Will the US actually leave Afghanistan?

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The headline on Wednesday’s front page of the New York Times contained something that can be interpreted as either a promise, a prophecy, a wild hope, or a meaningless truism. It read: “The withdrawal of US troops in Afghanistan will end the longest American war.” The headline was combined with an article with a slightly less assertive title: “Biden withdraws all combat forces from Afghanistan by September 11th.” Nevertheless It quickly returned to its prophetic tone, adding an important dramatic detail: “By September 11, President Biden will withdraw American combat troops from Afghanistan, end the nation’s longest war and overrule the warnings of his military advisers.” In place of the traditional divide and rule tactic, Biden will employ a new one: withdrawal and suppression.


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How can the New York Times promise that an event will “occur” months in advance of the date? Does the Times, as a “record paper”, have the authority to cover future events? Letters of intent, even from an incumbent president, are not predictions. Is the Times in the business of publishing prophetic journalism now? Rather, his certainty about what will happen in the future should be branded as wild partisan hope. The Times was ready to go overboard to give credit to the Biden government long before the credit is due. It has become a model in its reporting and even in the opinions of its Republican editorials since the election.

The Times’ initial claim can nonetheless be justified as a truism. While it doesn’t refer to a real event, its meaning is undeniably true. Withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan at any point in the future – be it September 2021 or even 2051 – will effectively end the longest war in US history, simply because by April 2021 it will be the nation’s longest war.

To underline the real seriousness of President Joe Biden’s resolution and to support the idea that the future will happen as reported, The Times cites an important fact: “A senior official in the Biden administration said the president was convinced that a ‘condition-based’ approach ‘would mean that American troops would never leave the country. “

Today’s definition of the Daily Devil’s Dictionary:

Condition-based approach:

A tactic that allows a government to promise a measure and then, at the critical moment, announce that it is entitled to refuse that measure

Contextual note

Solving a serious geopolitical problem is subject to local conditions. That is why negotiations are important. But the situation in Afghanistan has always been so complex and asymmetrical that even negotiations are doomed to failure. There are three parties involved in the current situation: the US, which wants to withdraw after 20 years of failed military efforts; the Taliban, who control most of the territory of a country traditionally ruled by local warlords; and the so-called legitimate Afghan government, originally set up by the US and supported economically and militarily.

Barack Obama and Donald Trump have both announced that they will withdraw from the conflict. But once the discussions started, the US insisted that certain conditions must be met. These conditions have always been formulated as minimal criteria for political stability and a guaranteed role for the official government, even in a power-sharing agreement with the Taliban. There was never a serious chance of achieving these goals. Exit dates could only be formulated as a goal, not as a predefined point in time. It also meant that those who resisted the withdrawal simply had to make sure that things on the ground remained reasonably unstable.

President Biden has clearly, even shockingly, innovated by unilaterally removing the condition criterion. It seems to be a step that is not intended to counteract the actors in Afghanistan, but rather its political opponents in Washington and the Pentagon. He did this because in the past, in every case, Congress and the Pentagon have succeeded in declaring that the inviolable conditions were not met. The US economy thrives on military engagement. The Afghan government has a permanent incentive to maintain the US presence, which guarantees billions in funding for government operations. Once the US leaves, the Taliban, while promising to aid a new composite regime, will undoubtedly have the upper hand in a negotiated power-sharing agreement.

In other words, there are two actors in the drama who have used the idea of ​​conditions to resist the withdrawal: the NATO-backed Afghan government and the Pentagon. Obama and Trump failed with their withdrawal plans because they put all their trust in the Pentagon. For this reason, the Biden administration’s decision to abandon a condition-based approach may be not only constructive, but absolutely necessary in order to achieve a goal longingly desired by the American public, but one that derives from the military-industrial complex to which the Pentagon, includes the defense industry and members who are opposed to Congress who depend on the defense industry to fund their campaigns and create jobs in their jurisdictions.

How inevitable is the New York Times’ bold prophecy that the September withdrawal will actually come? Already now, powerful senators who can prevent this, both Republicans and Democrats, are beginning to raise their voices to condemn what they call the shameful and degrading withdrawal from an engagement that began 20 years ago. The lobbyists are mobilizing to ensure that the interests of the defense industry and the Pentagon continue to exercise effective control over US foreign policy.

But on April 14th, Biden himself made it clear that there is indeed a condition. The Times reports that he warned the Taliban that “we will use all means to defend ourselves and our partners if American troops are attacked en route from the country.” .

Historical note

When George W. Bush ran for president in 2000, he claimed that he wanted the US to avoid any temptation to nation-building. Eight months after his presidency, under the pretext of the 9/11 attacks, Bush launched a foreign policy that obliged the US to take an active part in nation-building, first in Afghanistan, then in Iraq.

The foreign policy of the last three presidents has made both Afghanistan and Iraq examples of what might be termed “government formation and defense” rather than “nation building”. After the overthrow of an existing regime and the establishment of a puppet government committed to the liberal values ​​of the West, the game was to ensure the minimum necessary to keep such governments from collapsing while putting on the impossible burden set out to defeat America’s designated enemy.

It’s a recipe for geopolitical failure that worries presidents who prefer to be seen as winners. But it comforts everyone else in a system with its own internal logic. Spending money on weapons, selling these weapons to a captured customer government and using them operationally in real, non-simulated war situations if necessary, is an essential motivating factor for everyone involved.

The beauty of it is that they can rest assured that US taxpayers will pay the bill. In sport parlance, the Middle East and now parts of Africa are the equivalent of the expensive training facilities of a professional sports franchise motivated to take the competition to the extreme and emerge as undisputed champions. Training can continue at any time and can last for decades, but when the going gets tough, these exotic locations also serve as the stadium itself, where games are played and scores are recorded.

It took decades after World War II to build such a coherent system. However, this system is incompatible with the idea of ​​democracy and the morality of a civilized society that is committed to the idea of ​​human rights and responds to human needs for several reasons. It is coherent in that those in power – in government, industry, the media, and academia – share a common interest. The system provides them with the lifeline they need to keep their activities going. The problem is that the only parties that are left out and holding the bag are … the people.

The current economic and political situation reflects a “condition-based approach”. The condition is that the interests that control the machine must never be forced to lose control, because the result would be anarchy. And no civilized person – except the late anthropologist David Graeber – can seriously defend the idea of ​​anarchy.

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of The Daily Devil’s Dictionary on Fair Observer.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own views and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial guidelines.

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