The Taliban’s Victory is the final act in the US Abdication of Global Leadership.
The way in which the US fled from Afghanistan was the final act in the US abdication of global leadership. It is not that we lack the economic or military might to lead, it is that our leaders lack the strength of will, the force of character and most importantly, the actual skill and ability to lead. Through four presidents and their administrations we have witnessed staggering incompetence, married to a corrupt Congress centered on personal financial and political gain. George W. Bush had the will to lead, but lacked the intellect and ability; he was easily manipulated into launching us into an illegitimate war in Iraq and an unwinnable conflict in Afghanistan. Simply going in and destroying the terrorists and leaving was always the smart choice. Unlike his father in the first Gulf War, that choice eluded the younger Bush. Barack Obama in many ways was worse; he refused to own the war, never accepting that the President retains responsibility for the actions of all those before him or her. It is the authority of the position that carries that weight, not the person. Obama did not even speak to his theatre commanders for more than a year in an active war. Ignoring the war was unforgivable for a President. Under Obama’s watch, Afghanistan became not a 20-year war, but 20 one-year wars with rotating commanders and civilian leaders overseeing unbelievable amounts of cronyism, corruption and profiteering. His failure was even more painful because, unlike Bush, he possessed the intellect and ability to lead, but simply lacked the interest and will to do so. Trump lacked the intellect, the will and the character; his primary focus has always been and always will be on his own personal aggrandizement. Under his watch, for the first time, US troops fled from our bases while Soviet troops moved in taking tens of millions of dollars in equipment. Our running away was a devastating embarrassment and the moment the world recognized US leadership was ending.
Biden, at first, had the right idea: we had to leave Afghanistan. Well before 2020, it was not a question of winning or losing, it was a question of losing now or losing later. Yet there was no reason for it to be a panicked and rushed exit to the door. The manner in which we left was the final humiliation and lacked any semblance of how a commander-in-chief should lead. It also reflected a stunning ignorance of Afghanistan and total disconnect with the situation on the ground. The Taliban was not sitting idly by considering peace for the past 9 months. Rather, they were gathering intelligence, negotiating with and bribing local leaders and military commanders, stockpiling weapons, and planning a large-scale push to retake the country while the US was still there. They needed a total victory over the US for the narrative that they pushed us out. Trump and Biden gave it to them. The US made the Taliban much stronger than it was before. In the past, they fought against each other, and were balanced by the Northern Alliance. Today, they are unified with no meaningful rivals. All of Afghanistan is under their control and now with American-made and paid for weapons, equipment and all the intelligence the US left behind.
The Taliban were never insurgents. The US were the invaders. The people of Afghanistan do not have patriotism in the way Americans understand it. There is no country of Afghanistan in the modern sense. It is a land grounded in tribalism and opportunism in the most basic sense, where people simply strive to provide for their most basic needs and security. The Afghan “army” was never going to fight as a nation without us holding them up. This is not said in hindsight, myself and many in the academic and intelligence communities reported on this over the last two decades.
The message to the world is clear. US leaders not only lack the will, but the skill to lead. We cannot govern ourselves, much less any other country. We have defeated ourselves through corrupt governance. Democrats and Republicans fight each other while the world exploits our incompetence and passes us by. Islamic terrorism is the least of our worries for the future. Rather, we will now be tested by much larger threats. China, Russia, and others will no longer give way to US interests, economically or otherwise. We have sent a signal that invites all challengers. And sadly, we are ill prepared to meet them.
Standard Disclaimer: The analyses, thoughts, suggestions, or experiences here reflect my own and not those of any organization I currently work for, have in the past, or will in the future.