On a surprise visit to Kabul, after President Joe Biden’s announced US troops withdrawal from Afghanistan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken admitted that “there is no military solution to the conflict”. He stated the obvious, adding that the “only path forward to a durable, lasting and just end to the conflict is through political agreement and ultimately through compromise.”
The only surprise in the announcement is that it took the American government two decades to recognise the obvious when even the likes of me have been suggesting exactly this since I started writing op-eds a decade back.
While announcing the decision to unconditionally withdraw forces from Afghanistan, President Joe Biden stated that “the United States had only one real task in the country: ousting al Qaeda and making sure that the country would never again be the launching pad for a terror attack on the United States, as it was on Sept. 11, 2001.”
The American military, which has an oversized influence in the American public life, must have been shocked to hear the President declare that the “war in Afghanistan was never meant to be a multigenerational undertaking.” They must be thinking that how did it take twenty years for the US to realise this?
The forever war
Withdrawing now, while admitting that mission was accomplished when Osama bin Laden was killed ten years back is nothing short of governance failure. During all this time the US continued to pour in men and material, supported by the Congress, hundreds of think tanks and journalists, in a “forever war.”
It is a public acknowledgement that American leadership failed to comprehend the situation correctly and made wrong choices at critical moments. In process not only Afghanistan and its neighbourhood, but several other societies have been traumatised and desecrated, perhaps beyond repair.
A corporate executive making so many miscalculations would not survive the next board meeting. And yet, all these so-called wise men (and women) have continued to thrive in their dream world of American hegemony.
Selecting the symbolic 9/11, the twentieth anniversary of 2001 attacks as the date when the US forces would be withdrawn from Afghanistan, actually goes against the original US-Taliban agreement that foreign forces would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by May 1, 2021.
An American precedent
This has a precedent. There are many examples of the US acting slow and its consequences are terrible. The American military mission in Vietnam started under President John Kennedy in 1961. American forces finally withdrew under attack twelve years after intervention in 1973. The Vietnam syndrome, the world mistakenly hoped, had changed America.
In the twentieth century the United States intervened militarily in Latin America alone 53 times — on an average once every alternate year.
The US continued to recognise the rogue regime in Formosa (Now Taiwan) for thirty years instead of the People’s Republic of China after the People’s Republic’s founding in 1948. Such an attitude makes nation’s your adversary from the very start.
When the whole world condemned and ostracised the apartheid regime in South Africa the US was still shoring up the regime till it dissipated during the early 1990s.
The US attacked Iraq on the false pretext of weapons of mass destruction. One of world’s top civilisations continues to feel the ripple effect and yet there is no question or accountability in the US over this.
How much damage tiny Cuba, smaller than Louisiana, accepted by almost all countries, can inflict on the US and yet it remains under paralysing sanctions for 70 years. There are numerous examples of the US dithering on the wrong side of history.
There could be several reasons for this attitude as to why a country that employs some of its best minds in the world’s largest “think tank” industry? I shall try and list them: Inability to comprehend the evolving developments and respond; mired in self-belief that there could be no correct view except that of the US; refusing to listen to other’s viewpoint; limited reasoning; plain antagonism; the arrogance of power, so on and so forth.
It is for the Americans themselves to reflect and do some serious introspection to find out why despite, arguably the best facilities and opportunities, America continues to make fatal errors of judgement that destroys societies and civilisations.
A nation of immigrants, the US has been the repository of scientific, technical, medical, entrepreneurial success in the contemporary world. No other nation has explored space as much as the US including more manned landings on the moon than any other country. In medical sciences too, the US outshines all others by miles. People find value in American culture across the world.
Americans have no peers in spirit of generosity and philanthropy. America is the land of dreams for the people from the developing world. With so much good done for the world, why is America prone to making these grave missteps? —- only America has the answers.
Sajjad Ashraf served as an adjunct professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore from 2009 to 2017. He was a member of Pakistan Foreign Service from 1973 to 2008 during which time he served as ambassador to several countries.