When terrorists knocked down the Twin Towers in New York, on 9/11, I recall a friend telling me, that America would likely go mad for 20 years.
Little did I know how accurate that prediction would be.
I mean, we all knew, that we were in for it, and terrible things would follow … the invasion of Afghanistan, the war in Iraq based on “weapons of mass destruction” that were never found, the extraordinary renditions and CIA torture houses, the kangaroo court convictions and nightmarish hell of Guantanamo.
It goes on and on. Bad, bad stuff.
If America did ever hold the high ground, it sure didn’t hold it anymore. Democracy and torture simply do not go together, no matter what anybody says.
It is somewhat ironic, then, that 20 years later — almost to the day — US President Joe Biden pulled US troops out of Afghanistan. A military initiative that was initiated by his grand-standing, tumultuous predecessor, President Donald Trump.
And say what you want about the petulant, orange-haired president, he wanted to end “forever war” and stop the carnage of American military involvement in the nation, known as the “graveyard of empires.”
As we have all seen on our TV screens, the delayed pull-out of Afghan allies and refugees was a complete disaster, at least PR wise.
The images of desperate Afghans running alongside massive US cargo planes, will be forever replayed on CNN and every other major news network, for years to come.
While President Biden was probably not responsible for this messy pull-out, he still has to wear it, much like President Jimmy Carter had to wear the catastrophe that was the bungled Iran hostage rescue mission of 1980.
The Pentagon, for its part, wanted to begin the pull-out in May, but government red tape stalled the process, and now everyone, the White House, the State Department and the military services are pointing the finger at each other.
While Biden kept reassuring allies and the public that everything was under control in Afghanistan, the Taliban rolled it up like a cheap carpet.
To add salt to the wound, a recent video shows the Islamic militants mocking the US, donning seized military gear from Afghan forces and and carrying specialized assault rifles.
Media groups like the National Review are already calling for heads to roll at the Pentagon, as if that will accomplish anything.
Meanwhile, the man who bought into President George W. Bush’s war on terror and the whole weapons of mass destruction red herring, lashed out at President Biden, over the Afghan debacle.
The UK and other countries should “commit for the long term” in places such as Afghanistan, Tony Blair argued, claiming the chaotic withdrawal would provide opportunities for hostile countries and organizations, The Guardian reported.
The former prime minister, who published a lengthy essay on his website calling the decision to withdraw troops “tragic, dangerous, unnecessary,” used broadcast interviews on Sunday to say the subsequent threat affected not just the Afghan people but also UK security.
“We didn’t need to do it. We chose to do it.
“We did it in obedience to an imbecilic political slogan about ending ‘the forever wars,’ as if our engagement in 2021 was remotely comparable to our commitment 20 or even ten years ago, and in circumstances in which troop numbers had declined to a minimum and no allied soldier had lost their life in combat for 18 months,” wrote Blair, who was in power when the UK joined the US in fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan 20 years ago.
“The problem is that the west has to understand that, when we do something like this, the signal it sends out is one of inconstancy. In the world we have today, you’ve got sometimes to commit for the long term,” argued Blair.
“Even if it becomes unpopular from time to time in public opinion, your job then, as leader, is to go out and explain why it’s necessary, despite that, to hold firm.
“Because, when you don’t hold firm, then those people who are opposed to you – whether these are Islamist groups or Russia, China, Iran, all of whom will move into the vacuum we’ve created – all those people who are not on our side and who don’t wish us well are going to gain by it.”
The UK and US had been in a position in which “we could have managed the situation,” the former Labour leader said.
“The problem with what’s happened now is that it’s not just about the Afghan people and our obligation to them, it’s about us and our security,” he said.
“Because you’ve now got this group [the Taliban] back in charge of Afghanistan. They will give protection and succour to al-Qaeda.
“You’ve got Isis already in the country trying to operate at the same time. You look round the world and the only people really cheering this decision are the people hostile to western interests.”
It was now necessary for the UK and other G7 countries to work out how to limit this new, looming security threat, said Blair, who served as prime minister during 1997-2007.
“We need to be drawing up a list of incentives and sanctions and other things we can do in order to use the leverage we have, which is not insignificant.
“The Taliban will find that governing is a lot harder than they thought. The population of Afghanistan is different.”
Blair admitted mistakes had been made over Afghanistan, but “the reaction to our mistakes has been, unfortunately, further mistakes.”
He said while “imperfect,” the “real gains over the past 20 years” were now likely to be lost.
Meanwhile, the UK’s current Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last week that he is willing to work with the Taliban if necessary to come to a resolution on Afghanistan.
“What I want to assure people is that our political and diplomatic efforts to find a solution for Afghanistan, working with the Taliban, of course if necessary, will go on,” Johnson said to reporters.
The UK ceased all combat operations in Afghanistan and withdrew the last of its combat troops in October 2014. Between 2001 and July 2015, a total of 454 British military personnel were killed in operations in Afghanistan.
Sources: The Guardian, BBC News, Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, Associated Press, The Hill