Democrats Share the Blame for Afghanistan

Arthur Cyr: Disaster in Afghanistan – what next?

           Joe Biden is taking heat from Democrats, not for his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan—that’s popular—but for his haphazard pullout that, self-serving Rumsfeldian stuff happens, wars end messily platitudes aside, could have been executed more efficiently. They blame George W. Bush for starting America’s longest war, arguing that what he began inexorably led to our most shocking military defeat and its humiliating aftermath.

            I am sympathetic to any and all criticism of our intervention in Afghanistan. I was an early critic of the war and got beaten up for my stance by media allies of the Bush administration. But the very same liberals who now pretend they’re against the Afghan disaster stood by when it mattered and did nothing to defend war critics because Democrats—political leaders and voters alike—went far beyond tacit consent. They were actively complicit with the Republicans’ war, at the time of the invasion and throughout the decades-long occupation of Afghanistan.

Now the deadbeat dads of defeat are trying to stick the GOP with sole paternity. This is a ridiculous attempt to rewrite history, one that damages Democratic credibility among the party’s progressive base, which includes many antiwar voters, and risks the possibility that they will make the same mistake again in the future.

            Twenty years later, it is difficult for some to believe that the United States responded to 9/11 by cultivating closer ties to the two countries with the greatest responsibility for the attacks, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, and attacking a country that had nothing to do with it, Iraq and another one that had tenuous links, Afghanistan. Yet that’s what happened. And Democrats participated enthusiastically in the insanity.

The sweeping congressional authorization to use military force against Afghanistan and any other target chosen by the president (!) was introduced in the Senate three days after the attacks by Tom Daschle, the then-Democratic majority leader. Every Democratic senator supported destroying Afghanistan. So did every Democratic member of the House of Representatives except for one, Barbara Lee, who was roundly ridiculed as weak and naïve, received death threats and was denied leadership posts by her own party to punish her for refusing to play ball. The legal justification to attack the Taliban was a bipartisan affair.

            Democratic support for Bush’s war reflected popular sentiment: voters of both parties signed off on the Afghan war by wide margins. Even after weeks of bombing that featured numerous news stories about innocent Afghan civilians being killed willy-nilly, 88% of voters told Gallup that they still approved of the military action. Approval for the war peaked at 93% in 2002 and started to decline. Nevertheless, popular support still hovered around 70% throughout the 2008 presidential campaign, a number that included so many Democrats that then-Senator Barack Obama ran much of his successful primary and general election campaign on his now-obviously-moronic message that we “we took our eye off the ball in Afghanistan” when Bush invaded Iraq. “Our real focus,” Obama continued to say after winning the presidency, “has to be on Afghanistan.”

            Nine months into his first term, Obama felt so confident that Democratic voters supported the war that he ordered his surge of tens of thousands of additional soldiers above the highest troop level in Afghanistan under the Bush administration. 55% of Democrats approved of the surge. Domestic support for the war only went underwater after the 2010 assassination of Osama bin Laden by U.S. troops in Pakistan seemed to render the project moot.

            There was a strong antiwar movement based on the left throughout the Bush and Obama years—against the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of protesters marched against the Iraq war. Opposition was sustained over the years. Far fewer people turned out for far fewer protests against the Afghanistan war. It’s impossible to avoid the obvious conclusion: even on the left, people were angry about Iraq but OK with Afghanistan.

            There is nothing wrong with criticizing the Republican Party and President George W. Bush for the decision to invade Afghanistan. The war was their idea. But they never could have started their disaster, much less extended and expanded it under Obama, without full-throated support from their Democratic partners and successors.

This story has few heroes.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.” Order one today. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

Episode 9 | September 6, 2021: Is It Too Late to Save the Planet from Climate Change Apocalypse?

It’s another free-wheeling discussion between right-wing cartoonist Scott Stantis and left-wing cartoonist Ted Rall. It’s another 9/11 week—what, if anything, have we learned? Scott responds to a listener. Ted and Scott clash on climate change: Ted thinks we’re doomed because it’s probably too late to save ourselves and Scott supports incremental action based on self-interest: pollution sucks for all concerned.

 

20 Years After 9/11, We’re Still Morons

USA No Forgetting 9-11 Flag - 9-11 Flag - We won't Forgetting Flag -  FlagsFlagpoles, Flags, Mounts, Lights, Motorcycle Accessories

           If crisis creates opportunity, we couldn’t possibly have squandered the possibilities presented by 9/11 more spectacularly. We certainly couldn’t have failed its tests more completely. Twenty years after 9/11, it is clear that the United States is ruled by idiots and that we, the people, are complicit with their moronic behavior.

            We had to do something. That was and remains the generic explanation for what we did in response to 9/11—invading Afghanistan and Iraq, directing the CIA to covertly overthrow the governments of Haiti, Venezuela, Belarus, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and a bunch of other countries, lamely legalizing torture, kidnapping via extraordinary rendition to Guantánamo and other concentration camps, building a drone armada and sparking a drone arms race.

            Acting purely on speculation, news media was reporting as early as the afternoon of September 11 that Al Qaeda was responsible. That same day, Vice President Dick Cheney argued for invading Iraq. We began bombing Afghanistan October 7, less than a month later, without evidence that Afghanistan was guilty. A week later, the Taliban offered to turn over bin Laden; Bush refused. Before you act, you think. We didn’t.

            What should we have done—after giving it a good think?

            A smart people led by a good president would have had three priorities: bring the perpetrators to justice, punish any nation-states that were involved, and reduce the chances of future terrorist attacks.

            The 19 hijackers were suicides, but plotters like Al Qaeda’s Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who lived in Pakistan, were not. Since we have an extradition treaty with Pakistan, we could have asked Pakistani authorities to arrest him and send him to face trial in the U.S. or at the international war crimes tribunal at The Hague. Instead, we kidnapped him to CIA “dark sites” including Gitmo and subjected him to waterboarding 266 times. Because of this and other torture, as well as his illegal detention in violation of habeas corpus, KSM can’t face trial in a real, i.e. civilian, court. Not only will 9/11 families never see justice carried out, we’ve managed to turn KSM into a victim, just as he wanted.

            The Inter-Services Intelligence agency, Pakistan’s CIA, financed and provided intelligence to Al Qaeda. Pakistan harbored bin Laden. Pakistan played host to hundreds of Al Qaeda training camps. Pakistanis I talked to after 9/11 were shocked that the U.S. didn’t attack their country, instead giving its Taliban-aligned dictator General Pervez Musharraf billions in military and financial aid.

            Evidence linking top Saudi Arabian officials to 9/11 has been scarce. But 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi, several are reported to have met with mid-level Saudi intelligence agents before the attacks, and, most notably, Saudi Arabia exports its radical brand of Sunni Islam, Wahhabism, all over the world. The Taliban and Al Qaeda initially recruited many of their members from Wahhabi madrassas financed by the Saudis in Pakistan and Central Asia.

            We should have treated 9/11 for what it was: a crime. Policemen, not soldiers, should have tracked down the perps. They should have been given lawyers, not torture. They should have faced fair trials. But if we had to go the military route, we should have invaded Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the two countries responsible, not Afghanistan and Iraq, two countries that had nothing to do with it. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were and remain far more dangerous to their neighbors than Afghanistan or Iraq.

            Occupying Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest exporter of Islamic extremism and global terrorism, would have done a lot to reduce the threat of another 9/11. But the most effective way to make us less of a target is to make the rest of the world look upon us with favor. Some people will always hate us. That’s inevitable. Our goal should be to reduce their number to as close to zero as humanly possible.

            We can’t eliminate anti-Americanism by killing its adherents. We’ve been trying to do that for 20 years using drones and missile strikes; all we’ve accomplished is killing a lot of innocent people and making the rest of the world look at us with disgust and contempt. You kill anti-Americanism by treating people everywhere with respect and kindness. That includes those we suspect of doing us harm.

            Unfortunately for us and the world, we learned nothing from 9/11. Not even losing Afghanistan back to the Taliban in the most humiliating U.S. defeat since Vietnam, having nothing to show for 20 years of war, has taught us a thing. We’re still a hammer that sees everything as a nail, a blunt, stupid people whose idea of a plan is to keep indiscriminately bombing innocent civilians.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.” Order one today. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

The Collapse of the U.S. Government

Taxes are the price we pay for government. But a government that doesn’t provide basic bureaucratic services is no government at all—and it doesn’t deserve our tax dollars.

Afghan translators, and others who worked for the U.S. military and American journalists and NGOs, aren’t Americans and don’t pay taxes. But the U.S. government’s failure to process their applications for Special Immigrant Visas in a timely manner highlights the breathtaking scale of dysfunction, or non-function—to which too many Americans have become accustomed.

When the Biden Administration took over in January, it inherited a backlog of 18,000 SIV applications filed by Afghans who wanted to leave before the scheduled U.S. pullout on September 11. Biden’s folks managed to process 100 a week, before stopping entirely because of a spike in Covid cases in Afghanistan (though no one has explained what the novel coronavirus has to do with immigration given the existence of vaccines and quarantines). Even if they hadn’t quit, at that rate the State Department would only have processed 3,200 applications by 9/11/21, leaving almost 15,000 Afghans out of luck. And that’s not counting the additional 70,000 applications that came in after January.

We discovered water on Mars. We beat Nazi Germany. The IRS processes 240 million returns a year, many of them complicated. If we left the Afghans hanging as the Taliban closed in, it’s because we—well, Biden and his administration—wanted to.

The president’s eviction relief package is another example of bureaucratic no-can-do.

Anyone could see the right way to pay off back rent for Americans who lost their jobs through no fault of their own but rather because they or their employers complied with the government’s orders to stay home and away from work: administer the program federally under HUD, keep paperwork simple, set up a fully-staffed 1-800 number to help distressed tenants, and wire money directly to landlords so the dough doesn’t get diverted to other bills. These days, however, the last thing anyone, including the government, wants to do is to hire full-time employees—an attitude that is, of course, a big part of the joblessness problem. So Congress outsourced Biden’s $46.5 billion federal rental aid program to the states. Because the feds didn’t offer to compensate them for the extra work, many states didn’t bother. As a result, only about 10% of the rental assistance funds have been disbursed. Now the Supreme Court has stopped the CDC’s eviction moratorium—and Americans who should have received help will lose their homes.

Even the IRS, an organization whose mandate is to extract cash from companies and individuals, has collapsed. Millions of people are waiting for refunds because the agency has a backlog of 35 million unprocessed returns, a fourfold increase over a year before.

Government doesn’t work. Contact a Congressman or Senator via their official website and you may not even receive an automated acknowledgment, much less actually hear back about your concern.

Call a government office—local, state, federal—and, if they’re not closed for some obscure holiday, you’ll wind up on permahold. Or they’ll hang up on you after ages on permahold.

Americans are self-reliant. If you want something done, do it yourself. I’m fine with that.

What I’m totally not fine with is paying good money for a service I don’t get. That’s a ripoff. If you advertise that you perform a service and I pay for that service, you had better give me what I paid for. To do otherwise is fraud.

Our government commits fraud every day.

Congressmen promise to serve their constituents. Their websites say they reply to queries. If they don’t, why are we paying their salaries?

I don’t want to hear excuses about being short-staffed. Early American politicians like Thomas Jefferson set aside hours a day to reply to letters from citizens. “From sun-rise to one or two o’clock,” our third president noted, “I am drudging at the writing table.”

You know neither Ted Cruz nor AOC spends 15 minutes a day doing that. It’s a bigger country now, but computers and freelancers easily make up for the higher volume of correspondence.

About Afghanistan again, what’s the value of American citizenship if your passport doesn’t get you out of a war zone? Many Americans were stuck in Kabul, unable to get to the airport due to large unruly crowds and Taliban checkpoints. Yet the military refused to leave the airport to escort them from their places of shelter. Only when news accounts emerged about other countries like France and the United Kingdom, real countries with actual governments that work sometimes, sending their troops into the streets to rescue their nationals, did the U.S. order a few desultory forays into Kabul which, by the way, the Taliban had no objection to.

Oh, and State Department officials: there is no excuse for leaving the U.S. embassy in Kabul, the biggest consular operation in the world, empty. The Taliban didn’t ask us to do so; to the contrary, they’re guarding the compound in the hope that we’ll return. Abandoning that facility is a cowardly abdication of our duty to U.S. nationals and allied Afghans who need diplomatic assistance and representation. It is absurd that, if I return to Afghanistan, there will be no U.S. presence in a country that actually wants it. There’s danger—but many career diplomatic corps types would gladly accept the risk. I’m not a tax resister, but why am I paying taxes?

For Christ’s sake, hire some staff!

Ronald Reagan campaigned on the joke that some of the scariest words in the English language are, “I’m from that government and I’m here to help.” That joke would fall flat now. No one from the government promises anything; assuming they exist in the first place, they don’t even bother to return your phone call.

 (Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.” Now available to order. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

New DMZ America Podcast! Inside the Minds of Two Political Cartoonists

 
 

It’s a full plate of debate and discussion between political cartoonists Scott Stantis (on the Right) and Ted Rall (on the Left) as they confront the closing days of America’s chaotic pullout from Afghanistan, the rise of an Afghan terrorist group that makes the Taliban look warm and fuzzy, and the issue of what to do (or not to) when a cartoon deadline looms. Plus: school is back in session and we still can’t decide what to do about COVID: mask mandates, vaccine mandates or nothing at all.

DMZ America Podcast #6: Alzheimer’s, Afghanistan and Biden

Scott Stantis and I are aghast at the obvious failing cognitive abilities of America’s chief executive and Commander-In-Chief as he fends off media queries about American incompetence in the face of the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban. What can or, more to the point, should be done about our befuddled commander-in-chief? Riffing off personal experience, Scott and I have a few ideas on this latest edition of the DMZ America Podcast. Please listen and share!

 

What Will the Taliban Do? It’s Up to Us.

           How will the Taliban govern Afghanistan? It may be up to us.

The U.S. is out, but what the Biden Administration and its Western allies do in the weeks and months ahead will have a big influence on whether the Central Asian country reverts to the insular medieval barbarism of the 1990s or modernizes in order to conform to major international norms.

            The Taliban is far from monolithic. They have common values: adherence to sharia law, resistance to foreign interference, the traditional Pashtun tribal code of pashtunwali. How those general values manifest as specific policies and laws will be subject to interpretation through the movement’s fluid internal politics.

Divided along regional and tribal lines, an alliance between anti-imperialist Afghan nationalists motivated to protect the country’s sovereignty and Islamic fundamentalists, and partly composed of former Ghani regime soldiers and policemen who defected under pressure, the Taliban is a highly decentralized movement whose desperate leadership could tilt it toward the hardliners, or more liberal and modern thinkers.

Right now, the Taliban are saying the right things and sending positive signals about keeping girls’ schools open, allowing women to work, and amnesty for Afghans who worked for NATO occupation force. Clearly the order has gone out from the Taliban shura to their fighters to behave correctly. Images from a Taliban press conference reveal that the presidential palace has not been vandalized or looted. In a signal that this is not your father’s Taliban, high-ranking Taliban official Mawlawi Abdulhaq Hemad sat for an interview with a female television journalist whose face was uncovered. Former president Hamid Karzai is safe despite having remained in Kabul. While Western news media made much of the Taliban firing their guns outside the airport, firing over people’s heads was clearly an attempt at crowd control.

Americans would not have voted for the Taliban to govern Afghanistan. But we don’t get a vote. For the foreseeable future, what seemed inevitable to anyone who was paying attention over the last 20 years is now a fait accompli. The question now is: which Taliban will we and, far more importantly, the people of Afghanistan be dealing with?

The Taliban who are allowing French, British and other nations’ troops to travel inside the capital in order to escort their citizens to the airport for evacuation—who even risked their own lives to evacuate Indian embassy staff—and who have left unmolested old Afghan government posters of ousted president Ashraf Ghani and iconic Northern Alliance commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, a sworn enemy of the Taliban assassinated by Al Qaeda?

Or the thugs who tortured and assassinated nine members of the Hazara minority and have threatened to subject women to forced marriage?

The U.S. and its Western allies face a choice. We can exert pressure through de facto economic sanctions, as the Biden Administration has done by freezing the Afghan government’s $9 billion in assets and cutting off half a billion in IMF funding, and via airstrikes, another option the president is keeping on the table. Alternatively, we can offer economic aid and diplomatic recognition. Or we can tailor a middle path that ties rewards to our perception of the new government’s behavior.

Pouring on the pressure would be a tragic mistake. It will strengthen the hand of the most radical Taliban hardliners at the expense of relative moderates who want Afghanistan to look and feel more like Pakistan: undeniably Islamic in character but connected by trade and communications to the outside world. You don’t want your adversary to feel as though it has nothing left to lose—so give them something they want to keep.

Let’s be mindful of how the blunders of American policymakers in response to the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran needlessly radicalized a revolutionary government.

Had President Jimmy Carter not admitted the deposed Shah to the U.S. for medical treatment, radical college students would not have seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran or taken 52 staffers as hostages. Supreme Leader and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, by temperament a moderate who opposed hotheaded tactics, was forced to side with the student radicals during the hostage crisis or risk being pushed aside by his own uprising. After the embassy was taken over, there was too much national pride at stake for either party to back down. The U.S. and the new Iranian government dug in their heels, leading to decades of misunderstanding and antagonism.

While a total absence of pressure would be politically unpalatable and unrealistic given the Taliban’s 1990s track record, U.S. policymakers should deploy a light touch with Taliban-governed Afghanistan. Playing the tough guy will strengthen the hand of hardliners who don’t want girls to be educated or women to fully participate in society, and prefer to return to the bad old days of stonings and demolishing cultural treasures. Right now, the relatively liberal wing of the Taliban is in charge. Let’s try to keep it that way.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.” Now available to order. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

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