Review of The Chair, and Criticisms of the Afghan Withdrawal as Pro-War Propaganda

If you are a subscriber, on the podcast you can get my conversation with Rob Henderson about the new show The Chair, which we both thought was awful but nonetheless fun to analyze.

It is also available in video form on YouTube below.

On a different note, I was on the Urbane Cowboys podcast last week and on The Hill TV yesterday covering the news from Afghanistan. It’s amazing to see the suicide attack at the Kabul airport is now being used to justify staying and fighting the Taliban, the enemies of the attackers. This was the same bait and switch we’ve seen throughout the “war on terror”: the US had to fight Saddam because of al-Qaida (his enemies), and also Bashar al-Assad because of ISIS (who he fights) and al-Qaida (who he fights and we’ve literally supported in that civil war). HR McMaster was all over TV yesterday saying the Taliban was actually working with ISIS, which is obviously false. Just like those who posited a connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida nearly two decades ago, he will remain a member of the establishment in good standing, ready to lend us his “expertise” when the next crisis hits.

I’m glad Biden is in the process of completing the withdrawal, and he should be saluted for that. People say it’s been handled poorly (see my thread here), but they do not know what the counterfactual is, and these arguments should be mostly seen as propaganda to either get the US back into the war or send a message to any future president who wants to defy the media and the generals that they’re going to make his life miserable. Perhaps the most popular talking point now is that the US should have used Bagram Air Base, which is according to Google Maps a 1 hour, 36 minute drive away from the capital (i.e., where everyone is). So instead of securing one airport close to the population that needs to be evacuated, the US would have to somehow secure 42 miles of road too.

Maybe you can send the Afghans to Bagram and evacuate Americans from the airport? Ok, that sounds pretty complicated. You’re still at the airport, and it’s therefore more lightly defended because your resources are spread more thin. You send the Afghans to Bagram, you’re putting them in what I imagine would be the world’s worst traffic jam, providing an ideal target for terrorist attacks. I’ve tried to find pictures of what the roads between Kabul and Bagram look like, and I can’t, but I’m pretty sure if I could it would make all of this sound even more implausible.

Another criticism has been based on reporting that the US gave the Taliban lists of people that have worked with occupation forces. This is the kind of story that amazes casual observers of foreign affairs who headlines like this are meant to manipulate. Sam Harris, for one, is in shock. People seem not to fully comprehend that the government collapsed, and the US is reliant on the Taliban for security. This means if you want to get people out, you have to cooperate with them. The only other option is to reinvade and go door-to-door looking for people.

Politicians and pundits then ask why we are relying on the Taliban for security. Because there is no Afghan government! That’s the whole point of this thing, the only security forces are the guys the war was launched to remove. But every one of their failures is seen as an excuse to keep doing more of what the war faction wants.

I can’t remember who made this analogy, but I read someone say that trying to leave Afghanistan is like trying to pull your penis out of a hornet nest (update: it’s from here). You can sit around debating which technique you should use. But reality constrains your options and the range of potential outcomes, and you will end up with something between really really bad and really really really really bad. The more important thing to focus on is how you can make sure to never listen to the people who got you in that situation again. And the fact that those people are on TV right now being treated as experts on Afghanistan reveals how broken the entire foreign policy ecosystem is.