Yves here. The media frenzy over the US exit from Afghanistan is finally shifting from loss of empire hand-wringing (when for anyone paying attention, the decision to leave was a price discovery event, the US had effectively lost some time back and we had been throwing money and lives into a rat hole) to stupefaction and horror that the departure is so shambolic. And there’s a lot of Biden-blaming. Some college tuitions must have gone down the drain.
Michael Hudson weighs in and adds an important piece to the equation, in a update-for-NC version of his post (it launched on his site yesterday). Just released Soviet-era information shows the USSR feared that the more intelligent U.S. option would be to have offered economic aid (and no doubt some de facto bribes as part of the mix), which the USSR could not implement on our scale.
And Hudson stresses that heads at the intel state should have rolled over this level of fiasco (the “experts” wildly misjudging how quickly the Taliban would take ground). Biden instead tried blaming most Afghanis for (gasp!) regarding the Americans as occupiers and wanting us gone.
By Michael Hudson, a research professor of Economics at University of Missouri, Kansas City, and a research associate at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College. His latest book is “and forgive them their debts”: Lending, Foreclosure and Redemption from Bronze Age Finance to the Jubilee Year
President Biden put a popular flag-waving wrapping for at America’s forced withdrawal from Afghanistan in his 4 PM speech on Monday. It was as if all this was following Biden’s own intentions, not a demonstration of the totally incompetent assurances by the CIA and State Department as recently as last Friday that the Taliban was over a month away from being able to enter Kabul.
Instead of saying that the massive public support for the Taliban replacing the United States showed the incompetent hubris of U.S. intelligence agencies – which itself would have justified Biden’s agreement to complete the withdrawal with all haste – he doubled down on his defense of the Deep State and its mythology.
The effect was to show how drastic his own misconceptions are, and how he will continue to defend neocon adventurism. What seemed for an hour or so as a public relations recovery is turning into a denouement of how U.S. fantasy is still trying to threaten Asia and the Near East.
By throwing all his weight behind the propaganda that has guided U.S. policy since George W. Bush decided to invade after 9/11, Biden blew his greatest chance to burst the myths that led to his own bad decisions to trust U.S. military and state officials (and their campaign contributors).
His first pretense was that we invaded Afghanistan to retaliate against “its” attack on America on 9/11. This is the founding lie of U.S. presence in the Near East. Afghanistan did not attack us. Saudi Arabia did.
Biden tried to confuse the issue by saying that “we” went into Afghanistan to deal with (assassinate) Osama Bin Laden – and after this “victory,” we then then decided to stay on and “build democracy,” a euphemism for creating a U.S. client state. (Any such state is called a “democracy,” which means simply pro-American in today’s diplomatic vocabulary.)
Hardly anyone asks how the U.S. ever got in. Jimmy Carter was suckered by the Polish Russia-hater Brzezinski and created Al Qaeda to act as America’s foreign legion, subsequently expanded to include ISIS and other terrorist armies against countries where U.S. diplomacy seeks regime change. Carter’s alternative to Soviet Communism was Wahabi fanaticism, solidifying America’s alliance with Saudi Arabia. Carter memorably said that at least these Muslims believed in God, just like Christians. But the Wahabi fundamentalism army was sponsored by Saudi Arabia, which paid for arming Al Qaeda to fight against Sunni Moslems and, early on, the Russian-backed Afghan government.
What is so typical of America’s aggressive Cold War mindset is that it could have much more easily (and at much lower cost) won Afghanistan by honey, by having so much more to offer economically than did Russia. Documents released from Soviet archives show that:
None of the Soviet documents list terrorists going into the USSR as a concern in 1979. The Soviet worry was the incompetence and worse of their Afghan Communist clients, the declining Soviet influence (much less control) in the country, and the possibility of Afghanistan going over to the Americans.
Soviet Politburo documents that first became available in the 1990s show the real Soviet fear was that the head of the Afghan Communist regime, Hafizullah Amin, was about to go over to the Americans. (Egyptian president Anwar Sadat famously flipped in 1972, ejected thousands of Soviet advisers, and became the second largest recipient, after Israel, of U.S. foreign aid.)
This policy predates President Carter, of course. It was endemic in America’s Cold War force-oriented strategy since the 1950s. Over 60 years ago, for instance, I sat in on a meeting with Fidel Castro’s representatives trying to get support from the Democratic Party and Kennedy for their overthrow of the Batista regime. Imagining that it was the Republicans and the Dulles brothers that were the hardliners, they expected that the incoming Democratic Party diplomacy would find their self-interest in giving economic support to help Cuba’s economy recover from the corrupt dictatorship. My father warned them that the Democrats would be just as force-oriented.
On my visits to Cuba, it was obvious that the population and even many government officials would have welcomed a deal whereby the loosened their Castroite economic policy in exchange for U.S. aid. The United States has never tried to use this tactic in the Caribbean or Latin America, any more than it has done in Afghanistan. That is the neocon mentality: “Do it by force, don’t give any other country a choice.”
A “market-based” tradeoff of aid for economic policy acquiescence is not U.S. policy. Offering a carrot still leaves the choice to America’s designated adversary. The only way to make sure that a country will obey is to confront it with brute force. That is the mentality behind U.S. support for Maidan and the neo-Nazi Bandaristas opposing Russia instead of simply trying to help reform Ukraine.
And so it has gone in Afghanistan. After Carter, George W. Bush and Barack Obama funded Al Qaeda (largely with the gold looted from destroying Libya) to fight for U.S. geopolitical aims and oil in Iraq and Syria. The Taliban for its part fought against Al Quaeda. The real U.S. fear therefore is not that they may back America’s Wahabi foreign legion, but that they will make a deal with Russia, China and Syria to serve as a trade link from Iran westward.
Biden’s second myth was to blame the victim by claiming that the Afghan army would not fight for “their country,” despite his assurances by the proxies whom the U.S. installed that they would use U.S. money to build the economy. He also said that the army did not fight, which became obvious over the weekend.
The police force also did not fight. Nobody fought the Taliban to “defend their country,” because the U.S. occupation regime was not “their country.” Again and again, Biden repeated that the United States could not save a country that would not “defend itself.” But the “itself” was the corrupt regime that was simply pocketing U.S. “aid” money.
The situation was much like what was expressed in the old joke about the Lone Ranger and Tonto finding themselves surrounded by Indians. “What are we going to do, Tonto,” asked the Lone Ranger.
“What do you mean, ‘We,’ white man?” Tonto replied.
That was the reply of the Afghan army to U.S. demands that they fight for the corrupt occupation force that they had installed. Their aim is to survive in a new country, while in Doha the Taliban leadership negotiates with China, Russia and even the United States to achieve a modus vivendi.
So all that Biden’s message meant to most Americans was that we would not waste any more lives and money fighting wars for an ungrateful population that wanted the U.S. to do all the fighting for it.
President Biden could have come out and washed away the blame by saying: “Just before the weekend, I was told by my army generals and national security advisors that it would take months for the Taliban to conquer Afghanistan, and certainly to take control of Kabul, which supposedly would be a bloody fight.” He could have announced that he is removing the incompetent leadership engrained for many years, and creating a more reality-based group.
But of course, he could not do that, because the group is the unreality-based neocon Deep State. He was not about to explain how “It’s obvious that I and Congress have been misinformed, and that the intelligence agencies had no clue about the country that they were reporting on for the last two decades.”
He could have acknowledged that the Afghans welcomed the Taliban into Kabul without a fight. The army stood aside, and the police stood aside. There seemed to be a party celebrating the American withdrawal. Restaurants and markets were open, and Kabul seemed to be enjoying normal life – except for the turmoil at the airport.
Suppose that Biden had said the following: “Given this acquiescence in support for the Taliban, I was obviously correct in withdrawing the American occupation forces. Contrary to what Congress and the Executive Branch was told, there was no support by the Afghans for the Americans. I now realize that to the Afghan population, the government officials that America installed simply took the money we gave them and put it into their own bank accounts instead of paying the army, police and other parts of civic society.”
Instead, President Biden spoke about having made four trips to Afghanistan and how much he knew and trusted the proxies that U.S. agencies had installed. That made him seem gullible. Even Donald Trump said publicly that he didn’t trust the briefings that he was given, and wanted to spend money at home, into the hands of his own campaign contributors instead of abroad.
Biden could have picked up on this point by saying, “At least there’s a silver lining: We won’t be spending any more than the $3 trillion that we’ve already sunk over there. We can now afford to use the money to build up domestic U.S. infrastructure instead.”
But instead President Biden doubled down on what his neocon advisors had told him, and what they were repeating on the TV news channels all day: The Afghan army had refused to fight “for their country,” meaning the U.S.-supported occupation force, as if this was really Afghan self-government.
The media are showing pictures of the Afghan palace and one of the warlord’s office. I did a double-take, because the plush, wretched-excess furnishings looked just like Obama’s $12 million McMansion furnishings in Martha’s Vineyard.
Obama officials are being trotted out by the news spinners. On MSNBC, John Brennan warned Andrea Mitchell at noon that the Taliban might now back Al Qaeda in new destabilization and even use Afghanistan to mount new attacks on the United States. The message was almost word for word what Americans were told in 1964: “If we don’t fight the Vietcong in their country, we’ll have to fight them over here.” As if any country has an armed force large enough to conquer any industrial nation in today’s world.
The whole cast of America’s “humanitarian bombing” squad was there, including its harridan arm, the Democratic Party’s front organizations created to co-opt feminists to urging that Afghanistan be bombed until it treats women better. One can only imagine how the image of Samantha Power, Madeline Albright, Hillary Clinton, Susan and Condoleezza Rice, not to mention Indira Gandhi and Golda Maier, will make the Taliban want to create its own generation of ambitious educated women like these.
President Biden might have protected himself from Republican criticism by reminding his TV audience that Donald Trump had urged withdrawal from Afghanistan already last spring –and now, in retrospect, that the Deep State was wrong to advise against this but that Donald was right. That is what his order for withdrawal was acknowledging, after all. This might have detoothed at least some Trumpian criticism.
Instead, Mr. Brennan and the generals trotted in front of the TV cameras criticized Biden for not prolonging the occupation until the fall, when cold weather would deter the Taliban from fighting. Brennan stated on Andrea Mitchell’s newscast that Biden should have taken a ploy out of his “The Art of Breaking the Deal” by breaking the former president’s promise to withdraw last spring.
Delay, delay, delay. That is always the stance of grabitizers refusing to see the resistance building up, hoping to take what they can get for as long as they can – with the “they” being the military-industrial complex, the suppliers of mercenary forces and other recipients of the money that Mr. Biden curiously says that we spent “in Afghanistan.”
The reality is that not much of this $3 trillion actually was spent there. It was spent on Raytheon, Boeing and other military hardware suppliers, on the mercenary forces, and placed in the accounts of the Afghan proxies for the U.S. maneuvering to use Afghanistan to destabilize Central Asia on Russia’s southern flank and western China.
It looks like most of the world will quickly recognize the Afghan government, leaving the U.S., Israel, Britain, India and perhaps Samoa isolated as a recalcitrant block living like the post-World War I royal families still clinging to their titles of dukes, princes and other vestiges of a world that had passed.
Biden’s political mistake was to blame the victim and depict the Taliban victory as a defeat of a cowardly army not willing to fight for its paymasters. He seems to imagine that the army actually had been paid, provided with food, clothing and weapons in recent months simply because U.S. officials gave their local proconsuls and supporters cash for this purpose.
I understand that there is no real accounting of just what the $3 billion U.S. cost was actually spent on, who got it the shrink-wrapped bundles of hundred-dollar bills passed down through America’s occupation bureaucracy. (I bet the serial numbers were not recorded. Imagine if that were done and the U.S. could announce these C-notes demonetized!)
The reality is that not much of the notorious $3 trillion actually was spent in Afghanistan. It was spent on Raytheon, Boeing and other military hardware suppliers, on the mercenary forces, and placed in the accounts of the Afghan proxies for the U.S. maneuvering to use Afghanistan to destabilize Central Asia on Russia’s southern flank and western China.
The U.S. is now (20 years after the time it should have begun) trying to formulate a Plan B. Its strategists probably hope to achieve in Afghanistan what occurred after the Americans left Saigon: An economic free-for-all that U.S. companies can co-opt by offering business opportunities.
On the other hand, there are reports that Afghanistan may sue the United States for reparations for the illegal occupation and destruction still going on as the country is being bombed in Biden’s flurry of B-52 anger. Such a claim, of course, would open the floodgates for similar suits by Iraq and Syria – and the Hague in Holland has shown itself to be a NATO kangaroo court. But I would expect Afghanistan’s new friends in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to back such a suit in a new international court, if only to block any hopes by U.S. companies of achieving by financial leverage what the State Department, CIA and Pentagon could not achieve militarily.
In any case, Biden’s parting shot of nasty bombing of Taliban centers can only convince the new leadership to solidify its negotiations with its nearest regional neighbors with their promise to help save Afghanistan from any American, British or NATO attempt to try and come back in and “restore democracy.” The world has seen enough of Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s “rules based order” and President Biden’s pretended history on whose mythology U.S. policy will continue to be based.
National Security Archive, January 29, 2019. Declassified Documents Show Moscow’s Fear of an Afghan Flip, https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/briefing-book/afghanistan-russia-programs/2019-01-29/soviet-invasion-afghanistan-1979-not-trumps-terrorists-nor-zbigs-warm-water-ports, Johnson’s Russia List, August 17, 2021, #14.