Click “Read More” for my epistemic trespassing on Afghanistan.
Hello, friend. I have been experiencing the events of the last three weeks mostly as a consumer of mainstream news and social media. I don’t write as an expert, and I’m not doing segues between paragraphs today.
I have cried for these girls and these families in Afghanistan. I wouldn’t want this week to go by without saying something about their situation, even if I don’t have much to add to the conversation. It was the years of neglect in the public discourse that lead to where we are today.
People are angry. President Biden is being strongly criticized for what is happening. What people get upset over and what they ignore makes no sense. Americans tolerate unsolved murders in our own country on a daily basis. The failures of the CDC and FDA in 2020 can be directly linked to hundreds of thousands of American deaths. Almost nothing was said in the public sphere about Afghanistan before this summer, and the vague of idea of bringing troops home was popular.
One reason to be sad is the tragedy of lives lost and women being consigned to house arrest or worse. Also, we are unhappy because we are facing the prospect of Endless War for the rest of the century. We have gone to war and war has come to us. There is no way out for decades. An attempt to leave a foreign territory has sparked new violence.
It is hard to speak for “we” Americans. At least some of us have reacted by resolving to become Foreign Policy Serious People, like Scholar’s Stage. I support his call to read more books. Have an in-person book club with neighbors, with the topic being something relevant to foreign affairs. Stop scrolling each other’s dog pictures alone and counting up your media engagement statistics like a Gen Z Scrooge. Tyler’s book list from 2020 is another good place to start.
What if we had read more books in 2020? One question everyone seems to be asking is whether we should have been able to anticipate what happened as a result of US policy choices this summer. Should we have expected that the Taliban would gain control of the country so fast? The WSJ ran a story on July 7, 2021 about the Afghan professionals who had tried to build white collar careers in Afghanistan under US protection.
Long before President Biden announced the U.S. withdrawal in April, hundreds of thousands of Afghans had fled to Europe, Australia and the U.S. Now, many of the well-educated people who prospered in the new Afghanistan and hadn’t dreamed of leaving have also concluded that staying put is no longer an option.
Even though the U.S. has said for years it would withdraw its troops, Mr. Biden’s announcement caught many Afghans by surprise. So did the meltdown of Afghanistan’s U.S.-equipped and trained security forces. Afghan soldiers surrendered en masse in recent weeks…
The WSJ article goes on to describe a young woman who had been educated under US protection and now works as a professional data scientist in Kabul. Did she anticipate that Kabul would be captured by the Taliban in August 2021? She says that if the Taliban take over Kabul her years of training would be wasted and she might be killed. At the time the article was written in July, she was not certain that Kabul would become what it is today. I hope she has found safety.
The article says that hundreds of thousands of Afghans had already fled before the summer of 2021. I wonder, if they had not left, would the outcome have been different? Is that one reason why it was hard to understand the nature of the society and predict what would happen next? It’s internal makeup was constantly changing?
Something else that I think is worth talking about is the gender oppression component of the Taliban take over. Women are losing a lot. Some men might think they are better off. A talking point as old as the ISIS incursion in Syria is that “losers” become terrorists. Now that more women are finishing college than men in the US, which might also have been the case in Afghanistan by 2021, it’s time to think about what can help men succeed in an equal opportunity society. I don’t mean that we should abandon progress in making the workplace safe and welcoming for women. I believe that there are ways to make the free world fulfilling for both men and women.
It’s hard to get policy serious when so many Americans have come to see politics as taboo. A lot of discussion happens online and by means of humor (e.g. Babylon Bee) because we are having a hard time talking directly to each other about big issues. Polarization has meant that people are wary of the other side. If you just never mention politics to your neighbor at all, then you don’t have to worry about discovering that you fall on different sides of the great divide. Would EWED readers from outside of the US might be surprised to know that Americans, in my experience, rarely talk about politics in person?
Without much of a segue, I’ll end with the story of another girl
The Afghan baby girl born on a C-17 military aircraft during an evacuation flight from Afghanistan will forever carry that experience with her. Her parents have named her after the plane’s call sign — Reach. …
European Command says the mother went into labor during the flight and began experiencing complications due to low blood pressure. The pilot descended in altitude to increase air pressure in the aircraft, which helped stabilize the mother.
The generation of the Kabul Airlift are going to have more interesting things to say about this situation than me. I hope I get to meet one of them.