I would like to say it’s amazing that 20 years of blundering in Afghanistan is now being proclaimed all the fault of President Joe Biden. I would like to, but it’s not. I will repeat a quote from Charles P. Pierce the other day.
There are a number of stories in your major news outlets on the subject of “the blame game” playing out within the administration as regards Afghanistan. There is no winning side to this game because everybody involved got Afghanistan wrong through ignorance, malice, or venality. The only one who got it right was the president. And the more stories I read from anonymous sources at the Pentagon or in what is laughingly called the intelligence “community,” the more I think that what’s driving this heated C-Y-A effort is that the president called bullshit on what everybody was telling him and acted on what was right there before his eyes. He pulled the emergency brake on the damn gravy train.
Believe this. Almost everything you’re reading on this topic in elite publications is an effort by somebody somewhere to duck out of their responsibility for 20 years of fantasy and illusion and outright lies. Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post called all of them out when he printed the so-called “Afghanistan Papers.” Anything that is attributed to the various anonymous sources that is in any way contradicted by Whitlock’s work is simply not to be trusted.
Pierce was talking about anonymous sources, but there are plenty going public now — and the press is giving them plenty of room for C-Y-A.
The latest is former ambassador Ryan Crocker. This quote from the wikipedia bio on him says it all:
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell called Crocker “one of our very best foreign service officers”. President George W. Bush called him “America’s Lawrence of Arabia” and noted that General David Petraeus had said that “it was a great honor for me to be his military wingman“.
Ryan Crocker is a member in good standing of “the Insider’s Club — the people who know how things really work, unlike the peasants”. The kind of people the press fawns on for access and begs for exclusive tidbits to show they too are connected to the Inner Circle. The people Pierce describes as “partisan hypocrites, outright liars, or undersecretaries of something who’d like to keep their jobs. Caveat lector, y’all.”
The people “who know what’s best for us.”
(Petraeus is being rehabbed from disgrace by the press because of his carefully cultivated record as The Counter Insurgency Expert from the Iraq Adventure, brought in to do the same nation-building in Afghanistan, along with Crocker. And Cthulhu help us, Barack Obama trusted these people too…
Speaking of which, Obama has remained remarkably silent on all of this, despite having his own 8 year run in Afghanistan, where he at least got Bin Laden — in Pakistan. But I digress.)
A Steaming Heap of Crocker…
Crocker has a C-Y-A exercise in The New York Times — Why Biden’s Lack of Strategic Patience Led to Disaster.
As Americans, we have many strengths, but strategic patience is not among them. We have been able to summon it at critical times such as the Revolutionary War and World War II, where, for example, Congress did not threaten to defund the war effort if it wasn’t wrapped up by 1944. In Korea, nearly seven decades after an inconclusive truce, we still have about 28,000 troops. But our patience is not the norm. And it certainly has not been on display in Afghanistan as the world watched the Taliban storm into Kabul.
If we’d only stayed in Afghanistan another 50 years, things would be different. Sure. So why did things go wrong?
As the enormity of the events in Afghanistan this past week sink in, the questions start. How did this happen? How could we not have foreseen it? Why didn’t Afghan security forces put up a fight? Why didn’t we do something about corruption? The list goes on. There is one overarching answer: our lack of strategic patience at critical moments, including from President Biden. It has damaged our alliances, emboldened our adversaries and increased the risk to our own security. It has also flouted 20 years of work and sacrifice.
Here’s where Crocker delivers the revisionist history to C-Y-A himself.
The United States’ objective in Afghanistan has always been clear: to ensure that Afghan soil is never again used to plan attacks against the American homeland. It was not about nation building as an end in itself, or building a new democracy, or even regime change…
…Hamid Karzai had arrived in Kabul just a few days before me as chairman of the Afghanistan Interim Authority. He and I spent a lot of time together in those initial weeks. He never seemed discouraged by the enormity of the task in front of him. He did not hesitate to make decisions, many good, some not so much. He had a vision of a stable and secure Afghanistan that threatened no one. It would be a long process, but he said he had the patience for it.
Oh, and this:
Clearly, there were also problems, chief among them corruption.
But wait — there’s more:
It did not have to be this way. When I left Afghanistan as ambassador in 2012, we had about 85,000 troops in the country. The Taliban controlled none of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals.
See? It’s not my fault!
When President Barack Obama left office there were fewer than 10,000 U.S. troops. And when Mr. Trump departed there were fewer than 5,000. The Taliban still did not hold any major urban area. Now, they hold the entire country. What changed so swiftly and completely? We did. Mr. Biden’s decision to withdraw all U.S. forces destroyed an affordable status quo that could have lasted indefinitely at a minimum cost in blood and treasure….
But not his blood and not his treasure. That’s for the little people to bear.
There is nothing wrong with strategic patience per se if what you are doing is working but just needs more time to complete. That was far from the case.
A 2019 Fresh Air on NPR interview with Craig Whitlock of the Afghanistan Papers at The Washington Post has a tallying of that “blood and treasure” Crocker minimizes:
DAVE DAVIES, BYLINE: Craig Whitlock, welcome to FRESH AIR. Let’s just start with a look at the scale of this conflict. It’s been 18 years. Tell us a bit just about the casualties, the cost and the current state of this war.
CRAIG WHITLOCK: Sure. So 2,300 U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001. That’s only a fraction of the overall casualties in the war, though. The brunt of the casualties have been borne by the Afghan people themselves. There’s about 60,000 Afghan security forces who have been killed, over 40,000 Afghan civilians, according to estimates. We know less about the number of Taliban fighters who’ve been killed. But overall, if you add it all up, the best estimates are that more than 160,000 people have lost their lives since 2001. So – and those totals keep mounting, particularly among the Afghan people.
In terms of costs, again, this is the kind of thing that – the government doesn’t break it down very well. But according to some estimates, the inflation-adjusted cost of the U.S. government, just for the Defense Department and State Department, is close to $1 trillion since 2001. That doesn’t include many other expenses, such as the cost of providing medical care for wounded troops, intelligence agencies such as the CIA or the debt on the money that we had to borrow to pay for the war. So those costs are escalating all the time.
Read the transcript or listen to the audio if you want the quick summary. If you want more on just how badly we were lied to by people like Crocker for 20 years, the Afghanistan Papers is a must read. It is available as a book and as an eBook. Hat tip to Mark Lippman for finding links to the papers as they originally ran.
- Part 1 At War With the Truth: webcache.googleusercontent.com/…
- Part 2 Stranded Without a Strategy webcache.googleusercontent.com/…
- Part 3 Built to Fail webcache.googleusercontent.com/…
- Part 4 Consumed By Corruption webcache.googleusercontent.com/…
- Part 5 Unguarded Nation webcache.googleusercontent.com/…
- Part 6 Overwhelmed by Opium webcache.googleusercontent.com/…
- Part 7 We Were Right webcache.googleusercontent.com/…
The Blame Game
If it bleeds, it leads. The media is going all in on all the ways things are going badly in Afghanistan — after years of treating it as an afterthought if they covered it all. And why not? There are about 3.5 million Americans currently serving in the military. That’s only about 1-2% of the total population. Most Americans have “no skin in the game” as the saying goes.
We like hearing that we have the finest military in the world. (And the most expensive.) We say “Support the troops” but the all-volunteer military lets us say “They knew what they signed up for” when things go bad. For all the flaws with the draft, it at least forced people to pay attention. And now we have to pay attention — for as long as it gets media the eyeballs they need to serve up for their advertisers. But again I digress.
John Stoehr at Alternet summarizes what is going on here with the press. It is interesting that as far as I’ve been able to find with a quick search, no one seems to be interviewing Whitlock for his reaction to what is currently happening. Stoehr quotes from a report that it has been impossible to get anyone who supports the withdrawal to get booked for an interview by the press.
I think America’s political elite — which, let’s not forget, includes the Washington press corps, especially its military affairs correspondents — could have tolerated Biden’s decision to end the war if the war’s end had come quietly. It didn’t, though, and there’s the real problem.
Biden’s “mistake” wasn’t about when to evacuate, how many and where to? His “mistake” was “allowing” a situation to unfold that drew the attention of normal Americans to the fact that America’s political elites failed and that 20 years of profound failure discredits them almost totally. The process of discrediting political elites started around the same time the occupation of Afghanistan began, that is, with the United States Supreme Court ruling in the case of Bush v Gore. What happened over the weekend put the face of human suffering on it.
I’ll end by underscoring the president’s other “mistake.” He took the side of the American people. When it comes to war, the elites are not used to presidents doing that. A huge majority believes the disaster in Kabul is evidence for why we should leave, not evidence for why we should stay. There’s no reversing that, however much influence the Washington press corps has on popular opinion. This isn’t 2003. War isn’t coming. It’s going (for now). I think Biden understands the reputational anxieties of the elites. After all, he’s one of them. But he’s also saying, without saying obviously: Look, it’s done. Get over it.
That The NY Times ran the self-serving mass of excuses, lies, and delusions by Crocker is execrable, but all of a piece with the rest of the media’s chosen narrative, as Eric Boehlert laid out the other day. (And notice few of them want to talk about Iraq or Bush.)
Many here at Daily Kos complained about the way the press (like The NY Times) spent four years covering Donald Trump’s every utterance. They were doing all kinds of verbal gymnastics to avoid calling most of them what they were: lies.
Considering that they spent 20 years covering Afghanistan (and Iraq) while also swallowing down and passing on lies wholesale, perhaps we should have not been surprised. As Stoehr suggests, they’re going after Biden because he left them exposed by refusing to keep up the charade about Afghanistan. They all need a scapegoat.
What happens to those who do play by the unspoken rules for elites? Bipartisan things like this for Crocker:
Crocker has received a Presidential Distinguished Service Award in 1994, the State Department Secretary’s Distinguished Service Award in 2008 and 2012, the Defense Distinguished Civilian Service Awards in 1997  and 2008, and the Defense Distinguished Public Service Award in 2012. He also holds the State Department Distinguished Honor Award, Award for Valor, three Superior Honor Awards, and the American Foreign Service Association Rivkin Award.
The conclusion of Crocker’s self-exculpation borders on the obscene.
…And whatever happens next, the image of this American capitulation is already etched indelibly in the world’s imagination. It is that U.S. Air Force C-17 taxiing for takeoff from Kabul surrounded by a desperate Afghan mob. Seconds later, at least one man falls to his death from the plane’s wheel well. It is eerily reminiscent of the people who jumped from the World Trade Center on 9/11 rather than face death by fire. What a tragic and painful circle it closes two decades later.
The circle will never close as long as the Crockers of this world continue on their merry way unscathed, having learned nothing, always failing upward, always passing the buck, always willing to say what people want them to say instead of what they need to hear.
(And while the media obsesses over Afghans falling to their deaths, what of the crew of that plane? They were just trying to do their jobs and found themselves in horror. Is that a metaphor for American good intentions or what?)
Elsewhere, George W. Bush lives quietly, amusing himself with painting. Barack Obama lives quietly and has nice birthday parties. Donald Trump does not live quietly, plays golf, is still fleecing his supporters, and is plotting his return to power.
Joe Biden tries to put an end to America’s longest war and 20 years of lies, and is being vilified for it by the press (and of course the GOP and the right wing Mighty Wurlitzer) because it’s horribly, tragically messy. Too many Democrats are rushing to distance themselves from it.
Biden ran on the promise he would get us out of Afghanistan — it should not have been a surprise that he would, although the fact that he actually is keeping the promise seems to have caught people flat-footed. Have we gotten that used to expecting everything said by our leaders to be a lie?
Trump spent months negotiating with the Taliban — where were the protests from the people who are now telling us Biden should never have dealt with them because of how terrible they are? Trump negotiated a withdrawal and was planning to be out by May 1. Where were the people back then who are now telling us Biden should have known what would happen? If this was happening on Trump’s second term, would there be comparable outrage — or just the tacit acceptance that it’s what Republicans do?
What did these experts in the press and elsewhere know, when did they know it, and when did they actually say it? Any fool can say what should have been done after the fact.
Maureen Dowd’s A Rough Beast Returns joins the chorus of condemnation. “Biden did the right thing getting us out of there. But he did it badly.” Does that mean if he’d done the wrong thing — keeping us there with more lies about “progress”, it would have been okay, better than doing the right thing? (She at least tells General Petraeus to stop talking.)
Stoehr’s observation that Biden took the side of the American people against the elites is borne out by the comments on Dowd’s wallowing moralizing. I’ll quote the one currently the top reader pick as of 10:00 east coast time:
Madame, this will NOT stand. Every single sentient President since the creator of this tragedy KNEW this would be the outcome. That’s exactly why the ending was delayed, postponed, prayed away, ignored, and delayed some more. It was an inevitable as the eventual sunrise.
Biden is the ONLY leader with the courage to end this debacle, this fiasco, this national scarlet letter, and to know he would suffer ALL the blame.
Point your manicured finger at him with abandon. Join the chorus of scorn and glee. But, where, exactly, have YOU been for these last twenty years ? How often have you demanded a end to this travesty? Where was your outrage in the past?
Thank You, President Biden.35 Replies 2929 Recommended
UPDATE: This video from Nick Anderson at the Houston Chronicle in 2007 is about the hubris and the lies that got us into Iraq, pivoting from Afghanistan.
For 20 years we were told to “Feel Good” about Afghanistan, fed a steady diet of stories about “progress”. This is a reminder of how we got to where we are today — and many of the people attacking Biden are the same ones who enabled what’s in this video.
UPDATE: This Modern World by Tom Tomorrow will be releasing his latest at Daily Kos Monday at 8am. It really captures the zeitgeist of this whole blame game. (I know because I got an early look because I subscribe — everyone should.)
His email about it also includes a couple from his archives from early in the Iraq and Afghanistan adventures.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.