“Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.“- Warren Buffett.
Arguably Biden’s decision may have been the right one to pull U.S. troops entirely out of Afghanistan. But the optics of the Kabul Airport chaos will go down in Biden’s term as president, an indelible blemish and disgrace for years to come.
How did the U.S. get here?
When President Biden announced the final pull out of our troops on July 8, 2021, he was confident that “the likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.”
When asked, some Vietnam veterans see echoes of their experience in this withdrawal in Afghanistan; President’s response was a definitive “None whatsoever.”
Through the Vietnam war experience, the U.S. citizens learned about the “fog of war, ” the uncertainty in situational awareness experienced by soldiers in military operations. William Westmoreland, commander of the U.S. forces in Vietnam, allegedly understated the strength and capability of the Vietcong to U.S. congress and caused intelligence officers to suppress facts. The defense secretary under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, Robert McNamara, laid out eleven lessons from Vietnam. But unfortunately, history tells us the U.S. did not learn anything from McNamara.
In today’s dollars cost of the Vietnam war was $ 1 trillion.
President George W. Bush took the U.S. to war in Iraq in 2003 on a concocted story of ‘weapons of mass destruction.’ hoarded by Saddam Hussein – and the U.S. mission was “war on terror.” Yet, the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (9/11 Commission), in its report, cited intelligence failures on the part of the CIA and the FBI that could have prevented the attack and did not establish any connection between Saddam Hussein and the 911 attack on the Twin Towers in New York in 2001. Through the Iraq experience, the U.S. citizens learned terms like “shock and awe” (dazzle your unmatched enemy with massive firepower), “enhanced interrogation technique” (torture), and “extraordinary rendition” (kidnap suspects and take them to third countries where the due process and human rights do not apply).
According to a report from Brown University, the financial cost of the Iraq war is more than $2 trillion.
In Afghanistan, various rebel groups fought against the invaders from time to time, the Soviets being the most recent invader, The Mujahadeen being the dominant group. After the Mujahadeen splintered into minor rebel groups in 1995, The Taliban emerged as a powerful Islamic militia with fundamental Islamic values and gained the support of the Afghan people. U.S. officials believed Osama bin Laden, the Saudi exile hiding in Afghanistan, was the prime suspect in the September 11, 2001, attack on World Trade Center Towers in New York, the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania field, killing thousands.
The U.S. entered Afghanistan in October 2001, after the Taliban refused to hand over al-Qaeda’s leader, Osama bin Laden, who was hiding in Afghanistan. The objective of the mission was to neutralize al-Qaeda and to capture or kill Osama bin Ladin.
On May 11, 2011, U.S. special forces entered his compound in Abbottabad, a military garrison town in Pakistan, killed Osama bin Laden.
That is when the U.S. should have declared “mission accomplished” and left Afghanistan.
Instead, the U.S. citizens learned another term, “mission creep” – a gradual shift in objectives during a military campaign that invariably results in unplanned long-term commitment. Hence, according to President Biden, the Afghanistan campaign’s financial cost to date is more than $2 trillion.
That is how the U.S. got here.
Looking back at the U.S. wars in the last 50 years, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan – we see a clear pattern and a common thread that runs through each of them.
In every one of these conflicts, the U.S. had intelligence failures, military commanders’ untruthful reports to the legislature and the executive, involvement of defense contractors, and underlying financial interest in prosecuting the wars in territories where drug trade was rampant.
One must marvel at the genius of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who warned sixty years ago to guard against the influence wielded by the military-industrial complex.
As the U.S. stands naked and exposed in front of the world today, it needs to pay attention to the words of President Eisenhower, “Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals.”