Conventional wisdom—correct this time—asserts that the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan makes the world a more dangerous place. China, Russia, Iran, North Korea and Islamic triumphalists everywhere are emboldened. Fuses burning over Taiwan, Israel, Ukraine and other hot spots grow shorter.
Less recognized is how our self-inflicted Afghanistan catastrophe may create or increase threats at home. Consider four, three military, one political:
*Suppose you are a general or admiral in the U.S. armed forces. You’ve just been required by your constitutionally superior civilian leaders to head the biggest American military debacle since the fall of South Vietnam. You’ve rescued more than 120,000 but abandoned somewhere between 60,000 and 200,000 more Afghan partners and their family members.
You know that as U.S. ground forces withdrew, the South Vietnamese army fought on, with massive U.S. air support defeating the North’s 1972 Easter invasion. Then a Democratic-controlled Congress cut off funds, fuel, ammunition and air support. You also recall the United States, during the Carter administration, restrained the Iranian military to ease out the Shah. That helped ease in Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
And now, Kabul. If you’re still in uniform the next time civilians not just override your best advice, as is their constitutional prerogative, but do so in capricious arrogance, then attempt to deflect blame onto you, how likely will you be to snap to and salute? When President Harry Truman fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Jr. for insubordination over the latter’s conduct of the Korean War, MacArthur choose theatrically to “just fade away.” In a more ambiguous situation, fraught with national danger, will you?
*Suppose you’re not a flag officer but rather a colonel, lieutenant colonel or major. Imagine you implemented the orders to abandon Bagram air base at night and without notice to our Afghan allies, as well as to cut off air support for Kabul’s forces and even halt maintenance contracts for its planes and helicopters.
Further, assume you know about private efforts, like the Commercial Task Force of veterans, ex-diplomats and others that rescued a reported 5,000 or more Afghans from Taliban control. Private Americans, on short notice and from scratch, began doing what civilian leaders—with personnel, months of time and billions of dollars to prepare—proved either unserious or incompetent about doing.
How much will recent events cause you to reinterpret your oath to defend America and the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic because now you see domestic threats in high places?
*Finally, on the military side, suppose you are a member of the U.S. all-volunteer armed forces at any level, from private up. You served in Afghanistan and/or Iraq, perhaps on multiple tours. You supported those in combat, or experienced it yourself, saw buddies wounded—sometimes grievously—or killed, leaving families bereft at home.
From experience you know that—despite the size of the armed forces budget—the military is stretched thin. It’s unable to fight and win the two potential, simultaneous medium-sized or larger conflicts planners worried about not long ago.
In the next crisis, and there will be one, will you obey what sound like suicidal orders to charge or to cut-and-run? Will “thank you for your service” in a humiliating effort offset contempt for national leadership?
*Politically, President Joe Biden’s Afghanistan mismanagement might have opened the door to former President Donald Trump’s return to the White House.
The reactionary left base of the Democratic Party, cosmetically labeled “progressive,” applauds Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren’s fantastical budget concoctions; approves the unprecedented influx of illegal migrants along the southern U.S. border; and can’t be bothered by the anti-American (and, not coincidentally, antisemitic) incitement of Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Squad-mates Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayana Pressley, et. al. This brightened Republican prospects for the 2022 congressional elections.
But the shame of Afghanistan is a double-edged political sword for Trump and pro-Trump Republicans. Although the previous administration’s accomplishments included historically low unemployment, “Operation Warp-Speed” development of anti-Covid-19 vaccines and the remarkable “Abraham accords” Arab-Israeli peace agreements, it began the ill-considered withdrawal negotiations with the Taliban.
Trump now indicts Biden for botching what he started. But talking with the Taliban over the heads of the U.S.-backed government in Kabul, and continuing to do so though the jihadis kept up terror attacks on Afghan civilians might tarnish Trump—and potential GOP presidential candidates like former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo—as well as Biden.
Weakened American deterrence and further corroded U.S politics mean a more fragile world indeed.
Eric Rozenman is a Washington, D.C.-based writer and author of the forthcoming book From Elvis to Trump, Eyewitness to the Unraveling.