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The alleged American abandonment of Afghanistan - opinion!

Posted on August 20 2021, 12:00pm

The alleged American abandonment of Afghanistan - opinion!

Many Israelis who do not follow events beyond our immediate neighborhood were surprised and even shocked by the American pullout from Afghanistan and its abandonment to the mercies of the Taliban, an Islamist terror organization.

Scenes of Afghans fearing for their lives and convoys of refugees pouring out of the country are heart wrenching, indeed, and the western countries who were involved should do their utmost to absorb refugees who are running for their life. However, the events should surprise no one, nor is there any reason to accuse the Biden administration of abandonment (although intelligence forecasts of the immediate repercussions appear to have been flawed). One can however certainly blame those who thought it would be possible to change Iraq and Afghanistan and forcibly impose on them Western values.
Since the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon 20 years ago, and the US invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, most Americans have gradually realized the extent of the fiasco. Despite the heavy loss of life and the astronomic sums it invested, the US failed to achieve sustainable, organic change.

The American public realized the absurdity of the utopian neo-con vision of imposing American values by force on the other side of the world. In hindsight, these American moves clearly strengthened the regime in Iran by taking out its two biggest neighboring enemies – the Sunni Ba’ath regime in Iraq and the Sunni Taliban in Afghanistan.

Biden realized this sooner than many others and even challenged his boss at the time, president Barack Obama, who sought to differentiate between the unnecessary war in Iraq and the justified one, in his view, in Afghanistan. During his election campaign, Biden declared his intention to withdraw from Afghanistan and end the longest war in US history in keeping with public consensus. The lessons of Vietnam and Iraq had finally been learned and the Biden administration did what should have been done long ago and what the Trump administration also planned to do but left the job to Biden.

The idea that the world can be shaped by military force, as it was by the Allied victory in World War II, has since been proven impossible time after time. The world has changed, and photos of military victories over enemies have made way for a world of asymmetric threats posed by guerrilla and terror groups. These cannot be overcome without a long-term commitment to tremendous loss of life and economic investment.
It is important to remember that fighting a terror organization is like fighting a pig: both sides get very dirty but the swine is the only one who enjoys the mud. The same goes for organizations such as the Taliban, Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda and ISIS. They are willing to withstand massive loss of life and deep poverty as long as they can survive and declare victory.

What is more, democratic states operate differently than what countries like Russia, for example, can do in places like Syria. The US cannot adopt such methods, which are incompatible with American values and public opinion.

The US response to 9/11 was justified and would have remained popular for years had it been confined to dealing a significant blow to al-Qaeda and its perpetrators. Bin Laden’s eventual assassination in Pakistan, authorized by Obama, came a decade after the Bush administration ordered the invasion of Afghanistan, plunging the US military into the Afghan swamp.

There is a difference between the presumption of change in Iraq and Afghanistan. The occupation of Afghanistan was carried out by an international coalition and involved many arms of the administration, not just the military. Nonetheless, it was still a failure.

The important lesson of the Afghan saga and previous foreign interventions is the limitations of power and of attempts to “instill order” in other countries. This is a lesson that we Israelis must also take to heart remembering that we left Lebanon and Gaza after a prolonged and unnecessary presence. Amazingly, some among us still want the IDF to retake Gaza and “sort out the mess” there, as if this is a realistic option, and despite the bitter lesson that the cost in lives and resources is totally disproportionate to any benefit.
I want to stress that I am no pacifist. I believe that a strong US military makes the world a better place. Israel, too, would be a lot less secure without the might of the IDF and US backing, while prospects of achieving peace would be reduced.

The US achieved its international standing not only by having the strongest army in the world, but also because of the Marshall Plan and the alliances it forged in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. The US established a system of international organizations and exerted its influence through the soft power of the dollar, Silicon Valley and Hollywood.

We should call on the US to bolster its alliances, especially in our region, where pro-Western regimes are crying out for US leadership to confront Islamists and the Ayatollahs’ regime in Tehran, and with which it can lead a regional approach to resolving the conflict with the Palestinians.
The military has a defensive (the Israel Defense Forces, remember?) and deterrent role, and the use of force is occasionally justified. But it is important to realize that to achieve our long-term goals we cannot rely on military power alone; we must strengthen the muscle that we have allowed to atrophy over the years of diplomacy and soft power.

Nadav Tamir is a Board Member of Mitvim think tank for regional diplomacy and an international affairs adviser to the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation. He previously served as a diplomat in Washington and Boston and as a policy adviser to the President of the State of Israel.

(Jerusalem Post)

The alleged American abandonment of Afghanistan - opinion!
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