Now that the Taliban has swept back into power in Afghanistan with great rapidity, recriminations are pouring in with all the principal actors trying to avoid blame for the speed by shifting it to others. This is the normal aftermath of any debacle and the pattern is predictable. One target has been the intelligence services, blaming them for not knowing the strength of the Taliban. But the intelligences services like the CIA are experts at deflecting blame and they have produced background sources saying that they correctly predicted the rapid Taliban takeover but that the administration ignored their reports.
The problem is that decision-makers will usually ask their intelligence analysts to produce a range of scenarios ranging from the best case to the worst case and that would have been the case here too. The full range of outcomes is then evaluated by people up the chain of authority who decide which are the most likely, disregard the rest, and present a very limited set to the policy decision makers to choose a course of action. So whatever the outcomes, there will be people in the organization who can say that they correctly predicted it but that their predictions were ignored. So do not expect anyone in the intelligence services or the military to take the blame for any fiasco. The only meaningful information is to have the likelihood evaluation that was made by the analysts that was associated with each option.
But that would still be a sideshow. We know that neither the intelligence services nor the military ever pays a price for these fiascos. What this heated debate over whom to blame will obscure is that what the US did in Afghanistan, not to mention Iraq, Syria, Libya and elsewhere in the region, has been to cause massive death and destruction and instability and ruin the lives of millions of people. That is not primarily the fault of this or that agency. The problem lies much deeper. It is the consequence of the imperial mindset that permeates elite opinion in the US that thinks of the world as belonging to it and that it can submit to its will. In reality it cannot but it tries to maintain that illusion by self-delusion, lying, and hypocrisy until the whole flimsy structure eventually falls apart and the failure cannot be ignored.
As Gordon Adams writes:
In Afghanistan, American hubris – the United States’ capacity for self-delusion and official lying – has struck once again, as it has repeatedly for the last 60 years.
This weakness-masquerading-as-strength has repeatedly led the country into failed foreign interventions.
Three times now this country has been lied to and the media deluded as America marched stolidly over the cliff into failure.
Recriminations are flying back and forth – who lost Afghanistan is the latest version of who lost Vietnam, Iraq and, for those with long memories, all the way back to 1949 and “who lost China.” What America has lost is, I believe, the capacity to learn, to learn from history and from our own experience.
The fall of Kabul was inevitable. Washington, once again, deluded itself into thinking otherwise. The secretary of state said, “This is not Saigon.”
It is Saigon. It is Baghdad. It is Kabul.
It would be nice to think that the US has learned its lesson but we should not be sanguine. Imperial hubris is a powerful narcotic that produces grandiose delusions. The indelible lesson that was supposed to have been hammered home by the Vietnam experience was “Never get involved in a land war in Asia”. But we still had Afghanistan. So where is the next quagmire going to be? Which hapless country is going to be destroyed?
When the costs of the war in Afghanistan are mentioned in news stories, it is usually in terms of the amount the US spent and the number of US military forces killed and injured. But those losses were due to deliberate choices made by the US to invade another country. They rarely mention the number of Afghans killed and injured and the scale of the destruction that was wreaked on that country. Those were losses that the Afghans had no choice over.