As I’m sure most of you know, today is the 20th anniversary of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. Twenty years later, we are in the final stages of withdrawal from Afghanistan, after another ill-fated response that cost thousands of U.S. lives, and hundreds of thousands of Afghan lives. We leave behind the country to the Taliban, along with the final eradication of the old Communist bureaucracy we inadvertently found alliance with when we invaded. All that is left are the Taliban, of course, as well as some return to stability for the true victims in this debacle — the Afghan/Pashtun and assorted tribes that wandered the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Afghanistan itself remains a fantasy nation that exists in the real world. The story is long and convoluted, with even the most recent version being unknown by most. Modern Afghanistan was created with the establishment of the Durand Line, by Lord Durand, as part of the Great Game — the long conflict between the British and Russian Empires. Afghanistan itself was envisioned by Lord Durand as Shangrila, necessary for Jesus to return to rule the Earth. That is how crazy the elites were back in the mid-19th century.
And as we have witnessed, not much has changed. These wars, and their consequences, were fought by our sons and daughters, and most of the people killed have been local. But if you attempt to tease out the real reason for any of it, only one thread runs true — the wars are fought for protection of elites as well as their entertainment. The press invents the usual War on Terror stuff, of course, along with monetary reasons — valuable natural resources.
In Afghanistan, one of the reasons offered was for mining. But the reality of any commodity acquisition is always the hard language of cash. Minerals are minerals — the term is “fungible” — and money can always bring the right stuff to the seeker. Not true as far as the spoils, though. Those go to particular actors in this conflict, and if those resources change hands, there are different winners and losers. And trust me — the elites know who that will be.
More offensive, though, is the selling of the reason to remain in conflict in a region where winning a war has already been proven to be impossible. Before the end, there was a proliferation of articles crying for some presence to remain to protect the Afghan middle-class from the Taliban.
Outlets like the New York Times decried the loss of lifestyle for young Afghans, much akin to our own upper-middle class. What was unstated, and contemptible, is that the U.S. service members who would have to risk their lives were very likely from Hillary Clinton’s class of Deplorables, the same people being routinely excoriated in that paper for their backgrounds and beliefs. I am no apologist for ignorance. I have campaigned for the creation of advancing our own societal evolution and lifting all our people up. But even for me, old and jaded, the words enraged. The Afghans will have to find a way to fight for their own freedom. Or accept that the Taliban actually is progress for Afghanistan, which considering the ways of the Afghan warlords, may actually be the case.
We won the war against the Taliban in the first year of the conflict. But we lost the war over the next 19 years because we could not let go of our own models of belief in terrorism. The warlords were savvy in using that against us, using the U.S. Army as an enforcer in ancient feuds. When you combined that in alignment with the old Communists, there was no way to win. If there was a sin committed, it was the sin of mental rigidity and a lack of language skills.
So we are out. Yes, it was a debacle. Yes, let’s not do it again. But at least, we are out. Let’s keep it that way.
Pezeshki is a professor in mechanical and materials engineeringat Washington State University.