AMAC Exclusive by Daniel Roman
American forces are today engaged in a historic rout from Afghanistan. Over the last few weeks, the Taliban have gone from controlling a third of the country to nearly three quarters. Even a Taliban fighter told NBC News that he was shocked at the speed of their advance, and that they were deliberately slowing it to avoid running afoul of the United States. Under Biden, the Taliban can afford to wait. They know that their takeover is merely a matter of logistics. The US will do nothing to stop them, and their only danger is that they advance faster than the US can retreat. And that retreat is fast.
The United States pulled out of Bagram Airbase, the largest in the country and located on the outskirts of Kabul, in the middle of the night, without telling their Afghan allies who awoke to find the Americans gone after 20 years. They could be forgiven for imagining that Joe Biden wished to treat America’s war in Afghanistan as if it had been nothing more than a 20 year long bad dream. But for everyone else, Afghan and American, it promises to be replaced by a nightmare instead.
Geopolitics is driven by balances of power. In conflicts where being on the losing side can be fatal, those who believe their cause is lost have little reason to try and reverse the course of events. Rather, their incentives are to get a leg up on escaping, or to switch sides. As a consequence, the actual military support offered by the United States to Afghan forces against the Taliban was always far less important than the potential that if the Taliban ever looked like they would take over the country, the US would comeback ruthlessly.
It was that belief which kept Afghan soldiers in the field. It was also that belief which brought the Taliban to the negotiating table with Donald Trump. They may have known that he genuinely wished to disengage the United States from Afghanistan, much as he had Syria and Iraq, but they also knew that there were limits beyond which Donald Trump would not be pushed. Qassim Soleimani learned that lesson the hard-way, and the Taliban as a consequence understood that if they broke their word, they would face the vengeance of Donald Trump and the United States.
Joe Biden carries no such weight. No actions have been undertaken to punish Taliban violations of cease-fire agreements. No air strikes have been launched in support of the Afghan army. The United States gives every indication it will be done with Afghanistan when it withdraws and the message to the Taliban is that all the US wants is for them to coordinate their advance such that the US forces can leave first. When questioned about Afghanistan, Biden replied on July 2nd that “I want to talk about happy things man.”
The result has not just been the Taliban advance, but the collapse of the Afghan Army and state. The Afghans quite rightfully fear that the Biden Administration has cut a deal with the Taliban that leaves them out of the equation—and that once the US forces are gone, the US will do nothing to help them. As a consequence, they are either switching sides, as the Uzbek General Dostum has just done, or running, with whole Afghan units dissolving.
This process should bring back memories of another debacle, also triggered by the determination of Democratic politicians to extricate themselves from a war which the Democratic party had supported. That is the Communist takeover of Vietnam in 1975.
Few American veterans or AMAC members can forget the images from Saigon on April 29th, 1975. As tens of thousands of desperate Vietnamese, including spouses of Americans and those who had risked their lives fighting Communism were held back by armed Marines at the gates of the US Embassy, helicopters carried off the American staff. The sacrifices of nearly 70,000 dead American servicemen, and more than a decade of fighting had been rendered meaningless in a matter of weeks by the advance of the North Vietnamese army. Now the US is making plans for evacuating its Kabul Embassy.
No less a figure than Karl Marx, the patron saint of the left, remarked that history repeats, first as tragedy, then as farce. What happened in Vietnam was a tragedy – for America, for the Vietnamese people, two million of whom found themselves in reeducation camps, and ironically for the Viet Cong themselves, whose National Liberation Front government lasted for exactly 90 minutes before North Vietnamese troops machine gunned fighters trying to raise the Viet Cong flag over government buildings. They would find, much like their anti-war allies in the West, that they were little more than useful idiots whose utility had passed.
The tragedy in Vietnam in 1975 was fully avoidable. What the Johnson Administration had failed to achieve with 500,000 troops, the Nixon Administration had achieved with less than 50,000, forcing the North Vietnamese into accepting a ceasefire in the Paris Accords of 1973. The agreement was far from perfect, but so was the cease-fire that ended the Korean war in 1953. Then too, North Korea remained armed and did forgo its claim to conquer its southern neighbor. South Korea in 1953, like South Vietnam in 1973 and Afghanistan today, was an imperfect government wracked by corruption and infighting. But, the agreement bought time—and in time, freedom and American involvement led to economic prosperity, liberalization, and democracy. South Korea became one of the world’s most prosperous states. In 1975, South Vietnam already had five times the average income of the North. Unfortunately, it did not get the time.
It did not get the time because the 1973 Paris Accords, like the 1953 cease-fire in Korea, had to be enforced by the clear determination of the United States to return if they were violated. North Korea knew if it attacked South Korea that the US would return and that there was no point. Yet in 1975, Congress, dominated by Democrats like John Kerry, not only cut off aid to South Vietnam, but passed legislation prohibiting the US from intervening if it was attacked. This was not only an invitation for the North Vietnamese to attack, but it told the South Vietnamese soldiers and civilians they could expect no rescue and that there was no point in fighting.
Biden has followed a similar path in Afghanistan. His error is not a desire to withdraw. That is a desire he shared with former President Trump. It is rather that in order to withdraw, he needed an agreement, and in order for an agreement to work, he needed it to be of some value to the Taliban. If the US was going to withdraw anyway, then what need had the Taliban for an agreement? If the US was not going to attack them no matter what, why should they keep their word? Biden, by telegraphing his indifference, has destroyed whatever leverage not only the United States had, but also our own Afghan allies.
It’s a tragedy, and a completely unnecessary one.