When Yeats writes about darkness dropped in the sands of the desert and a slouching "rough beast" with "a gaze blank and pitiless as the sun," he could be describing the Taliban. Anarchy loosed upon the world, a blood-dimmed tide, and the worst, full of passionate intensity.
Biden did the right thing getting us out of there. But he did it badly.
The pandemonium drew comparisons to some of the worst debacles in modern American history: the fall of Saigon and the Bay of Pigs. A baby hoisted over razor wire into the arms of a Marine. Afghans clinging to the wings and landing gear of an American jet as it took off, then plunging to the tarmac; later, human remains were found on one of the wheels. A 17-year-old Afghan soccer player falling to his death off the side of a plane.
Americans are not built to occupy feudal countries under scorching suns halfway around the globe. Even the British long ago had to face the folly of that — in particular in 1842, when some 17,000 British and Indian army soldiers, wives and servants were killed as they tried to retreat through the snowy mountains to Jalalabad.
Donald Trump could have made safe and orderly passage a part of his deal when he negotiated his 2020 "surrender agreement," as his former national security adviser H.R. McMaster called it in an interview with Bari Weiss..
But Trump and Biden were so impatient to get out, their screw-ups merged into strangulating red tape.
We didn't know 9/11 was coming, even though we should have. We didn't know Jan. 6 was coming, even though we should have. We didn't know the Potemkin government in Afghanistan that we'd propped up for two decades would fall in two seconds, even though we should have.
America's Afghan War : A Defeat Foretold? 美出兵阿富汗 注定失敗收場
It was 8 a.m., and the sleepy Afghan sergeant stood at what he called the front line, one month before the city of Kunduz fell to the Taliban. An unspoken agreement protected both sides. There would be no shooting.
That was the nature of the strange war the Afghans just fought, and lost, with the Taliban.
President Joe Biden and his advisers say the Afghan military's total collapse proved its unworthiness, vindicating the U.S.' pullout. But the extraordinary melting away of government and army, and the bloodless transition in most places so far, point to something more fundamental.
The war the Americans thought they were fighting against the Taliban was not the war their Afghan allies were fighting. That made the U.S.' war, like other such neocolonialist adventures, most likely doomed from the start.
Recent history shows it is foolish for Western powers to fight wars in other people's lands, despite the temptations. Homegrown insurgencies, though seemingly outmatched in money, technology, arms, air power and the rest, are often better motivated, have a constant stream of new recruits and often draw sustenance from just over the border.
Outside powers are fighting one war as visitors — occupiers — and their erstwhile allies who actually live there, something entirely different. In Afghanistan, it was not good versus evil, as the Americans saw it, but neighbor against neighbor.
Each time the intervening power in all these places announced that the homegrown insurgency had been definitively beaten or that a corner had been turned, smoldering embers led to new conflagrations.
The Americans thought they had defeated the Taliban by the end of 2001. They were no longer a concern. But the result was actually far more ambiguous.
"In the long run all colonial wars are lost," the historian of Portugal's misadventures in Africa, Patrick Chabal, wrote 20 years ago, just as the Americans were becoming fatally embroiled in Afghanistan.
The superpower's two-decade entanglement and ultimate defeat was all the more surprising in that the America of the decades preceding the millennium had been suffused with talk of the supposed "lessons" of Vietnam.