Afghanistan. The Fall

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On June 13th Robert Gates, who served as secretary of defense between 2006 and 2011 under Bush and Obama, wrote an article for the NYTs entitled ‘We Cannot Afford to Turn our Backs on Afghanistan.’

He speaks in favor of continued support for the existing government and for international funds to assist that nation.

He speaks of the strong likelihood that once America is gone, the Taliban will overrun the capital and eventually seek assistance from China.

So far, our share of human losses has come to over 2300 dead and more than 20000 wounded. And then there are the billions and billions poured into the effort, nearly a trillion now, not including associated costs for the care of veterans. 

Is Mr Gates asking for another 5 years, maybe 10, of continued efforts on our part and NATO?

He acknowledges that the corruption of Afghan officials and members of their security forces undermined the massive international effort to change the course of that country.

When it was happening, we could have taken a strong position on not allowing such corruption. 

We did not.

Mr Gates states that in the Fall of 2006 the president of Pakistan made a deal with the Taliban permitting them safe harbor in their land. Mind you, this was the president of a country where the US is one of the largest foreign direct investors, and for whom we are their largest export destination and to whom we provide significant assistance. 

And still we could not keep them from supporting our enemy next door in Afghanistan. 

There was a time to act and we now have to accept our losses.

If the Afghans could not refrain from undermining our efforts to help them build their nation, then we are not a good match.

We now need to invest our finite resources here at home, improving our infrastructure, our educational and health care systems and reducing inequality.

Mr Gates raises the specter that Al Qaeda will once again see an opportunity to come and bomb us.

Perhaps. But much has been learned in the last 20 years to help protect our skies and our borders. 

Threats from abroad will persist, but the threats from within cannot be ignored. And those will rise if our inequalities and disagreements are not addressed. 

I believe Mr Gates is right when he anticipates that once we leave, the Taliban will take full control of the country.

We should prepare for it.

It must include being able to clearly convey to the American people why we chose to leave and to assure them that we have taken all steps needed to provide for our safety.

We should avoid a repeat of the painful sights at our embassy in Saigon as we exited Vietnam, when local people who had assisted us rushed desperately toward the last helicopters lifting off pleading for a hand to help them up. Many were left behind.

It was a sad and hasty exit.

Surely Mr Biden watched as those scenes unfolded.

He has time to plan so we do better this time. 

Bombing the Taliban as they encircle Kabul in their effort to seize it would come at the risk of injuring innocent people.

I hear that there are plans for Turkish and Pakistani troops to ensure the safety of the airport, with us paying the bill. But they won’t be able to hold off the encroaching Taliban. Turks and Pakistanis, too, will get in their choppers and planes and wave goodbye to that troubled land.

My hope is that Mr Biden, with his long history of dealing with difficult crises, will manage this one well.

But something is wrong in America and we have to fix it.

We should not retreat from the world but our resources are not limitless and we have to choose well. 

We have lost Afghanistan and now we need to learn from it. 

As we leave, China will step in. So be it. Maybe the intolerant and repressive Taliban will find kinship with the Chinese. 

But something is wrong in America and we cannot just point the finger at the opposing party.

Something is wrong in America and there is fault in all of us. 

Let us join together to fix it.

Let us join together to deal squarely with the enemy within.

Oscar Valdes

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