An American Exercise In Washing Our Hands of Afghanistan

Andrew Donaldson

Born and raised in West Virginia, Andrew has since lived and traveled around the world several times over. Though frequently writing about politics out of a sense of duty and love of country, most of the time he would prefer discussions on history, culture, occasionally nerding on aviation, and his amateur foodie tendencies. He can usually be found misspelling/misusing words on Twitter @four4thefire and his writing website Yonder and Home.

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96 Responses

  1. InMD
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    I want to give a counter-take that I think is supported by all of the same facts in the piece. The American people never actually wanted a long nation-building war in a backwater. At most they wanted vengeance on bin Laden and al-Qaeda for 9/11. That mission was completed in Afghanistan long ago, and could have been done even better had we steered clear of all the stupid ideology.

    What we actually have is a situation where political, military, and foreign policy elites can do whatever the hell they want, regardless of the results, safe in the knowledge that it will not impact the vast majority of people and is therefore unlikely to result in any accountability. The apathy is not some moral stain on the voting public. Rather it is the intended result of policymakers and permanent bureaucracy. They want it this way but as long as we remain a democracy there is a possibility that eventually a critical mass of people will say enough.Report

    • Andrew Donaldson in reply to InMD
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      fair enough point that I consider myself but I keep coming back to the fact we can’t claim to be a voting public but not take responsibility for the policymakers and permanent bureaucracy that we continue by omission or commission to vote for.Report

      • InMD in reply to Andrew Donaldson
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        You won’t get any dissent from me to the point that we need to take some responsibility as citizens and voters. But I actually think this is kind of what that looks like. By electing administrations since 2012 with an official policy of ‘get out’ despite constant warnings of how ugly it could look the people have spoken.Report

      • Slade the Leveller in reply to Andrew Donaldson
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        There’s some dipsh*ttery going around right wing Twitter because Biden dropped Beau’s name into his speech today. The same right wing that unironically cheered Donald Trump for playing CCR’s Fortunate Son as a walk up song at his rallies. Said song contains this lyric:

        Yeah, some folks inherit star-spangled eyes
        They send you down to war
        And when you ask ’em, “How much should we give?”
        They only answer, “More, more, more”

        My point is, Americans have been divorced from military reality ever since the draft ended. No one has an involuntary stake in our adventurism, and it shows in the number of countries in which we have boots. Joe Biden’s son didn’t die on the battlefield, but he was there, and now it’s a point of derision.

        I’m not advocating for a return to the draft, but we need to figure out just how far we want our reach to be, and we better figure out a less costly way to throw our weight around.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to InMD
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      I always think the term elite is a bit void for vagueness but MSM and the National Security set have sure not covered themselves in glory because they basically want Afghanistan to continue forever because it fattens their wallets and gets them Aga Stoves and Viking Ranges.Report

      • InMD in reply to Saul Degraw
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        I think it goes beyond that. My understanding is that it was the DoD that convinced Obama to surge’n’stay instead of wind down. Interesting that Biden was apparently a dissenting voice in that decision.Report

      • Koz in reply to Saul Degraw
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        Yeah, maybe. I gotta say though, I’m not havin’ this latest convenient scapegoating of the deep state. I would have been all for it six months ago, or three months ago, but the current crisis has been caused by the recklessness and obliviousness of the Biden Administration.

        Biden has put our strategic interests in peril for the most superficial of reasons. He has put our armed services and foreign policy apparatus in a situation where they could not succeed, and accordingly they failed. The deep state has a lot of answer for, but not this one.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to InMD
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      The most sensible response to 9/11 should have looked something like Israel’s response to Munich. Send a bunch of elite special ops to track down the perpetrators that were still alive and kill them. The human righters would have howled quite loudly at this violation of norms but most people would be understanding.Report

      • Dark Matter in reply to LeeEsq
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        Israel’s security needs are hardly limited to that one incident nor could they be fixed by killing a handful of people. They’re an ongoing problem because of ideology.Report

      • InMD in reply to LeeEsq
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        I don’t necessarily have a problem with overthrowing the Taliban in 2001, we just should have immediately handed the country over to Karzai and the Northern Alliance with an agreement allowing us to hunt AQ and OBL until dead. But generally agree with the principle.Report

  2. Greginak
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    As someone with an interest in foreign policy/international affairs I learned a long time ago that was actually as popular as a REO Speedwagon cover band. The world is to big, complicated and far away for most people to care much. The internet has helped but is til pretty much the same. When people do care about our military interventions many just fixate on tactical level combat like that is the be all and end all. Yeah Spec Ops are cool and all but are just a tiny piece of what we need and do.

    Leaving without Afghanistan becoming a strong ally was always going to be a shit sandwich. It was always going to suck when we left. The current suck could be a hell of a lot worse so high fives all around for just mild sucking.Report

    • North in reply to Greginak
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      Yeah if those soldiers hadn’t died Biden would be in a position to brag about the Afghanistan withdrawal. As is I would be utterly astonished if it deals lasting damage to him beyond that the media in its entirety is sulky at him for taking away their shiny.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Greginak
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      I think the foreign policy set are upset because they thought a disinterested public meant they can do occupation forever,Report

    • Chip Daniels in reply to Greginak
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      I heard it from a friend who heard it from a friend who heard it from another you were messing around with foreign policy.

      But I just can’t fight this feeling that you are going to take it on the run, riding the storm out just so you can roll with the changes.

      I’d continue but it’s time for me to fly.Report

  3. Jaybird
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    If we play our cards right, maybe we can be a good example for others now that we’re out of Afghanistan.Report

    • Koz in reply to Jaybird
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      If, in fact, we’re out of Afghanistan. Which tbh I don’t completely believe. Are we really going to allow the Taliban to kill hundreds or thousands of Americans along with various others who have some sort of meaningful connection to America or its government? Maybe, maybe not.

      It is part of the incompetence of the Demo Joe Biden Administration that almost every representation they have made over the last 2-3 months pertaining to Afghanistan has either been wrong or been promptly contradicted by some other organ of the Executive Branch. I suspect that this assertion that “finally we’re out” will not be an exception.Report

  4. Pinky
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    The mainstream press isn’t a channel for intelligent conversation; we all know that. I’ve seen smart people debating the end of the war in the last few weeks, but I’d never even think to look for them on TV. There can be accountability without the media paying attention, too.

    By the way, does anyone think the Senate isn’t talking about Afghanistan? Those AP stats were far too precious. I mean, “number of times lawmakers on Senate Finance Committee…”? That’s not even a proxy for legislative oversight of costs, let along legislative oversight of the wars themselves. Like, could the AP have mentioned the two congressmen who traveled there last week, or would that have conflicted with the narrative? There are about 50 members of Congress who’ve served in the military since 9/11; are they all shy about it?Report

  5. Philip H
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    Like, could the AP have mentioned the two congressmen who traveled there last week, or would that have conflicted with the narrative?

    Like this? https://apnews.com/article/business-evacuations-kabul-islamic-state-group-9aa28ed934ac7a00e5982dafeab84c84 Even the Congressmen in question acknowledge it was a formal oversight trip, since those require planning and notice. Not sure what your other point is . . .Report

  6. Koz
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    That’s too heavy a topic for the American socio-political discourse in the Year of Our Lord 2021, though. We so desperately want to get back to our politics and culture as spectator sport where the consequences are practically nothing and the emotional highs are invigorating. But thankfully for the folks that don’t want to talk about it anymore, the last C-17 has left Kabul so that the linear thinking narrative hounds have their optically clear ending to segue back to the usually search engine optimized topics and feel they duly covered it. The last American military death, for now, is logged in the stats. The media coverage will swiftly move to the next thing. The social media debates will trend back to what we want to talk about, as opposed to what we must talk about.

    I don’t think this is wrong exactly. It’s the sort of thing that the various talking heads on the cable nets have gone back and forth about. But as a matter of perspective, I think it’s exactly backwards.

    In particular, it doesn’t emphasize enough the unique incompetence of Demo Joe Biden and his Administration. Given our history in Afghanistan over the last 20 years, and given the history of Afghanistan with other powers prior to that, and given all the relevant actions of the prior Administration, it is still the unique particular incompetence of Joe Biden in the months leading up to the withdrawal, and the particular incompetence of Joe Biden since the surrender of various parts of the ANA and the fall of Kabul which created the debacle we’ve had over the last two weeks.

    It is possible to say intelligent things about our poor strategic choices over the last 20 years, and the tendency of Americans toward out of sight, out of mind, and I don’t have any particular beefs against the OP. But they are not today’s problems, they’re just not.Report

    • Philip H in reply to Koz
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      I’ll ask again – how is his Administration incompetent in this instance?

      They moved 122,000 people out of Afghanistan in a month. They rendered the military hardware they controlled inoperable, so it makes for great TV and great paperweights. They are resettling 10’s of thousands of Afghan refugees. They have also carried out two successful drone strikes against ISIS-K targets.

      How is any of that incompetent?Report

      • Koz in reply to Philip H
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        First of all, President butchered the lead-up to the evacuation. Clearly he did not anticipate that the Taliban were going to come back to power nearly as quickly as they did, even though lots of people outside the deep state said that was going to happen.

        But even allowing for that he didn’t supervise the evacuation properly, most importantly but not limited to giving away Bagram Air Base. And then, after we had been sandbagged, after Kabul fell, he failed to react appropriately to get Americans out, to sort out the Afghans who America intended to bring out vs random Afghan “refugees”, largely because for America to go back and do things the right way, as we should have done, would clearly illustrate the lies and incompetence of the actions leading up to the debacle in the first place.Report

        • Koz in reply to Koz
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          And, of course, the President and his Administrations public-facing actions relating to their communications to America have also been a disaster, shouldn’t forget about that either.Report

          • Philip H in reply to Koz
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            How so? We have had daily briefings by the White House, DoD and State just on this, as well as at least 4 addresses to the US by the President on Afghanistan in the last month. I think trump gave 4 addresses to the nation in 4 years . . . .Report

            • Koz in reply to Philip H
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              For example, a week or two ago, President Biden complained to George Stephanopolous, who mentioned to him the fact that a few desperate Afghans fell to their death when they could not maintain their hold on the surface of a US transport aircraft while it was in flight.

              Specifically, the President said that was irrelevant since it happened “four or five days ago,” a statement which for sheer callousness and lack of humanity is up there with anything Former President Trump ever said.

              Furthermore, it was typical of Biden’s ignorance and lack of engagement in that the incidents where only two days ago at the time that he said that. And, he would have called to comment on it earlier, by the press or someone else, except that he was hiding out at Camp David or Delaware trying to hide from his responsibilities.Report

        • Philip H in reply to Koz
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          You didn’t even wait for the dust to get cleaned off the last C-17 to begin revising history, did you? Its sort of impressive. Cynical, sad, but sort of impressive.Report

          • Dark Matter in reply to Philip H
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            IMHO it’s reasonable to say we thought we’d have a LOT more time to get people out, and we didn’t make any plans which envisioned the Taliban controlling the city and thus our people would have to walk through a wall of theirs.

            When it became clear the Afgan army would fold, Biden could have made other (equally ugly?) decisions. His choice was to trust that the Taliban were reasonable people and will honor their agreements. That includes both them letting the American out, doing something about ISIS, and not using our list of Afgans we’d like to have help getting to the airport as a DeathNote.Report

            • North in reply to Dark Matter
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              Right now it appears that the decision Biden made generally paid off. We are, after all, out with 120k Americans and associated refugees which is an amazing logistical feat.

              Yeah suicide bomber loons got in one final stab. Perhaps had the Admin ignored their own military advisors and assumed immediate collapse they could have done… something. I guess an extra cordon of non-American security screening for bombers? But only with the superpowers of Captain Hindsight. Still in the grand scheme of things it’s far from a debacle.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to North
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                I’m fine giving him a pass on the bomber. I’m less fine with trusting the Taliban to release tens(?) of thousands of people who were working for us.

                We’re already seeing backsliding or a disconnect in terms of what the negotiators promised and what the fanatics with guns on the ground do.Report

              • North in reply to Dark Matter
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                Sure, but that was baked into the cake when the Afghan debacle started. There was no scenario where the US was going to be able to extract the entire “collaborator” class of the country in the course of a couple of months. Options to do would require all of the following:
                -Begin mass evacuations before the Afghan government collapsed, thus precipitating the collapse and putting us in the same mess we’re in now only months earlier.
                -Violating the deal with the Taliban on timetables and troop levels and somehow continuing the evacuation only now with missiles being shot at the evacuation vehicles. Horray!
                -Travelling back in time and unfishing the fished up mess Steven Miller spent four years of the Trump admin turning the visa system into.Report

            • Philip H in reply to Dark Matter
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              IMHO it’s reasonable to say we thought we’d have a LOT more time to get people out,

              1. The US moved 122,000 people in a month. Can we stop acting like we wiffed this?

              2. Trump said a year ago we were leaving. Biden said 9 months ago we were leaving. Then he said it again and again. How much more time do you think we should have had.Report

          • Koz in reply to Philip H
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            Revisionist? Gotta admit, didn’t see that one coming. Ok, so for the record, it is absolutely preposterous that I could be a revisionist in this situation.

            It is the main narrative of Afghanistan for two weeks that Biden, his Administration, their lack of competence and engagement, has created a situation where America has lost important strategic interests, in Afghanistan and elsewhere. It is revisionist to suggest, as you apparently do, “Look at this great panic evacuation we just pulled off, see Biden really had it under control the whole time.”Report

            • North in reply to Koz
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              That has been the main narrative of a media, defense contractor and military apparatus that is frothing mad that Biden had the temerity to take their punch bowl away.

              They screech that Biden should have never believed their (assumed doomsaying) threats that the Afghan government would only last a few years or months to try and distract from the fact that they were given two trillion dollars and thousands of lives and couldn’t even make a Afghan government that’d more than a few days and weeks. Even the fishin’ Soviets did better than that with a fraction of the money, tech and manpower.

              As to strategic interests? Name em. I’d bet nothing you can come up with would be equal to the benefit of the US no longer being stuck in that rat hole wasteland, let alone the life of a single Marine.Report

              • Koz in reply to North
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                Well yeah, it’s President Biden’s reckless and impulsive decisions which have harmed our strategic interest. First of all the 13 marines and other servicemen who died because the Biden evacuation was a clusterfcuk.

                And everything else extrapolates from there. Eg, the American citizens and other foreigners who had some connection to America who we have or had some duty to protect. Our equipment and sensitive info that fell into the hands of the Taliban, or in one notorious case that we handed over to them. And of course our loss of credibility and engagement with any other nation that we might have important dealings with, ie almost all of them.

                None of those things were baked in the cake, and they were all preventable if President Biden could either supervise a competent evacuation _or_ maintain the status quo.Report

              • North in reply to Koz
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                Ok, well I addressed the 13 service members already. Basically until/unless the media can dig up a memo showing that the DoD and military warned Biden in advance that Afghanistan would implode in a matter of days then that isn’t on the Administration.

                The administration hauled 120k people out of Afghanistan. Unless you’re a in the camp that we should have surged in Afghanistan- again (and I don’t think you’re a remainer are you?) then I’d say Biden did about as much as could be done with the time and bureaucracy that was bestowed on him to get everyone out of Afghanistan that could.

                The equipment, as has been exhaustively discussed, was given to the Afghanistan army and was functionally lost to the Taliban the moment it was given to them. I know you’re not crazy enough to suggest Biden could somehow have stripped the ANA of their gear and credibly escaped blame when they promptly imploded. If you have a problem with the material goodies the Taliban got then your beef is with W and Rumsfeld, not Biden.

                As for credibility. Definitely not worth the cost of being mired in that rat hole. The US departed ‘Nam and did just fine reputational wise. If the Russians or the Chinese honestly thought that Biden made a mistake closing up the sucking torso wound that was Afghanistan then they’re as deluded as the Blob is.

                The idea that a retreat could be immaculate is just another canard the media and the Blob have concocted to try and justify keeping their punch bowl and remaining indefinitely. Maintaining the status quo was also not an option. The status quo was purchased, by Trump, in exchange for releasing a mountain of prisoners and promising to leave. If Biden had reneged on that deal then the Taliban would have resumed attacking and the options would have been to leave under live fire or to surge thousands more troops and more billions of dollars into that pit.Report

              • Koz in reply to North
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                This is somewhat complicated, so I might reply more than once.

                Unless you’re a in the camp that we should have surged in Afghanistan- again (and I don’t think you’re a remainer are you?)

                I am, actually, which surprises me as much or more than anyone.

                If, as the apologists for the Administration have tried to say, our choices were the status quo ante of Jan 20, when President Biden took office, or a Demo President Joe Biden-supervised withdrawal, we’re better off staying. By a lot.Report

              • North in reply to Koz
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                Uh huh but the choices were not withdraw or status quo. The choices were withdraw vs double down.Report

              • Koz in reply to North
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                Uh huh but the choices were not withdraw or status quo. The choices were withdraw vs double down.

                That’s kind of dubious, but so what. “Double down” then. say from 2500 troops to 5000 troops. It’s still less than what we had there a week ago after we had to send in the 82nd Airborne.

                In other words, have at least enough troops there to hold on to your airbase.Report

              • Koz in reply to North
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                Basically until/unless the media can dig up a memo showing that the DoD and military warned Biden in advance that Afghanistan would implode in a matter of days then that isn’t on the Administration.

                Not on your life. FIrst of all, there very well may be such memos. Unfortunately, Biden wouldn’t remember anything that was presented to him anyway.

                Of course, Biden shouldn’t need a memo anyway. It was widely believed among various people that was going to happen, not least among our enlisteds and junior officers who’d done tours there. So Biden should have anticipated at least some probability this was coming.

                And, one thing has to be mentioned since it is so obvious to most people, but some reason can’t be acknowledged by libs. That is, the reason the evacuation was such a clusterfcuk, was because the US didn’t have enough boots on the ground to run its logistics processes correctly. And the reason it didn’t have enough boots on the ground is because Biden insisted on drawing down our troop levels.

                This is a very important consideration in the whole blame-the-brass thing the Administration’s apologists are going for. The brass fed Biden bullshit because that’s what he told them to do.Report

              • Koz in reply to North
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                As for credibility. Definitely not worth the cost of being mired in that rat hole. The US departed ‘Nam and did just fine reputational wise.

                That’s only part of the credibility issue, and not most important part (at least as it pertains to Afghanistan).

                It’s not so much that we’re losing our strategic interest in our relationship to Afghanistan, which like you said isn’t important. What is important is our relationship with every other country, and how Biden’s incompetence has depreciated them.

                I’m not a historian of Asia by any means, but we had a strategic plan in Vietnam, called Vietnamization, which was largely the brainchild of Kissinger and Nixon. That plan clearly failed with the fall of Saigon. There’s some debate of whether that was inevitable, or consequence of the impending impeachment of Nixon, blah blah, I don’t really know, won’t get into it here.

                And of course that failure actually did hurt our reputation and credibility, basically for the duration of the 70s and didn’t really recover till Reagan, for largely the reasons that you’re dismissing. The other countries in the world would a lot more confident that the Soviets would follow through of whatever they threatened or promised, and would be substantially less confident in us.

                Again, that’s a sidelight. What’s most important here is that the lack of credibility as a consequence of Afghanistan isn’t a crisis of circumstances, it’s a crisis of leadership.

                That’s to say, some other country, eg Taiwan, Estonia, the Philippines, whoever, they have different circumstances in Afghanistan. So they could, in a different world, relate to the US based on their circumstances as opposed to whatever happened if Afghanistan.

                Except, that our leadership is telling everybody who’s paying attention that we don’t know what’s going on in the world, don’t care, and don’t have any intention of changing those things. In that world, the world we actually live in, friend and for alike are going to be reevaluating how that want to deal with us, and not to our benefit.

                That’s why, I have been insisting that this debacle has a particular nature as a _partisan_ failure_, as a _Demo_ failure, as a _Biden_ failure.

                As the United States, we still have 99.9% the same resources and the same interests we had before. But if Biden is going to call a lid on the day at 11AM and spend the rest of the day eating ice cream at Camp David, those things won’t help us.Report

              • Philip H in reply to Koz
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                And the reason it didn’t have enough boots on the ground is because Biden insisted on drawing down our troop levels.

                Sorry bro, but facts are facts whether you like them or not. Trump left 2500 US military personnel to Biden. Biden ramped that up to 6000 to accomplish the withdrawal. He did what was needed. You keep ignoring this fact, and its impacting your credibility in this discussion.Report

              • Koz in reply to Philip H
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                Philip, your comment is a reading comprehension failure of substantial proportions.

                I can assure you that I am not ignoring the troop levels of the US presence in Afghanistan. Those levels are a substantial premise to everything I’ve argued in this thread and the other Afghanistan threads. How are you possibly not getting this?

                Here is Gen Milley telling all the world that President Biden is full of shtt:

                https://www.defense.gov/Newsroom/Transcripts/Transcript/Article/2738086/secretary-of-defense-austin-and-chairman-of-the-joint-chiefs-of-staff-gen-mille/

                On your question of Bagram, securing Bagram, you know how big Bagram is. You’ve been there many times. Securing Bagram is a significant level of military effort of forces, and it would also require external support from the Afghan Security Forces.

                Our task given to us at that time, our task was protect the embassy in order for the embassy personnel to continue to function with their consular service and all that. If we were to keep both Bagram and the embassy going, that would be a significant number of military forces that would have exceeded what we had or stayed the same or exceeded what we had.

                So we had to collapse one or the other, and a decision was made. The proposal was made form CENTCOM commander and the commander on the grounds, Scott Miller, to go ahead and collapse Bagram. That was all briefed and approved, and we estimated that the risk of going out of HKIA or the risk of going out of Bagram about the same, so going out of HKIA — was estimated to be the better tactical solution in accordance with the mission set we were given and in accordance with getting the troops down to about 600, 700 number.

                That is, instead of maintaining appropriate troop strength to accomplish our mission in Afghanistan, President constrained our military to make success impossible and chaos inevitable. All of this was in service of superficial appearances and artificial deadlines, fcuking absolutely unforgiveable.

                And as you point out, when the shtt hit the fan, we had to send the troops back in anyway before we had to do this Chinese Fire Drill evacuation. We could have done that earlier where it would have actually done some good. Ie, the marines wouldn’t have died, we could manage civilian evacuations, refugee/visa vetting, war materiel, sensitive information, etc, etc. In fact, if we had continued to hold or increase troop strength from where Trump left office, the various elements of the ANA might not have surrendered and Kabul might not have fallen.

                This is why, for this second at least, I’m not on the blame-the-Pentagon bandwagon. President Biden is eating this one alone.Report

              • North in reply to Koz
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                Lots of responses so I’ll try and take them in order:
                -On the double down post that’s 5000-troop number is nonsensical. The last time we “surged” troops in 2009 we sent 30,000 bringing the total in the country to 100,000 and that effort did not repel the Taliban but merely contained their advancements to around a fifth of the country. Trump cut a deal with the Taliban, releasing thousands of their prisoners and agreeing to leave the country in May of 2021 so long as the Taliban basically stayed out of the news until then. The Taliban generally adhered to that deal. Suggesting that the quiet that Trump bought with a promise of withdrawal would remain if Biden reneged on that deal is nonsensical.
                So the choice was withdrawal or surging tens of thousands, up to a hundred thousand troops back into that wasteland with absolutely no prospect of genuine success.

                Next point on memos. I haven’t seen any memos suggesting Biden was warned in advance that the Afghan government would implode in a matter of weeks if the U.S. withdrew. There certainly wasn’t any of the Blob usual suspects saying such in advance since it’d be a horrifically embarrassing thing for them to admit. Trillions of dollars and thousands of Americans dead for a Potemkin village government and military that folded in a couple of weeks? Nonsense. They weren’t predicting that in advance. They were saying the Afghans would take months to years to fold; they thought they were exaggerating to try and keep their playground and they ended up being ludicrously wrong with their worst-case scenarios. Bluntly, if the admin didn’t have to consider political implications by all rights there should be a procession of fired staffers and officials from every level of the DoD and Pentagon filing out the door. No small numbers of generals should, by all rights, be hunting for new jobs.

                Next, your point about troop levels is equally contradictory. If there were more troops in the country there’d be less casualties? Yeah offering way more targets definitely would reduce casualties.

                Finally, when we come to enumerating what has strategically been lost you offer nothing but some warmed over domino theory? Guess what, the Soviets aren’t around any more and if China’s calculus to, say, Taiwan has changed at all because of Afghanistan it’s probably moved away from attacking since there no longer will be thousands of Americans sitting exposed and helpless on China’s western border.

                Also, understanding you’re more neo-con than I originally thought, I am further confused. How on earth do you parse the position that we should be surging into Afghanistan if you have this nonsensical conviction that Biden is basically out of it (a conviction, I’d add, that seems based entirely in your imagination)? Overseeing a complex intervention would be far more demanding a task that withdrawal.

                The successful suicide attack on the airport demonstrates the obvious reasons why getting the fish out of Afghanistan was the right call. If we’d stayed, we’d be seeing that garbage all over the country. Now I get that Afghanistan is ultimately a Republican project and the GOP has never done anything you seriously object to but for the rest of the country getting out of that wasteland remains overwhelmingly popular. My bet is Afghanistan will be out of the national consciousness by winter at the latest.Report

              • Koz in reply to North
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                -On the double down post that’s 5000-troop number is nonsensical. The last time we “surged” troops in 2009 we sent 30,000 bringing the total in the country to 100,000 and that effort did not repel the Taliban but merely contained their advancements to around a fifth of the country.

                Again, probably more than one response to your latest comment, but I wanted to reply to this first.

                As far as this goes, either you’re misunderstanding something or I wasn’t very clear. Maybe my most recent reply to Philip can help.

                In any event, we have a mission in Afghanistan that’s been pretty clear from the late Trump Administration to today: we want to cease operations in Afghanistan and bring home all the appropriate people, materiel and information. That’s obviously not the same mission as 5 years ago or 20 years ago, but it is still a mission nonetheless.

                And that mission has requirements just like any other, wrt numbers, training, readiness, other resources, etc. And with respect to _that_ mission, President Biden has starved the military of the resources needed to complete the mission, and at the same time been inflexible as to the outcome of the mission itself.

                That’s what Gen Milley said in that long quote from my comment above, and that is uniquely Demo President Joe Biden’s failure.

                And this becomes all the more clear when you put concrete numbers on things. That is President Biden gave up the Bagram airbase because he wanted to draw down our troop level from 2500 to 700.

                In this world, surging 30K troops to total troop strength of 100K is completely irrelevant. That’s about trying to make Afghanistan safe for democracy or attempting to kill or capture High Value Targets of the Taliban, or some other mission that’s no longer operative.

                This is about maintaining appropriate troop numbers for the mission we’re in. Biden failed to do that, and as a consequence our boots on the ground were forced to carry rabbit’s foot because of Biden’s incompetence. And guess what, 11 marines 1 soldier and 1 corpsman weren’t very lucky (to say nothing of the hundreds of Afghans).

                And like I wrote to Philip above, we had to send in the troops anyway to pull off this Chinese Fire Drill evacuation anyway. We should have just done it earlier when we could have done ourselves some good.

                And most important for you, I think, is that the numbers involved are small and have nothing to do with 2009.Report

              • PHilip H in reply to Koz
                Ignored
                says:

                And like I wrote to Philip above, we had to send in the troops anyway to pull off this Chinese Fire Drill evacuation anyway. We should have just done it earlier when we could have done ourselves some good.

                we got 130,000 people out in a month. That’s not a Chinese firedrill. And really, you need to stop insulting the people who did it by insisting it was.Report

              • Koz in reply to PHilip H
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                says:

                we got 130,000 people out in a month. That’s not a Chinese firedrill.

                The point about the Chinese Fire Drill is that the only reason we’re going through this superfluous panic is because President Biden fcuked up the mission requirements in the first place.Report

              • North in reply to Koz
                Ignored
                says:

                Ok I think I understand the thrust of what you’re saying.

                I don’t see any way a hindsight claim that the attacks on troops could have been prevented had there been more troops holds much water. Had more troops been present there simply would have been more targets in more places for the assorted bad actors to aim for. You keep bringing up Bagram airbase but that’s a non-sequitur. That airbase is 40 km outside Kabul through mountainous terrain. It’s hard to get to (which is why we liked it) and has no civilian facilities for evacuation. It would have been utterly useless for evacuation purposes which is why they dumped it in the first place.

                As Philip notes, we did pull 130k people out in roughly a month when the Potemkin government imploded unexpectedly. The media’s fabulous language aside it’s pretty hard to describe that incredible feat of logistics as a debacle or a Chinese fire drill.Report

              • Koz in reply to North
                Ignored
                says:

                I don’t see any way a hindsight claim that the attacks on troops could have been prevented had there been more troops holds much water. Had more troops been present there simply would have been more targets in more places for the assorted bad actors to aim for. You keep bringing up Bagram airbase but that’s a non-sequitur. That airbase is 40 km outside Kabul through mountainous terrain. It’s hard to get to (which is why we liked it) and has no civilian facilities for evacuation. It would have been utterly useless for evacuation purposes which is why they dumped it in the first place.

                No North, you’re fixating on drawing down troop levels while ignoring mission and capacity, pretty much like Biden come to think of it.

                If our mission in Afghanistan is scoped correctly, our troops in Afghanistan are not soft targets. We’re not doing nation-building, hearts-and-minds, or search and destroy. We’re winding down (or I should say we ought to be winding down) our presence there in an orderly, and appropriate way.

                As far as Bagram goes, it’s important to think about it in terms of capacity. In particular, a military airbase like Bagram is not at all the same thing as a civilian airport like HKIA.

                Once we have claimed Bagram, it’s ours. We can move personnel and materiel in and out of there 24 hours a day, and it’s in the middle of nowhere so we’re not going to get suicide bombed like at HKIA.

                If we had to, we could evacuate whoever we wanted to from there. Ie, we could chopper taxi them from our embassy to Bagram, or drive them there if passage was safe. But most likely we wouldn’t have had to, because probably Kabul wouldn’t have fell in the first place and we would never had the panic at the disco in the first place.

                And for certain the marines would be alive since they wouldn’t have gotten suicide bombed.Report

              • North in reply to Koz
                Ignored
                says:

                So if we hadn’t departed from Bagram the government wouldn’t have fallen? And our soldiers wouldn’t have been exposed to suicide bombers because we’d be trickling the refugees out by helicopter, oh and we’re still going to be out by the agreed upon time so the Taliban don’t start lobbing missiles at the departing aircraft!? Heck, I like that counterfactual! We can have Santa wingman each flight out as well and I’m gonna say in that world I would have won the lottery too!Report

              • Koz in reply to North
                Ignored
                says:

                The government could have fallen at some point, might not have happened by now. We wouldn’t have gotten suicide bombed, that’s pretty clear.

                In any event, once you even try to understand anything meaningful about mission and capacity, it becomes pretty obvious that the Administration’s line that President Biden is a tough-minded leader, standing up to the generals, who could finally pull the plug on 20 year trillion dollar quagmire, etc, etc, is that much garbage.

                The trillions of dollars, thousands of lives thing, we’re not paying that now, that’s from a long time ago. Trying to pretend otherwise, you’re falling into a weird reverse sunk cost trap, ie that because we had wasted so much there, that we have to repudiate our investment. In fact, our commitments at the time Biden took office were not especially expensive, either in blood or treasure.

                All he did was temporarily reduce our troop level from 2500 to 700. Of course we found out the hard way that those ~2000 troops he pulled were the glue holding the whole place together.Report

              • North in reply to Koz
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                says:

                Those 2000 troops weren’t the glue holding the place together. That’s just a feeble excuse. The Taliban spent that time subverting the incredibly corrupt and entirely subvertable Afghan government during that time. Once it was obvious the Americans were leaving then the Taliban mostly just drove to Kabul. Had there been an extra couple of thousand Americans standing around the Taliban would, presumably, just have driven around them and we’d have dozens more casualties from attacks since the other actors would have had far more targets located in places they expected the Americans to be.

                Yes, you can spin up a rose colored glasses alternative reality where more troops left behind slow down the collapse (maybe? Why?) but it is equally likely that more troops just mean more casualties and more pressure to not withdraw at all which is why the various neocons and media yackers are pushing for it in the first place. They don’t want to leave and if they need buckets of American blood to paint on their “Let’s not leave Afghanistan!” posters, well that’s been acceptable losses for them through 2 republican administrations and one Democratic one. What’s a few more? They’re volunteers anyhow.Report

              • Koz in reply to North
                Ignored
                says:

                Those 2000 troops weren’t the glue holding the place together. That’s just a feeble excuse. The Taliban spent that time subverting the incredibly corrupt and entirely subvertable Afghan government during that time.

                There’s more than one thing involved here North, maybe I should have been more clear. Certainly those 2000 troop would not have prevented the prior gov’t from being subverted and undermined, as you say.

                It’s just as clear that if we didn’t draw down those 2000 troops (or in a worst case increased our troop strength in some well-chosen way to a total number less than 10K) that we could and would have avoided the panic and mayhem that we’ve seen over the last three weeks.

                Otoh, if we had not done the Biden drawdown would the prior gov’t still be in power today? I don’t think we can know for sure, but there’s some reason to believe the answer is yes. Biden’s drawdown completely killed our capabilities regarding logistics and intelligence. That’s what the 2000 being the glue refers to, and I think you’d be hard pressed to argue otherwise.

                And, if we’d maintained those capabilities, would the Taliban have pushed as aggressively as they did? Would the ANA units and other Afghan defectors have flipped as soon as they did? Maybe maybe not. Like you said, they’re afraid that we’ll change our mind and restart butt-kicking. And as long as we have our airbase, we can change our mind at any time. Conceding the airbase doesn’t just telegraph our intentions, it also diminishes our capacity as well. My guess is that the Taliban have waited us out for 20 years already, they would probably wait longer to see if we’re actually going or not.

                In any event, the whole trillions of dollars, thousands of lives things just doesn’t hold water in the context of the Biden drawdown, it just doesn’t. Some libs have tried to blame the Trump withdrawal agreement as painting Biden into a corner, but also functioning like the eye of a hurricane, a false calm that would end abruptly if we didn’t panic leave a la Biden. But that doesn’t really hold up either. The trillions and thousands thing didn’t really apply to the whole Trump Administration, not just that part of it after the withdrawal agreement. President Trump signed that agreement because he wanted to leave, just like Biden did.

                The whole thing is pretty clear if you read the info from the Administration and other lib sources for what it is, politically motivated spin. That doesn’t guarantee that every word of it is false, but it is wildly misleading at the very least.

                Instead, you should be thinking in terms of mission, capacity, and leadership. To be sure, those aren’t kindergarten words, but they’re not that complicated either. Once you grok those things, the situation is pretty clear.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to North
                Ignored
                says:

                If we’d started doing that 6 months ago with the idea that we’d be done-done on the date we told the Taliban, I’d think the Taliban wouldn’t be spun up.

                The problem is 6 months ago puts us into the transition.

                The rarest resource in the universe is the attention of senior management. This didn’t get the attention it deserved when it needed it.Report

              • North in reply to Dark Matter
                Ignored
                says:

                This paradoxical reasoning is, well paradoxical of course. If Biden had known, in advance, that the Afghan government would collapse then he could have started mass evacuations of the Afghan “collaborator” class early. Of course mass evacuating those Afghans immediately precipitates the same collapse that occurred in August only, plausibly, faster. So we’re having the same conversation in late Spring or early Summer with the added cherry of “Biden caused this by evacuating Afghans” on top of it.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to North
                Ignored
                says:

                I don’t know what a “typical” member of the “collaborator” class looks like, nor what their rank is in the gov.

                If we’re just talking about “people who were translators for the Americans”, then their big job skill is “can speak English” and that doesn’t imply the gov falls without those people.Report

              • North in reply to Dark Matter
                Ignored
                says:

                The point remains. You start hauling Afghanis out of the country and the government immediately folds as everyone and their uncle scrambles for the exit. So had Biden started doing that then he’d be dealing with the same mess only worse, earlier and more plausibly his “fault”.

                I do think there were plenty of tactical mistakes made by the Biden Admin. The worst case plan should have been a plan for MUCH worse than the government falls in a few months. There doesn’t look like there was a media strategy in place at all for the totally predictable attacks and, since they didn’t expect immediate Afghan implosion, it doesn’t look like un-ratfishing Millers work on the Visas was given a priority.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to North
                Ignored
                says:

                The worst case plan should have been a plan for MUCH worse than the government falls in a few months.

                That.

                it doesn’t look like un-ratfishing Millers work on the Visas was given a priority.

                Also that.

                You start hauling Afghanis out of the country and the government immediately folds as everyone and their uncle scrambles for the exit.

                Unclear. The population of Afghanistan is about 38 million. We’ve been taking a thousand a year for the last 20 or so years.

                The WSJ claims we have another “tens” of thousands of special visa applications. Their chosen example was an Afghan whose job was “CIA spy”. I would think we could take 20(?) thousand former spies/translators (i.e. less than 0.1% of the population) without affecting their stability. We’re literally talking about one person in two thousand or so.

                For comparison, about 10% of Americans move every year.Report

              • North in reply to Dark Matter
                Ignored
                says:

                Dark, we’re talking about first: knowing in advance that the Afghan government was a Potemkin government that’d fold within days in advance and then second identifying, arranging visas for, sorting and secretly smuggling thousands of Afghanis and their families out of the country in secret. If we’re going to demand precognition and the ability to move thousands of people secretly concealed from their own fishing community why don’t we just demand Biden snap his fingers and turn the Taliban into hamster’s while we’re at it. It’s nonsensical.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to North
                Ignored
                says:

                Secret? Everyone knows we’re leaving and we’re supposedly taking our collaborators with us. Them going a few months early, while we’re still bmoc should not matter.Report

              • Koz in reply to North
                Ignored
                says:

                Finally, when we come to enumerating what has strategically been lost you offer nothing but some warmed over domino theory? Guess what, the Soviets aren’t around any more and if China’s calculus to, say, Taiwan has changed at all because of Afghanistan it’s probably moved away from attacking since there no longer will be thousands of Americans sitting exposed and helpless on China’s western border.

                You can call domino theory if you’d like I guess but it really isn’t because it’s not about the circumstances of bloc conflict where one domino falling causes the next one to fall as well. This is what I was trying to get at in my earlier comment where I said this is a crisis of leadership, not a crisis of circumstance.

                You may or may not know, but it was reported ~a week ago that the Biden Administration gave the Taliban a list of Afghans for whom it requested safe passage. You don’t think everybody in the whole world noticed that little episode?

                That’s to say, even if we have lots of ships and planes and troops and bombs and whatever, we are still prevented from defending our national interest in the world arena if our leadership is as incompetent as the Demo Biden Administration has shown itself to be.Report

              • North in reply to Koz
                Ignored
                says:

                Yes, I recall the list story. What I don’t recall is a subsequent story about the Taliban stringing all those Americans and Afghanis on the list up from the phone poles and killing them. Nor, for that matter, did the Taliban attack us as we were withdrawing. Interestingly it’s almost like the Taliban were rational actors, wanted us to leave and didn’t want to give us a reason to change our mind and send them back to their mountain caves for another decade or two.Report

              • Koz in reply to North
                Ignored
                says:

                Yes, I recall the list story. What I don’t recall is a subsequent story about the Taliban stringing all those Americans and Afghanis on the list up from the phone poles and killing them.

                That may have happened already, it may yet happen, or it may never happen, but either way it’s still a crisis of leadership incompetence which will have reverberations throughout the world, in the thing you’re calling the domino theory but really isn’t.

                Have you given any thought at all as to how an episode like that affects other nations’ perception of our follow-through, of our information security? Somehow I doubt it.

                This idea inside your head that the only thing that really matters is being out of Afghanistan and everything else is ancillary simply isn’t working, on every level.Report

              • North in reply to Koz
                Ignored
                says:

                As to other nations perceptions of America’s follow through? I’d say they think we’re idiots for slamming our hand in the door of Afghanistan for 20 years but at least they know we’re not the kinds of idiots who’ll slam our hand in the door for 30 years.

                You can wish cast this neocon fantasy onto the world’s perceptions of us but that is far from making it accurate. As to the list itself, the fact that gambit was made, if it’s remembered at all, will be remembered only depending on its outcome. If no Americans die over it then it’ll be viewed as a canny move, and vice versa if any do.Report

              • Koz in reply to North
                Ignored
                says:

                As to other nations perceptions of America’s follow through? I’d say they think we’re idiots for slamming our hand in the door of Afghanistan for 20 years but at least they know we’re not the kinds of idiots who’ll slam our hand in the door for 30 years.

                Yes those are circumstances. Those circumstances are more or less unique to Afghanistan, other nations are almost guaranteed to be different.

                This is what I was getting at before when I said that this is a crisis of leadership, not a crisis of circumstance. As long as we have Demo President Joe Biden doing Demo President Joe Biden-y things, we are going to get fcuked by the same failure of leadership.

                If no Americans die over it then it’ll be viewed as a canny move, and vice versa if any do.

                Not on your life. There is no way in hell that anyone in that position wants their information turned over to the enemy. People who are putting their trust in the US have to know we’re not going to do what BIden just did. We can’t necessarily keep them from being killed, but we can keep them from being betrayed.Report

              • North in reply to Koz
                Ignored
                says:

                Well heck, when you put it that way Biden’s move was even more responsible since America gets all the upside and Biden’s admin just gets the blame which dissipates the moment they leave office. Job well done crew!

                Oh and this means future neocon playtimes will be less likely to happen because people will look at history and say “this’ll end up badly for us.”? This keeps getting better and better!Report

              • Philip H in reply to Koz
                Ignored
                says:

                Not on your life. There is no way in hell that anyone in that position wants their information turned over to the enemy. People who are putting their trust in the US have to know we’re not going to do what BIden just did. We can’t necessarily keep them from being killed, but we can keep them from being betrayed.

                There are a number of Syrians and Kurds who’d like a word with you and then Donald Trump . . .Report

              • Philip H in reply to Koz
                Ignored
                says:

                That is, instead of maintaining appropriate troop strength to accomplish our mission in Afghanistan, President constrained our military to make success impossible and chaos inevitable. All of this was in service of superficial appearances and artificial deadlines, fcuking absolutely unforgiveable.

                You seem to have missed the part where the mission in Afghanistan that Biden inherited from Trump as “GET THE FECK OUT.” Once that was decided, the rest was, well, all your hand waving about surges etc is nothing more then handing additional checks to Lockheed and Blackwater.Report

              • Koz in reply to Philip H
                Ignored
                says:

                You seem to have missed the part where the mission in Afghanistan that Biden inherited from Trump as “GET THE FECK OUT.”

                No, that’s exactly what’s wrong. There’s nothing baked in the cake until we give up the airbase, that’s the point of the quote from Gen Milley above.

                Certainly not a massive suicide bomber like the one who killed the marines and Afghans a couple days ago.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Philip H
        Ignored
        says:

        They have also carried out two successful drone strikes against ISIS-K targets.

        Alleged.Report

  7. CJColucci
    Ignored
    says:

    Anyone remember Reagan and Beirut? Did anyone remember it then?Report

  8. Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    “Pounce” is officially passé.

    Report

  9. Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    And flights have started resuming.

    (This is a great opportunity for us to send advisors!)Report

  10. Kolohe
    Ignored
    says:

    Took me a while to read this, because I didn’t want to go into it hot. I largely agree with everything said in the original post.

    I will point out* that this site’s ‘Afghanistan’ tag has (with this post) 8 posts this calendar year…and then jumps right to 2014 for the next earliest post. https://ordinary-times.com/tag/afghanistan/

    *(yeah it’s sorta a tu quoque, or at least it’s sort of a Morissettian irony)

    eta – I will say all the other 7 posts from this calendar year, are all worth re-reading, written as they were without any hindsight bias for the actual endgame.Report

    • Kolohe in reply to Kolohe
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      says:

      Actually to correct the record, everything from this year is worth reading, but only the first three posts are pre-GiROA final collapse.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Kolohe
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      says:

      I want to say that the 2014-2021 silence is due almost entirely to two things:

      1. Anti-War Inertia taking a while to die down after Cheney was finally frog-marched out of the White House mixed with not wanting to give aid and comfort to the Republicans by attacking Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Barack Obama
      2. The pivot to Drone Warfare following the whole “grim milestone” thing that we had going onReport

      • Dark Matter in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        I listen to NPR on the way to work.

        While Trump was in the WH, there was a ton of “why immigrants are good” and “poor suffering immigrants” pieces. Didn’t happen before Trump, not happening now, policies are largely the same.Report

  11. Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    So, apparently, the Taliban prefers China for some reason.

    I heard that the plan for China was to bribe the locals in exchange for access to stuff like the copper or minerals. No trying to change the culture or anything like that. Just, you know, cash for peaceful access to the good stuff.

    It might work better than trying to change their culture to make it more like ours but it’s less moral.Report

    • Michael Cain in reply to Jaybird
      Ignored
      says:

      At some point China was interested enough in some of the copper deposits to offer them a hydroelectric dam to power smelters and a rail spur that would connect them to both China and ocean ports in Pakistan. IIRC, the hydro output exceeded what the smelters would need, so for the cost of some transmission lines Afghanistan would have a major addition to their electricity portfolio.Report

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