the symbolic date of Sept. 11, 2021, may simply result in the restoration of the 2001 status quo, including terrorist bases that could force a renewed U.S. intervention. At a minimum, it will mean an abandonment of those Afghans who believed in building a democracy that guaranteed basic human rights — and the nullification of the sacrifices of the American servicemen who were killed or wounded in that mission. Mr. Biden has chosen the easy way out of Afghanistan, but the consequences are likely to be ugly.
David Ignatius reminds readers that the Obama administration was quite happy to announce the withdrawal of all U.S. combat troops from Iraq in 2011, a process that Biden himself largely oversaw and helped manage. The Obama administration believed it had a major foreign-policy achievement . . . and then, by January 2014, the Islamic State had conquered Fallujah and parts of Ramadi and established itself as the world’s preeminent terrorist threat. At that point, President Obama — the man who promised to end the Iraq War — saw no other choice but to send U.S. troops back into Iraq three years later. A bad withdrawal only sets up the need for more combat in the future.
It’s possible that the Taliban won’t become the generous host for anti-American terrorists again — although a U.N. report last year concluded that: “the Taliban appear to have strengthened their relationship with Al-Qaida rather than the opposite. One Member State reported that the regularity of meetings between Al-Qaida seniors and the Taliban ‘made any notion of a break between the two mere fiction.’” The world is different in 2021 than it was in 2001. Maybe after the rise and fall of al-Qaeda, and the rise and fall of ISIS, and all of the other global changes in past two decades — globalism, the rise of China, the COVID-19 pandemic — Islamist jihadism is a largely spent force.
But I don’t know how much I want to bet that the Taliban won’t go back to providing a safe haven to terrorists, putting us right back where we started on September 10, 2001.
Kevin Williamson offers a particularly grim assessment: “What we have learned from Afghanistan — or what we could learn, if we are willing — is what failure looks like. What success is going to look like, we still don’t know. We have spent 20 years and more than 2,300 American lives trying to figure that out, and I am not sure that we have made any real progress.”
The Greens Should Focus Their Ire on Private Jets
One of my recurring irritations with fashionable, light-on-the-facts environmentalism is that it demonizes your cheeseburger, SUV, gas stove, and other common life choices, when other, rarer activities are much more responsible for carbon emissions. I cannot help but suspect this is a deliberate and subtle effort to hand-wave away the carbon emissions of wealthy and powerful people who like to think of themselves as enlightened progressives. You’ve heard the anecdotes about John Kerry taking his private plane to climate-change conferences, and so on.
The United Nations concluded recently that “the world’s wealthiest one percent produce double the combined carbon emissions of the poorest 50 percent.” (To reach the wealthiest one percent in the world, an American would need a net worth of about $4.4 million.) But the BBC article about the U.N. report goes on to demonize SUVs.
But private jets burn 6,030 kg, or about six metric tons, of CO2 in a three-hour flight. (Different models will have slightly different figures.) According to the EPA, a typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. In other words, in one three-hour flight, John Kerry emits more carbon than your car does all year long. And he’s flying all around the world, trying to get other people to reduce their carbon emissions.
ADDENDUM: Wow — a huge scoop from our Alexandra DeSanctis: “A group of more than 40 of Republican congressmen led by Representative Chip Roy (R., Texas) introduced a bill that would prohibit continued U.S. funding of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the U.N.’s arm devoted to ‘global population and reproductive health.’” The problem is the UNFPA’s partnership with China’s National Health Commission, “which has been found to coerce women into sterilization and abortion.” “Prior to the end of the Trump administration, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described as ‘genocide’ the Chinese government’s program of coerced sterilizations and abortions performed on Uyghur women.”
Is “Don’t partner with institutions committing genocide” really too much to ask of the United Nations?