Drawdown in Afghanistan: Stratagem or Futility

From the ambassadors down to the low level, (they all say) we are doing a great job. Really? So, if we’re doing such a great job, why does it feel like we are losing? ~ Gen. Michael Flynn, Afghanistan Papers, 2019

Even before Joe Biden’s announcement of the US withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan by September 11th reviews were mixed. Surprisingly – or maybe not, double-amputee combat veteran Senator Tammy Duckworth, in her best Donald J. Trump, was way less than enthusiastic when asked on Fox News about leaving our wholly warranted foothold in the dustbin of history. "Well, I don’t believe in artificial timelines. I want our troops to come home, absolutely. But, I want them to come home in a way that we don’t have to send them back three months later, six months later."

Not so surprising was a rebuke from the Senate floor by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, calling such an exit "reckless" and "a grave mistake…retreat in the face of an enemy that has not yet been vanquished and abdication of American leadership." Leaving out "precipitous" was a welcome relief. Such spurious grandstanding from Congressional hawks unabashedly brings to mind a perfect retort from Aliens Trooper Hudson during a futuristic Marine blunder: "Hey, maybe you haven’t been keeping up with current events, but we just got our asses kicked pal!"

Clearly, it would seem McConnell and war profiteering colleagues have not been paying attention to current events in the Afghanistan theater of operations. After nearly 6,400 US dead service personnel and contractors and over $2.26 trillion, according to the Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Institute, the last of nearly 800,000 de facto “vanquished” will be gone on September 11, if Biden is to be believed. As if to emphasize such futility, former Army platoon leader Erik Edstrom wrote in Un-American: A Soldier’s Reckoning of Our Longest War: "It would become harder and harder to find meaning in a war so meaningless."

While harsh to measured blowback for the pullout was notably bipartisan, there were also accolades. In a Washington Post op-ed Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Ro Khanna were even cautiously optimistic the withdrawal could be a pivot to diplomacy, a "foreign policy tool of first resort." Short of their inclusion of "protection of women in Afghanistan" as a top US diplomatic priority, perennial red meat for condition-based opposition, their analysis drew praise from progressives.

Surprisingly, while promoting the controversial pullout, Sanders even gave Donald Trump a virtual shoutout on CNN for getting the process started. "I applaud what the president has done; and in truth…what President Biden is doing is picking up on the negotiated agreement that President Trump put together."

Khanna extolled the Afghanistan withdrawal in the Twittersphere and in a statement released to news outlets Khanna also applauded Biden for "achieving an impossibility here in Washington: ending a forever war." For his progressive base on Democracy Now, he supported the Administration’s unilateral 4-month postponement, and asserted that "the president and his team need a few months to responsibly withdraw… the May 1st deadline that President Trump had set, I don’t think President Biden should have felt obligated to meet that." So, trashing the lynchpin provision of the February 2020 peace accord with the Taliban is not a concern. A September 11th deadline seems "reasonable." But redeploying 3,500 soldiers to virtually anywhere, given more than a year to accomplish, is asking too much of an undisputed global military power?

So, applause for Joe Biden, a leading Congressional cheerleader for the Iraq War and every naked US military aggression before or since? Really?

In all likelihood MSNBC’s fauxgressive viewers are still giddy but no member of the antiwar counterculture popped champagne or went to brunch after Biden’s announcement last week. Antiwar leftists have spoken or written extensively about the real reasons our bloody overreach included Afghanistan, reasons symptomatic of "a far deeper malady within the American spirit," to borrow from MLK’s Beyond Vietnam. To make matters worse, Joe Biden’s pathetic, politically-motivated conciliation to the DC foreign policy Blob, shamelessly co-opted September 11th. And it will no doubt have consequences.

A member of the Taliban military commission asserted this week that the Biden announcement of a prolonged presence "has shattered the Taliban’s trust," adding "The Taliban is not tired of war. We have time. The US should leave Afghanistan to Afghans."

Without question our unrelenting air campaign will continue, while special ops teams and mercenaries maintain or establish footholds. Detailed plans are now being fine-tuned for counterintelligence strikes from US forces positioned outside of Afghanistan, or "over the horizon." What could go wrong? Our military did so well with this self-licking ice cream cone while it was there.

No US troops have died in combat since last February, but disconcerting to many is the casualty count that troops and Afghans will incur when – no longer if – the brokered May deadline is ignored. A major offensive in response has been planned for over a year, and deadly attacks will resume. The Taliban know they have won, and they "are not tired of war." They…have…the time for more fighting and dying in another self-defeating conflict – for our freedom and a September photo-op at Arlington National Cemetery’s Section 60. Moreover, how long has it been since US leadership was concerned about clear paths to victory, or actual end states. And where is the outrage for prolonging this horror even one day longer?

No, I’ll hold my applause. Maybe ask me this fall.

Gene Marx is from Bellingham, Washington. Gene is a Vietnam veteran and former Naval Flight Officer aboard the USS Coral Sea in 1971-72. He is a past Secretary of the Veterans for Peace National Board of Directors and is currently the Communications Coordinator for VFP Chapter 111. He can be reached at ejmarx2@gmail.com.

Author: Gene Marx

Gene Marx is a Vietnam Veteran and National Board of Directors Secretary of Veterans for Peace. He lives in Bellingham, Washington. He can be reached at ejm2@comcast.net