I have very strong, mixed feelings about this situation. The rapidity of the collapse of the Afghan government was not anticipated, although it maybe should have been. I think Biden was perhaps putting a brave face on it to buck up the Afghan government. It didn't work, and his language has blown up in his face.

One one hand, I think leaving Afghanistan to its people is a good idea. We spent 20 years protecting the nascent government, and all that happened is that corruption and incompetence reigned. A generation of Afghans have lived in relative peace and freedom that they had not enjoyed before. They have gotten used to it. The Taliban have a different view of it. Those views will conflict.

The Taliban are also very corrupt and incompetent. Afghanistan is still a very tribal society. That is reflected in the makeup of the Taliban. They think they have a unifying purpose, but that is ephemeral. Each subcommander has a different interpretation of their mission and is likely to control their territory differently. They are primarily Pashtun ("Taliban" is actually a Pashtun word for "student"), and closely allied with Pakistan's military, a nation with which it shares its largest border to the south and east (Islamabad and Kabul are only 460 miles apart, albeit over treacherous mountains). Iran borders it to the west, and the north is bordered by other "'stans" - Turkemenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan.

On the other hand, the fall of Afghanistan is a major blow to the US presence in the region, and international prestige. Our mere presence provided stability Afghanistan has not had in modern memory, and our departure is seen as chaotic and incompetent. Our "mission" can be seen as a failure in some circles, as the Afghan government was essentially our creation (as the Soviets had done in the 1980s), and hundreds of thousands of Afghans are fleeing to neighbors. We no longer have troops on Iran's eastern flank (although there are still some 2500 on the western flank in Iraq). Over the last two years there have been no US casualties (although plenty of Afghans, military and civilian). All of those conditions are now gone. The region is less stable. But, that stability had come at a tremendous cost in US lives and treasure (dwarfing the infrastructure plans of the Biden administration). Unlike South Korea (where we still have substantial troops), Afghanistan had not developed much of an economy or a stable government infrastructure. Would another 20 years have changed that?


A well reasoned argument is like a diamond: impervious to corruption and crystal clear - and infinitely rarer.

Here, as elsewhere, people are outraged at what feels like a rigged game -- an economy that won't respond, a democracy that won't listen, and a financial sector that holds all the cards. - Robert Reich