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So What If We Messed Up the Afghan Pullout?


I have been following, reading, thinking, and writing about politics since a bunch of us cut classes in 1960 and went down to a big election rally for Kennedy at Herald Square. I have also voted in every election since I came of age in 1968, and if I ever voted for a Republican, it was by mistake.

I happen to think that Joe’s decision to pull out of Afghanistan, and the way he pulled us out, represents the second most morally-based and fundamentally appropriate decision that any President has made since I became politically involved.

The only Presidential decision which I feel was better than what Joe did to get us out of Afghanistan was the decision made by Jimmy Carter to pardon the kids who resisted the draft during Viet Nam. As a comparison, compare that pardon to the pardons that Trump just gave professional scammers like Manafort and Bannon. Get what I mean?

What were we doing in Afghanistan? What was anyone doing in Afghanistan? The region lies midway between the Eastern Mediterranean and the middle of China, which means it was the midway point on the ancient ‘silk road’ which was the overland connection between East and West.

What was the importance of this route? It was the cheapest and most convenient way to move a luxury product – silk – from where it was produced to where it was consumed.

Know what? Europe needed silk to become a modern, industrialized civilization like it needed a hole in its head. We needed silk from China as much as we needed precious gems from the southern tip of Africa.

From the time that residents of Western Europe had enough money to buy diamonds and silk, European countries stuck their noses and their military troops into both places, in the case of Afghanistan, the European nose first got stuck in Kabul in 1839.

On the eve of World War II, the British nose could be found in every colonial zone from North Africa to Southeast Asia, a distance of slightly less than 5,000 miles. Did any of the populations in this vast region ever possess decision-making authority over the presence of British colonial administrators and British troops? Nope.

The British political and military presence in what represented nearly half the circumference of the entire globe came to a crashing end during and shortly after World War II. Who stepped into most of this territory to keep things under control as well as to prevent the Soviet Union from creating their own colonial zone? We did – that’s who. The United States of America – that’s who.

If we learned one thing from the 1989 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, it was that any Western country which counted on some kind of long-term presence in Afghanistan was making a big mistake. Who began making that same mistake beginning with an invasion in 2001? We did – that’s who. The United States of America – that’s who.

Yea, yea, I know all about the Taliban and Bin Laden and everything else. More than 2,300 American troops have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001, and what we got for those losses was what Grandpa would call gurnisht (read: nothing at all.)

Could our pullout from Kabul last year been handled better? Of course, it could. But when was the last time that any country’s military planners invested time, money, and good intelligence in managing a retreat? Armies are trained to advance forward, not to march backwards.

I don’t know if the talks are still continuing, but back in October, two months after the mess at the Kabul airport, American diplomats sat down across the table from an Afghan (read: Taliban) delegation and began discussing resumption of American foreign aid.

This discussion is the first time in the entire history of Afghanistan that the leaders of that country are negotiating with a Western country on equal terms. Think about that the next time someone tells you that our pullout was a ‘mistake’ because it should have been done in a more gradual and controlled way.

Then think about the gradual and controlled way that we pulled out of Viet Nam.


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