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The right thing

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The bottom line is that Biden’s decision to end the Afghanistan war was correct, supporters of ongoing occupation have been proven massively wrong, and the final withdrawal was handled as well as could be reasonably expected:

America’s longest war has been by any measure a costly failure, and the errors in managing the conflict deserve scrutiny in the years to come. But Joe Biden doesn’t “own” the mayhem on the ground right now. What we’re seeing is the culmination of 20 years of bad decisions by U.S. political and military leaders. If anything, Americans should feel proud of what the U.S. government and military have accomplished in these past two weeks. President Biden deserves credit, not blame.

Unlike his three immediate predecessors in the Oval Office, all of whom also came to see the futility of the Afghan operation, Biden alone had the political courage to fully end America’s involvement. Although Donald Trump made a plan to end the war, he set a departure date that fell after the end of his first term and created conditions that made the situation Biden inherited more precarious. And despite significant pressure and obstacles, Biden has overseen a military and government that have managed, since the announcement of America’s withdrawal, one of the most extraordinary logistical feats in their recent history. By the time the last American plane lifts off from Hamid Karzai International Airport on August 31, the total number of Americans and Afghan allies extricated from the country may exceed 120,000.

Rothkopf has a good supplemental piece on the myths being generated to use against Biden by the Blob here.

Another good point is that the hawks themselves have never treated Afghanistan is a high priority, they’ve only pretended to when a president suggests that it’s time to stop pouring money and lives down the gopher hole:

After a rough couple of days, the evacuation of personnel from the Kabul Airport seems to be going a bit more smoothly, and the media’s obsession with trying to punish Joe Biden for defying the national security establishment and ending a hopeless and pointless war should fade away.

The damage to his approval rating will be already done, however, and a message will be sent to future politicians: it doesn’t matter how badly we fail; any effort to admit that we failed and cut out losses will be blamed on you, not us. What I find particularly frustrating about the national security establishment’s hostility to leaving Afghanistan — a policy they opposed during the most opportune moment to do it when Osama bin Laden was killed during Barack Obama’s presidency, a policy they successfully blocked during Trump’s four years, and a policy they’ve been furiously lashing out at Biden for implementing — is that they themselves have never treated Afghanistan as strategically important to the United States. This makes the policy disagreement over Afghanistan vexing and frustrating.

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I disagree on the merits with the idea to prioritize fighting Iran over cooperating with them on Afghanistan. But that’s because I think the underlying fight with Iran is misguided. The hawks’ judgment that, objectively, Afghanistan isn’t important or worth making sacrifices in other areas for makes sense.

On Russia, obviously, Europe is a bigger deal than Afghanistan.

And I don’t have any magic solutions to the Pakistan issue that eluded everyone else. The way to deal with Pakistani support for the Taliban would have been to be less dependent on their cooperation, which would have meant prioritizing making nice with Iran and Russia, which would have meant accommodating their interests elsewhere.

Successive administrations didn’t want to do that and the national security conventional wisdom was that they shouldn’t do that. But that’s the underlying weirdness of the national security community’s insistence that Afghanistan was worth thousands of troops, decades of war, and tens of billions in annual expenditures. They don’t think it’s important! They just have an idiosyncratic view that this kind of resource expenditure — resources that could be put to good use either at home or abroad — is somehow no big deal.

This argument is particularly ridiculous coming from British hawks, who continue to insist that perpetual occupation of Afghanistan is a matter of existential importance even though British combat troops left in 2014. Believe their actions, not their words.

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