Thursday, July 29, 2021

Biden Quits Afghanistan

No one is crying for Afghanistan. America tried for two decades to bring order and stability, even democracy, to that godforsaken country, to little avail. Most Americans are thinking that if the Afghans cannot step up and fight the Taliban, why should America spend blood and treasure doing the job.

Thus, few people have made much of an issue about Joe Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. Politicians are engaged in their usual showboating. Policy analysis seems largely to have escaped their ken. 

Today, we have two fascinating articles, one by a liberal, one by a conservative, about Joe Biden’s cowardly retreat from Afghanistan. In one case, the important point is not so much what was said, though the analysis was certainly cogent, but who was saying it. The author, the liberal foreign affairs columnist for the Financial Times, one Gideon Rachman. As you know, we cannot link to FT articles.

The second article, complementing the first, was by Bryan Preston, for Pajamas Media.

In any case, Rachman opens by saying that Biden’s surrender of Afghanistan was a major policy failure

On his recent trip to Europe, Joe Biden lost no opportunity to proclaim “America is back”. But actions speak louder than words. In Afghanistan, America is out. The consequences could be tragic for the country and dangerous for the US and the wider world.

The US president is not even pretending that America is leaving behind a stable and successful Afghanistan. Talking to the press earlier this month, Biden conceded that the Taliban is “at its strongest militarily since 2001” — when US and allied forces invaded Afghanistan and ejected the Taliban government from Kabul.

Yes, indeed, hand the country over to a resurgent Taliban. 

Of course, Biden tried to spin the story, knowing full well that most of our idiot media would happily repeat his talking points.

Biden insists that it is “highly unlikely” that the Taliban will now reconquer the whole country. But Mark Milley, America’s most senior general, sounds less confident. His verdict last week was simply that “a Taliban automatic takeover is not a foregone conclusion”.

Of course, a Taliban takeover would be disastrous for women, but it would, Rachman continues, be a humiliation for America. He continues to explain a policy alternative.

If the Taliban were to reconquer Afghanistan, it would be a disaster for the people of the country, in particular women, and a humiliation for the US. The baffling thing is the Biden administration could have avoided this risk, at a relatively low cost….

…  no American has been killed in Afghanistan for 17 months. Biden argues that this low level of casualties is a consequence of the fact that the US has been engaged in peace talks with the Taliban — posited on American withdrawal from the country. He believes that if the US announced that it intended to stay after all, the Taliban would resume assaults on US troops and casualties would rise again.

But direct talks between the US and the Taliban only really got under way in 2018 — and US casualties have been relatively low since 2015, with fewer than 100 US troops killed over the past five years.

The reality is that the few thousand US and Nato troops left in Afghanistan have not been engaged in direct combat for some years. The real fighting has been left to the Afghan army. However, the withdrawal of American and other Nato troops has had a disastrous effect on the morale of the Afghan government and military. Western experts speak of a surge of contacts from prominent Afghans, looking for any opportunity to get out of the country.

The Taliban, by contrast, sound triumphant and are making rapid gains on the battlefield. The Islamist militants have seized control of vital border crossings and now control roughly half of Afghanistan’s 419 districts. 

They have not captured any provincial capitals yet. But attacks on major towns could occur within weeks — with the capture of the capital, Kabul, the Taliban’s ultimate goal. Even if the Taliban prove incapable of holding major cities, Afghanistan is clearly in for a period of intensified civil war.

So, we surrendered a situation we did not have to surrender. As for the consequences of our retreat, Rachman continues:

The human rights consequences of the Taliban’s advance are likely to be appalling. There are already reports that the organisation is carrying out summary executions and forcing girls into sex slavery in areas that it has recaptured. Prominent Afghan women have often been targeted in Taliban attacks.

In the 20 years since the fall of the Taliban, millions of Afghan girls have been able to go to school. Women make up over a quarter of the members of the Afghan parliament. If the Taliban retake power, all of these gains will be lost. This unfolding tragedy makes a mockery of the Biden team’s proclamation that it will be a “champion for women and girls around the world”.

A useful point. Biden is selling Afghanistan’s women into slavery at the same time that he is proclaiming himself a champion of women around the world. Of course, he is happily negotiating with the homophobic misogynists in Tehran while proclaiming himself a champion of gays and women. Happily for him, no one in the brain dead media cares.

But the US president believes that he cannot ask American soldiers to keep fighting and dying for the rights of people on the other side of the world.

It is true that Biden’s first moral duty is to the American people. But that does not mean that, after a 20-year presence, the US has no continuing moral obligation to the people of Afghanistan. And, with troop losses at low levels, there was no real domestic pressure to pull out of the country completely.

There are also direct American national interests still at stake. The terrorist threat that drew the US into Afghanistan has not disappeared. If the Taliban once again controlled the country, it might well become a safe haven for the likes of al-Qaeda and Islamic State. Jihadis all over the world will also draw heart from the spectacle of the defeat of Nato in Afghanistan.

The last sentence stings. Jihadis watching the Biden surrender and retreat will conclude that history is on their side.

The resurgence of the Taliban is also likely to cause a new refugee crisis, as millions of Afghans seek to leave the country. European governments now fear that 500,000 or more Afghans may arrive at the borders of the EU within months.

Biden may believe that drawing a line under the Afghan war will allow the US to concentrate on more urgent problems. Sadly, he may just have created a new Afghan crisis that will come back to haunt him.

As if that is not bad enough, China is now moving to fill the power vacuum in Afghanistan. As Bryan Preston points out, this matters because Afghanistan has large deposits of rare earth minerals, the kind that are used in high technology production, including defense technology. As of now, China produces most of the world’s rare earth minerals. Without such substances we have a problem.

Obviously, the Biden administration does not much care about such things. 

So, Preston outlines the problem. 

The United States government is very aware of the value of rare-earth minerals. In a 2014 paper, the U.S. Geological Survey noted that rare earths are vital, and our modern world cannot function without them. 

“Rare-earth elements (REEs) are used in the components of many devices used daily in our modern society, such as: the screens of smart phones, computers, and flat panel televisions; the motors of computer drives; batteries of hybrid and electric cars; and new generation light bulbs. Lanthanum-based catalysts are employed in petroleum refining. Large wind turbines use generators that contain strong permanent magnets composed of neodymium-iron-boron,” the U.S.G.S. paper says in a photo caption, summing up the value of these metals.

Afghanistan has an estimated trillion dollars worth of rare-earth minerals under its soil. Thanks in no small part to the country’s endemic instability, those rare-earth minerals are still there. The United States could have used its 20 years battling to stabilize the country as cover to extract those minerals but chose not to.

But why, pray tell did the United States, in twenty years, and under three, now four presidents fail to extract those minerals. Perhaps they were only interested in selling democracy to people who do not want it. Perhaps their environmentally sensitive souls did not want to sully their hands with dirt:

China controls an estimated 85-95% of the world’s rare-earth mineral extraction right now. Or more — up to 97%, according to the Foreign Policy Research Institute. It isn’t the rarity of the rare earths that give China so much control. They’re not actually all that rare. It’s a combination of factors playing directly into China’s hands.

Of course, we have these minerals in the United States, perhaps not as abundantly as the Chinese and he Afghans have them, but we also have environmental regulations that have stifled mining operations:

Environmental regulations in the U.S. make it even more difficult to extract them despite the fact that we generally know where they are. West Texas and several Western states are known to have rare-earth deposits. There are efforts to build firms and extract them, but regulatory red tape slows everything down.

How does Afghanistan’s future look now, with China replacing America as the major foreign influence:

The American presence over two decades ended up doing little to stabilize Afghanistan itself. That country is, as our Stephen Green likes to put it, where the map ends. A rare-earth mineral gold rush may change that. China might brutally impose a stability, working with the Taliban, that the U.S. couldn’t and the Soviets failed to establish before that.

It’s in no one’s interests but China’s for that country’s dictatorship to grab even more control of the vital rare-minerals industry. China could effectively control what defense technology the United States and our allies can build. Our most advanced systems all depend on rare-earth minerals to function. The push to electric vehicles depends on rare-earth minerals. Solar panels and other so-called renewable energy sources depend on rare earths. The national security agenda of the right and the green agenda of the left both depend on rare-earth minerals. China has a monopoly on them now.

One way we could solve our problem would be to deregulate mining operations in America. Fat chance, that:

The smart thing for the U.S. to do would be to free up regulations and capital to open up domestic development of rare earths and development in friendly countries. But the Biden administration won’t do that, as it would run afoul of the “keep it in the ground” left in its own party. They refuse to accept that there is no free lunch when it comes to energy or technology. They love their smartphones, blissfully unaware of their origins and geopolitical implications or what it takes to power them.

Of course, Biden is a Democrat and today’s Democrats do not believe in America. They think our country is an organized criminal conspiracy, one that can only bring harm to the world. Ergo, time to free Afghanistan from Yankee imperialism.

In this, Preston sounds very much like Rachman:

It all makes one wonder, did Biden take any larger strategic concerns into account when announcing the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan? The obvious answer seems to be no. He wanted a date to leave Afghanistan no matter the consequences. One consequence is the humiliation of watching the Taliban gobble up the country and destroy our allies before our forces are even gone. Another is the appearance that the U.S. is losing the great power game, whether by design or incompetence. With Biden, it’s difficult to tell the difference.

Here’s one more potential consequence: Four nuclear-armed regional rivals may battle overtly and covertly for control of that hole in the map which happens to be rich in vital minerals that the whole modern economy and way of life depend on, and which will soon be controlled by a ruthless terrorist army.


urbane legend said...

How many times since Vietnam can we say the President and Secretary of State and Joint Chiefs of Staff actually had a long-term goal, any kind of foresight, in using the military?

Has any President of the last 40 years seen the danger of China's growing economic power and acted accordingly? Regarding the rare earth minerals, one certainly should have.

Freddo said...

When you cannot list a solid set of victory conditions, nor describe a reasonable path to get there you have already lost. And I'd argue that in those circumstances bleeding lives and money for a stalemate is a worse than a withdrawal. I bet that China and Russia already concluded that America had lost in Afghanistan in 2005:

Trump should have done it but didn't do it, perhaps ego, perhaps - rightfully - thinking the MSM would blast him for it. This may well be the only decent thing Biden will do for the American military.

While it will definitely be bad times for much of the Afghan population, they had their chance and didn't take it (although I doubt they have the civic capacity to function much above tribal level). Personally I'm not willing to risk my life for Afghanistan, Ukraine or Taiwan, and would not ask others to do it for me.

Random Chance said...

The US has shown itself over the last several decades to be a capricious and faithless ally. Starting with Vietnam, we've failed to muster the fortitude to do what's necessary to win and then we've abandoned our allies in our shameful retreat, leaving them to be slaughtered or worse by their enemies. Even in our treaties (e.g. the Abraham Accords) we've shown that our political class will simply walk away from commitments made by their political rivals. We may blame one political faction or the other, but to the rest of the world we have become a faithless partner that cannot be trusted. Why would anyone want to enter in to a treaty, much less a conflict, with the US as an ally. I love this country enough to have given almost a decade of my life serving in it's armed forces, and I'm embarrassed and ashamed at what we've become. Indeed, soft men make hard times.

Sam L. said...

We can't fight every countries battles for them, and we shouldn't. But I don't trust the Dems to not send our troops overseas.

370H55V said...

Thank you, Freddo. I couldn't have said it better myself.

David Foster said...

I guarantee you that if any US president had started out 2021 with a major escalation of military action in Afghanistan, he would have been denounced by virtually *all* FT columnists--including Rachman, I bet--as a militarist and an imperialist. And this goes double if he had pursued a policy of rapidly developing rare-earth mining in that country.

IamDevo said...

Just curious, but does anyone here recall the story of Br'er Rabbit and the Tar Baby? (I remember it fondly from the days when Walt Disney could run an animated cartoon about it on Sunday night during his Wonderful World teevee show.) I thinks perhaps there might be a small parallel to our adventures in Afghanistan. Not so much that one of our brilliant adversaries on the world stage intentionally set it up (although I do not entirely discount that, either), but the simple fact that the more we attempted to engage with Br'er Afghanistan, the more entangled we became. The only way out was to jump into the briar patch.

David Foster said...

IamDevo...not sure what jumping into the briar patch would mean in this context?

markedup2 said...

I don't particularly care about the Afghan people. It sucks to be them, but that's their problem. You have been outlining the many ways it currently sucks to be us. Do you expect someone else to fix it or for us to fix it, ourselves?

When you cannot list a solid set of victory conditions
Finance terrorism on US soil, again, and we'll bomb you, again. KaiBaiThx.

P.S. You will not see a single American on the ground. You won't see them in the air, either, but they'll be there.

If anyone thought Pax Romana was brutally enforced, Pax Americana is much worse and could be significantly worser. How about: One city per American killed. Our response to 9/11, which this still is, was _at least_ one village per American killed. Two countries for two buildings is rather extreme. Not that I'm objecting; just pointing it out.

samir sardana said...


It is a clear message to NATO, to exit BEFORE the end of the month !

Taliban is a easier enemy for Daesh and Qaeda – than were the ANA and NATO. This is the 1st step of the open war between the Taliban and Daesh – which will be unleased after the end of the month !


Unless NATO steps in and recognises Taliban – some regions of Afghanistan, will come under Daesh dominance – BUT NOT THEIR CONTROL,as the Taliban will eventually dislodge them – BUT THAT WILL DESTABILISE THE NATION and FOREIGN INVESTMENTS.

With every passing day,NATO troops reduce and the burden on Taliban for running the nation rises.That is the matrix within which Daesh and Qaeda will excel !

Success by Daesh,will get them funding and more recruits.Pogroms of Minorities and attacks on infra,by Daesh and Qaeda are inevitable – to PROVE TO THE WORLD,THAT TALIBAN WRIT DOES NOT OPERATE,AND THAT THEY CANNOT RUN A NATION !


NATO has to EXIT all its Citizens from Afghanistan ! Else,they will fall into the hands of Daesh and Qaeda – who will barter them, with their men in Guantanamo.