For the past 75 years, the American-led world order that emerged out of the smoldering carnage of WWII has produced unprecedented material prosperity and global stability. But the edifice of American superpower status now hangs in the balance.
Just as great power competition heats up, and global Jihad gets a morale booster shot from images of the fall of Kabul, America’s illiberal critics are louder than ever. For the post-liberal right, the Taliban’s resurgence in Afghanistan is the ultimate vindication of their worldview.
America has failed, they argue, to impose its cultural mores on foreign people. They claim that for 20 years, the United States has occupied Afghanistan in a vain attempt to augment its power and “make Kandahar Kansas.” It’s incredibly hubristic to think that we could ever remake Afghanistan, a patriarchal developing society, in our image. But this is a straw-man assertion.
The US has made great strides in improving education, women’s rights, quality of life, and average lifespan in Afghanistan, but our objective there was not to nation-build and that was not what we were doing prior to this disastrous retreat. After NATO’s 2014 drawdown, the conflict had essentially become a glorified counterterrorism operation with minimal casualties. A subsequent stasis ensued because a credible threat of force loomed large behind the remaining soldiers in the minds of our enemy. The Taliban were reluctant to push us lest we retaliate with greater force. This may not have been sustainable over the course of decades without making a concerted effort to strengthen the government’s monopoly on power, especially in rural provinces. Still, it is better than the alternative we have seen transpire.
And there’s plenty of blame to go around. President Trump negotiated a horrible, unviable deal with the Taliban on their terms, undermining the Afghan government’s legitimacy. The accord laid out benchmarks that had to be met to initiate an American withdrawal, but the Taliban was in violation of the most important conditions of the agreement from the get-go.
President Biden had no obligation to stick to its terms, but he went ahead nonetheless. The chaos in Kabul playing out right now is the result of this disastrous decision and the blood of the servicemen who lost their lives in the Kabul airport ISIS attack is on his hands. While many on the new right might paint this fiasco as another folly of the “so-called experts,” Biden did this while riding roughshod over the advice of his secretary of defense and top generals. In doing so, the administration has hastened the nadir of American credibility in the 21st century, handing revisionist adversaries like China and Russia a propaganda coup.
What’s even more novel here is how so many in the GOP, the traditional bastion of American exceptionalism, seem to be embracing capitulation and appeasement that our enemies seek to capitalize from. The nationalist right would like you to think that America was conducting a debauched social experiment in Afghanistan. Pride flags & gender studies programs shouldn’t and aren’t our primary export to fledgling democracies. Good governance and stability are. Conservatives are rightly skeptical of progressive virtue signaling by the foreign policy establishment, but we shouldn’t reject liberalism itself.
Even more repugnant is how nativist sentiment has colored many commentators’ responses to the plan to provide refuge to Afghans who risked their lives to work with us the past 20 years by resetting them stateside. You don’t have to be an “open-borders globalist” to support letting individuals who helped us in the war effort, many of whom are already westernized, achieve the American Dream.
Absent from this entire conversation is how we can rectify this debacle. Beyond military contingencies, we can’t let illiberal forces seize this moment. The troglodytes may have been victorious overseas, but they can not win here at home. Our leaders must articulate how preserving American primacy is critical for maintaining our prosperity.
It is imperative to explain how foreign policy is intimately related to domestic policy and should concern all Americans. This tragedy is an opportunity to reinforce the American national self-image as a country that believes in a vision for humanity committed to ensuring that a humanitarian disaster of this magnitude never happens again.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.