"Biden’s Looming Afghan Debacle: Worst Since Fall of Saigon"
The Duran (March 9, 2021)
By Alexander Mercouris
Alexander Mercouris: "Good Day. The [most recent] former US President [#45] had a straightforward policy with respect to Afghanistan though it was one he was never ultimately able to implement. Briefly, it is quite clear that by the time he became president he had already concluded that the United States was committed in Afghanistan to what had become an unwinnable war which was draining the US of resources and distracting it from more urgent matters. He made repeated attempts during the period of his presidency [*NOTE: if tweeting his vacillating desires constitutes "attempting to see a policy implemented"] to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan and, against fierce opposition he pursued talks with the Afghan insurgent movement, the Taliban, to try to come to some kind of negotiated agreement whereby the United States would be able to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan in return for some committments from the Taliban that they would not attack US soldiers while the withdrawal was underway; would negotiate with the Afghan government some kind of [power] sharing arrangement; and would not allow Afghanistan to become a haven for jihadi terrorists as it had become during the previous period of Taliban rule over the country in the 1990s."
[1:34] "These negotiations achieved a certain outcome, and though there are question marks over the good will and good faith with which the Taliban approached the talks, nonetheless a committment was reached whereby US troops would withdraw from Afghanistan by the first of May 2021 on the assumption that some kind of agreement was reached between the Taliban government and the Taliban government to compromise on political power."
[2:14] "The Biden administration, when it came into office, came with a somewhat different agenda. The Biden supporters in the Democratic Party, the neocons, and also people within the Republican Party, like [Senator] Lindsey Graham have implacably opposed a US withdrawal from Afghanistan, even though they have never been able to come up with anything that remotely qualifies or can be described as a war-winning strategy for the United States in the country. The reality is that the Taliban, after its heavy defeat in 2001 when the United States intervened in the country following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, has steadily rebuilt itself; has won over significant grassroots support, particularly in the Pushto areas in the south of Afghanistan; and has been on a victory roll. It controls much of Afghanistan's countryside. It is now pressing on Afghanistan's cities. And it seems poised to regain control of the country as soon as the United States leaves."
[3:40] "Despite this fact of Taliban victories and Taliban advances, the US military remains in Afghanistan but has never been able to halt or revers the tide of success which over a period of many years the Taliban has been achieving."
[4:05] "The most sustained attempt to try to reverse the Taliban's advances was made by Barack Obama during the period of his administration. Barack Obama became President, like Donald Trump, committed to a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. In the event, instead of withdrawing from Afghanistan, Obama reinforced U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan greatly. At one point during Obama's administration, the United States and its NATO allies had a hundred thousand troops stationed in Afghanistan, which is roughly the same as the Soviet Union had during the high point of its involvement in the country in the 1980s."
[5:04] "Nonetheless and notwithstanding, as I have said, Donald Trump did achieve some form of diplomatic process in his negotiations with the Taliban. But the Biden administration has seemed intent to reverse this. There has been talk of U.S. troops staying in Afghanistan indefinitely. That talk, by the way, began while Donald Trump was still President, but it seems that the Biden administration has been more committed to doing this."
[5:40] "At the same time, there have been attempts to reopen negotiations with the Taliban to try and pressure the Taliban into agreeing to a power-sharing agreement with the current, pro-American government in the Afghan capital, Kabul. The Taliban have been resisting this because they have never recognized that pro-American government in Kabul as legitimate. And besides, it has never been clear why -- given that the United States seems to be indicating its intention to withdraw from the country, and given that the Taliban seems on the brink of winning the war -- it would negotiate with that government anyway."
[6:31] "Nonetheless, there has been one part of the Biden administration's policy, even though the Taliban itself has been resisting all attempts and every attempt -- to open up such negotiations with the government in Kabul. What has now become clear is that the Biden administration has also been trying to pressure the afghan government itself -- this is the pro-American Afghan government in Kabul -- to enter into negotiations, direct negotiations, with the Taliban to achieve some sort of power-sharing arrangement.
[7:16] "It is also clear that the Biden Administration has been trying to get the countries that border Afthanistan, or which have interests there to also take a hand in these negotiations in order to work towards achieving a political settlement in the country that would be suitable or effective for the United States."
[7:44] "We know all of this because recently a letter from Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been released. It was circulated in Afghanistan itself, in the media in Afghanistan, but is a letter in which Blinken appears to be trying to put pressure on the Afghan government and, in particular, on Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan president, to move purposefully forward with negotiations with the Taliban for a power-sharing arrangement. The letter, and you will (and you will find a link below this video) is really a quite extraordinary letter. It discusses how the United States is trying to recruit or enlist the help of neighboring countries, or countries tht have interests in Afghanistan to broker and assist in the talks."One paragraph leads as follows [8:50]: "
"We intend to ask the United Nations to convene foreign ministers and envoys from Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, India, and the United States to discuss a unified approach to supporting peace in Afghanistan. It is my belief that these countries share an abiding common interest in a stable Afghanistan and must work together if we are to succeed. It is also clear that the United States is hoping that Turkey will somehow assist in this process and might act as an honest broker between the Taliban and the Afghan government."
[9:38] Another paragraph in this letter reads as follows:
We will ask the government of Turkey to host a senior-level meeting of both sides in the coming weeks to finalize a peace agreement."
[9:54] "It is also entirely clear that the Afghan government itself, led by President Ghani, us resisting. They're saying that they do not want to negotiate with the Taliban; that they continue to see the Taliban as terrorists; that there is no conceivable way that they will ever agree to that; and that they prefer to go on fighting. It also seems that the Afghan government, led by President Ghani, is making these statements and these comments to the U.S. because, fundamentally, they don't really believe that the United States is serious when it says that it wants to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan."
[10:42] "President Ghani is as familiar with the opinions of the neocons in the United States as everyone else is, and he is obviously able to follow the comments of people like [U.S. Senator] Lindsey Graham. He knows that there is a strong lobby within the United States which remains completely opposed to any withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country, and he appears to be gambling that, in the end, that neocon position will prevail in the United States as it did throughout the Trump and, previously, Obama administrations and that the U.S. troops will stay, shielding the Kabul government from overthrow, and allowing him and that government to remain in office and to continue much as they have before."
[11:41] "I would add that the Afghan government is universally acknowledged to be deeply corrupt. And, of course, many of its members therefore have a vested financial interest in the status quo."
"Blinken's letter to Ghani seems to be intended to dispel these views. It ends with these really remarkable words:
"I want to make clear to you, Mr President, that as our policy process continues in Washington, the United States has not ruled out any option. We are considering the full withdrawal of all of our forces by May 1st as we consider other options. Even with the continuation of financial assistance from the United States to your forces after an American military withdrawal, I am concerned that the security situation will worsen and that the Taliban could make rapid territorial gains. I am making this clear to you so that you understand the urgency of my tone regarding the collective work outlined in this letter."
[13:08] "So, in effect, what Blinken is trying to do is to pressure Ghani and the Afghan government to move forward with negotiations with the Taliban by threatening them that unless those negotiations take place and unless an agreement is reached the U.S. government may decide to simply call it quits and withdraw its forces from Afghanistan on May 1st, 2021 as Donald Trump said it would do."
[13:44] "The Afghan government is furious. And it has published this letter in the Kabul media, which is how we know about it, and it is reiterating again its complete rejection of the U.S. proposals for a negotiation and a peace agreement with the Taliban."
[14:07] "I have to say, that all these attempts by the Biden administration and by Antony Blinken to come to some sort of brokered peace between the Afghan government and the Taliban remind me powerfully of the Peace With Honor negotiations that took place between the United States and North Vietnam in the lead-up to the U.S. withdrawal from South Vietnam way back in the early 1970s. Then as now, the United States sought some kind of deal with the North Vietnamese which would enable the United States to withdraw, as [President] Nixon said, "with honor," and achieve "Peace with Honor" in Vietnam.
There was always a question mark why the North Vietnamese would agree to such a peace ageement and would abide by it given that it was blindingly obvious to every objective observer that the moment the United States withdrew from Vietnam, the South Vietnamese government -- which the United States had been backing -- would face an insurmountable challenge in remaining in power, given the power of North Vietnam and its military. But nonetheless, that is what the United States chose to do as it came to realize that there was no prospect of medium-term victory in the Vietnam War."
[15:55] "Again, the response of the South Vietnamese government to these negotiations between the United States and North Vietnam was bitter opposition and with the then set South Vietnamese president [Nguyen Van] Thieu making it completely clear to the United States that he was implacably opposed to any negotiation with the North Vietnamese or to any agreement with them on the basis of what the United States was proposing. In fact, after U.S. troops finally withdrew from South Vietnam, [President] Thieu very foolishly and very unwisely tried to launch a South Vietnamese military against the North Vietamese army which remained in control of much of the territory of South Vietnam, provoking in response a North Vietnamese offensive which in the end led to the fall of Saigon and the collapse of South Vietnam."
[17:08] "It seems to me that the scenarios are remarkably similar. Once again, the United States is negotiating directly with the Taliban, its enemy in Afghanistan. It has effectively cut out this Afghan government from those negotiations, just as the United States once upon a time cut out the South Vietnamese government from all negotiations over the settlement of the war in Vietnam. It is, just as in Vietnam, facing bitter opposition to the agreement it is trying to reach from the Afghan government just as the South Vietnamese government opposed the deal that the United States had struck with North Vietnam. And it looks to me very much as if the United States does follow through with what it did in Vietnam in the 1970s and withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, then the war will resume with a vengeance and the Taliban will win, and win complete control of the country just as the North Vietnamese won complete control of the country in Vietnam after the U.S. left."
[18:32] "So the parallels are striking. And they do beg many questions about why the United States is proceeding along this route. It seems to me that the United States, once again, in seeking what it calls "Peace With Honor" is not analyzing properly -- just as it failed to [previously] analyze properly -- the back story of Afghanistan. The situation in Afghanistan today which the United States faces is a product of U.S. policy. Way back in the 1980s, the United States supported a jihadi insurgency against the then-Afghan-government which, having come to power through a military coup, seemed intending to align Afghanistan more closely with the Soviet Union. This was a tragic long-term error, given that that Afghan government did actually have, as it turned out, substantial support in the country and did seem committed to carrying out large-scale reforms in the country which might have propelled Afghanistan forward towards a more prosperous and more stable future."
[20:02] "Nonetheless, the United States, as part of its geopolitical strategies against the Soviet Union, committed itself to supporting the jihadi insurgency that had at that time been of only a very minor consequence, leading to a war in Afghanistan that escalated to a remarkable degree, drawing the Soviet forces in.
"It needs to be said that that war which was fought between the Soviet Union and the jihadi rebels backed by the United States actually went, from the Soviet point of view, rather better than the war which the United States has fought. First of all, it was far shorter. It only lasted around nine years. Secondly, the financial committment the Soviet Union made to the country was immeasureably smaller. The Soviet Union did not have trillions of dollars to spend in Afghanistan as the United States has done. But the outcome was, that when the Soviets did finally leave in 1989, they did actually leave behind them an Afghan government that appeared to be fairly solid and had behind it the support of a disciplined army and the acquiescence -- and even, to some extent, the active support -- of a part of the Afghan population.
Had the United States at that point stopped, accepting that the Soviet Union had withdrawn from Afghanistan and had worked together with the Afghan government that had survived that war to stabilize the country, it is quite likely that Afghanistan would now be a peaceful country of no threat to anyone."
[22:06] "Instead, the United States further escalated the war against the Afghan government hoping that the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan would lead to its rapid collapse. In the event, the Afghan government left by the Soviet Union proved more resilient than the United States and its allies expected. It survived for two years, and in fact it outlived, outlasted the Soviet Union itself. When it did finally collapse, the result was an extraordinary period of internecine fighting and civil war in Afghanistan which led directly to the rise of the Taliban movement and to Al Qaeda establishing its headquarters in that country from where, of course, Al Qaeda organized and orchestrated its global jihad which was, of course, primarily directed against the United States."
[23:19] "The United States had a further opportunity, in my opinion, to stabilize the situation in 2001. First of all, there are some indications that parts of the Taliban were utterly shocked by 9/11 -- the events of 9/11 -- and were determined to see Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda organization leave Afghanistan. A grouping of Muslim clerics in Afghanistan, the Ulama, actually said that Osama and Al Qaeda should leave the country. And it seems that some sections of the Taliban indicated to the United States that provided a face-saving compromize were reached whereby the Taliban would hand over Osama bin Laden and he would be tried in an Islamic court. The demands of the United States for the closure of the Al Qaeda operation could be negotiated and could be achieved."
[24:38] "The Taliban at that time was in control of the country. It had been returned to peace. Indeed, it had taken further steps to clear out the festerning drugs trade which which has so blighted this country. This is not a defense of the Taliban or of the taliban movement. It is politically reactionary. It has committed extraordinary acts of violence and vandalism such as the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha statues which were part of the world's, of humanity's, architectural and artistic and historical legacy. It had also relegated women to deeply inferior positions. And it applied a rigorous and unforgiving system of Islamic Law upon the Afghan population."
[25:37] "However, it did achieve a measure of peace and security. And it is possible that had the United States been willing to engage with it, it might, over time, have evolved into something different. We will never know. Because, of course, instead of negotiating with the Taliban; without taking steps which might have led to the United States recognizing the Taliban government; instead of coming to some compromise which might have resulted in the handing over of Osama bin Laden, the United States waged its intervention in Afghanistan in 2001 leading to the fall of the Taliban government and, subsequently, to the prolonged civil war which has continued there ever since.
[26:32] "So, the United States has got Afghanistan wrong, at every single turn, of its involvement in that country since the 1980s. In my opinion, its proper policies now would be to return to the option that appeared to exist in the early 2000s before it intervened directly in the country. It ought to recognize that in this conflict between the Taliban and the Afghan government the Taliban is going to win. It also ought to recognize that this conflict is ultimately now an Afghan internal affair. The only interest the United States has, or should have in the country, is to achieve peace there and to assure that Afghanistan does not become, once more, a haven for Islamist terrorists like Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda as it did in the 1990s.
NOTE: I disagree with this last point about the US having to eliminate "havens" in Afghanistan for Islamist terrorists or any other kind of "terrorists." One could scarcely think of a more remote and inaccessable part of the planet where one would wish them to relocate, landlocked and isolated in the foothills of the Himalayan mountains. Since "terrorism" both Islamist and US-affiliated varieties (pardon the redundancy) have continued apace since at least the 1980s (four decades) and since one can entertain terrorist plots and fantasies no matter where on earth one resides -- Like Washington, D.C. (Pentagon) and Langley, Virginia (CIA) -- think instead of US native son Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma Federal Building bombing. When, after all, did he travel to Afghanistan in order to concieve the thought of turning a truck full of fertilizer into a bomb? It would obviously make more sense to convince the nations sponsoring and funding such "terrorism" (like the US, Zionist Occupied Palestine, and Saudi Arabia) -- in Afghanistan and elsewhere -- to cease and desist. Then, whatever happens in Afghanistan -- or whatever nefarious thoughts anyone might entertain while located among the poppy fields and goat herds -- would have no effect whatsoever on the "civilized" world where the vast majority of the world's population reside.
[27:45] Alexander Mercouris: "The Taliban appears to be willing to give those kinds of undertakings and, of course, as we saw when 9/11 took place, sections of the Taliban were apparently shocked by it and had been prepared, subject to negotiations and conditions to hand Osama bin Laden over. So I think, on that basis, some kind of deal between the United States and the Taliban could be reached. It is not, ultimately, the United States' job to try and maintain a group of corrupt politicians in power in Kabul. If they won't negotiate, then the United States should not send them threatening letters. It should simply make clear to them that it will leave and it should make known to them that if it does leave, then they are welcome to leave with it. The Taliban can then take control subject to whatever agreements the United States is able to reach with them."
[29:01] "Now that, by the way, does not mean that the United Sates should only speak to the Taliban directly. There is another factor which Blinken, to some extent, does seem to acknowledge. And that is that one of the reasons for the success of the original US intervention in Afghanistan in 2001 is that it had the support of all the surrounding powers: Russia, Iran, China, India, and even Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Shocked by the events of 9/11 quietly supported the US intervention in Afghanistan which took place in 2001. Iran provided intelligence and also support in Western Afghanistan. The Russians, who has strong links left over from the time of the Soviet occupation of the country organized some of the northern groups in Afghanistan into the so-called Northern Alliance. They provided for and armed this force, providing it with T-55 tanks and sending tank drivers from Russia to operate them, and they rejected offers from the Taliban to form an anti-American alliance against the United States. Pakistan, which had invested heavily in the Taliban was nonetheless prevailed upon to withdraw assistance. And, of course, China -- far less powerful then than it is today -- also provided the United States with at least a measure of moral backing also, as did India."
[30:56] "One of the reasons why the US intervention has failed, is because subsequently the United States managed to alienate and antagonize all those powers.
"Firstly, it gave the Russians committments that bases which the United States had set up in formerly Soviet Central Asia in order to carry out its war against the Taliban would be closed down as soon as the Taliban had been defeated. In fact, the United States went immediately back on those promises and made clear that it would keep those bases in Central Asia permanently and was seeking to establish its economic and political influence in that region and to draw it away from Russia. That ultimately turned the Russians away from the US. It made them hostile to the presence of those bases. The Russians were able to use their diplomatic and economic leverage over the Central Asian states: respectively, Uzbekistan and Kirgisia, to get those American bases closed down. And the United States, to all intents and purposes, no longer has any significant influence or presence in Central Asia anymore."
[32:29] Along the way, however, the Russians turned against the entire U.S. presence in Afghanistan. And it is an open secret that the Russians have had, for some time now, diplomatic contacts with the Taliban who they clearly expect to win."
"Iran, also, has been alienated as it saw the U.S. bases that were being established in Central Asia as a threat to itself, and it found itself being called part of the "Axis of Evil" by the then George W. Bush administration."
[33:09] "Pakistan, too, became increasingly disenchanted as it became clear that the United States was determined to stay in Afghanistan indefinitely. And whereas Pakistan became alienated, so did Pakistan's key ally, China."
"All of these countries turned against the U.S. intervention. And it is this, perhaps more than any other single factor, which has led to the U.S. failure in its war in Afghanistan."
"Blinken, therefore, is right to try, once again, to involve these countries in this process and to see whether or not they can assist in any compromise that is reached between the Taliban and the United States. However, it must be said that such a compromise has to be a realistic one. Anything that involves some sort of unstable power-sharing arrangement with the corrupt government in Kabul is not going to be acceptable to the Taliban and there is no logical reason why the countries that surround Afghanistan and which have interests there will support something which is so obviously unstable and which cannot succeed."
[34:44] "Besides, given that the United States now classifies three of these countries: Russia, China, and Iran as adversaries and even enemies, it is not at all clear why these countries should work to help the United States out of its problems in Afghanistan, as they were willing to do in 2001."
[35:14] "The United States has made one mistake after another in Afghanistan. I think Donald Trump, at some level, understood this, and his intention to pursue, single mindedly, a withdrawal from the country, letting it sort out its problems by itself, subject to some sort of agreements or committments from the Taliban that Al Qaeda would not be re-established there, I think that was the right one and the only realistic one. This elaborate diplomatic initiative that Blinken is trying to pull off is programmed to fail. It will not result in "Peace With Honor" in Afghanistan. That is unachieveable and, frankly, pointless to try to achieve. It will not result in any part of the present Afghan government surviving."
"A realistic policy would be to accept tghe inevitable: a Taliban restoration, establish diplomatic relations with the Taliban and try to ensure that when the Taliban regains control, Al Qaeda doesn't return to Afghanistan. I think that can be done. I think the Taliban in its own interests would want to do that. The Taliban is also known to be worried about the growing influence of ISIS in parts of Afghanistan and may very well want U.S. support to combat ISIS there."
"I think an acknowledgement [needs to be made] that this entire policy of trying to build a new Afghanistan and to try to use Afghanistan as a launch pad for influence in Central Asia and against Iran has failed. And I think that these complicated, neocon geopolitical strategies always end, finally in failure and defeat for the United States. All of these things need to be acknowledged. Now. And that acknowledgement is vitally necessary."
[37:44] "It looks from Blinken's letter as if we are as far away from that as ever. Instead, it seems that the United States under the Biden administration is going to turn its back on the much more realistic approach that Donald Trump was taking. It is going to either continue its war in Afghanistan indefinitely because it cannot achieve the kind of peace with honor that it is looking for, which will keep the Afghan government in place. Or, alternatively, that it is going to be ejected from the country as the United States was once ejected from South Vietnam, with a Taliban government once more in power in Kabul with no committments and no obligations to the United States. At all. If that is so, let us be under no doubt, it will be the greatest debacle the United States has suffered since the fall of South Vietnam."
[38:55] "Thank you very much for listening to this video."