On the menu today: The situation in Afghanistan is so catastrophic, with so many dire and far-reaching ramifications — humanitarian ramifications, geopolitical ramifications, national-security ramifications — that it will take this entire newsletter to lay it all out.
Our President Chose National Humiliation
Before the country settles into the blame game, let’s get a clear perspective on where we stand.
Per the Washington Post editorial board: “The Taliban set up a new blockade of the airport road in Kabul to prevent more Afghans from leaving. If Mr. Biden opposes that, he did not say so in his speech.” As Rich has observed, the president no longer criticizes the Taliban, because his decisions have left him entirely at the mercy of one of the most barbaric and brutal forces in the world.
According to the New York Times:
U.S. officials believe that thousands of Americans remain in Afghanistan, including some far beyond Kabul, without a safe or fast way to get to the airport. Tens of thousands of Afghans who worked for the U.S. government over the last 20 years, and are eligible for special visas, are desperate to leave.
And refugee and resettlement experts estimate that at least 300,000 Afghans are in imminent danger of being targeted by the Taliban for associating with Americans and U.S. efforts to stabilize Afghanistan. [Emphasis added.]
Hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom helped the U.S., its allies, and international NGOs, are being left behind to be tortured and executed by the Taliban.
From the Wall Street Journal:
Private rescue efforts are facing growing obstacles this week, just as the urgency grows. Chartered planes are flying out of Kabul with hundreds of empty seats. New Taliban checkpoints on the road to Pakistan have made driving out of the country increasingly risky. Confusing bureaucratic hurdles have prevented countless people from leaving Afghanistan.
. . . “It’s a combination of tragic, surreal and apocalyptic,” said Stacia George, director of the Carter Center’s Conflict Resolution Program, who has been working round-the-clock to get people out of Kabul. “It’s so frustrating to get high-risk people up to the gate and have them risking their lives to go there and you still can’t get them through. It’s a disaster in slow- and fast-motion.”
From NBC News:
It’s becoming clear that thousands of the Afghans who helped the U.S. won’t be evacuated, a scenario that has engendered deep frustration inside U.S. national security agencies.
“People are furious and disgusted,” said a former U.S. intelligence official who declined to be quoted by name. A defense official said he grew nauseated as he considered how many Afghan allies would be left behind.
At the CIA, “officers feel a real sense of obligation, moral obligation and personal obligation” to the Afghans they supported and trained, said former CIA Director John Brennan, an NBC News national security consultant.
. . . officials at non-governmental organizations that have operated in Afghanistan, which have raised millions of dollars from Americans concerned about the fate of Afghans, are growing frustrated with the Biden administration. A leader of an NGO said: “There’s been an outpouring. It’s inspiring, but on the other hand, it is a damning reflection on the failure of the U.S. that private citizens are having to step in to do what the government with all its billions and trillions has failed to do.”
The administration has gift-wrapped the greatest propaganda gift imaginable to anti-American forces all around the world. Bloomberg News stated that: “It’s those who helped the Stars and Stripes reach its ill-thought-out goals that slide off the sides of the departing planes as their nails give out,” Margarita Simonyan, editor in chief of the Russian government propaganda network RT, wrote on her Telegram channel. “The lesson: Do not help the Stars and Stripes. It’ll use you, then abandon you.”
The president justified his decision by insisting that “al-Qaeda is gone,” an assessment that his own Pentagon and State Department disputed.
Afghanistan could once again become a “hotbed” for terrorism, providing sanctuary for extremists, experts warned.
The Taliban have “never broken” their alliance with al-Qaeda over the last two decades despite military pressure and two years of negotiations in Qatar, according to Richard Fontaine, CEO of the Center for a New American Security.
A United Nations report this year reached a similar conclusion: It said the Taliban and al-Qaeda “remain closely aligned and show no indication of breaking ties.” The Taliban previously refuted those claims.
(CNBC uses the term “refuted,” when I think they meant “disputed.”)
Bruce Hoffman, a senior fellow for counterterrorism and homeland security at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of “Inside Terrorism,” was blunter. “The situation is more dangerous in 2021 than it was in 1999 and 2000,” he told me. “We’re in a much weakened position now. We’ve learned so little.” The Taliban takeover is the biggest boost to Al Qaeda since 9/11 and a global game changer for jihadism generally, Rita Katz, the executive director of the Site Intelligence Group, a leading tracker of extremist activity worldwide, told me. There is a “universal recognition” that Al Qaeda can now “reinvest” in Afghanistan as a safe haven, Katz said. Jihadism effectively has a new homeland, the first since the collapse of the ISIS caliphate in March, 2019. “It foreshadows a new future that sadly couldn’t have been further from what we would hope for after twenty years of war,” she said. It’s a boon for Al Qaeda and its franchises, which now stretch from Burkina Faso in West Africa to Bangladesh in South Asia. “Militants from across the world — whether they be regionally focussd Islamists or globally focused jihadists — will surely seek to enter Afghanistan’s porous borders,” Katz added.
A good contrast to the “America is back!” rhetoric comes from this account of U.S. treatment of allies in Politico Europe:
G7 foreign ministers agreed on the need for a joint approach to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan even as the U.S. appeared reluctant to engage with allies in the wake of its withdrawal from the country.
U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab chaired a video call with his counterparts from the grouping of the world’s wealthiest nations on Thursday, at which they resolved to cooperate in an effort to provide aid and prevent further loss of life.
No specific measures were announced and no update was given on plans for a call between G7 leaders next week.
A U.K. government official claimed the U.S. had to be “bounced” into agreeing to the call after largely ignoring allies’ attempts to discuss Afghanistan over the last few weeks led by France and the U.K., which currently holds the G7 presidency. [Emphasis added.]
Representative Mikie Sherrill (D., N.J.) , a former U.S. Navy helicopter pilot, said, “I think it is critically important we ensure our military has the tools it needs to complete the mission. I do not believe that this can be accomplished by August 31st, and I have requested that the SECDEF and SECSTATE encourage the President in the strongest terms possible to reconsider that deadline.”
Barnett Rubin, President Obama’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the State Department, wrote in the Washington Post:
An internal document of the World Food Program warns that, “A humanitarian crisis of incredible proportions is unfolding before our eyes. Conflict combined with drought and covid-19 is pushing the people of Afghanistan into a humanitarian catastrophe.”
. . . According to the WFP document, the price of wheat, the main staple food, is now 24 percent above the five-year average, and sustained instability or devaluation of the currency will result in even higher food prices, assuring that hunger will spread. In the same internal document, WFP says that it needs $200 million immediately to pre-position food stocks by October to assist 9 million Afghans per month over the winter.
The country’s health system is collapsing. One official still at his post in Kabul, who spoke to me anonymously because he was not authorized to do so, told me: “We don’t have medicine, consumables and required basic equipment in the government-run hospitals. Staff salaries are pending for the last three months at least.” And this is taking place while Afghanistan is suffering from a crippling third wave of covid-19, the true dimensions of which are unknown.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in Europe, “Fearing a repeat of the 2015 refugee crisis, Greece has completed building a 40-km long wall and installed a hi-tech surveillance system on its border with Turkey to avoid the influx of Afghan migrants following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. The development comes amid apprehensions about heavy migration of Afghan citizens into Greece via Turkey, and then further into Europe.”
If you think that anti-refugee, anti-immigrant, nativist, nationalist, and populist political movements in Europe are destabilizing or bad for American interests, then the calamitous developments in Afghanistan today are going to create worse problems tomorrow.
NBC News. John Brennan. The Carter Center. The New York Times. The New Yorker. CNBC. The Washington Post editorial board. The United Nations. Congressional Democrats. Former Obama administration officials. International nonprofit groups. None of those figures or institutions can be characterized as right-wing or reflexive foes of President Biden. These blistering assessments of the situation in Afghanistan, and the administration decisions that led to it, are not coming from Donald Trump, or Sean Hannity, or Alex Jones.
There is no conservative plot to make Joe Biden look bad at this moment; it would be superfluous and couldn’t do nearly as good a job of that as he’s doing himself.
Yesterday, before mentioning Afghanistan, President Biden began by saying he wanted to “discuss the progress we’re making on the Build Back Better agenda here at home.” White House press secretary Jen Psaki, fresh off insisting that Americans were not stranded in Afghanistan, declared that, “I would not say that [the mission] is anything but a success.”
And Politico reports that, “While it’s sparked accusations that the president’s team is trying to divert attention away from a crisis of its own creation, Biden’s defenders stress that, for now at least, he deserves to crow.” The headline? “White House to media: We want our props on Afghanistan.”
The Biden team thinks it isn’t getting enough credit for how good the current situation is.
ADDENDUM: In a development that can only surprise you if you work at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the American people are not pleased with what they’re seeing. USA Today write that:
For President Joe Biden, the cost of the war’s chaotic end has been steep. His overall job approval rating now stands at 41 percent who approve versus 55 percent who disapprove — a big drop in the closely watched barometer of political health. Until last week, national polls generally showed his approval rating above 50 percent. Now, while he has held the backing of 87 percent of Democrats, only 32 percent of independents say he’s doing a good job.