Boy howdy, has it been a long time since we've done one of these. If you recognize the format of that title you are officially OG Gin and Tacos. Well done. I laud your staying power.
It takes a lot to motivate me to resurrect something like this given all the other stuff I have going on now (Of note, my book manuscript is now complete and will enter the Heavy Editing process shortly. Huzzah.) but the coverage of the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan simply drove me to it. I had no other choice.
Before we get into any specifics note that 1) ending the war is popular. Very popular. The only people with whom it is unpopular are right-wing assholes who would be thrilled and giving the move A+++ ratings if Trump had done it and 2) the "NatSec pundit" universe that absolutely dominates media coverage of foreign policy stuff beyond any reasonable proportion to their importance or numbers. It doesn't exactly take a Marx-pilled cynic to realize that Forever War is a massive gravy train of federal dollars for think tanks, "independent contractors / analysts," and the war industry in general. Of the top 100 federal government contractors, it's difficult to find one that *isn't* directly servicing the Pentagon. Simply put, these people see and will always see military action as the only acceptable outcome in any situation because that is what they are paid to see. Mainstream journalists (CNN's Jim Scuitto is a real good example) with close contacts in military and "NatSec" circles function as an extension of that worldview. These people collectively see the US military the way a Michael Bay movie does. It's adolescent boy stuff.
Notably, Biden is sticking to his guns. The ghoul-industrial complex is throwing every trick it knows at trying to build consensus in favor of going back in, or staying, or *something* that keeps the US military engaged in Afghanistan forever, and none of it seems to be working. As David Roth tweeted recently, they're like lab animals mashing a button to receive a treat but this time they're not getting their reward. The argument they're making, and the emotional manipulation they're attempting, is illogical and dumb at the most basic level.
The dominant theme for the anti-withdrawal message has been "Kabul in chaos." I won't even dignify the intellectually dishonest "Think of the Afghan girls and women" argument from people who could not possibly care less about the "girls and women" in countless other American allied countries with abysmal human rights records. To resort to that argument in bad faith as a way of prolonging military adventurism is several steps beyond pathetic.
The "Kabul in chaos" theme feeds into the storyline that sure, maybe Biden was right to withdraw but he's withdrawing the wrong way. There is some "correct" way to have done this that would, I guess in theory, mean Kabul would not be chaotic right now. Every version of that involves leaving some substantial US military presence behind all but indefinitely.
The base rate fallacy is overweighting event-specific or discrete data while disregarding the underlying, long-term data trends. The simplest example is assuming a baseball player is a great hitter because you saw one game and he happened to hit three home runs in it. Never mind that those were the first three hits he's ever gotten in his career as an abysmal player; based only on that one day, he looks terrific.
What the "Kabul in chaos" reporting blatantly distorts is the reality that Kabul, and the rest of Afghanistan, was a place of substantial, normalized carnage *even during the US military occupation.* In other words, the withdrawal may be accompanied by "chaos" but in a country where at least 30,000 civilians were killed in various attacks and varieties of strife in 2019-2020 it is not necessarily a notable increase in chaos. It is true that it is chaotic now, which gives the reporting an air of legitimacy and fairness. But it has been chaotic for a very long time.
This is a conflict the American media all but gave up paying attention to in the last decade. To find the very occasional "What is going on with the war in Afghanistan?" story for the past few years required seeking out coverage. When it came up at all, it did so briefly in the context of American electoral politics – some presidential candidate or other pledging to fix it or end it or do it harder or whatever. Remember when Trump dropped a really, really big bomb on Afghanistan? That news item lasted about 12 hours in the cycle, almost certainly on the strength of the novel "lol world's biggest bomb lol" angle. It's not simply the public that checked out; journalism itself long ago lost interest in this war.
So, the day to day "chaos" that rivals what we are witnessing right now was happening in our blind spots. Had it been covered as breathlessly as the current situation is being covered and with the same all-caps gusto, Americans would have been left with the impression (accurate!) that Afghanistan is a violent place where the US military presence has been anything but a guarantor of peace and order. That long-term reality is crucial context in which the current "chaos" has to be evaluated.
This is not to disregard the human cost of what is happening now or to suggest that the strategy for withdrawing was optimal. Certainly mistakes will be pointed out and certain things could have been done differently or better. That is true and will always be true. And nobody in their right mind "likes" the Taliban or the idea of the Taliban in power. The point is that the departure of the US military has altered the format the violence is taking, but that violence has been a daily reality in Afghanistan for a long time even with the US presence. The false choice implied in the current news coverage is between US-enforced peace and violent chaos without the US. The violence is in fact the norm and has been for longer than any of us can pinpoint. The destabilizing presence of outside actors like the USSR and the US in Afghanistan has contributed to the many problems in the country. An American military presence is anything but synonymous with peace and order, so the implication that Biden reversing his decision to some extent would "return" the country to stable peace is simply false. The only extent to which Afghanistan under the US military presence has been peaceful is that until very recently the American media simply was not paying attention to or reporting on the violence.
Nothing about the situation in Afghanistan is good, but the question is not "Are things going well in Afghanistan." The question is, would a continued US military presence in Afghanistan accomplish anything? Was it making things better? Can an indefinite presence be sustained, financially, morally, or politically? Taken as a whole and not a series of snippets of the most recent events, it is hard to answer those questions positively.