In the Archive section of this blog, I actually created a tag for Afghanistan. There are four posts under that heading, the first one on July 1, 2017, and the most recent on December 22, 2019. Thinking I might write something about the subject today, I went back and looked over those posts. The truth is that I don’t have much to say that I didn’t already say in one or another of those posts.
So most of this post will consist of excerpts from those earlier posts. But think of Afghanistan as the perfect metaphor for the main theme of this blog, which is the absurdity of a highly-credentialed American elite that thinks it can solve all human problems and bring the world to an egalitarian progressive utopia through unfettered access to the infinite resources of the American taxpayer. This one small piece of the grand enterprise has just fallen to pieces. The rest of the grand enterprise continues. It too will eventually suffer the same fate, but the process could take a long time.
From “What’s Going On In Afghanistan?”, July 1, 2017:
How could it be possible that things are going so badly? Amazingly, almost nothing you read on the subject addresses the fundamental issue, which is that the people are just never going to support a regime imposed from outside that intends to take away the major source of their income. The major source of their income is opium. How much of their income? Unfortunately, there are no trustworthy numbers from Afghanistan. The UN Office of Drug Control did a big survey of Afghan opium production in 2014, which claims to show that opium exports declined from close to 100% of Afghan GDP in 2002 to maybe 15% by 2014 (page 16). I'm highly dubious that the recent figure could be so small. For one thing, the same report shows opium production increasing from 3400 tons annually to 8400 tons over the same 2002-2014 period (page 17). And then, what is supposedly the rest of the Afghan economy that has grown so rapidly? They don't say, but the likely answer is foreign aid and contractor disbursements from the U.S. and other countries, counted at 100 cents on the dollar as they tend to do with these things. But when the foreigners withdraw, all of that goes away, and the people who have been working for the foreigners become unemployed. The thing that is left on which they can rely is the opium.
From “There’s No Good Answer In Afghanistan,” August 25, 2017:
After about 40 years of invasions and civil wars, there is essentially no industry in Afghanistan. Not that there ever was much, but with constant fighting going on, nobody is going to undertake any project -- like a large factory or a mine -- that involves hundreds of millions of dollars in investment that can then immediately be lost. So that leaves exactly two sources of real income (other than subsistence farming) in Afghanistan: working for the Americans or NATO, and opium poppies. More or less all of our "friends" in that country are on our payroll. I'm not meaning to say that they are not necessarily sympathetic to our goals. But when we leave, what do they have to fall back on? Opium, opium, and opium. And of course, a little-mentioned aspect of our mission in Afghanistan has been a massive effort to eradicate the production of opium.
From “Is It Possible For The United States To Withdraw From Any Foreign Engagement?”, October 8, 2019:
[C]onsider Afghanistan. The U.S. has been fighting there for around 18 years now, ever since the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York. As far as I can determine, the economy of Afghanistan consists almost entirely of two things: (1) growing opium poppies, and (2) working for the U.S. government in one form or another (Afghan army and security forces — paid for by the U.S.; the Afghan government — substantially supported by U.S. aid payments; translators, informants, food vendors, cooks, construction workers, drivers, etc., working for the U.S.; other beneficiaries of U.S. aid like education and healthcare providers; and so forth). All of these people have become a sort of nobility in Afghanistan, because they are undoubtedly paid much more than you can make doing just about anything else. Growing the opium poppies is the business of the Taliban.
When the U.S. leaves Afghanistan, the Taliban will roar back. And all those people who worked with and collaborated with the U.S., and made a good living doing so, will be hated and resented. What happens to them? . . .
I don’t have a perfect answer to this, and I don’t believe that a perfect answer exists. But I do know one thing: It can’t be that once the U.S. sends troops anywhere, they must stay forever, in order not to put at risk the people who worked for them. At some point they have to leave.
So does all of that mean that I support what Biden has just done? The withdrawal was necessary, but I can’t see any reason why it could not have been done with careful planning and in an orderly manner. Trump seemed to be attempting to do that. I don’t know that he would have succeeded completely, but at least he was trying. The Biden capitulation appears to have involved no effort at planning at all. Civilians and allies should have been gotten out first, and as quietly as possible. Military materiel should also have disappeared quickly and quietly. But then, Biden has a demonstrated ability to f*** everything up.
Where will Afghanistan be in a few decades? I have no idea. But consider Vietnam. Forty-six years after the U,S. withdrawal, they are still nominally “communist,” but much less repressive than, for example, China or Cuba. Their economy inches its way up little by little. They have had to figure it out on their own in a very imperfect process. That’s really all our world offers.