Arnon Grunberg


Sofa field marshals

On ugly necessities - Alon Pinkas in Haaretz:

‘Oh, the hysteria, the sanctimonious one-liners, the angry epithets and the instant, history-laden eulogies over the U.S.’ withdrawal from Afghanistan. Arguably the worst foreign policy calamity in U.S. history, on a par with Vietnam – a colossal, 20-year-long strategic debacle and policy failure – has come to an abrupt end. And it isn’t pretty.
It was and is very ugly, but it was also very necessary. The hypocrisy of the world castigating the United States is neither surprising nor consequential, but should not blur the main theme: President Joe Biden was right to withdraw from Afghanistan. The U.S. left because there is absolutely nothing that justifies staying.’


‘Hundreds of armchair quarterbacks and sofa field marshals in the U.S. and worldwide have all knowledgeably opined on where things went wrong and how, if only their advice was heeded, things could have turned out more positively. Certainly the evacuation would have been smoother and more effective, and America would have been redeemed. So goes the prevailing global narrative of the past 48 hours.
“The optics,” they declare, are really bad.
Guess what – the optics of the British evacuation from Dunkirk in 1940, the U.S. evacuation of Vietnam in 1975 and Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 were also really bad. But they were all necessary and good decisions.’


‘Time magazine pointed out that on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks next month, “a Taliban flag will fly over Afghanistan.” Which raises the question: so what? The unpleasant optics justify another 20 years of “nation-building” in that godforsaken place? The emotional and bitter lamentations of former French diplomats or self-ordained Israeli strategic mavens, warning of the terminal erosion of America’s credibility and dependability, justify that Jimmy the helicopter pilot from Knoxville, Tennessee, be shot down and killed over Kandahar? Why the pious rhetoric and end-of-days melodrama?’


‘A war against jihadist terrorists turned into the rebuilding of Afghanistan, much like the invasion of Iraq due to its unproven involvement in 9/11 turned into the pursuit of nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, and was then redefined as “democratizing Iraq” – similar to how “containing communism” in 1964 and sending military advisers to Saigon became a decade-long involvement in Vietnam, claiming the lives of some 58,000 Americans.
In the last decade, the United States has undergone a major paradigm shift on two levels: No more foreign wars or lengthy “forever” entanglements overseas; and a gradual disengagement from the (broader) Middle East, where America no longer has vital interests. Anyone criticizing the U.S. should look at public and political sentiment in America, as well as foreign policy thinking.’


‘Biden was wrong on the timing and how quickly it would transpire, but not on the strategy and policy.’

Read the article here.

I mostly agree, but to be sure, before the withdrawal from Dunkirk, from the southern part of Lebanon, from Vietnam, yes all necessary, some strategic failures were made by the Allies (France and the UK), by Israel, by the US.

As Juan Cole wrote on Informed Comment: ‘The US in 2002-2003 had a good outcome in Afghanistan. We should just have left then. I can’t imagine why we didn’t. I think then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld wanted to surround Russia so it couldn’t reemerge as a peer power. It had nothing to do with Afghanistan.’

Yes, and as Cole wrote also: W and his consiglieri weren’t interested in Afghanistan anymore in 2002, it was all about Iraq.

The nation building was a fig leaf. I travelled to Afghanistan several times and I reported about the absurdities connected to this fig leaf.

The US and its partners could have crushed the Taliban if they had opted for the père Assad strategy. Remember? No, of course not. 1982, Muslim Brotherhood rebelled against père Assad. Assad decided to destroy the city, Hama, where the uprising had begun. Per Wikipedia between 2000 and 20000 citizens were killed. After this three decades of quiet followed in Syria.

The US and its NATO tried to be slightly more benign but as Cole – and he is not the only one- reported the stupidities were plenty. And sooner or later, often sooner, stupidity becomes sheer malice.

In 2011 already a ‘cultural advisor’ working for the German army in Afghanistan estimated that the Taliban would make a comeback. But he counted on the more or less informed hope that the Taliban would be less brutal.

If he knew then most of us could have known.

And if the Taliban are slightly less brutal than our friends and their mentors the Saudis then we could be relieved.

Last: the popular idea that just the West (i.e. the US) is responsible for the poor state of a place like Afghanistan is just another conspiracy theory.
Yes, the US is partly responsible, but they got lots of help, from the Europeans, the Russians, the Pakistanis, the Indians, the Saudis, the Iranians, many Afghans themselves (i.e. the warlords and their clients.)
The continuation of the destruction of Afghanistan has been a joint venture.

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