Monday, August 16, 2021

The Ripples Of A State Falling

 Long ago, in the youth of my middle school and High School,  I first learned names like Kabul and Jalalabad.

There were pictures on the television (only the Big Three in Those days) of Soviet Soldiers pushing their way into a land of mountains and snow, of raggedly dressed rebels with minimal weapons first trying to stave an invasion and then fighting back.

We started to learn new words and phrases:  Muhajideen, Stingers, Hind helicopters, Boycott the Olympics.  The nightly news became filled with pictures of Soviet Helicopters going down, of tanks rolling in - and then rolling out, as the Soviet Union left to what turned out to be last step in their travel into the dustbin of History.

Over the next years, we began to learn new words:  The Taliban, and Wahhabism, The Northern Alliance, The Lion of The North.  This was a world that was dimly going on in the background of the fall of the Soviet Union and a country consumed by its own internal issues.

And then, following 11 September 2001, we had to relearn the words all over again with new ones:  Azeri, Kandahar, Mazar-I-Sharif, The Mantle of The Prophet, Tora Bora, Bagram.

The War on Terror became the equivalent of the War in Vietnam:  A conflict that continued year after year, which retreated further and further into the consciousness of the average American - unless one had a loved one or acquaintance that went to Afghanistan, then prayers and thoughts were offered.  The news - now many channels, not just Three - would list the names of the dead and describe injuries.  It became just another background conflict to compete with all the other low intensity conflicts, often exceeded in the later years by the death count in the US itself.

And now, in the last 96 hours, we have had to relearn all of these words all over again.

As I write this, the Taliban are now reported as being in Kabul and opening fire on the airport, which now remains the single route of escape.  The country has fallen in an unbelievably quick fashion - in words that will inevitably go down in history, the timeline shrank from "6 months" to "90 days" to "this week" in the matter of less than a month.  In a way, this should surprise no-one: when the US decided to effectively leave in the dead of the night without informing even their counterparts in the Afghan military, it was plain to see that there was really only one future in the country if one could not get out.

There are arguments - and good ones, I think - that this happening as quickly as it did bespeaks an intelligence operation that went on far beneath the surface where Western Intelligence was working.  One would think - and hope - that such a failure would be brought forward and discussed in public, as would what appears to be wild military overestimations as the strength and capacity of both the Afghan National Army as well as the Taliban, as well as why millions of dollars of equipment was left essentially ready and available for the new conquerors.

The enduring image of the last two decades in Afghanistan for this  and all indeed generations, and will be the picture of the helicopter leaving the US Embassy:


Based on the past, the future is not terribly hopeful for those that remain.  The Taliban call in public for calm and people staying in place, that property will be respected and rights upheld.  Based on past history, this at best remains to be seen and at worst, a banal lie to allow more assets to be deployed prior to the stories of 1996-2001.

As a student of history, there will be outcomes of this event.  There always are, when a dominant world power is repulsed:

- The decision making process that arrived at this point makes the US look, frankly, like a country that is ill informed and unserious.  Our allies will rightly take stock of us and our commitment to them.  Our enemies will re-calculate their estimates of our commitment and our strength - not the commitment and strength of our words and Social Media posts, but of our actual abilities.

-  Western Values and Western concepts will be re-questioned by a great many other non-Western countries, as they likely should.  Western values did not, in the end,  help the people of Afghanistan in their need.

- Approximately $2.2 trillion dollars were spent in Afghanistan, for which there is no ability to collect.  The money is gone.  In a country already having significant disagreements about the speed of the growth of their debt, not whether debt is beneficial (the real question), there will another round of arguments and finger pointing.

- Whether or not this defeat is a significant one, the modern world and its media will make it not only apparent but larger than life.  We had black and white and color pictures and movies in Vietnam; we will have streaming video in Afghanistan.  We warn our children to be careful what they post on-line; it is equally as true for states.

- Whether or not the US is  actually weak, it now appears weak.  And weakness in a world measured by strength and power is always attacked, even if not successful.  Old and sick antelopes are brought down by the lions for a reason.

- The US will go through a crisis of conscience.  Hearings over all of this will be called for, likely with few if any changes.  The question of America as a concept will be questioned.  Those in power on both sides of the political aisle will attempt to find ways to demonstrate internally what they cannot demonstrate externally, that America is still "strong" - and by strong I mean able to enforce their will, on their own citizens if no-one else.

I have prayed - and will continue to pray - for the people of Afghanistan and our own veterans and families who will bear the scars of all of this for the rest of their lives.

To quote a somewhat old phrase, the lamps are going out, all over the world.  We will not see them lit again in our lifetimes.


  1. robert orians3:46 AM

    This is eerily spooky to me . Being 20 years old in 1970 and watching the politicians screw up what should have been a great victory over communism in Viet Nam I am wondering if all the money we wasted in Afghanistan on the pretty LGBTQ flags was wasted as well . It's a quarter till seven in the morning in these here hills but I'm gonna' have to have a drink as ouir allies and the Americans still in that shithole are being raped , tortured , and behead under that proud LGBTQ flag .

    1. Robert - In point of fact, all of the horribleness that has happened and will happen is is under the flag of the Taliban, so far as I can find, is bears the language of the Shahada: "There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet" (to be fair, this is my very limited translation. That these actions are being taken under the words of a foundational principal of the religion is frightening; the fact that it will be practiced against their co-believers long after everyone gets out is terrifying.

  2. From where I sit, America didn’t lose. They abdicated, which is a different can of political worms. And no, America (and Canada) are not serious countries. One only has to look at our leaders to see that.

    1. Glen - Thanks for the parsing of words. I do not think I said losing, nor meant to imply such. I do not even know that abdicate is the correct word; forfeit might even better: we simply left without any thought as to the impact of our leaving. The tragic part is people will die - are dying - for this.

      And no, we are not serious. But in this new order, someone will have to be if any semblance of either of our states are to survive.

    2. +1 to Glen.

      There will be no hearings, as this is not Benghazi and our government is communist and any true conservatives there are drowned out. If there is a hearing, it will be a bigger farce than Benghazi.

      The speed of the fall is due not only to intelligence, but undoubtedly the support of Pakistan and Iran.

    3. Sorry TB, I do not explain myself well. When we decided to invade Afghanistan, we assumed the responsibilities that go along with that. What’s being done here is an abdication of responsibility at the very least - and maybe even one of betrayal and treason. This war was lost at home, the same way Viet Nam was.

      The Afghanies were sold out, our military was betrayed, and We The People bear a large portion of the blame for that. We vote for morons and get idiotic leadership. Until that changes tragedies like this will continue.

      If this is too nasty or political just delete it and think nothing of it. For me… it is what it is.

    4. Glen - You are right in the "You break it, you buy it sense". Certainly our experience in Vietnam should have informed what was going to occur here. And in that sense we - through the auspices of the current Occupant - have abdicated that part of responsibility.

      The fact the world is reacting as it is should be no surprise. We have demonstrated we are no longer a serious country internationally, just as we have demonstrated we are not a serious country domestically.

      I have read today - and believe - that this weekend marks the start of the a New World order. Whose order is to be determined.

    5. Linda, there will be no hearings unless the Current Occupant's party decides to throw him under the bus. Anything that would come out would exactly be like Benghazi.

      They certainly could rely on Pakistan and Iran for support - and now Iran has a much freer hand without an airbase to their East.

  3. smoke and mirrors

    who is Abdul Ghani Baradar?

    1. Apparently this person?

  4. The rapid dismantling of the Kabul government should not surprise anyone. The same will happen in the USA.

    They lack the Mandate of Heaven, the consent of the governed.

    1. Just So, I have to say I am surprised that it literally happened that quickly - although once the US literally bugged out overnight, I should not have been surprised. The writing was on the wall.

      I do not think the current Administration or their party realizes how much legitimacy they have lost in a single weekend. They have furnished propaganda for their own defeat for a hundred years.

    2. In a government that is run by theft and bribery only, once the bribery ceases, the government ceases.

  5. I cannot look at that photo without thinking of the fall of Saigon.

    Things do not look good for the Afghan people, particularly the women and girls.

    1. Kelly, the only people who do not believe it is Saigon 2.0 are the people who enabled this tragedy.

      It does not in fact look good. And no-one can say this time that they are "shocked" by what happened. We knew. And the current Occupant abandoned them anyway.

  6. It's been hard for my veteran to watch. But not a surprise. He said within 4 months they knew where the bad guys were in their valley, and were never allowed to take them out. ROE dontcha know.

    He was given the task of training over 100 Afghans, of which 1 was possible competent. The rest didn't have the requisite foundation to learn and retain.

    His stories of the cries of the young men from the ANA side of camp at night were chilling. The have a word for it: Bacha bazi. We officially turned a blind eye to it.

    I don't know how we avoid God's wrath because of the practices we have allowed, even encouraged here and abroad. This political mess is just the beginning...

    1. STxAr, from the little bit I have read today, many veterans feel the same. They are asking the legitimate question "Why the Sacrifice?" At least in WW II there was something to point to; here everything has been as effaced as the Bamiyan Buddhist statues.

      We have turned our eyes from a lot of things that invoke God's wrath here at home, let alone elsewhere. God - as I am sure you know - has a great deal to say about those that do so.

      We have seen His blessings. It seems likely we will now see His curses.

  7. star,
    i think we are just beginning to see the tip edge of God's wrath
    we deserve it
    keep praying

    1. Deb - Agreed. We will go from the Head to the Tail in a single generation and America the World power will only be a slowly fading memory.

    2. we hope for slowly fading instead of sudden bloody collapse

    3. Deb, a slow fading is the best of worse options. I fear we shall not be so lucky.

  8. I've been out an away from the internet for several days and am sorry I missed this discussion. Although that post is now removed, I wrote one nearly 18 years ago about how we would never be able to achieve a victory over the Taliban. Among the reasons I gave is that one never wins a religious war and for the Taliban, this is all about religion. It is also impossible to win a war in which the opponent just buries their gun and blends in with the scenery until we leave and then digs it out again to fight. This ending has been 20 years in the making and I never expected any different. Really the only thing that could possibly have been different was a more controlled withdrawal than the chaos that is going on right now. We should have learned the lesson Russia learned but didn't. We should learn a lesson from what is happening now, but I doubt it. I'm pretty sure my kids will be witnessing something similar many years down the road when history repeats itself.

    1. Ed, it is never too late to have a discussion!

      I agree with your post of 18 years ago. This was the way only way it would ever end, although the way it ended - bugging out in the middle of the night, leaving millions of dollars of perfectly good equipment behind, and the spectacle of the Kabul Airport - has done nothing but emboldened everyone who was even remotely had bad ideas of how to act on the world stage.

      We will not learn a lesson. Our military and civil leaders have no ability to demonstrate the grace and humility necessary to learn. I pray that your children and mine only see a similar picture in years ahead; I fear for much worse.

      And I am certainly glad you are back!


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