In Afghanistan, Radhika Desai, USA

A man walks past damaged vehicles at the Kabul airport in Kabul, capital of Afghanistan, September 20, 2021. /Xinhua

By Radhika Desai,

Published on CGTN, Aug 29, 2022:

This is the sixth piece of the series “One Year: Taliban in, U.S… If, for Churchill, Russia was a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; the U.S.’s Afghanistan war was a lie, wrapped in hypocrisy, inside incompetence.
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If, for Churchill, Russia was a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; the U.S.’s Afghanistan war was a lie, wrapped in hypocrisy, inside incompetence.

The U.S.’s “self-defense” justification was a lie: as Jochen von Bernstorff, a Professor of Constitutional Law, Public International Law and Human Rights at the University of Tubingen, noted, it amounted to “unilateral military measures against non-state actors abroad without the consent of the respective states,” violating the “territorial integrity of state-actors.” It was justified by no international law.

The war reeked of hypocrisy. Rather than human rights, democracy or women’s rights, the trillion-dollar war, that cost over 2300 U.S. military personnel dead, over 20,000 wounded and over half a million Afghans killed or wounded, was first and foremost about enriching the U.S. military industrial complex and about a U.S. presence in this energy rich region with a border with China.

Washington’s awe-inspiring incompetence was on full display in August, 2021, when the Taliban took over the country with such breath-taking speed, exposing the U.S.’s military, intelligence and political failures. Recalling the panicked airlifts from Saigon four and a half decades prior, they constituted the turning point of the Biden presidency.

While, after two decades of failure, withdrawal was inevitable, and while most Americans supported it, most also thought Biden’s handling of the withdrawal was catastrophic. His approval ratings plummeted and never recovered. The president and his party are almost certain to lose control of both House and Senate in the coming mid-term elections, dooming the last two years of his presidency.

None of this will ever be thoroughly examined, let alone admitted. Republicans have yet to nominate a co-commissioner for the bipartisan Congressional 16-member commission to look into the war and appear unlikely to do so amid noxious relations between the two parties.

Meanwhile, an initial draft of a Pentagon “after action review” of U.S. military actions in Afghanistan from February, 2020, to August, 2021, by outside independent experts was rejected by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin for unspecified reasons. A big question mark now hangs over whether it will ever be completed and whether key classified documents will ever be released.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Afghanistan, in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., September 28, 2021. /CFP

So, we will never know answers to key questions. A far from complete list would include the following. Will the U.S. ever pay for violating international law? What were its real motives in Afghanistan? Why did the war go on for so long even though high level personnel were aware it was unwinnable for over a decade? Why did the U.S. fail in “nation-building” in Afghanistan so dismally that the government it supported vanished in mere weeks? How was the military industrial complex involved in the decision-making about the war?

The U.S. left Afghanistan facing economic collapse, drought and hunger. To these flames, the U.S. has only added further fuel in the form of doing its utmost to isolate the government and confiscating $7 billion of the country’s reserves. Few in Afghanistan look to the U.S. with anything but hostility. But China’s leadership in organizing neighboring countries to engage with the government with aid and trade provides a ray of hope.

The U.S. left Afghanistan to concentrate on what it considers its main challenge, China. However, U.S. President Joe Biden is too embattled to concentrate on this and his foreign policy remains a set of theatrics. Perhaps because Biden needed to distract attention from the humiliating withdrawal, U.S. provocations of Russia over Ukraine displaced Afghanistan from the media spotlight in the autumn of 2021 and were followed by proxy war against Russia the following year. However, none of this has restored the president approval ratings or improved his image.

Worse, in recent U.S. provocations on China’s Taiwan region, Biden appeared weak and confused: if he did not wish House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to visit Taiwan, as Commander-in-Chief, Biden only had to stop the military plane carrying her from flying to Taiwan.

Perhaps to compensate, he announced on the eve of Pelosi’s Taiwan visit that U.S. had killed Ayman al-Zawahiri, leader of al-Qaeda, in a high-precision strike at his home in Kabul. As a perceptive commentator M. K. Bhadrakumar noted in his article on the Indian Punchline, this was meant to show Biden as a decisive leader, to demonstrate the U.S.’s much-hyped “over the horizon” capabilities and to humiliate the Kabul government.

Unfortunately, there has been no independent confirmation of the assassination of al-Zawahiri and the U.S.’s actions, like its war, remain illegal in international law. Afghanistan, its sovereignty and its people are just instruments for achieving no grander purpose than burnish a weak president’s image.

The Biden administration plans to commemorate the anniversary of the Fall of Kabul with an event marking “the service and sacrifice” of the U.S. Some sacrifice, some service!

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