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An Afghan family sits on the tarmac as they wait to leave the Kabul airport after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan's 20-year war. They were among thousands of people who mobbed the city's airport trying to flee the Taliban. Photo by WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images

We Are the Least Trustworthy People On the Planet: Another Ghastly Retreat From Empire

Abby Zimet

Kabul, it's been noted, was not lost yesterday. It was the inevitable final fall of a calamitous, arrogant, 20-year, trillion-dollar, too-many-deaths imperial misadventure doomed, like too many before it, to failure from its inept start. In Biden's speech, generally deemed resolute but callous about the mayhem unfolding, he asked a tough, good question - "How many more generations of America's daughters and sons would you have me send to fight Afghanistan's civil war?" - but framed it in a cynical, disingenuous way by adding, "when Afghan troops will not?" The fourth president to oversee yet another senseless war in "the graveyard of empires," he thus found an easy target for what is the "breathtaking failure" of longtime U.S. foreign policy while blithely ignoring the blood-soaked, hubris-laden history behind it - a "post-imperial Western fantasy" of disastrous military or CIA interventions through Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia and then Iran, Syria, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, which was never at war with the U.S. and where Donald Rumsfeld, may he have no rest, demanded Bush “punish and get out.” Bush and his imperious ilk spoke of nation-building, "as if nations were made of Legos." Instead, we got our forever war, where rather than offer schools, clinics, water, job training to a beleaguered population, the U.S. blew up whatever infrastructure they had and spent 86% of a staggering trillion dollars - though some say it's closer to 2 trillion - on often hapless military initiatives that, thanks to "a complex ecosystem of defense contractors, Washington banditry" and corruption, largely returned to the U.S. economy. Add in corruption by Afghan elites, and ultimately less than 2% of U.S. money actually went to the people who needed it. A final irony: Even as the West frantically fought to stop it, soaring Afghan poppy production fueled  the insurgency, spreading from six to 28 provinces: "Opium floated the Taliban back to power." All topped by a rushed, artless, possibly balance-tipping "deal" giving too much to the Taliban by the idiot Former Guy.

In the end, of course, the cost was human. Over 170,000 Afghans were killed. According to Brown's Cost of War Project, they are among over 800,000 people who have died from our imperial wars since 9/11; several times as many have died "due to the reverberating effects of war," about 37 million have been displaced, and the U.S. still conducts "counter-terror activities" in 85 countries. In Kabul, meanwhile, there are already images and stories of the humanitarian crisis to come: Fleeing crowds at the airport, a jammed cargo plane of refugees, Taliban fighters painting over billboards of modern Afghan women, who now stand to lose their rights and maybe their lives for, say, baring their heads or shopping without a male relative. One story about the swift takeover includes a photo of Zarifa Ghafari, one of the country's first female mayors; she could not escape, it notes, "and she is waiting for the rebels to kill her." The carnage got to veteran and journalist Laura Jedeed, who deployed there twice and started remembering things: "Going through the phones of the people we detained and finding clip after clip of Bollywood musicals," whose owners are getting shipped "god knows where"; U.S. forces trying to decide every year what to do with the opium fields - let them alone (the Taliban shake down the farmers and use the money for weapons), carpet bomb the fields (the farmers join the Taliban), give the farmers fertilizer to grow wheat (they  sell the fertilizer to the Taliban for explosives); orders not to throw away batteries because Afghans on bases would collect them to get enough juice for one IED charge; her roommate's face after she had to cut two soldiers out of a Humvee probably blown-up by fertilizer and detonated by thrown-out batteries; a smiling Afghan kid they called Cowboy who served them food but is likely dead now. If so, "It's our fault for going there in the first place, giving his family the option of trusting us when we are the least trustworthy people on the planet. We use people up and throw them away like it's nothing." There was only "Team Taliban or Team Stay Forever," but she was "Team Get The Fuck Out Of Afghanistan." "I know how bad the Taliban is. It's awful," she says, but "all I feel is grim relief...Finally, you have to see it too. No more pretending it meant anything. It didn't. It didn't mean a fucking thing."

Abby Zimet

Abby Zimet

Abby has written CD's Further column since 2008. A longtime, award-winning journalist, she moved to the Maine woods in the early 70s, where she spent a dozen years building a house, hauling water and writing before moving to Portland. Having come of political age during the Vietnam War, she has long been involved in women's, labor, anti-war, social justice and refugee rights issues. 

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