Reality Bites: Afghanistan

As you parse the end of the Operation: Enduring Freedom, as it was dubbed by the PR office of the Pentagon, you should remember two quotes. The first comes from one of Dubya’s senior aides, widely believed to be Karl Rove, as recorded in an interview by Ron Suskind:

“The aide said that guys like me (Suskind) were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality . . . That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do’”

Well, we’ve studied it, you asshole, and here’s the judgment: You were so goddamned wrong that I’d throw you into a pit of poisonous vipers if I didn’t fear you’d charm them and emerge as their king.

The second quote, we’ll get to in a minute, but first, now that this disaster is coming to a close, let’s do a review: What did the Afghan War cost, and what did it achieve?

The “achieve” column is spare: We killed Bin Laden — though we probably would have managed that without a full-scale invasion into the graveyard of empires, so write that accomplishment on the list in pencil.

Other than that? Fucked if I know. There were certainly benefits to women and girls who had lived — and will live again — under the Taliban, and they were important. Perhaps if we chose to evacuate a few hundred thousand of them to the United States before the fall of Kabul that could be called a victory, but as there’s no Congressional bravery on that front, let’s just take it on the karmic chin and realize that, yet again, we’ve failed our allies. If you have a different take on that, have at it, but I’m part of the reality-based community, so . . . keep it real.

But what about the costs? That’s a longer list.

- $2 trillion in debt-financing up to 2020.

- Another $4.5 trillion in debt-financing by 2050.

- $2 trillion more in healthcare and burial costs for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan — of which there is significant overlap.

Sum that all out and we’re up to $8.5 trillion. Remember that, while Joe Manchin sings his austere song.

In lives, it’s just as gruesome:

- 2,448 US Servicemen and women KIA up to April of 2020.

- 20,093 Wounded in Action, up to 2014. If the DOD has updated the site in the past seven years, I can’t find it.

- 3,846 US Contractors KIA.

- I can’t find a reliable citation for Contractors Wounded in Action — but if it ratios out the same way, we’re looking at about another 30,000.

- 1,144 NATO forces KIA.

- 444 Aid workers killed.

- 72 Journalists killed.

- At the very, very, very least 47,245 Afghan civilians killed. This number, likely, is in the hundreds of thousands.

- At the very, very, very least 51,191 Taliban fighters killed. This number is also very likely in the hundreds of thousands.

So, was it worth it?

You tell me below, but I’ll tell you what I think now:

This rotten conclusion, currently being aired on all the news channels as an unmitigated tragedy, is long overdue. I hope we act heroically to rescue as many of our allies and local contractors as possible. I hope we run non-stop planes to rescue the women and girls who are in the way of the barbaric Taliban scythe. But I don’t expect that to happen, as that would require more than bullshit posturing from Congress. It would take a change in the immigration laws of this country, and no matter how much hot air Liz Cheney or Adam Kinzinger blow about our need to stabilize the situation, they WILL NOT get on board with more Muslims in America by choice. “Sorry, y’all. We’re here for the press coverage.”

The other quote that I keep in mind when parsing our long, brutal, losing war in Afghanistan is one I first heard decades ago — and more recently in the news by thoughtful commentators. Some anonymous Taliban soldier is reported to have said that the US military “have the watches, but we have the time,” and that grunt understood reality a billion times better than that arrogant asshole Karl Rove or his capo, George W. Bush.

The situation in Afghanistan hasn’t been stable even once in the past twenty years. Not for one single minute in the past two decades were we on the precipice of victory or nearing the defeat of the Taliban. The rapidity of collapse by the Afghan military and the Afghan government show, clear as day, that we were nowhere near success — and 20 more, 50 more, or 100 more years wouldn’t have changed the truth that “we have the watches, but they have the time.”

It’s sometimes hard to see past the perversity of the Trump years to remember what a silly pack of fools came before under George W. Bush — but they were a horror to our country. Their self-deception, their willingness to lie — both to the people in our country and to themselves — is unmatched for its hubris and perfidy in all American history. And if you’re looking for someone to blame for this debacle, this tragedy, this empire-ending morass, look no further than the son-of-a-bitch who told Ron Suskind that he created reality and his dumbass, finger-painting boss.


Save the allies, and get the hell out.

Once a history teacher in Brooklyn, Mike took a sabbatical in 2004 to travel through Latin America. He never returned. He lives and works in Guatemala.