Monday, August 16, 2021
It's Monday, August 16th, 2021.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
National Humiliation and Humanitarian Disaster: Peril Ensues as Taliban Takes Over Afghanistan--to America’s Shame and Grave Danger of Her Allies
For Americans of a certain age, and I am of that age, this is the second massive national humiliation. The first I'm referencing was in 1975, the evacuation of Americans from Saigon, the American withdrawal from that nation and from the conflict known as the Vietnam War, and then the fall of the entire territory of Vietnam into the hands of the communists and the reprisals that followed.
But now we're not talking about the haunting sight of American helicopters performing rescues in desperation in Saigon in 1975, it's 2021 and it's Kabul in Afghanistan and the helicopters are back. They may rescue the Americans, we must hope so, we must insist so. we must insist also that the allies of Americans are rescued, although, the prospects for that are growing dimmer. But what can't be rescued right now is American pride.
And there is no escaping the fact that the president of the United States must take personal responsibility for this debacle, not the entire debacle in Afghanistan over the course of say the last two decades, not to mention the last two centuries, but the disaster that's taking place right now, the humiliation of this nation, the fact that in a matter of just days, if not hours, the Taliban, the very force we went into Afghanistan to eliminate and demarginalize is now back in power, more powerful than never because they're going to be able to claim that they have defeated the most powerful nation on earth. And if anything, the ruthless radical Islamic regime that they will put in place committed to Sharia law is likely to be even more deadly and even more treacherous than the regime before the Americans arrived.
Let me make something very clear at this point, there is no embarrassment for the American military, nor for the thousands of American troops and armed services personnel who served in Afghanistan. They did their job. The problem is that they did not, once again, have an adequate plan in terms of military strategy, nor was there adequate political leadership to meet this challenge. And that means that the indictment to some degree falls not on one president, though right now the immediate disaster is entirely on the hands of President Joe Biden, but his three predecessors in office have also been involved in the conflict in Afghanistan and to a greater or lesser extent have botched the program.
That begins with President George W. Bush and then President Barack Obama, and then President Donald J. Trump, who after all back in February of last year, reached an agreement with the Taliban that the Taliban has not kept and we shouldn't have expected they would ever have kept. And now of course, president Joe Biden. Four American presidents, two from each party, a disaster that is now bipartisan, but a disaster that falls particularly on President Biden, because it is he who announced back earlier in the summer that Americans would proceed with a precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan. And what was left behind is a vacuum that has been filled treacherously and terrifyingly enough by the Taliban. And there was every reason to expect that it would happen just this way if not at just this speed.
There are huge worldview issues implicated here, but consider the reports that have come. Yaroslav Trofimov writing a front page article for the Wall Street Journal put it this way, "After 20 years of war, much of what the US sought to accomplish in Afghanistan crumbled in just one week." Now, if anything, that's an understatement because it really didn't take the entire week as Americans withdrew the Afghani forces that Americans had trained absolutely crumbled, city by city, the Taliban regained territory until eventually by Eastern Time, Sunday evening in Washington, DC, that's last night, the Taliban was claiming control of the presidential palace in Kabul.
David Zucchino for The New York Times reported late last night, "Taliban fighters poured into the Afghan capital on Sunday amid scenes of panic and chaos, bringing a swift and shocking, close to the Afghan government and the 20 year American era in the country. President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan fled the country, and a council of Afghan officials, including former President Hamid Karzai, said they would open negotiations with the Taliban over the shape of the insurgency’s takeover. By day’s end, the insurgents had all but officially sealed their control of the entire country."
Now keep in mind that the velocity of the collapse of the government there in Afghanistan and the collapse of the armed forces known as the security forces there in Afghanistan, the velocity was absolutely unexpected at least by America's political leaders and also by America's military allies. Perhaps those in Afghanistan understood. Perhaps the American military and military intelligence had given adequate information to the administration. What we do know is that the shocking speed of the Taliban offensive went far beyond even what the mainstream media could keep up with.
Over the weekend in the Saturday Sunday edition of the Wall Street Journal, the editorial board said this, "What an awful tragic irony, President Biden in April chose September 11 as the deadline for US troops to withdraw from Afghanistan. Now it's possible that on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the Taliban that once protected Osama bin Laden and that the US ousted from power, could again, rule in Kabul." Now, just keep in mind, this is a warning published just this weekend in one of the most influential and well-informed newspapers in the world that Kabul might fall say within a month of this past weekend. It didn't fall within a month of the past weekend, it felt within hours hardly before the ink was dry on this paper.
In terms of political decision-making, it's hard to imagine even to imagine why the president of the United States, Joe Biden, felt that somehow it would be fitting to date the absolute withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan to the 20th anniversary of the September 11th, 2001 attacks on the United States that were the very reason that the United States began to be military engaged directly in Afghanistan within a matter of weeks after the 9/11 attacks. But now even as 9/11 was horrifying and humiliating, now America's reputation, not only in Afghanistan, but around the world, especially with our allies, but perhaps even more importantly with our enemies, has taken a very grave wound, a wound that could only possibly be paralleled by the humiliation of the American hasty exit from Saigon in 1975. Once again, the horrible pictures of the helicopters coming in, in the midst of chaos, trying to rescue Americans.
But notice morally speaking, we have a larger moral responsibility here, because there were thousands of citizens of Afghanistan who cooperated over the last 20 years with American forces, with America's effort to try to build the security forces there in Afghanistan. Some of them were translators for the American military. We're talking about something between 4,000 and 20,000 people who with their immediate dependence could number about 90,000 people. Their lives are endangered by the Taliban, and if they are not rescued by the United States, we will have every reason to bear responsibility for the fact that they will be slaughtered by America's enemies just as America leaves.
Speaking of the political effects, a team of reporters for the Wall Street Journal put it this way, "The scenes of triumphant Taliban fighters conquering city after city have unnerved many of America's allies." And an unusual criticism of America's rush out of Afghanistan, United Kingdom, that is British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace described the Doha Agreement in a Sky news interview as "a rotten deal that effectively told a Taliban that wasn't winning, that they were winning."
Now, in a sense, that's an indictment of the last two administrations, but it is this administration that chose this timetable and this set of circumstances without taking into account what would happen in the aftermath of such a hasty withdrawal. It was an effort to try to get political points for withdrawing American forces from an intractable war that had lasted for 20 years by some calculations, America's longest war. But this administration not only withdrew American forces precipitously from Afghanistan, it left a vacuum that is being filled in the most unimaginable horror.
Sideshow in reporting for the Wall Street Journal over the weekend said that where the Taliban had gained control as the weekend began, you had the typical kinds of atrocities committed by the Taliban. Remember, this is an extreme, radical jihadist Islamists sect, you are talking about people who do not believe that girls and women should have a public role, who do not believe that girls and women should be educated, who are bringing a ruthless form of Sharia law. As the Wall Street Journal said that witnesses have reported unprovoked attacks on civilians, executions of captured soldiers. "In addition, they say, Taliban commanders have demanded that communities turn over unmarried women to become 'wives' for their fighters, a form of sexual violence, human-rights groups say."
Just in terms of the political context, remember that president Biden looked at the American people straight in the face and public comments and said that what has happened would not happen. He dismissed the concern and the prediction that it might happen, and simply insisted like it was susceptible to a force of political will, his political will, that this would not happen. It has happened, even worse than the worst nightmare scenarios that had been suggested as recently as the beginning of the weekend.
It took America decades to overcome the political damage that was done by the way the United States ended its involvement in the Vietnam War. Now we are looking at a similar scenario and it is likely, as I say, not just that our allies are troubled, that's already clear in public comments, but that the enemies of the United States are taking encouragement from these developments in recent days, even as the people on the ground in Afghanistan are likely to pay the price.
Americans have already had to withdraw from the American embassy, the Seals taken down the secret papers and confidential documents burned. There have been efforts to try to remove anything that could be used by the Taliban, because it is clear, they are already in control. American personnel were headed for the airport, which is the only safe place for Americans to be rescued simply because the president had to require American forces to go in, in order merely to withdraw or to extract Americans safely. But that has not been concluded. And as of last night, the American State Department was telling Americans who had not yet reached the airport to "shelter in place" as if that makes any moral sense given the circumstances.
The likelihood is that the Taliban will not directly confront the power of the United States by going after Americans, but it has humiliated the United States and those Americans are still in direct danger until such time as they are outside of Afghanistan. But what about America's allies on the ground in Afghanistan? What about their lives? What about their families? What is the prospect? Let's just ask that question directly, what is the prospect that we can fulfill our moral responsibility to protect those who worked with American forces over the course of the last 20 years? They knew they were putting their lives at risk if indeed the Taliban regained control. Well, the Taliban have regained control, where is American protection?
What about the next conflict when the United States needs people in the nation of the involvement to put their lives on the line on behalf of American forces and in cooperation with those American forces? The likelihood is that the example that was learned by so many after Afghanistan, the lesson that was taken, the encouragement taken by America's enemies, it is likely that that cycle will be repeated. And the images from Kabul right now are going to be fueling that encouragement.
A Brief History of Turmoil in Afghanistan: Why Government Stability is One of the Rarest of Historical Accomplishments and Evidence of the Grace of God to Humanity
But beyond the question of direct moral responsibility on the part of the United States in Afghanistan, in terms of worldview implications, what are the big lessons that are already evident? Well, for one thing, you are looking at the fact we really are locked in a world struggle against forces that operate from a very different worldview. When you look at the Taliban, let's just be honest, they are theologically driven. They are representatives of a radical sect of Sunni Islam. But they claim, and they have Quranic authority in making this claim, that what they are representing is actually the application of Sharia law. And they are calling for this to take place, not only in all current Islamic territory, but the jihad means a worldwide conquests to bring the world under Sharia rule.
Now, remember if you go back 20 years, why did the United States become involved? It is because the Taliban were giving shelter support and encouragement to Osama bin Ladin and the forces of Al Qaeda, who Americans were able to identify very quickly as the forces behind the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and in Washington, DC. Now, why would that have happened? Why would Americans have already been watching Afghanistan? There's a huge story there, and it will actually take us through several considerations in the course of the briefing today.
Afghanistan, it is a landlocked nation. It is mostly mountainous. And we're talking about significant mountains in particular, the Hindu Kush. It is largely tribal, 14 different recognized tribal groups. It is not except in some kind of political sense as recognized by the United Nations, actually a country. It is a territory. And that landlocked territory nonetheless is one of the most strategic in the world because it is at the junction of so many trade routes, the so-called Silk Road between Asia and Europe. Afghanistan is the crossroads of so many different worlds and it has become some of the most strategic territory in terms of military, cultural, and political interests going back all the way to say the 3rd or 4th century, if not even before the time of Christ.
In the modern world, Britain went to war in Afghanistan trying to bring some control, trying to bring some national identity, trying to bring some political stability in a series of three wars between 1839 and 1919. Now, I've just recognize that's an 80 year period in which Britain, which was in the most powerful empire on earth, tried to bring stability to Afghanistan. It didn't work. Then during the Cold War between the years, 1979 and 1988, the USSR, the Soviet Union, invaded Afghanistan.
Now remember Afghanistan is a lot closer to Russia than many people remember, and it was a constant threat to the USSR, the Soviet Union. And thus the Soviets decided that they would try to neutralize the threat coming out of tribal forces in Afghanistan, and frankly, just through Afghanistan, coming from other lands that were troublesome to the Soviet Union, but it became one of the reasons that the Soviet Union was dissolved, why it fell apart and lost political credibility. It is because the Soviet Union, then one of the two major superpowers on earth, could not win its way in Afghanistan. And the communist regime in Moscow paid a huge political price inside the Soviet Union for the fact that it was incredibly dishonest with its own people about the fact that so many Soviet troops were dying there with no hope of any kind of stability to be achieved.
But remember this was during the Cold War, and so the United States was glad for the Soviet union to have trouble in Afghanistan and the American government channeled money and weaponry towards those who were known as the Mujahideen. They were tribal warriors there in Afghanistan. They caused enormous headache and heartache for the Soviet Union. And the Mujahideen to a considerable extent where the reason why Soviet forces had to withdraw in 1988, also in humiliation.
But the Mujahideen were replaced by the Taliban who, if anything, were more orderly, but also more ruthless. They had a far more clear-minded version of Islam, Sunni Islam, and Sharia law, Sharia rule that they intended to put in place. And they did, taking territory in Afghanistan, away from the Mujahideen. The word Taliban, by the way, actually means students. They were organized first, it is believed, in Pakistan, neighboring there to Afghanistan. And they were named students because there were students of the Quran in the Islamic madrassas or schools for boys and young men. Those students became soldiers in this jihad or holy war.
That raises another issue. If you're looking at Afghanistan, which has never really achieved any kind of lasting political stability, it has very, very interesting neighbors, including Pakistan. Remember, by the way, that American forces were able to find and to eliminate Osama bin Laden who was there in Pakistan. The relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan is never clear at any time because the national interest of Pakistan and Afghanistan sometimes coincide and sometimes do not. But in all cases, both of these nations have to deal with very powerful Islamist forces, both within and without.
Americans has hundreds of billions of dollars in Afghanistan and at least 2,448 American troops had died in the 20 year effort. They wore the American uniform, they served the American people, they served honorably along with so many others who are veterans of the war there in Afghanistan. What did they achieve? Well, at least we can say this, what they achieved at least for 20 years is that there was not a major terrorist attack against the United States launched from Afghanistan during the time that American troops were serving nobly in that nation.
A part of what the American troops were trying to do was to help to build and to support a functioning government and a functioning military. But here's one of the things we need to learn, this is the biggest worldview issue at stake here, and that is that stability is one of the rarest of historical accomplishments. If you look at national stability, if you look at a functioning government and a functioning society, that is a tremendous gift, it is a tremendous achievement, it is one of God's gifts to humanity, even as He has given government as one of the structures of human existence in creation. But the fact is, it requires preconditions. It requires trust, it requires cooperation, it requires a sense of common identity, it requires a common summons to sacrifice, it requires a sense of that kind of national purpose. That is being undermined in the United States right now, particularly by the left, but it is largely non-existent in parts of the world where Americans can't imagine it's non-existence.
When you're looking at Afghanistan, for example, the security forces left behind, even though they have been armed and trained with $83 billion American, even though they had an air force that was given to them by the United States, the Taliban didn't have an air force, and yet it was able in a matter of days and hours to conquer a force that had supposedly around 350,000 soldiers and was armed with modern American armaments. But there were hints. They were more than hints, they were very clear signs that the Afghan security forces were not going to be able to work. They were going to surrender, which is exactly what they did. They basically surrendered in the face of the Taliban because as American military forces said, they were unwilling to put their lives at risk for their country.
One American military authority said, "You can give them the weapons, but you can't give them the will to fight, the will to defend their country." So many of those troops did actually just surrender, of course, they were given the choice, surrender or die once we gain control, as the Taliban threatened, but they also gave their American weapons to the Taliban. So we may well be in a situation militarily far worse than in 2001, when America began this misadventure in Afghanistan.
President of Joe Biden upon taking office claimed vast foreign policy prowess, as he did during the campaign. After his inauguration, he said, "America is back." But now this action is undermined not only that claim, but in so many ways, the credibility of his administration and of the United States as a nation. Just this morning, Politico has reported that the two words that mark what is going on would be chaos and confusion the administration's effort "clearly botched".
America should understand that the achievement of Western civilization was an achievement that has theological roots of its own in historic Christianity. It is the achievement of nations that have developed a sense of national identity over centuries. It is a commitment to that nation and to the common wheel. It is a stability that is achieved in trust and social cohesion. All of that comes with preconditions. Those preconditions do not exist in Afghanistan. Yes, it's true. They didn't exist in 2001, they didn't exist in 1901 or 1801, arguably they do not exist now to any greater extent than they did 20 years ago. That tells us that culture matters, and the worldview behind and underneath every culture shows up, and it shows up in a graphic way in the story in Afghanistan unfolding before our eyes.
Prayers for Haiti as the Country is Yet Again in Desperate Need of Help After Earthquake Kills Hundreds and Injures Thousands
But finally, that leaves us with a category of a failed state. A failed state is a state that has lost the functions, the powers, the authority, the cohesion of a sovereign state. Afghanistan already was on the precipice of being an absolute failed state. Out of all the nations of the world, the fragile states index put out by the Fund For Peace and Foreign Policy, listed Afghanistan at number nine, and that was before the American withdrawal. It's not number nine now, the government has now collapsed, the political leaders have gone into exile, and those who are left are doing business, trying to negotiate with the Taliban.
But number 13 on the list of failed states or fragile states is Haiti. And we must all be praying for the people of Haiti in the aftermath of a massive earthquake at 7.2 on the Richter scale, it is believed that took place on Saturday there in Haiti. As of early this morning, there reported to be several hundred deaths, at least over 300 deaths, and we're talking about likely thousands of people who are injured. Remember that back in 2010, another earthquake hit that led to the death of a quarter million people there in Haiti that was followed by recurring cycles of tropical storms and hurricanes that have also brought death and destruction.
But Haiti is another nation without a true functioning government. Observers there on the ground in the aftermath of the earthquake had pointed out no first responders, no police, no military, no government. Remember that just back in July of this year, the president of Haiti was assassinated as he was in his bed, shot by the way, with his wife there in the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince. And here's where we need to recognize that though the earthquake was the direct threat, the existence of no functioning government, no healthy culture there in Haiti made the people there far more vulnerable even before the earthquake hit.
A failed state comes with massive, almost incalculable human costs. And we're seeing that right now in Haiti. It's going to take states that are not failed states in order to try to help Haiti. But as in Afghanistan, until the people of Haiti can come together with a functioning government, there is only so much any outside forces can do. May God save and protect the people at such great risk there in Haiti so close to us.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can find me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.