Posted 147 days ago
This was an excellent piece of reporting. Dexter Filkins is a fantastic reporter. I have enjoyed reading almost everythig he has written for the past year or two in The New Yorker (before that, I didn't have a subscription). I don't know much at all about the history of Afghanistan, or the history of American involvement, so I though this was a good primer. It was easy to understand what sides are currently sitting at the table and what the Biden Adminstration has on its hands.
There were some straight numbers that kind of blew me away. The estimated cost of American-led intervention is at $2 trillion, with the United States alone spending approximately $130 billion. I could see how the government could have swayed the American public to back intervention in Afghanistan (especially in the early 2000s when that was the definition of American foriegn policy). Filkins writes:
Before the U.S. and its allies intervened, in 2001, the Taliban imposed a draconian brand of Islam, in which thieves' hands were cut off and women were put to death for adultery.
Myself, I simply cannot moralize here because I don't know anything about either side of this conflict. But I can rationalize how statements like this could sway the American public. In the 2000s, we certainly thought that we were the symbol of freedom and democracy. That is no longer the case, obvious in our overwhelming urge to leave all foreign conflicts, as we realize that we have our own issues to work out in our country before we start trying to tell others how to run their government and society.
Filkins intervies the Afghan Presiden, Ashraf Ghani. There is a very odd relationship here, because although Ghani thinks himself to be "elected," only 2 million people voted in a country of almost 40 million. 5% participation can simply not be considered a valid election in any sense of the word, and I suppose that's why the Trump Adminstration went directly to the Taliban for negotiations. It's just hard to justrify that Ghani is truly the will of the people with so few people actually expressing their will.
And what I kept thinking about throughout the entire story was why is Afghanistan a single country? I think the same of the U.S. sometimes, and which was considered pretty thoughfully in this review of secession in Jacobin. As in the US, cities and the countryside have radically different views about how to live. Why does there need to be one central authority presiding over them both? Their society and economies are radically different, could there not be a way for us to build new forms of government where there are two independent governments that work together? Something like a modern city-state.
I do not know how the Biden Adminstration will tackle this perdicament, and I have no moralizing to do here since I know so little about the conflict. But as Filkins writes, "negotiators from both sides told me that they felt a heavy responsibility to end the conflict." I think everybody agrees with that, including the American public, who want American troops out of Afghanistan and peace to be ensured. After 20 years, it is near impossible rationalize American involvement, and I think we have to consider that even if we entered with high hopes and morals, the reality of our actions is very different. Biden and his adminstration should act on this soon and communicate effectively with the American people.