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Tom Rinaldo

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Member since: Mon Oct 20, 2003, 05:39 PM
Number of posts: 22,218

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Those close to the Afghan people over the last twenty years have a unique perspective on "betrayal"

Everything that is happening inside of Afghanistan is much more personal for them than it is to the rest of us. People they know there include the best that Afghanistan has to offer; the bravest and the most determined. Afghans they know sacrificed greatly to build a better life for themselves and the citizens of their nation: they are people who fully committed to a future very different from the society that the Taliban once ruled over. In many cases American journalists, aid workers, business contractors, and members of our military who either worked or fought inside of Afghanistan, developed deep and significant friendships with people in that nation: people who not only hoped for, but believed in, a better future for themselves and their children, people who were actively building that future.

Now those dreams are reduced to ashes, those hopes replaced by fear, those hard fought for freedoms suddenly lost, seemingly forever. And thousands of lives are now literally at risk. No wonder there is so much anger now in many Americans who knew these Afghans best, who remain their personal friends. "They have been betrayed."

That's what I think about when I see someone like Andrea Mitchell, or Richard Engle reporting about Afghanistan now For them it's about betrayal, the abandonment of good people to the force of evil. Someone must be to blame, and Americans are the ones leaving Afghanistan without taking all those good Afghans with them. They are right to be angry.They are right that there was a betrayal. They are wrong about the betrayers.

Americans are the ones leaving now because Afghanistan isn't our home, and we never promised to stay there forever. We did stay there twenty years, which in the context of America's wars is the closest thing to forever. Once we finally headed toward the exit Afghanistan's government folded in the blinking of an eye. If betrayers must be found, there is a good place to start finding them. The good people of Afghanistan were betrayed by self serving so called leaders, and thoroughly corrupted hacks, who pocketed American aid money while their troops out in the field went unpaid for months.

But Andra Mitchell and the likes of her are used to having influence. Ultimately they had about as much influence over the recently former leaders of Afghanistan as they do with the Taliban today. To her type, America should have saved their friends, all of them, and if we didn't then we are to blame What the hell are we going to do about it they cry, as if Afghanistan were our 51st State. It isn't, it never was. After twenty years, trillions of dollars, and thousands of American lives, we tried, thy lost. The independent women of Afghanistan, educated Afghans, all those who believed in civil society and civil rights, all of them stood with the losing side in a protracted Civil war. There are millions of them, and the United States can not save them all from the consequences of defeat. We tried. They lost. It is genuinely tragic. Even those who rushed desperately to Kabul's airport seeking evacuation never thought the end could come so suddenly, closing all their doors. Yes, they were betrayed. But not by us.

Our NATO allies all knew the planned date for U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan

They knew that Trump planned to pull out American forces in May, had he won reelection. They knew that Biden extended the date for final U.S. withdrawal until September. Just like the the United States, our NATO allies depended on support from Afghan nationals to help run their embassies and to interpret for their troops out in the field.

And just like the U.S. they are all still scrambling to get their citizens out of Afghanistan by August 31, along with thousands of Afghan nationals who worked alongside them in their efforts during the war. Nothing forced those nations to wait for America to begin mass evacuations before they started pulling their own nationals and friendly Afghans home. It was not just the United States that did not foresee Kabul falling to the Taliban before the scheduled U.S. exit from Afghanistan in September. If President Biden was "caught flat footed" by the sudden total collapse of Afghanistan's central government, so was the entire world.

The United States faced a unique hurdle in that the former Administration worked effectively for four years, until last January, to sabotage the ability of the United States to accept refugees from Afghanistan. But no cliche is more true than the one that says "hindsight is 20/20. I am damn impressed by the ongoing effort the Biden Administration is now orchestrating to pull what will almost certainly be upwards of 100,000 people out of an airport in Kabul while the entire nation surrounding it lies under the control of the forces we had been battling for over twenty years. It is a breathtaking military and diplomatic mission.

Some things not being said about Afghanistan (or at least not often enough.)

First, when the former guy struck a deal with the Taliban to withdraw all U.S. forces by May (four months earlier than the date Biden announced the U.S. exit would be completed) time was already short to begin detailed planning to ensure that U.S. allies in Afghanistan could be safely evacuated. The Biden Administration did not receive any comprehensive plans from Trump's team. I doubt they received any plans at all. All Trump cared about was his reelection campaign, and then after he lost reelection, all he cared about was overturning the election results. The Commander in Chief was missing in action for all normal matters of National Security. There are reports that Trump's State Department kept the Biden Team completely in the dark about plans for Afghanistan during what was supposed to be the presidential transition period. The Trump plan for evacuating our Afghan allies from Afghanistan was no doubt as detailed as his plan to roll out, and distribute, Covid-19 vaccines for all Americans: essentially non-existent, and Biden's Administration found the filling cabinets empty when they arrived.

Not only was Trump "otherwise occupied" during his final months in office, but does anyone believe that he had any interest in facilitating Visa applications for tens of thousands of Muslim Afghan nationals, whether or not they aided U.S. forces? Look how he treated the Kurds. Look at the various renditions of a Muslim Ban he kept putting in place. Look at his stance regarding Syrian refugees, and on immigration in general. Trump was perfectly content to walk away from our allies in Afghanistan. No doubt he would say that the Taliban told him there would be no retaliation against those people, which of course he would accept on their word just like he "accepted" Putin's word that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 U.S. election.

Even if Trump begrudgingly acknowledged some U.S. responsibility toward our Afghan allies, the State Department had been completely hollowed out during his term in office and was severely understaffed. There were vacant positions everywhere that needed to be filled, the State Department could not keep up with normal demands on its time, let alone fast track anything new. Then the United States Senate, still under Republican control, dragged its feet in confirming Biden's Cabinet choices and key positions below that level. In almost all cases confirmation.hearings on those picks did not begin until Trump was out of office. So Biden had to wait to install his team, who had been insufficiently briefed (if at all) during the transition period, and then they had to repopulate agencies that in some cases had become ghost towns, while rooting out a highly partisan resistance Trump had sent in to occupy those Departments.

Second, for all practical purposes, it is true that: "No one thought Afghanistan would collapse as quickly as it did." It's true even if a few voices can be located who in fact believed that Kabul could be under the control of the Taliban weeks before the scheduled date for total U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Those opinions, if they existed, were clearly outliers. Yes there were a sizable number of analysts who thought that the Afghan government might rapidly collapse after the U.S. left, but "rapidly" was defined as several weeks or months after the American withdrawal was complete. No doubt many of our Afghan allies who now are so tragically at risk (those who had made it to or were already in Kabul) would have fled to the Kabul Airport at least a week before the Taliban rolled into town had they thought the collapse could happen that suddenly. They were caught off guard by the suddenness also, even if they knew the final handwriting was on the wall, and being native to Afghanistan, they were better able to read that handwriting better than most American officials.

Third, although Peace talks with the Taliban failed, they were not useless.There were substantiate discussions on a range of issues. In the course of them it forced senior Taliban officials to at least consider what changes to the way their prior regime ruled might be acceptable, if that would help them establish their rule without inciting further resistance to their new regime. Those who engaged in those discussions opened up channels for communication that previously, in most cases, did not exist. No doubt some of those channels in some cases resulted in secret agreements whereby non-Taliban local Afghan leaders and security forces agreed on terms in advance rather than engage in further combat. If so, I seriously doubt they ran those agreements by the Afghan central government, or U.S. intelligence officers. We shall see of course, but the senior leadership of the Taliban is no longer as totally isolated from dialog with other elements of Afghan society, let alone the international community, as it had once been. That could be at least somewhat meaningful, perhaps especially now. There are Taliban and U.S. negotiators who by now know each other. That might help to save some lives.

Finally, although the U.S. failed, in twenty years of effort, to solidify a functional democratic national government with integrity, much more progress was made laying the seeds for a multi-faceted civil society. The nation that the Taliban are now in control of is very different than the nation they once controlled twenty years ago. A significant percentage of the population has grown accustomed to a different set of assumptions about their place in society, even a theocratic one. than once were held. The Taliban now are swimming in those altered waters. No doubt they will want to damn and/or channel the new forces they confront toward their goals, but to a limited extent they may be motivated now to at least somewhat "go more with the flow" in order to successfully govern.

You can't lead a social revolution from the outside

For Afghanistan to be transformed into a country that resembled a modern nation state required a major social revolution. Those do not succeed without passionate, charismatic, persistent and effective "local" leadership. Even then they usually fail. It tales a Kemal Atatürk or a Mao Detong, and their dedicated movements, to even begin to reweave the fabric of a nation's culture.

The last major Afghanistan leader opposing the Taliban who even remotely approached the prerequisite qualities to succeed was Ahmad Shah Massoud, who led Afghanistan's Northern Alliance but was assassinated on September 9, 2001. His forces at the time represented the only effective military resistance to the Taliban. His death two days prior to 9/11 removed him from the picture before the the United States committed ground forces to ousting the Taliban from power in Afghanistan. We will never know how Massoud might have altered the future of Afghanistan had he lived, but the deck was always heavily stacked against him because he came from an ethnic minority in Afghanistan, which always embraced tribal politics.

Here is a little about Massoud taken from an excellent long piece regarding him in Wikipedia:

"In September 2000, Massoud signed the Declaration of the Essential Rights of Afghan Women drafted by Afghan women. The declaration established gender equality in front of the law and the right of women to political participation, education, work, freedom of movement and speech. In the areas of Massoud, women and girls did not have to wear the Afghan burqa by law. They were allowed to work and to go to school. Although it was a time of war, girls' schools were operating in some districts. In at least two known instances, Massoud personally intervened against cases of forced marriage in favour of the women to make their own choice.[19]

While it was Massoud's stated personal conviction that men and women are equal and should enjoy the same rights, he also had to deal with Afghan traditions which he said would need a generation or more to overcome. In his opinion, that could only be achieved through education.[19] Author Pepe Escobar wrote in Massoud: From Warrior to Statesman:

Massoud is adamant that in Afghanistan women have suffered oppression for generations. He says that "the cultural environment of the country suffocates women. But the Taliban exacerbate this with oppression." His most ambitious project is to shatter this cultural prejudice and so give more space, freedom and equality to women—they would have the same rights as men.[19]
— Pepe Escobar, in 'Massoud: From Warrior to Statesman'

The tens upon tens of billions of dollars the United States spent in Afghanistan attempting to stand up and then prop up an effective Afghanistan government and military barely penetrated the social fabric of that nation, because far too often we were just renting the loyalty of the "leaders" we worked with. Even though some here or there might have been sincere in their embrace of a modern future for Afghanistan, they had minimal, at best, influence on the bulk of the Afghan people who did not perceive them as true cultural or national leaders. Meanwhile the central government was riddled with corruption.

The United States never allied with leaders in Afghanistan capable of leading a social revolution. All the outside money in the world couldn't change Afghanistan without that.

Speaking as a long time Bernie Sanders supporter, I respect Shontel Brown's victory

It's likely I would have voted for Shontel if I lived in her district. Since I don't, I didn't have to make that call or give that choice my full attention, but the people who live there got ample expsure to both candidates who ran in that primary. They chose Shontel Brown and that is good enough for me.

I admire many of Nina Turner's endorsers. Beyond Bernie and AOC, I also have great respect for Robert Reich, Katie Porter and Jaimie Raskin among others. If I had to decide based on policy positions only, I suspect Turner would have been my choice. Which is not to say that I oppose Brown on the issues. She is more than fine with me in regards to our nation's priorities, and I can enthusiastically support her. But while Turner might have been a more forceful advocate for some ideas that I hold dear, ideas don't take a seat in Congress, flesh and blood people do, and in my opinion Nina Turner was a very flawed candidate.

It is not enough to hold the right views on issues, you also have to be skilled not only at advocating for them, but at moving the ball forward toward someday, hopefully sooner rather than later, implementing them. A good politician needs to pull far more people toward them than they push away. Turner, sometimes needlessly, too often does the latter. She is strident where another tone would be more effective. She frequently is divisive when common ground should be sought instead (her relationship with Democrats at the head of our presidential tickets here leaps to mind.) Her bitterness comes across as central to her personality rather than a loss of patience with justice either delayed or denied. Rather than skillfully wielding both the carrot and the stick to secure positive advances to her agenda from those whose support she ultimately will require, Turner seems all "stick" in her approach.

I get that it can be unpopular, in the short run, to fight for positions that seem to many to be politically unfeasible. Any walk back through history illustrates that there always are people who are ahead of their time, be they the early advocates for Women's suffrage, or of a 40 hour work week. It is precisely the ground breaking work of early advocates for seemingly politically unfeasible progressive advances, who shift the ground beneath us to someday make those advances possible. But even that requires some tact, and at least a modicum of diplomacy, especially so for activists who attempt to exert direct influence within the legislative sphere.

To a person, all of Nina Turner's most prominent political endorsers are themselves much more apt at working within our current political system than is she. I see her loss last night as much more a clear rejection of Nina Turner than of the ideals she espouses.

Gotta admit it. My faith in democracy is badly shaken (though not broken)

Trump winning the presidency in 2016, by itself, didn't badly undermine my faith in democracy. It's what has happened since then that has left me so unnerved. I was under no illusions, or so I thought. I never was optimistic enough to simply "believe in the wisdom of the masses." The masses can, and often do, get it wrong.

Public opinion is vulnerable to manipulation. People are susceptible to "heat of the moment" reactions. People get wrapped up in the drama of their own lives and don't tune into politics closely. Or they become deeply skeptical that the results of an election could fundamentally alter their life. Others default to "brand loyalty" and fail to question the motives of politicians "wearing their team jerseys." The flaws in democracy are nothing new, and they are serious, but I always agreed with how Winston Churchill put it, in a November 1947 address to Parliament:

"No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

I still agree with Churchill, but now I know that American democracy is far less firmly moored than I ever thought possible. I knew that demagogues were always a potential threat, but I underestimated how many people actually preferred "strongmen" to public servants. I underestimated how many people enthusiastically embrace severe us vs them world views, and I woefully underestimated how fucking gullible a hundred million or more Americans can be.

Trump selling himself as "an outsider" in 2016, and the ultimate businessman and consummate deal maker who actually cared about average Americans more than did so called "intellectual coastal elites", that I could wrap my mind around, though to me it was obvious bullshit. For reasons I mentioned above (and others that I left out) people sometimes "vote for a change" no matter how poorly defined or misunderstood that change might actually be.

There always have been and always will be charlatans and con men, some are just more skilled at what they do than others. Some are hugely successful, like Bernie Madoff the former NASDAQ Chairman, who ran the largest Ponzi scheme in history which bilked investors out of 64.8 billion dollars. Eventually though his true nature and malevolent intentions were revealed, and when it all finally came to light his run at the top terminated and he himself was disgraced (and punished.) Something similar can be said about Richard Nixon (minus punishment for criminal deeds.) Within that context I could take Trump having become President in 2016 in bitter stride. His initial con succeeded. It happens.

What we are dealing with now is far far worse though than any damage a demagogue can wreak before their con is ultimately exposed for what it is. Sunlight, until now, usually served as a disinfectant. Catch a demagogue red handed brutally trampling on the common good and all but their most deranged followers and most complicit accomplices start to melt away. Or at least they used to. Clearly that hasn't been true for Trump's cult, or for all of it's mercenary associated hangerons. Why?

Fundamental human nature doesn't change quickly. Americans aren't inherently more racist now than they were twenty years ago, nor more naturally inclined to worship strong leaders than before. It isn't the proclivities of average Americans that's changed, it's how they are channeled, encouraged, and ultimately inflamed. There's a lot of talk in political circles about how Trump systematically dismantled traditional institutional guardrails that helped keep previous presidencies "in bounds." But we need to look closer at the social guardrails that kept previous American electorates "in bounds" also. They have been been dismantled too.

When tens of millions of Americans are willing to accept that leading Democrats drink the blood of children, and that vaccines are a plot to inject government tracking devices into the bodies of unsuspecting citizens, we have a serious problem. When those Americans are increasingly driven toward extreme, and even violent acts, justified by such "beliefs", the threat becomes grave. When that threat is routinely downplayed, if not actively furthered, by "leading voices" in media and hundreds if not thousands of elected government officials, democracy is in a full blown crisis.

Rarely have a majority of Americans ever been astute observers of politics. Votes have always been swayed by "influencers", be they rabid fundamentalist preachers or fiery labor organizers. Lies have always competed with truth in the so called "market place of ideas", but the truth previously had at least a good fighting chance to ultimately prevail. That is far less certain today. Democracy inevitably devolves into a progression of rigged elections when manufactured falsehoods supplant literal truth.

So why is my faith in democracy not broken? Because a democratic society, unlike "all those other forms (of government) that have been tried from time to time" offers ways and means for people of good will to collectively organize and confront the merchants of lies. We have done so before, we must do so again. It won't be easy.

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