“If you want one statistic to explain the failure of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan,” Fareed writes in his latest Washington Post column, “it is this: The National Security Council met 36 times since April to discuss it.”
America’s national-security bureaucracy has swelled over the decades, Fareed points out, arguing that meetings and planning have become ends in themselves, taking the place of execution. Rosy assessments of Afghanistan in the last 20 years have revealed the delusion common to bloated organizations.
“Phase 1 of the Afghanistan withdrawal has been a failure,” Fareed writes. “Phase 2, the evacuation of tens of thousands of Americans and Afghans, could yet be a success. The evidence so far—see David Rohde’s piece in the New Yorker this week—is that the evacuation is still utterly chaotic, lacking urgency and effective action. The administration can still make this happen, but it needs to stop meeting and start doing.”
Retaining the Lesson of Vietnam
Is the fall of Kabul a repeat of the 1975 fall of Saigon? US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says no, but many commentators disagree—including Vietnamese-American scholar Viet Thanh Nguyen, who writes for The New York Times that now is a good time to remember the past.
“History is happening again, and again as tragedy and farce,” Nguyen writes. “The wars in Vietnam and Afghanistan happened as a result of American hubris … But in each case, the Vietnamese (and Laotians, Cambodians and Hmong), and now the Afghans, have paid the much greater toll in human suffering. In April 1975, the United States recognized its moral responsibility and evacuated about 130,000 Vietnamese people, and then accepted hundreds of thousands more from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in subsequent decades. This is what must happen now … Joe Biden, a senator in 1975, surely remembers that the majority of Americans did not want to accept Southeast Asian refugees. Nevertheless, Congress did the right thing … Tens of thousands of Afghans believed in the American promise of ushering in freedom, democracy and an open, tolerant society. And now, they’re stuck.”
Trust the Taliban?
As the Taliban says it will not engage in reprisals and that women will be allowed to work in accordance with Sharia law, The Atlantic’s Graeme Wood warns against being duped.
“When the Taliban first sacked Kabul 25 years ago,” Wood writes, “the group declared that it was not out for revenge, instead offering amnesty to anyone who had worked for the former government. ‘Taliban will not take revenge,’ a Taliban commander said then. ‘We have no personal rancor.’ At the time of that promise, the ousted president, Mohammad Najibullah, was unavailable for comment.” He had already met a gruesome end.
The Taliban has also said it will not allow Afghanistan to become a haven for international terrorists, but many think it will, as the Soufan Center notes in its broad and straightforward analysis.
Many Afghans Who Helped the West Are Trapped
As attention turns to the potential danger faced by Afghans who worked with Western powers as interpreters and in other roles, Matthias Gebauer, Muriel Kalisch, Steffen Lüdke, and Laurenz Schreiner write for Der Spiegel that Germany’s “local hires” have faced maddening bureaucracy in applying for visas. For any who qualify to be airlifted out, “the route to the airport has become a potential death trap.”
More from the Der Spiegel authors: “For months now, a bureaucratic process has been in place for Afghans to apply for protection in Germany … but officials went strictly by the book and the procedure dragged on and on—until it was too late. … now, the Islamists have set up checkpoints on the way to the airport. They are examining each car and only letting foreigners through. Afghans, they say, should stay in the country. The Taliban allege that they fear there will be ‘brain drain,’ an exodus of the well-educated. Or are they out for revenge?”
Navalny: Give Corruption Its Due
Imprisoned Russian anti-corruption activist and opposition figure Alexey Navalny writes for The Guardian that corruption doesn’t get enough attention as a historical through-line.
Imprisonment has given him “time to read the memoirs of world leaders,” Navalny writes, who typically mention corruption only when “describing failures—whether their own or, more commonly, those of their predecessors. … This leads to an obvious question. Guys, if corruption is preventing us from finding solutions” to problems that get more attention as agenda items, “has the time perhaps come to raise it to a priority on that agenda?”
In the near term, Navalny suggests the West should identify corrupt countries and engage with them differently, target sanctions at bigger individual players, mandate the disclosure of contracts between Western companies and foreign partners, bring extant tools (like the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act) to bear on business done with Russia, and seek to block political corruption’s export.