I blame Raph Nader, as you know. (Gore might have gotten Bin Laden before 9/11* and would surely not have rejected the Taliban’s offer and gone to war with Iraq.)
Three perhaps more useful perspectives:
First: How presidents lie us into war by Thom Hartmann.
You could teach a whole college course around this — or get the gist in 3 minutes:
The Washington Post headline weeks after 9/11 put it succinctly: “Bush Rejects Taliban Offer On Bin Laden.” With that decision not to arrest and try Bin Laden for his crime but instead to go to war George W. Bush set the US and Afghanistan on a direct path to today. . . .
“Unsparing words about Trump and Biden” and a defense of nation-building.
Tough stuff, but, again, so worth reading in full.
Third: Something you can only read in full here.
A note from Basil Comnas to his Hotchkiss ‘65 high school classmates.
(If, like me, you have no idea what “a herring across the trail” means, check out logical fallacy #22: “Changing the subject to avoid the point of the argument. A diversionary tactic. From the days of fox hunting, when a saboteur dragged a herring across the trail of a fox in order to throw the dogs off the scent.”)
The word Taliban has been a herring across the trail from the beginning of our involvement.
Basil Comnas ©2021 / Senior Advisor to UNDP Afghanistan
As you may recall, I lived and worked in Afghanistan for all or part of the following years: 1971-78, 1990-91, 1998, 2010-2015. The US has been played for fools by the Government of Afghanistan, two arch crooks, Karzai and Ghani. Biden is getting us out not a moment too soon.
After the Soviets invaded Xmas 1979, a first exodus of the intellectual and educated took place, as well as some ordinary country people, who went to Pakistan and Iran.
From there, the elite found a way to get to USA and Germany. (An old German law from Hitler’s time allowed Afghans free entry into Germany still in 1979, as honorary Aryans. Before the German authorities changed the law, tens of thousands of Afghans took refuge in Germany when the Soviets entered and carpet bombed the old feudal qalas.)
After the departure of the Soviets ( 1989) and the fall of Najibullah (circa 1992) , mujahedeen leaders Massoud (Tajik) and Hekmatyar (Pashtun) fought for control of Kabul. A movement called the Taliban arose and managed to take control of Kabul, most of the South of the country and the West, leaving the North East to Massoud, and the North central (Mazar e Sharif ) to an Afghan-Uzbek warlord Dostum.
This upheaval precipitated a second wave of emigration, from those who were close to the Soviets, or close to Najibullah, they fled with their families to Pakistan and India where they settled. These were called by many: “the Watan Frush,” meaning betrayers of the motherland.
After 9/11, the US and NATO intervened, and set up Karzai as President (he was a restaurateur in Baltimore) and Ghani, who worked for the World Bank. The George W Bush administration wanted to show results before the Nov 2004 US elections, so they pushed all the “western democracy” consultants that they had fielded there to finalize a new Afghan Constitution and hold fresh Afghan elections well before the US Nov 2004 elections. Lots of inky fingers.
Understanding the US self-imposed deadline of Nov 2004, the Afghan parties to the drafting of the new Afghan constitution refused to allow any Federalism, i.e. they held firm insisting on an Afghan constitution in which the President (Karzai) appointed ALL the 34 Provincial governors and 10 mayors of the major cities.
No federalism, just one political pyramid of patronage with Karzai at the top, distributing all funds, jobs and power. Karzai was placed in power, even though many in the Loya Jirga members that signed off on this travesty asked themselves, “How can we agree to a leader when we know the hat is too big for his head?’”
To compound the problem, very few educated Afghans returned from their comfortable lives in Germany and California, to build the new Afghanistan.
But the Watan Frush and their children returned, and took many of the reins of government, and took the best jobs at the embassies, ISAF, the UN, NGOs and in the Afghan Government.
Traditional leaders from the provinces, who had fought the Soviets and the quislings of the Watan Frush, were marginalized by this new Constitutional structure. Whenever they rebelled, Karzai’s people branded them as Taliban, then the untutored Americans would bomb and otherwise target them. The Russians laughed and laughed.
The Governments of Karzai and Ghani used this word Taliban to label any provincial opposition so that the Americans would attack them. While I argued at the embassies in Kabul that the word Taliban was a poor sort of shorthand that no longer had the meaning that it had had before 9/11, everyone insisted (and many still insist) on using this term. The word ‘Taliban’ made a great herring across the trail, for a wild goose chase that I call “the great American Taliban snipe hunt,” that distracted journalists and policy and military decision makers alike. It was simpler, for those that prefer simplicity, to talk in terms of Taliban than to acknowledge the complexities of the political opposition in the provinces, fighting against the Government and its many officials from the Watan Frush (many speaking Russian better than English, not too surprisingly).
Now what will happen? I can’t say for sure. My guess would be that there will be a new power struggle in each of the 33 more-rural provinces. Each province will have its own story, while the province of Kabul will become an armed camp, independent and cut off from the rest of the country. This sad outcome is the direct result of callous hubris on the part of the US, thinking that a new rushed and sub-optimal Constitution and elections would produce an instant democracy. The reality is that nearly none of the many US and NATO staff that went to serve in Afghanistan really wanted to be there, or had the necessary skills or training to be there. Add to this the immense financial improprieties that became rife in the GoIRA (Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan), plus the mischievousness of neighbours to the south, west and to the north. The chickens of mismanagement and corruption come home to roost, sadly.
There will not be a uniform takeover by a monolithic entity, contrary to the popular folklore. Each province will have its own story, and should now have its own outcome depending on the serenity of the local power struggles and focused effectiveness of modest external funds, especially if we (the international community) stop focusing on what happens in Kabul, but focus our attention now on supporting those provincial governors, to see who does a good job of unifying and mobilizing and protecting all their people. We should place our chips on winning provinces from now on.
The word Taliban should never be used in an intelligent conversation of what has been happening the past 20 years, or on what is happening now. It has been a herring across the trail from the beginning of our involvement.
The traditional and turbaned tribal-rural strongmen in the provinces will now vie for the role of provincial governors (wali), for those rural provinces where they have been living outside the law, up in the hills.
When I tracked him down Friday for permission to post his note, Mr. Comnas replied:
Sure, but I need to clarify it. I have not been in Afghanistan since 2015 and I hadn’t appreciated a new development.
Yesterday I received new information from a trusted Afghan who just departed Kabul, and while I stand by what I said, it appears that Pakistan has been flooding all of Afghanistan with newly minted “Talibs,” trained in madrasses in Pakistan to be radical jihadists.
Our chasing of the red herring, and bombing the armed opposition for twenty years, has allowed the new Talibs to penetrate areas where they previously had no access, like Herat, Kunduz, Badakhshan, even Takhar.
Some of these new Talibs speak only Urdu, indicating their origins are the Punjab. Pakistan has played, and continues to play, a treacherous role in undermining stability and social cohesion in Afghanistan. It was no surprise to many that when we finally found Bin Laden, he was living comfortably near in a Pakistan military academy.
The million-dollar question: why did the Afghan army not fight these past weeks?
The answer that my trusted Afghan source ( known him for 48 years ) is that Pakistan called the shots, with US acquiescence, for the Afghan Army to stand down.
Bad days ahead, with the Afghan waters more muddied than ever. Maybe not another US penny of support to Pakistan? (Although Prime Minister Imram Khan is compellingly more attractive than his predecessors, questions remain as to how much real authority he has over the rogue actors in the Pakistani Intelligence Service.)
Suggested at $3.50 six weeks ago, I sold half at $13 Friday.
Have a great week!
*You can read about it in the first pages of Bob Woodward’s largely pro-Bush Bush at War. “President Clinton had approved five separate intelligence orders authorizing covert action to attempt to destroy bin Laden and his network.” The CIA was urging Bush to continue or step up those efforts; instead, he ignored the “tremendous, immediate” threat and (we know from Bush’s first Treasury Secretary’s book) turned his attention to Iraq.
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