What vexes me about the Taliban’s lightning romp through Afghanistan is the lack of spirit and willingness to fight in the “army” we created and the people we tried so hard to help.
Clearly the speed of the rout was unexpected and there are plenty to blame for the mess – from current and previous U.S. administrations to our own military and the intelligence community. Almost to the end the latter was providing encouraging reports on the capability of the army they thought we had created.
Instead few Afghans showed any interest in taking risks or responsibility for the freedom and democracy we offered, not to mention the chance to keep out a brutal regime.
The people there now face subservience to a radical seventh century interpretation of a cruel and backward religious code that is particularly harsh for women and girls.
So how did a bunch of zealous, mostly illiterate guerrillas with limited and ancient weapons have the will and determination to fight when the rest of the population did not? Illiterate fighters maybe but they overcame a 20-year effort by the United States and its allies. It was a war that cost the lives of 2,448 U.S. service members, 4,000 contractors and more than $2 trillion.
I believe the answer lies in a fatalistic culture whose ethos is “whatever.”
Is it that Afghan life sucks so bad the only hope is the eternal reward prophesized in the Koran? These people would have given up the Alamo in five minutes.
The Afghan regime we promoted has a big share of the blame for its widespread graft and corruption. It has been reported that many people there hated their own “army” and police more than they feared the Taliban.
So what now?
The best case scenario is that the Taliban has mellowed and will respect the rights of women and girls to go to school, work and go about without a male chaperone. There is a generation of young people there now that did not grow up under Taliban rule and the hope is they will have a moderating influence. There were few cell phones in the country pre-9/11 and the only computer was said to be owned by Mullah Muhammad Omar, who didn’t know how to turn it on. Indeed the Taliban are now making nice – at least in Kabul, in the provinces not so much – saying things will be different this time.
The worst case is dark and it appears likely that sooner or later they will return to hardline Sharia law. Clearly the Taliban have an interest in appearing reasonable now in hopes of getting international recognition and support. The big worry is that Afghanistan will become a beacon for Islamic jihadis from all over the world, just as it was pre-9/11.
Indeed Hamas and the Iranians have already congratulated the Taliban on their victory.
The lesson for the United States is that people have to figure out their own destiny. The rest of the world pretty much has to accept whatever happens within their borders.
No matter how much we think freedom and democracy are values worth dying for, we are not very good at imposing those values. We had some success in Germany, Japan and Korea but ideals didn’t count for much in Vietnam.
So here’s what I think is likely to happen. As long as what happens in Afghanistan stays in Afghanistan, the world community will stand back and remain an interested spectator, maybe providing encouragement and limited support to the Taliban resistance – when and if there is one.
But as soon as it looks like Afghanistan is once again going to export terrorism, the United States will have no choice but to go back and neutralize the threat. It is sad that in so many ways we are close to being back where we were before the Twin Towers fell.
I feel for all those families that lost service members trying to ensure a better life for an undeserving people. But they should not think their sacrifices were in vain. Remember the reason for going into Afghanistan in the first place was to remove Al Qaeda. We did that, and for 20 years there have been no large scale attacks on the United States.
Our mistake was not destroying Al Qaeda and its supporters and letting the Afghans sort out what’s next.