Posted on January 31, 2022



Wisdom That Wasn't

Turns out, Afghans don't love oppression


Daniel Clark



In October, a Scottish baroness arranged the escape of three planeloads of female judges from Afghanistan, one of whom was a member of that nation's supreme court. If you happened to see this badly underreported story, you probably did a double-take. Female Afghan judges? A woman on the Afghan Supreme Court? How can that be, in a country that is perpetually trapped in the Stone Age, whose people either are loyal to the Taliban, or belong to other factions that are equally primitive?

Prior to the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, Afghan girls were not even allowed to go to school. Twenty years later, not only could women serve as judges, but they made up about one-fourth of the national legislature. It wasn't only women who were enjoying newfound freedoms, though. In 2004, the Afghan government approved a constitution that included a presumption of innocence in criminal trials, a guarantee of due process, and the right of people of minority religions to exercise them freely.

By now, the Afghans have lived under these laws for so long that there is a whole generation that has little or no memory of what things were like under Taliban rule. All of a sudden, the freedoms they supposedly never had in the first place have been taken away. Women are not allowed to go out in public without male accompaniment. Men are forbidden from shaving their beards. Dancing and the playing of music are prohibited. The Taliban routinely barge into people's homes, demanding food and money, and sometimes seizing the property for their own lodging. They patrol the streets looking for any behavior that conflicts with their interpretation of Islam, for which they mete out swift and capricious punishments.

It would be understandable if one confessed to thinking that life in that country had been that way all along, for this is exactly what our political intelligentsia have encouraged us to believe. For quite a few years now, the concept that people have a natural yearning to be free has been presumably refuted. Those who have stated that belief, like former president George W. Bush, have been ridiculed as overly-idealistic simpletons.

According to all the officially serious people whose narrative has tragically prevailed, freedom is not meant for everybody. There are certain cultures that prefer oppression, and we mustn't impose freedom upon them against their will. In other words, our nation's founding presumption that all men are created with certain inalienable rights was never really true.

In the early days of the Afghan War, the defeatists lectured that the terrain and climate of that country made military victory by an invading force virtually impossible, when in fact Afghanistan ranks among the most frequently conquered lands in the world. Once the invasion had proven successful, it became the battle for "hearts and minds" that was deemed unwinnable. The Afghan people wanted no part of this decadent influence we call freedom. This has turned out to be equally false.

Repeatedly over the past decade, foreign policy think tanks have released reports declaring that the Taliban were stronger than ever. News graphics would shade in huge sections of territory that were supposedly under Taliban control, just because they momentarily held small encampments within them, from which they would soon be ousted.

If the Taliban had so much power, or even influence, over Afghan society since being overthrown, they surely would have prevented women from having any role in the writing or interpretation of law. Yet there was so little resistance to this development that most of the world didn't even notice it happening. Nor had the Taliban succeeded in stopping elections from taking place. For Afghans to risk their lives by going out to their polling places, and identifying themselves as having voted by marking their index fingers with purple ink, would be peculiar behavior for people who were content to live under totalitarianism. Nevertheless, three-fourths of eligible voters did just that in 2004.

Contrary to the prevailing narrative, the Taliban had not been succeeding in any way until the completely unforced and unnecessary American withdrawal. For twenty years they had been losing not only militarily, but politically and socially as well. They would have continued to lose indefinitely, for as long as the American people felt that the mission was worthwhile.

Another untruth that has taken hold is that we had left the Afghans capable of defending their own country, but that they declined to do so in the face of the Taliban offensive. What happened instead is that the United States perversely collaborated with the Taliban to undermine the Afghan army. President Trump rendered the legitimate Afghan government irrelevant, by circumventing it while engaging in direct negotiations with the Taliban over America's withdrawal. The document these talks produced was essentially a surrender, in that it presumed that after the American forces departed, the Taliban would control all of the territory within Afghanistan.

Whereas Trump had undermined the Afghans diplomatically, President Biden has done so physically. For all the time, effort and money that had been spent building and training the Afghan military, we had kept it dependent on America for its logistics and air power. Biden's chaotic exit yanked these supports out from under them, right when they needed them most. Thus, the lack of resistance to the Taliban following America's pullout was not so much because the Afghans had given up as because we had.

This is not to argue in favor of risking our soldiers' lives for the freedom of distant peoples around the world, but let's remember what the mission was. By overthrowing the Taliban and promoting freedom and progress among the Afghans, we sought to forever deny al-Qaeda an operational base in Afghanistan. Furthermore, our punishment of the Taliban needed to have permanence, not only to deny them their own country, but also to deter others who think as they do. Now, we've put al-Qaeda's keepers back in power, in a country whose population has a median age of 18. That adds up to a lot of young, impressionable Muslim men who will be holding a grudge against the United States for abandoning them.

And why did this need to happen? Oh yeah, because majorities of people across the political spectrum were demanding an end to the "forever war." The duration of the conflict, however, was never itself the issue. It only seemed intolerable when combined with the impression that the war was being fought for nothing. We, as a nation, had bought into the conventional wisdom that the Afghans didn't want freedom, and that their country could never change, only to recognize entirely too late that they did, and it had.



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