Mike Pompeo on the U.S. Victory in Afghanistan

The U.S. appears about to announce a peace agreement with the Taliban trading the withdrawal of U.S. forces for a Taliban commitment to exclude al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups from the country. (Presumably the Taliban themselves will be removed from the State Department’s terror list.) It has been under discussion for at least several years, attracting little journalistic attention.

It’s a deal that could in fact have been cut many years and many lives ago. The U.S. top brass concluded long ago that the war in Afghanistan was not militarily winnable (and indeed generating more “terrorism”). The Taliban whatever you think of it has an enduring, genuine mass base. The early project of building a functioning multiparty neo-liberal democracy failed; the Afghan president is merely the mayor Kabul; warlords retain their power; women are as subject to patriarchy as ever; sharia law still prevails. Islam is the state religion and conversion or apostasy is still punishable by death.

Most importantly, the Taliban has steadily expanded its base areas, controlling more territory in 2019 than at any time since 2001. It has thus forced the U.S. to negotiate in Oman, the UAE and Qatar. The U.S. has been forced to sue for peace because its total effort in Afghanistan costing the lives of 4000 U.S. soldiers and “contractors” and the lives of over 1000 allied troops has been defeated.

The fallen are all heroes who fought for our freedom, we are told.

Joe Biden recently told a campaign crowd a story about pinning a medal for bravery on a Navy captain in Afghanistan. Since he had virtually all of the facts confused, and was actually conflating three different events, he was roundly criticized by the media for Trump-like indifference to facts if not senility. His response?

Biden just doesn’t get it. “I don’t understand what they’re talking about, but [sic] the central point is it was absolutely accurate what I said….I was making the point of how courageous these people are. How incredible they are — this generation of warriors, these fallen angels we’ve lost, so I don’t know what the problem is. What is it I have said wrong?”

(Dude: what’s wrong — and absolutely inaccurate — is that you’re depicting all the soldiers who died in an unjust war, as heroes, just because it was a war waged by this country — or more precisely, by a section of its ruling class. The soldiers who died in Afghanistan are not fallen angels. They are victims of U.S. imperialism. This “generation of warriors” has been spawned by the military-industrial complex controlled by the 1% whom you represent. Most soldiers who fought in Afghanistan oppose the war and urge withdrawal. The fact that you assume your sloppy patriotism makes your sloppy memory a minor matter, that protects your memory lapses and “gaffes” from controversy, shows that are indeed out of touch.)

How to reconcile this misplaced hero-worship with crawling away with your tail between your legs?

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo puts a bright face on the agreement. In an interview with the Daily Signal he declares the mission accomplished: “If you go back and look at the days following 9/11, the objectives set out were pretty clear: to go defeat al-Qaeda, the group that had launched the attack on the United States of America from Afghanistan. And today, al-Qaeda … doesn’t even amount to a shadow of its former self in Afghanistan. We have delivered.”

It is thought that around 200 al-Qaeda were killed at the battle of Tora Bora, and that 100 to 600 escaped into Pakistan. The terrorist group disappeared from the country in 2002, except for some ethnic Uzbek affiliates who have been quiet. The U.S. “delivered” on that before the body-bags reached the hundreds. It could have withdrawn then, proclaiming success.

But then the toppled Talibs shocked the occupation forces (abetting Afghanistan’s “democratic transition”) by mounting an “insurgency” requiring a Vietnam-style “counter-insurgency” effort. As clashes increased, the Taliban regained territory, aided by the miserable record of the boy-raping national police force and regular defections from the incipient, ever under-performing Afghan National Army whose recruits have killed a shocking number of U.S. advisors. (These usually occur in resentment of the latter’s cultural insensitivity, par for the course of people who shouldn’t be there.)  The Trump administration inherited an expensive, unpopular, unwinnable war to remake Afghanistan as a U.S. satellite. And it decided reasonably to back out quietly, with minimal embarrassment.

But the Afghan embarrassment is historical reality. Thousands of U.S. and NATO troops died to defeat an insurgency provoked by a regime change imposed by U.S. leaders clueless of Afghan realities. They died meaninglessly, producing no good, no positive historical movement. Yes, in the course of the fighting brave men and women committed acts of heroism to save the lives of their comrades. They deserve medals. But so fucking what? Nazis committed heroic acts; German soldiers laid down their lives for other German soldiers in Russia and elsewhere. So did Japanese forces in China. They all deserved medals. So do the heroic Soviet soldiers who fought for the People’s Democratic Republic of Afghanistan with its noble socialist ideals, many of them by weapons given to jihadis by the CIA. The whole point of medals is to glorify war. But what were the warriors fighting to accomplish when they died?

German forces in Poland or Russia were not fighting for the German people, nor the Japanese forces in China for Japanese freedom. U.S. forces were not fighting to preserve any freedoms of yours or mine during their tours in Afghanistan, or Iraq, or Syria during this era in our history of comprehensive surveillance and assaults on the Constitution. Who is fighting to preserve our freedoms from the Deep State, the surveillance state, the Trump-state of random emergency powers and routine official lies?

The U.S. will leave Afghanistan, not guns blazing under a Mission Accomplished banner, but bitching and moaning about the ragheads’ backwardness and inability to follow instructions. They will bemoan the back-stabbing, illiteracy, hashish habits, poor hygiene, pederasty, cruelty to dogs, treatment of women, and lack of respect for the United States and all this wonderful generous country has done for them. The U.S. will accept a Saudi-like Afghanistan, governed my Islamist conservatives, content that at least al-Qaeda and ISIL won’t be welcome there.

The latter groups survive in Syria, Yemen, the Sahel, more than they ever did in 2001. The U.S. War on Terror that started with the bombing of Afghanistan Oct. 7, 2001, drove the Taliban from the cities by December, and drove al-Qaeda from Tora Bora the same month, massively encouraged al-Qaeda growth in Iraq (where it had never been), Yemen, and Somalia, while its spin-off ISIL has shocked the world by establishing, for a time, a state-like Caliphate based on unprecedented savagery and cruelty. The huge U.S. investment in recent years in quashing ISIL wherever it exists, has been necessary to mitigate the profound embarrassment of its actions in Afghanistan and Iraq that produced al-Zarqawi’s monstrous outgrowth of al-Qaeda in Anbar Province in the first place.

There remain more al-Qaeda in Idlib Province, Syria than might have comprised the whole of the network in 2001, bombed recently by uninvited U.S. forces but more contained by Russian and Syrian troops.

The evil that men do lives after them. The evil of the Afghan invasion and occupation—the evil of forgetting the Prime Directive and trying to reshape a nation at one’s will, the evil of imperialism itself—has lived on after the death of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, after the Special Forces assassination of bin Laden, after the death of Mullah Omar. It lives in the remnants of ISIL, founded by a militant fleeing Afghanistan for Iraq which, since it had been so gloriously destroyed by the U.S., was the perfect nursery for Islamist terror. And al-Qaeda remains, perhaps necessarily; if it didn’t exist, the U.S. imperialists would have to invent it.

Many of my freshmen students this semester were born in 2001. They have grown up in the shadow of 9-11, in an era of multiple wars that they realize are stupid, based on lies, waged at some level for some reason by capitalists for profit. They have grown up in a period of relentless U.S. provocation of Russia, through the ferocious expansion of the anti-Russian NATO military alliance. They reach adulthood in an America shorn of myth largely due to Afghanistan.

The Taliban never attacked the U.S. They cooperated with the U.S. on opium eradication and pipeline construction plans. They were never in cahoots with al-Qaeda in plans to attack the U.S. They offered in the month after 9-11 to turn over bin Laden to the U.S.; they did not, as reported, refuse. A clueless Bush-Cheney-neocon administration had no problem with topping the Taliban, claiming necessity. The Afghan War like the Iraq War was based on lies. The whole 21st Century has been based on those lies.

Now a chapter is ending, appropriately, with the honest recognition that the Exceptional Nation’s lies lead to bold murderous action followed, when met with local popular rejection, by the need for ignominious retreat. The Class of 2014 will witness the transition from either the era of stupid, doomed wars for regime change to one of rational quiescence or a leap into John Bolton’s world of blissful chaos.

“We have delivered” ruin and shame under Bush, Obama, Trump.  The victor is the world that has successfully resisted, in many different ways, U.S. domination since the 9-11 episode. That includes the intrepid Taliban — horrible people no doubt, but much less threatening to me or you than Donald Trump, Bolton or Pompeo.

Gary Leupp is a Professor of History at Tufts University, and author of numerous works on Japanese history. He can be reached at: gleupp@granite.tufts.edu. Read other articles by Gary.