As expected, the blame game on who lost Afghanistan is now in full swing.
I think the best answer was given by P. Michael McKinley, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, when he stated in Foreign Affairs magazine that it “is the result of two decades of miscalculations and failed policies pursued by three prior U.S. administrations. Many of the critics speaking out now were architects of those policies. We can still hope that we in the United States do not end up in a poisonous debate about ‘who lost Afghanistan.’ But if we do, let’s acknowledge that it was all of us.”
I fully agree with the ambassador and am ready to step forward and admit my personal responsibility for this fiasco. Not only did I vote for George W. Bush in the November 2000 election but I also formed a group called Russians for Bush and posted a banner with this appeal in the window of Russia House on Connecticut Avenue. Although, as we all know, it did not help Mr. Bush too much in Washington. However, in Florida, there are plenty of Russian Americans. Who knows? In 2000, when it was Florida that handed the victory to Mr. Bush, maybe there was a Russian factor.
My wife and I got free tickets to the Inauguration Ball, and I still have warm personal thank-you letters and signed pictures from Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney on my office walls. So, since it was Mr. Bush who started this mess in Afghanistan, I agree with Mr. McKinley and accept my share of responsibility for this disaster. A bit later, after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, another Russian stepped in to help Mr. Bush, but this time it was President Vladimir Putin who was offering condolences and any help that the U.S. might need. Mr. Putin’s offer was timely, as Mr. Bush was planning the retaliatory attack on the Taliban, who were refusing to hand over Osama bin Laden.
At the time, Undersecretary of State John R. Bolton and Deputy Undersecretary of State Richard Armitage had been dispatched to Moscow with a long list of what they expected to get from Mr. Putin. Among the many items was getting the Russians’ permission for U.S. planes carrying supplies in support of the Afghanistan mission to fly through their airspace, as well as for American use of bases in the former Soviet republics in Central Asia. Russia’s intelligence and armed forces shared their information on Afghanistan and negotiated with the friendly Afghan Northern Alliance to coordinate their attacks on the Taliban with the American military after the Oct. 7, 2001, invasion.
Most of the ground combat occurred between the Taliban and its Afghan opponents. American lives were mostly spared, and in less than two months, the Taliban (it seemed at the time) was defeated. During Mr. Putin’s Nov. 15, 2001, visit to Mr. Bush’s Texas ranch, the U.S. leader declared at a Crawford high school that his Russian counterpart was “a new style of leader, a reformer a man who’s going to make a huge difference in making the world more peaceful, by working closely with the United States.”
“When I was in high school, Russia was an enemy,” the president said. “Now high school students can know Russia as a friend, that we’re working together to break the old ties, to establish a new spirit of cooperation and trust so that we can work together to make the world more peaceful.”
Encouraged by events in Afghanistan and Mr. Bush’s words, Mr. Putin suggested that the two great powers start building a full-scale partnership or even an alliance, not only on the war on terror but also on the economy, security and military cooperation. During the annual U.S.-Russia Forum on Capitol Hill, one member of Congress after another proclaimed that we finally had “our man in the Kremlin” who was pointing Russia’s direction toward the West.
However, things changed quickly. Less than a month after the Texas lovefest, Mr. Bush dropped an impressive thank-you message on Mr. Putin by announcing America’s withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Then, instead of declaring victory and leaving Afghanistan like his father did in Kuwait in 1991, he launched the invasion of Iraq. Not only Russia but the closest U.S. allies France and Germany strongly objected. A bit later, Mr. Bush started a NATO Eastern expansion drive to include former Soviet republics, eventually to include Georgia and Ukraine.
Russia’s transition from friend to foe had begun. Apparently the “adults in the White House” explained to naive George that America needed not friends, but enemies, to sustain the military industrial complex, and the historic, once-in-a-century chance to make Russia an ally of the West was squandered. Looking at what is going on now, I wonder whether it was a good idea in the first place. The Woke Woke West no longer looks as attractive as it did in the old days when compared with the USSR.
One would assume that U.S. foreign policy would undergo a full reset after all these embarrassing failures, but don’t count on it. The establishment does not want to accept the limits of U.S. power. Instead, it is still following the program outlined in a 1996 essay in Foreign Affairs in which William Kristol and Robert Kagan proposed a U.S. foreign policy of “global hegemony.” Ironically, this program — as the Russians soon took note — is just a rephrasing of the Trotskyists’ and Bolsheviks’ ideological vision of a world order, a poisonous utopian doctrine that ultimately led to the self-destruction of the Soviet Union.
For better or worse, President Biden has bugged out of Afghanistan and, hopefully, will do the same in Iraq and Syria soon. But the need for enemies is still there, and Russia is at the top of the list. The same forces that were pushing for the wars in the Middle East are now demanding more and more money for militarizing Ukraine and making it a strategic beachhead against Russia, not to mention confronting China in its Pacific littoral.
The upcoming visit to Washington by comic actor turned Ukrainian president Vladimir Zelenskyy will undoubtedly be used to turn attention from Afghanistan into another round of anti-Russia hysteria. Mr. Zelenskyy is being effectively controlled by the Ukrainian variation of the Taliban, which is a combination of radical nationalists and neo-Nazis who are desperate to get U.S. backing for a showdown with Moscow. Depending on what the Biden team does next, Afghanistan might soon seem the least of our problems.
• Edward Lozansky is president of American University in Moscow.