Now, however, we know that in terms of real resistance, all of our nation-building efforts could not even match what the Soviet Union managed to do in catching up.
However, this knowledge did not prevent a reawakening of the spirit which led us to this sad past. I’m not talking about direct critiques of the Biden administration’s handling of the withdrawal. I mean the way in both media coverage and political backlash, reasonable tactical critiques have often been woven into anti-withdrawal arguments that are self-deceiving, questionable, or laughable.
The argument, for example, that the situation in Afghanistan was reasonably stable and the war death toll negligible before the Trump administration began to withdraw: in fact, only American casualties were low, as Afghan military and civilian casualties approached 15,000 per year and the Taliban clearly gained ground, suggesting that we would have needed periodic increases in US forces and periodic spikes in US deaths to prevent a slow-motion version of what happened quickly. as we left.
Or the argument that an indefinite occupation was morally necessary to feed the shoots of Afghan liberalism: if after 20 years of effort and $ 2,000,000,000,000, the theocratic alternative to liberalism does in fact take control of a country faster that in its initial conquest, it is a sign that our moral achievements have been outweighed by the moral costs of corruption, incompetence and drone campaigns.
Or the argument that a permanent mission in Afghanistan might somehow resemble our long-term presence in Germany or South Korea – an illusory historical analogy before the fall of the government in Kabul and completely ridiculous now.
All of these arguments relate to a set of mindsets that flourished after 9/11: a mixture of overconfidence encouraged by the cable media in US military capabilities, naïve nostalgia for World War II, and crusading humanitarianism in its liberal and neoconservative forms. Like most Americans, I shared these moods once; after so many years of failure, I can’t imagine doing it now. But it has been clear in recent weeks that they retain an intense underground appeal in the American elite, only waiting for the right circumstances to resurface.
So you have generals and great strategists who have presided over the quagmire, madness and defeat that have spread across television networks and opinion pages to defend another 20 years in Afghanistan. You have the return of the liberal media hawks and centrist Pentagon reporters, not chastised by their own gullible contributions to the decline of American power over the past 20 years. And you have Republicans who have presented themselves as cold-eyed realists in the Trump presidency, suddenly turning back into greedy crusaders, excited to own Biden’s Democrats and relive the brief post-9/11 period when the media the general public treated their party with deference rather than contempt. .