It Should Be Humanitarian, Not Political!

The 24/7 press about the situation in Afghanistan wears on one’s psyche, especially in light of all the finger-pointing, mud-slinging and everyone putting their own coat of varnish on the situation and its political ramifications.  I am a forever supporter of a free press, but … in return, I expect them to be responsible in their reporting.  This responsibility seems to be largely lacking at the moment.

Nobody can sum up a situation quite like New York Times’ Frank Bruni, so I shall leave it to him to unpack the current chaos …


Stop Politicizing the Misery in Afghanistan

By Frank Bruni

Opinion writer

26 August 2021

Democrats are panicked that the debacle in Afghanistan will shake American voters’ confidence in not only President Biden but also the rest of the party, potentially costing it control of the Senate and the House in 2022. They’ve said as much — to me, to other journalists, to anyone who will listen.

I wish they’d stop, because their political fate is nothing next to the fate of Afghans on the wrong side of the Taliban. And every time they communicate as much concern with the party’s near future as with Afghanistan’s, they inch toward the very destiny they dread.

To review: There were explosions today outside the airport in Kabul, underscoring how gravely dangerous the situation there is. Afghans have been crushed to death in stampedes to that area. Many who took considerable risks to help us now justifiably fear brutal reprisals from the Taliban and cannot count on us to get them to safety. Refugees have traded one hell for another: fetid, sweltering, rat-infested camps unfit for even fleeting human habitation. And some of our allies have struggled to rescue their own citizens and lost yet more faith in the United States.

But, sure, let’s talk about domestic politics and the midterms — which, mind you, are more than 14 months away.

I’m not minimizing the stakes of those elections. Given the Republican Party’s capitulation to conspiracy theories, its contempt for democratic norms, the paranoia of Marjorie Taylor Greene, the depravity of Matt Gaetz, the cowardice of Kevin McCarthy and the stubborn pull of their orange overlord, a Republican takeover of Congress would likely be disastrous.

But you know how Democrats and the media can increase the odds of that? By framing too much in those terms. By conspicuously keeping score: This event works to our advantage, that development works in theirs, we drew blood here, they drew blood there. When everyone seems equally political, everything is reduced to politics, and voters have a harder time seeing who’s on their side. They see only a contest with contestants out for themselves.

Republicans are goading Democrats, that’s for sure. Donald Trump is mocking them and Fox News taunting them — by politically weaponizing the misery in Afghanistan and casting it as an illustration of Biden’s and Democrats’ unfitness to govern.

Let them. They look parochial at best, callous at worst and opportunistic through and through. They’re right to demand more of the country and its president than what we’ve seen in regard to Afghanistan, and it’s fine to discuss that, but not in a tone so nakedly partisan and not with a memory so audaciously selective.

Trump would have done us prouder? Hah. The United States was humiliated repeatedly and spectacularly under his, um, leadership, as he gleefully trashed our most cherished ideals. What’s more, there was nothing in his magnitude of ignorance, self-consumption and neglect to suggest that he would have accomplished a withdrawal from Afghanistan — which, mind you, he was insistent about — with more grace. Any assertion otherwise charts the confluence of runaway revisionism and pure fantasy.

But if Democrats want to be sure to beat Republicans, their best bet is to be not like them: to focus on the substance of problems rather than their political implications, to talk about solutions without calculating their political benefit. In these jaded times, a little genuine earnestness could go a long way.

That holds true for the media as well. In an excellent column in The Washington Post recently, Margaret Sullivan rued the fact that reporting on government has become reporting on politics, although the two aren’t — or at least shouldn’t be — the same. Her prompt was the fight between Democrats and Republicans over a congressional investigation into the events of Jan. 6. She implored journalists to “stop asking who the winners and losers were in the latest skirmish. Start asking who is serving the democracy and who is undermining it. Stop being ‘savvy’ and start being patriotic.”

Amen. A similar plea has a place in the coverage of Afghanistan. I’ve pretty much given up on Republicans for the time being, but I’m still rooting for better from Democrats, who should focus on how the United States honors the promises we made in Afghanistan, limits the suffering there and reclaims a place of honor and reliability in global affairs. I don’t want the handicapping of the 2022 horse race, at least not right now.

Profit Over People — The “American” Way

Sure, go ahead, blame President Biden.  Blame George W. Bush, blame President Obama, blame the former guy … there’s plenty of blame to spread around.  Blame the military advisors who advised Bush and Obama (the former guy took advise from nobody, believing he actually had a functional brain).  Blame your Aunt Mabel for all I care.  The bottom line is that there was only one winner in the entire U.S.-Afghanistan fiasco:  private military contractors.

If you purchased $10,000 of stock evenly divided among America’s top five defense contractors on September 18, 2001 — the day President George W. Bush signed the Authorization for Use of Military Force in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks — and faithfully reinvested all dividends, it would now be worth $97,295.  Not a bad return on investment, eh?  Defense stocks outperformed the stock market overall by 58 percent during the Afghanistan War.  Those top five biggest defense contractors?

  • Boeing – $8.2 billion profit in 2017
  • Lockheed Martin – $2 billion profit in 2017
  • Raytheon – $2 billion profit in 2017
  • Northrop Grumman – $2 billion profit in 2017
  • General Dynamics – $2.9 billion profit in 2017

People’s lives don’t really matter to the CEOs of these companies whose eyes only light up when they see $$$$$$$$$$.  Not Afghani lives, not U.S. or British lives, only profit matters.

It is right and proper that we leave Afghanistan – we never should have gone there in the first place and for damn sure shouldn’t have stayed 20 years, but … all those lovely profits!  How the withdrawal came about and how it was transacted will be questioned for many hears henceforth and fingers will be pointed, blame will be dispersed, and at the end of the day, nothing will have changed.  The U.S. will not have learned a lesson from this, but will continue to display its extreme arrogance in believing that they have all the best solutions and eventually, perhaps sooner than later, there will be another Afghanistan.

Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing every single defense contractor in bankruptcy by the end of next year and the U.S. defense budget for new military hardware reduced to zero.  I would far rather my tax dollars be spent helping people with such things as education, food, shelter, job training, than spent on killing machines.  However, mine is a humanitarian viewpoint, or one of a snowflake liberal as I’m often told, who cares more about people and animals than I care about profit and power.

Filosofa’s Thoughts …

I haven’t opined on President Biden’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan because I have very mixed thoughts on the subject.  Our presence in Afghanistan for these past two decades has been very costly, both in terms of money and lives.  However … there has never been any doubt that once U.S. troops left, the Taliban would move in swiftly.  We just didn’t realize, I think, how swiftly.

Now, I know this isn’t a topic that is near and dear to most of you at the moment, as we are dealing with our own crises on multiple fronts at the moment:  the pandemic, political chaos, devastating wildfires, racism, and much more.  However, what happens once we leave Afghanistan IS important to us for, I believe, a number of reasons, not the least of which is humanitarianism.

Displaced people in Afghanistan in a makeshift camp

The Taliban has moved in much more quickly than most foreign policy experts expected, and it is now estimated that they control 65% of the country.  A new U.S. military assessment says the national capital, Kabul, could fall to the Taliban in as quickly as a month.  Why should you care?  Two major reasons:

  • The Taliban are brutal terrorists. Already, tens of thousands of ordinary Afghans have had to flee their homes and- hundreds have been killed or injured in recent weeks.  The Taliban are misogynists who will brutalize women.  Their form of justice … well, let me give you an example straight from the horse’s mouth:
    • “In our Sharia it’s clear, for those who have sex and are unmarried, whether it’s a girl or a boy, the punishment is 100 lashes in public. But for anyone who’s married, they have to be stoned to death… For those who steal: if it’s proved, then his hand should be cut off.” – the words of Taliban Judge Haji Badruddin

We claim to be a humanitarian society, to care about people.  Can we care less, or not care at all, simply because the people being brutalized are half a globe away, have different beliefs, and a different skin tone?

  • The second reason you should care is simple. I want you to close your eyes and remember where you were at around 9:00 a.m. on the 11th of September, twenty years ago.  What happened that day was perpetrated by al-Qaeda, who were taught and backed by none other than the Taliban.  It was, in many ways, their hatred for the United States, it was in part retaliation for us spreading our western ways to their very closed society.

Think it can’t happen again?  Oh yes, it can, and my bet is that it will.  The Taliban has even more reason now to hate the U.S. than they had 20 years ago.  My best guess is they are already discussing and planning their revenge for the 20 years we have kept them out of power in Afghanistan.

Make no mistake, I support President Biden’s decision to pull our troops out of Afghanistan, for we could not stay there forever.  But rather my objection is with the timing and implementation.  I think it was done too quickly, rather like ripping the bandage off of a raw wound, and without thought for the future of the people of Afghanistan.  I think we are leaving a country of 39 million people vulnerable and in grave danger.  I do not pretend to be an expert or to know the best way to withdraw from Afghanistan, but I very much fear that the way we have gone about it will have unintended consequences for the people of Afghanistan and ultimately for the people in the U.S.

Taliban members

I was disappointed yesterday to hear President Biden say …

“I do not regret my decision. Afghan leaders have to come together. They’ve got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation.”

It seemed cold, calloused, unfeeling, uncaring for the fate of humans half a globe away.  Ultimately, he isn’t wrong … the bandage must come off, but there may be a safer way of removing it.