Kabul today is starting to look like Saigon in 1975, and the long-predicted return to power of the Taliban appears imminent. Former Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai knows who is responsible for the catastrophe: no, not himself and his corrupt government, but his American patrons. Karzai said that “the US has failed. Instead of saying that they have helped Afghanistan stabilise, they leave, and the general leaving, is warning of a civil war. So that means they have failed but we Afghans have not.” Yes, of course. We were supposed to stay there until the lion lies down with the lamb and Nancy Pelosi votes Republican, to help Afghanistan stabilize. But aside from his bluster and self-aggrandizement, Karzai has a point: the American misadventure in Afghanistan has been mishandled from the beginning.
Karzai asserted that at the beginning of this two-decade-long excursion, the U.S. “did very good” in helping Afghanistan get on its feet. “The reconstruction of the country’s infrastructure, helping with education and other areas was very welcome and produced good results for the country.”
That was about all, however. “But subsequently,” he continued, “they began to rather than going and drying the sanctuaries outside of Afghanistan, in Pakistan, which is what they themselves reported about, they began bombing and hurting Afghan people and creating prisons in our own country. That led to where we are today.”
Since the Taliban are Afghans, it is unclear what Karzai would have wanted done to defeat them other than “bombing and hurting Afghan people,” and of course his BBC interviewer did not have the wit or courage to ask him. Instead, she allowed Karzai to show the viewing public how deeply he had retreated into a fantasy world: “Afghans created a constitution, they embraced democracy wholeheartedly and went to elections in droves; millions of Afghans are educated. We did all that we could to lead Afghanistan on the right track and to represent it well on the international scene.”
That’s a highly debatable characterization. The America-backed Afghan constitution enshrined Sharia as the highest law of the land, which meant it institutionalized discrimination against women and non-Muslims, and sharply restricted the parameters of this “democracy” to the constraints of Islamic law.
Meanwhile, the U.S. fought the Taliban, but in the final analysis, it did little or nothing in Afghanistan to actually bring jihad terrorism to an end. There was no ideological challenge to the Taliban at all, just the winning-hearts-and-minds infrastructure improvements that Karzai praised. State Department wonks believe that the U.S. can win allies by essentially buying them and that enemies will see our displays of goodwill and turn toward us. This is foolish and demonstrates ignorance of how jihadis and their allies use such gestures to stir up suspicion and hatred of the non-Muslim bearing gifts, portraying the gestures of goodwill as an attempt to seduce Muslims away from Islam: “And never will the Jews or the Christians approve of you until you follow their religion. Say, ‘Indeed, the guidance of Allah is the guidance.’ If you were to follow their desires after what has come to you of knowledge, you would have against Allah no protector or helper” (Qur’an 2:120).
Karzai also said: “But the military plans to fight extremism and terrorism was a failure because they did not do what they should have done.” It is unclear what Karzai thinks should have been done that wasn’t done, but there is no doubt that the military operations failed in large part because they never confronted the source of the “extremism and terrorism,” and offered no alternative. Since both the Taliban and the U.S.-backed American government offered Sharia, there was very little difference between them; the government’s variety was just a bit less stringently enforced. The U.S. never offered refuge to non-Muslims or women who were being brutalized in accord with Sharia provisions, or anything else that would have given the Afghan people a real choice. So American troops just looked all the more like foreign invaders who were there for their own benefit, and who had nothing to offer to the Afghan people.
Of course, if they had offered an alternative to Sharia, they would have alienated many Afghans who might otherwise have been willing to play ball with them. But Afghanistan was not the closed Sharia society it is now even as recently as the 1970s. The U.S. offered nothing to the Afghans who might recall those days fondly. Perhaps an effort to win them over would have been foredoomed, and could even conceivably have widened the conflict. Without any attempt to offer any genuine alternative to the society the Taliban envisioned, however, the American efforts were pointless and, after so many lives lost and trillions spent, futile. Karzai is right in a certain sense: the twenty years U.S. forces spent in Afghanistan were a waste of time, money, and resources. But even he has not faced the real reason for the failure.