Friday Reads: Of Buddhas, Taliban, and White Male US Domestic TerroristsPosted: August 20, 2021
Good Day Sky Dancers!
So, it’s hard to remain dispassionately compassionate in today’s America. Here I am wanting doctors and hospitals to turn away the unvaccinated for one. Then, I’d like to trade the entire Trump family, that white male domestic terrorist that took up hours of everyone’s time plus thousands of dollars just to have a hissy fit in front of the Library of Congress while lying about having a bomb, and an entire list of Republican politicians to the Taliban in exchange for every Afghani who definitely would make better US Citizens then these freaks of white privilege, corruption, and angst.
Let’s send them the Proud Boys and get back the Afghanistani Girls Robotics Team. I’d say we’d definitely get the better deal. Maybe Fox News–minus a few leggy,dyed, and dumb blondes–would like to set up its entire empire there and broadcast Tucker Carlson from the kind of government he seems to want. Although the thought of Laura Ingrahm in a burkha has a certain appeal to me that I must admit. Ah, but I cannot play Karma just as anyone with tendencies to Deism can play the Goddess or God.
BB sent me a link to a former NPR reporter Sarah Chayes who reported on the original removal of the Taliban from Afghanistan. I saw her on MSNBC where she completely ripped apart a young Obama staffer who basically was trying to say that the surge was a mistake but could only be seen from hindsight. She’s fierce, outspoken, and amazingly well-versed on the entire 20-year commitment to your basic corruption story. First, here’s the transcript of her appearance on MSNBC. Medhi Hassan sat in for Chris Hayes on that day. The other participant in the discussion is Tommy Vietor is the former spokesperson for the National Security Council under President Barack Obama. He`s now a co-host of the podcast Pod Save America and host of Pod Save the World. She took him down with ease.
Thank you both for coming on the show. Tommy, let me start with you. You were on the NSC. This is a huge screw up is it not? You and I may agree with Joe Biden that this was the right thing to do, but this was a failure in the way that it was handled, in the way that you know it was not seen coming according to NBC reporting.
The CIA warned of a rapid collapse. And now they`re playing the blame game. General Mark Milley said today, nope, he never saw any of that Intel. This is bad, is it not?
TOMMY VIETOR, HOST, POD SAVE THE WORLD. Giving out the people who helped us in this war effort over the past few decades is bad. And they need to rectify that immediately. And obviously, that part of this process getting these Special Immigrant Visas out, getting the P1, the P2 Visas out. All these people that help the United States, the USAID, helped the news media. We need to get those people out.
And so, this mission isn`t over. Joe Biden needs to figure out how to get them out. I do agree with President Biden`s assessment that after 20 years, it was time to end the war in Afghanistan. The mission against al-Qaeda had gone well, the nation-building exercise was doomed to fail from the beginning and it was in the state to continue with this long.
HASAN: Sarah, you lived in Afghanistan. You also later advise the Joint Chiefs of Staff. What did we all get wrong about the durability even, dare I say, the popularity of the Taliban in parts of Afghanistan? What did we miss? What did U.S. general miss?
SARAH CHAYES, FORMER REPORTER, NPR: So, I actually disagree with Tommy on that. And I would say I don`t think the Taliban are particularly popular. I don`t think that`s quite an accurate way of putting it either. There were two decisive variables in this whole situation from the beginning. And they were Afghan government corruption aided and abetted reinforce (AUDIO GAP) and with every Afghan leader that we supported.
And the second decisive variable was the role of Pakistan. It`s not as though the Taliban or some, you know, grassroots movement that sprang up inside Afghanistan, as we often hear. I spent months interviewing people, both ordinary Afghans who had been living in Kandahar and in Qatar, across the border in Pakistan, and also key actors in this drama back in 1994.
Everyone agrees that it was the Pakistani military intelligence agency that basically concocted the Taliban back in about 1993, and then reconstituted them starting approximately 2003. And so, I actually think there`s a lot we could have done differently.
And having been also in interagency policy development in 2010-2011, I can tell you, there were some of us who were arguing very forcefully for a stronger U.S. stance in holding the Afghan government to basic standards of integrity, and it was explicitly rejected by the U.S. cabinet and President Obama.
And the same thing is true of Pakistan. Many people were pointing out the active role Pakistan had played, not to mention that they also provided nuclear technology to North Korea and Iran. So, I don`t understand one of those decisions that (INAUDIBLE) that period.
HASAN: You mentioned Obama, so let me bring Tommy back in. Tommy, you obviously worked for Barack Obama. You and I have talked many times before about various aspects of foreign policy that he may have got wrong, he could have done better on. Where does Afghanistan fit into that scheme in your view when you look at Syria, and Libya, and some of the other areas, Yemen, of contention that you and I have discussed? I mean, Joe Biden as successfully pulling troops out of Afghanistan. He may be doing it in a bad way, but he`s managing to do it. We know that Barack Obama had a similar instinct, but he never did this.
VIETOR: So, during the Obama years, especially early on, the threat from al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan was growing and was significant. And, you know, that was largely because George W. Bush started the war there, took his eye off the ball, and then decided to invade Iraq.
So, what Obama decided to do was surge a bunch of additional troops in 2009 and 2010 to push back the Taliban, and try to buy some time and space to go after al-Qaeda and essentially prevent the government toppling — prevent major population centers from being overrun. What did that get us? It got us back to a status quo ante.
And in hindsight, I think that that major surge was probably a mistake, and that the U.S. should have shifted to a counterterrorism mission sooner and drawn down troops sooner. And I agree, Mehdi, in hindsight, it`s very easy to say the safe haven in Pakistan was a problem, corruption has been a problem. It`s very easy to identify those problems, solving them is much harder, especially when you have a bunch of other competing priorities like the need to be able to undertake counterterrorism missions in Pakistan, the need to keep the lid on Pakistan`s nuclear weapons program, the need to do a million other things, it becomes complicated.
And so look, I think the surge in hindsight was a mistake. I do think it was time to end this war, and that, frankly, it was doomed for a long time.
HASAN: Yes. And Joe Biden, of course, was one of those people who at least at the time, briefed the people he was against that search. It`s interesting him following up now as president. Sarah, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani turned up today in the United Arab Emirates, reportedly accused of taking $169 million of cash with him.
This was the guy who was supposed to be clean. He was the guy who was going to fix Afghanistan, the technocrat, the economist, and it looks like he may have just been as corrupt as everyone before him. We talk a lot about the Afghan military`s fault, but how much is Afghan political leadership over 20 years to blame for this debacle now?
CHAYES: Afghan political leadership and the incentive structure that the United States and many of its international allies put in place. We set up an incentive structure that rewarded the most corrupt. And again, I beg to differ with you, Tommy. A lot of us — it`s not in hindsight. A lot of us had been talking about Pakistan and corruption for years. That interagency process —
CHAYES: They were tracking — sorry?
VIETOR: I think that what was lacking were the solutions. You know, it`s not that there weren`t like ideas in white paper —
CHAYES: I`m sorry. I`m sorry, Tommy. The number of plants, the number of — the number of extremely explicit governance campaign plans that were put forward, I mean, with most likely most dangerous mitigation strategies for what might go wrong, I can think of three or four that were submitted and frankly, died in the national security staff.
So, I think there`s a bit of disingenuousness here. And again, I have had no, I want to say, sympathy for corrupt Afghan officials. But on the other hand, let`s just take a look. I feel like we`re in a hall of mirrors today. You know, look at the mansions in the massive neighborhoods around Washington where contractors and government officials live after having promulgated failed policies. And then we call —
HASAN: It is truly — it is truly horrific to see. Sarah, we`re out of time. I do want to give Tommy 20 seconds since you — since you made a couple of jobs there. We`re out of time but Tommy, 20 seconds, last word.
VIETOR: Listen, I would just say that white papers and plans in Washington in the Situation Room had bumped up against the reality in Afghanistan and Pakistan for 20 years. And the smartest people writing the smartest way papers have not managed to fix the problems. I don`t think it was the lack of trying. I think it was the lack of good ideas, I think it was time to end this mission.
CHAYES: Tommy, I`m sorry, I lived on the ground. I lived in Kandahar. Don`t you tell me as a — as speechwriter what realities are on the ground in Kandahar — in Afghanistan.
VIETOR: I wasn`t speaking to you.
HASAN: I wish — I wish we had — I wish we had more time.
CHAYES: Give me a break. I mean, seriously.
It was truly a joy to watch this. Anyway, here’s the link to her website that BB sent me and her post “The Ides of August”. There is a lot there but here’s more about the role of Pakistan in the Taliban.
Pakistan. The involvement of that country’s government — in particular its top military brass — in its neighbor’s affairs is the second factor that would determine the fate of the U.S. mission.
You may have heard that the Taliban first emerged in the early 1990s, in Kandahar. That is incorrect. I conducted dozens of conversations and interviews over the course of years, both with actors in the drama and ordinary people who watched events unfold in Kandahar and in Quetta, Pakistan. All of them said the Taliban first emerged in Pakistan.
The Taliban were a strategic project of the Pakistani military intelligence agency, the ISI. It even conducted market surveys in the villages around Kandahar, to test the label and the messaging. “Taliban” worked well. The image evoked was of the young students who apprenticed themselves to village religious leaders. They were known as sober, studious, and gentle. These Taliban, according to the ISI messaging, had no interest in government. They just wanted to get the militiamen who infested the city to stop extorting people at every turn in the road.
Both label and message were lies.
Within a few years, Usama bin Laden found his home with the Taliban, in their de facto capital, Kandahar, hardly an hour’s drive from Quetta. Then he organized the 9/11 attacks. Then he fled to Pakistan, where we finally found him, living in a safe house in Abbottabad, practically on the grounds of the Pakistani military academy. Even knowing what I knew, I was shocked. I never expected the ISI to be that brazen.
Meanwhile, ever since 2002, the ISI had been re-configuring the Taliban: helping it regroup, training and equipping units, developing military strategy, saving key operatives when U.S. personnel identified and targeted them. That’s why the Pakistani government got no advance warning of the Bin Laden raid. U.S. officials feared the ISI would warn him.
By 2011, my boss, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Taliban were a “virtual arm of the ISI.”
And now this.
Do we really suppose the Taliban, a rag-tag, disjointed militia hiding out in the hills, as we’ve so long been told, was able to execute such a sophisticated campaign plan with no international backing? Where do we suppose that campaign plan came from? Who gave the orders? Where did all those men, all that materiel, the endless supply of money to buy off local Afghan army and police commanders, come from? How is it that new officials were appointed in Kandahar within a day of the city’s fall? The new governor, mayor, director of education, and chief of police all speak with a Kandahari accent. But no one I know has ever heard of them. I speak with a Kandahari accent, too. Quetta is full of Pashtuns — the main ethic group in Afghanistan — and people of Afghan descent and their children. Who are these new officials?
Over those same years, by the way, the Pakistani military also provided nuclear technology to Iran and North Korea. But for two decades, while all this was going on, the United States insisted on considering Pakistan an ally. We still do.
So we are finally getting more coverage on Trump’s role in the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. This is from Michael Crowly at the NYT: “Trump’s Deal With the Taliban Draws Fire From His Former Allies. The former president and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, are attacking President Biden over Afghanistan even as their own policy faces harsh criticism.”
Days before the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks two years ago, President Donald J. Trump had a novel idea. He would invite leaders of the Taliban, the group that harbored Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan as the founder of Al Qaeda plotted his strikes on America, to join peace negotiations at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland.
The notion of any presidential meeting with the Taliban, let alone one close to Sept. 11, stunned many of Mr. Trump’s top advisers. But Mr. Trump was eager to engage with the militant group, which the United States had been fighting for almost 20 years, as he pursued his goal of removing American troops from Afghanistan by the end of his term.
Months earlier, at Mr. Trump’s direction, the State Department had begun face-to-face talks with the Taliban in Qatar to negotiate an American exit. Mr. Trump called off the Taliban visit to Camp David after an American soldier was killed in a bombing in Kabul, the Afghan capital, but the peace talks continued.
They culminated in a February 2020 deal under which the United States agreed to withdraw in return for Taliban promises not to harbor terrorists and to engage in their first direct negotiations with the Afghan government. Mr. Trump’s secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, attended the signing ceremony in Doha and posed for a photo alongside the Taliban leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, which resurfaced this week on social media. Mr. Baradar is widely expected to become the head of a new Taliban government based in Kabul.
Some former senior Trump officials now call that agreement fatally flawed, saying it did little more than provide cover for a pullout that Mr. Trump was impatient to begin before his re-election bid. They also say it laid the groundwork for the chaos unfolding now in Kabul.
“Our secretary of state signed a surrender agreement with the Taliban,” Mr. Trump’s second national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, said of Mr. Pompeo during a podcast interview with the journalist Bari Weiss on Wednesday. “This collapse goes back to the capitulation agreement of 2020. The Taliban didn’t defeat us. We defeated ourselves.”
And in an interview with CNN on Wednesday, former Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said that, while President Biden “owns” the ultimate outcome in Afghanistan, Mr. Trump had earlier “undermined” the agreement through his barely disguised impatience to exit the country with little apparent regard for the consequences. That included an October 2020 declaration by Mr. Trump that he wanted the 5,000 American troops then in Afghanistan home by Christmas.
Neither Mr. Trump nor Mr. Pompeo has responded to such criticism with contrition. Instead, they have attacked Mr. Biden for what they call his disastrous execution of the pullout they set in motion.
After Mr. Trump moved thousands of troops out of Afghanistan during his last year in office, Mr. Biden inherited just 2,500 troops in the country. Mr. Biden has cited the U.S. commitment in Doha to remove all remaining forces by May of this year, a deadline he did not meet, as a key factor in his decision to continue the withdrawal.
So my question continues to be this: How the hell could any country hold a bunch of airports all over Afghanistan open for an exodus with only 2500 troops? The only way was to surge again into Afghanistan, break Trump’s commitment, and really go against what the American people wanted as well as what Joe Biden had announced he was against over and over and over.
Again, here’s my suggestion. We get the remainder of the Girl’s Robotic team that are still stuck in Afghanistan and we hand the Taliban Trump and his spawn. He said he likes them. He can build a Trump Prayer Tower and pretend he’s a devout follower of Mohammed and everyone wins! I’m sure they don’t want Lindsey Graham given his sexual preference but could we offer up Senator Kennedy from Louisiana as a court Jester of sorts?
Ah, well. Probably not realistic but you know, in war it’s not unusual to trade our traitors for theirs so why not? We could use a few journalists that really know about the war and there are women doctors over there as well. They get the entire Fox news outfit and we get some great Journalists and more doctors that believe in vaccines!! How about that?
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?