|Email Ken Stallings||A Great Betrayal|
Like many thousands of other Americans, I was deployed to help start the war in Afghanistan, way back in late September 2001. Over six deployments later, I retired from the US Air Force. Upon seeing the disaster of the Taliban defeat the corrupt and incompetent Afghan government in one week, there are many thoughts that come to mind.
First, no service member should question the purpose of his mission. Our primary objectives were from day one to today to defend the United States against al Qaeda that was entrenched in Afghanistan, to neutralize it ever being a threat to America again, and ultimately to capture or kill the senior leadership of al Qaeda. On all three of these primary objectives, the mission was accomplished, and the Taliban proved overall to be a highly ineffective military force, far better at attacking defenseless people than a properly trained and motivated military force.
This leads to the second point, that for them to defeat the Afghan government and its military in a week proves that regardless of training, equipment, and tactics, if a military force is comprised of people who simply are unwilling to fight to defend their country, then defeat is inevitable. The one thing about the Taliban, is that for all their evils, they at least were willing to fight for what they believed in, and often in our fights with them, they sacrificed themselves in large numbers and never seemed to refuse to reconstitute and fight again. Too bad they lack in morality.
The third point is that liberty survives only among people who are willing to put their lives on the line to defend it. If the people lose care for liberty, then liberty dies. For the United States, the situation was bleak but clear. The Afghan people, for the most part, simply cared insufficiently about liberty to fight for it. Therefore, they lost it in blindingly rapid order.
The idea of nation building should now be forever relegated to the trash heap of noble, but ill considered concepts. The one time it worked, it took thirty years to really work, and that was the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe and Japan after World War II. Yet, fine as it turned out to be, there were unique circumstances. First, the primary impetus for the Marshall Plan was to prevent the Soviet Union from rushing in to a power vacuum and taking over all of continental Europe, a geopolitical disaster likely worse than the Nazi threat during World War II itself. Also, the German people were, ultimately, willing to fight for their liberty, and so were the Japanese. But, above all, the Marshall Plan was more about rebuilding the destroyed nations of our allies, people who fought side-by-side with us, and even a full year prior to our entry in the war.
Another vital truth, is that the Marshall Plan was by no means a complete success. Nor was our postwar occupation. Korea remained a divided nation, and remains so today, with the most brutal regime in modern human existence to the north of one of the most vibrant democracies on earth to the south. That reality was a result of achieving a stalemate in the Korean War, plus remaining as a powerful military presence in Korea for the last 75 plus years.
China shortly after World War II ended, was betrayed by America, and ultimately saw the greatest human tragedy in history unfold, as the Chinese Communists took over total power, chased the small remaining Chinese Nationalist presence to Taiwan, and then implemented the greatest genocide known to man, the Cultural Revolution of Mao Zedung, that murdered a number of people so vast, that not even today is the number truly known. Estimates range from 50 to 200 million deaths at the hands of the murderous Chinese Communists, a power center today responsible for the worst biological pandemic in modern history.
The legacies of Korea and China prove that not even World War II was the complete victory over tyranny that many thought it was in 1945. There are many East Europeans who lived through 50 years of Soviet rule who can also attest to the incomplete victory we actually achieved on VE Day. What victories we did achieve required a steadfast commitment of US military forces for over 75 years and counting.
Was Afghanistan ever worth a 75 year plus commitment of any size, much less the total commitment in South Korea and Western Europe? No, there is no rational study that could affirm such a proposition. Afghanistan is among the most depressed and culturally backward nations on earth. The sheer scope of institutional corruption is about all that exceeds those two deplorable conditions.
The lesson of Afghanistan is that from this moment onward, American military doctrine should be that we immediately leap to the powerful defense of any challenge to our national security, destroy the threat without remorse, and leave immediately once that threat is destroyed. We spend not a penny or second on nation building. The rubble left behind should serve as a second stark warning to the folly of threatening the survival of the United States. Never again should we engage in a postwar rebuilding mission that we have proven again and again isn't worth the effort, and frankly is a mission we're just not very good at. One wonders if any nation in human history has ever really been good at such a noble sounding, but ultimately futile effort.
The risk of destruction, and ultimately self-inflicted annihilation, should double with American military force, to deter would be adversaries from sowing the seeds of war with America. If one chooses to play that card with America, not only will said nation or group suffer great loss of life, but the loss of a great deal of their infrastructure they have spent generations building, and if that destruction is so grave as to see their surviving population titter on the edge of failure, then that too should be a powerful lesson driven home now, so that there are no misunderstandings going forward.
For those nations, particularly the Peoples' Republic of China, to confuse their propaganda with reality, and actually think the situation in Afghanistan means they can enjoy easy pickings in the South China Sea, or against Taiwan, or even a direct attack on the United States, then let us insure that at least we gave them sufficient facts to conclude they earned what comes next to them.
Another grave lesson we Americans must draw is that no matter how alien the concept sounds to most of us, liberty isn't something that all people in the world are willing to fight to the death to defend. Some people are. The Korean people proved they are, and still prove it today. Europeans have proven they are. Japanese are fierce defenders of liberty and let no nation, not even the PRC, believe otherwise, or else they shall suffer greatly for such folly.
But, those people only serve to prove that the fight for liberty is noble, but not universal.
Our current experience at home proves that point also, given the number of Americans who seem to care so little for liberty, that they are openly championing for Communism to come to America. Yes, the words of Samuel Adams ring very true today, "If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen."
Sadly, there are more Americans today for whom those words apply in full measure than there were back when those words were first uttered. So, even in America, liberty is by no means a universally loved principle. We must learn from that too, and a full read of Samuel Adam's quotes provide a fount of wisdom all can learn from.
As far as American fault on what's unfolding in Afghanistan, there is much to fairly assess. First, a great number of general officers made statement after statement asserting lies about the ability of the Afghan government to defend itself from the Taliban. Far too many Americans were killed and maimed long after the immediate objectives were attained, but we remained due to the false proclamations that we could build Afghanistan into a long term American ally in the region. The infamous Pentagon Papers have nothing on the tripe served up by corrupt military leaders who knew the truth of the situation, but decided instead to lie to the American people, because their careers meant more to them than did the integrity to tell that truth. For these senior officers, their legacy must forever be stained.
The incredibly group incompetence of our US State Department is a sad reality that no longer can be silently endured. It is time for a wholesale cleaning up in the Department of State. Bad enough that they could not effectively defend its own mission and ambassador in Libya, but now we have to add the total failure of the state mission in Afghanistan, to the incomplete but still significant failure in Iraq.
Trillions of dollars and thousands of lives cannot bandage the wound of systemic incompetence, and the memories of those who paid the ultimate sacrifices demand that we boldly tell the truth, no matter how painful it may be, nor how many noteworthy people it devastates.
Finally, the worst incompetence must remain with the current Commander-in-Chief, who has gone from being the underling, for whom Robert Gates famously said was the only person he ever met who was wrong on every single foreign policy question, to being the top person responsible for this current mess. Depending upon whom one chooses to believe, the Trump plan for removal would have empowered provincial war lords to secure their sections of Afghanistan from the Taliban. But, team Biden decided to tear that plan up, and put their faith in the horribly corrupt and inept Afghan federal government. The war lords may not be nice people, but they have local armies that will fight, which is something no one can say about the Afghan National Army.
As it turns out, the only Afghanistan military force easier to defeat for American forces than was the Taliban, was the Afghan National Army whom we could never count on as true allies, allowed their ranks to be saturated with Taliban members who often carried out deadly attacks on American forces, and ultimately couldn't even be relied upon to defend their own people against a Taliban that remains among the most vile and backward representations in human history.
For American military personnel, we can truly say this about our service. We kept America free from another 911 style attack for nearly 20 years now, and considering how global the terror threat was in 2001, that's a reality worth feeling proud of. The rub is that this is truly the only positive we can take from our efforts. It's sufficient, but we were promised a lot more.
-- Ken Stallings
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