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The Afghanistan Withdrawal and the Loss of US Credibility
A year later, the Fall of Kabul is still as surreal as it was shocking.
I can still vividly remember the night of the Fall of Kabul. I was on my friend's patio glued to the news, when I received a call from the assistant to the president of Afghanistan at the time, Ashraf Ghani. I couldn't believe what I was seeing on the TV and asked her, "Is the Taliban really taking over all of Afghanistan?" She assured me that the stories I was watching flash across the screen were false, Kabul was safe, and I should help her combat this fake news.
Immediately I knew she was wrong. It was all too similar to the fall of my own hometown, Baghdad, in 2003. When the United States invaded the local media kept telling us that the US army was still fighting in the south while I watched droves of US military tanks drive past the front of our house. As I watched the news that night from my friend’s patio it brought up the deep feelings of betrayal I felt when the US withdrew from Iraq, which eventually led to the rise of and take over of Iraq by ISIS.
As we approach the one year anniversary of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan my thoughts are less than charitable. The United States will never again be trusted, not just by our allies in the middle east but by the whole world. During my last trip to the Kurdistan region of Iraq, I met with a couple of representatives there who told me precisely that. They expected that I might have some leverage around US foreign policy as a US citizen and known commentator on these issues. I was sad to tell them that these things are decided by people far more powerful and established than myself.
There has been a lot of blame and "what if" questions being thrown around since the withdrawal. What if we hadn’t withdrawn so quickly? What if we had done it differently? I can claim no expertise on military strategy, but what I do have is expertise on the general political sentiments of both everyday people and leaders in the region; my life and work are dependent on knowing both.
One thing I know for sure is that the United States has lost the trust of many people and nations. The US is no longer seen as a formidable and reliable ally on the world stage, rather, the country is seen as one that leaves people behind. Not only did the US not care about the normal Afghan people it left behind to fend for themselves against the Taliban, it didn't even care about its Afghan allies who had worked with our forces for 20 years.
There were many efforts led by ethical people and organizations who understood the urgency of the situation to save these allies. The private sector stepped up to do what the US government did not. The US was either unable or unwilling to fulfill its responsibilities to all those it had depended on and then deserted. Interpreters and translators plead for months ahead of the withdrawal to be relocated with little to no success. One senior interpreter, Moneer Noori, said, “If I get left behind– I will be assassinated.” Unfortunately, his story was not unique. In leaving these people behind we were effectively sentencing them to death by the Taliban. The American government had the infrastructure and ability to evacuate these people safely before withdrawing. All they lacked was the will.
There is no denying that the biggest victims of the Taliban takeover of the country are women and girls. Many of them are being denied once again their ability to go to school and forced to live under extreme conditions of theocracy. In one of my most recent articles, A Relative Taste Of Freedom In Afghanistan, I was honored to share some of the stories of the many resilient school teachers and students who are fighting for women’s right to education against all odds. It remains an inspiration to me that some of them are able to stay positive despite all the challenges they face. Ideas Beyond Borders will be launching a campaign in the next couple of weeks to continue our support of the underground schools for girls in the country.
One official from the middle east who spoke to me in confidence told me how his people had seen Russia and Iran stick by Assad, even in the most challenging times when most people in his country were against him. He questioned if the US would stand by them in the same way. Of course, this is not necessarily an endorsement of anti-American sentiment or middle eastern officials who view the relationship with the US in mercenary ways, but a reflection of the current and complex reality that the US faces. Now not only the general public in many Arab countries hate or are misinformed about America, but even their leaders who generally view the US as an ally do too.
In an increasingly polarized world, where China is rising as an alternative to American homogeneity, the Fall of Kabul couldn't have come at a more dangerous moment. The Biden administration had no way to save face when they forced the world to remember the past decades of squandered American promises as they watched Afghans desperately clinging onto the wings of planes in an effort to escape. The administration's only hope of salvaging their reputation is that Afghanistan and its citizens will fade from people's minds with the next news cycle. I will not forget. The Afghans who are putting their lives on the line to fight for girls' education, freedom, and prosperity have been forced to start from scratch to try and rebuild their country. Ideas Beyond Borders plans to help them every step of the way.
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