The tragic twentieth anniversary of al-Qaeda’s suicide attack on New York’s Twin Towers, falling on the Jewish New Year’s-Day of Judgement holiday, is upon us.
9/11.2021 will also have witnessed the catastrophic and ignominious American withdrawal from Afghanistan, with its Dantesque Kabul airport exit scenes of fear, panic, and degradation. Stranded thousands, including American and allied citizens, their Afghan dependents, and terrified ordinary folk, sought, under the whips, cudgels, gun-butts and flash-bangs of the Taliban thugs “guarding” the airport, escape.
On these Days of Awe Jews are commanded to remember (zachor, an injunction repeated over 600 times in the Hebrew Bible) their own sins, and the suffering of the Jewish people. And they are also commanded to do tshuvah, to atone for their shortcomings and–strengthened by confidence in promised Divine redemption–to look forward with hope to the coming year.
On 9/11, let us remember the almost three thousand people murdered by al-Qaeda Islamist terrorists, leading to the American-NATO invasion of Afghanistan. This shattered the Taliban domination there which, by protecting Osama bin-Laden and his henchmen, had made the Twin Towers attack possible.
This is not the place to re-hash the sad frittering away, across two decades, of the initial American-allied victory. But let us remember that this defeat cost–through successive Administrations’ and high-level military incompetence and bumbling—over 6,000 U.S. military and civilian, 66,000 Afghan Army and even greater civilian, deaths and suffering. Its total financial cost was at least $6 trillion., to America alone.
This is the place, however, to note the incompetence and bumbling of the Biden Administration‘s handling of the saga’s sad last act. This has not only desecrated the memory of the 3,000 martyrs, but of all the heroes who fell thinking they were making not only the U.S., but Afghanistan, and the West, safe for democracy.
The hurried and botched exit from Kabul, leaving both American citizens and worthy Afghan dependents behind, violated Biden’s own solemn, repeated pledge never to do so. This violation of rust and responsibility, markedly weakening the United States’ role as guarantor of the international order, has imperiled the Western democratic world.
Incredibly, and depressingly, we are today, two decades later, worse off in Afghanistan than we were initially, when George Bush first sent in U.S. troops against the Taliban and Bin Laden, holed up in the Bora Bora mountains. Now, after the Taliban were beaten and deposed, and Bin Laden ultimately killed, the terrorists are back, and not only back but, absent any regional opposition, sovereign over all parts of a country with thirty-nine million souls.
Despite American Secretary of State Blinken’s post-exit make-nice statements for media and international economic aid agencies’ consumption about “negotiations” and Taliban “commitments”, multiple reports of the usual Taliban fanaticism abound: beatings, killing of opponents, closing of girls’ schools, imposition of the burka, exclusion of women from employment, sports, and entertainment, and so on.
The newly-proclaimed provisional government is all-male and all-terrorist, including as “ministers” murderers with FBI bounties on their heads and the four terrorists exchanged by Obama (and Biden) in 2014 for the U.S. Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl. Al-Qaeda elements and ISIS personnel are also back, the latter responsible for the thirteen U.S. and over 200 Afghan deaths in the final airport terrorist strike. (Suspiciously, the killers easily evaded a supposedly tight Taliban militia cordon, their action speeding up the ignominious Taliban-dictated August 31 “evacuation”).
Afghanistan under the Taliban is now—like Calvinist Geneva for the 16th-century Protestant movement–a key sanctuary and center of active encouragement and support, in this instance for all forms of murderous anti-Western Islamist terrorism.
As, incredibly, rumors now spread of some possible terrorist act in the U.S. to glorify 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11, and four of his key conspirators languish, twenty years later, unrepentant, and untried in their Guantanamo prison. The farce of their “trial” has once more fitfully gotten under way at Gitmo, this ironically on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary.
Great Powers whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad. Leaving an entirely defensible position in Afghanistan abruptly is certainly not only inept, but irrational. (Only 2,500 soldiers, and air power, had for over a year and a half, and with no fatalities, ensured Afghan army performance and a civil-society protecting stalemate). Suddenly, unilaterally, and unconditionally withdrawing troops and air support, giving up the huge Bagram airbase and abandoning $80 billion of advanced military materiel, led to Afghan collapse. What rational basis was there for such actions?
Similarly, “negotiating” with murderers with bounties on their heads, and then being disappointed, as Blinken was, that their government “does not meet the test of inclusivity and… includes people who have very challenging track records” is not only inane, but, literally, insane. And leaving KSM and friends untried, twenty years after 9/11, is not only inept, but incomprehensible.
To use an untranslatable World War II acronym, the shambolic U.S. exit under Joe Biden was FUBAR.
Remember: Afghanistan is not only a terrorist base, but also a strategic land-bridge bordering, Iran, China, and Pakistan–not exactly American allies—and connecting to south-east Asia and the Middle East. (Bagram airbase, not far from China, was a strategic military resource and listening-post—and building it ran to over a billion dollars).
The Taliban, before and after their 2001 defeat, were supported directly by Pakistan, Iran, and Islamic groups, and indirectly by Russia and, increasingly, China. Today, they and their supporters, terrorists all, are not only back, but unopposed, and Afghanistan as a strategic regional asset, has been lost.
Most seriously, respect for and confidence in America as a guarantor of Western democracy and global world-order now hangs in the balance.
The world has, suddenly, become an even more dangerous place than it was, or needed to be, before August 31. September 11, 2021, far from celebrating a victory, has become a portentous, fear-filled date. And decision-makers, not only in Beijing, Moscow, Pyong-yang, Islamabad, and Teheran, but also in Jerusalem, Ryadh, New Delhi, Taipeh, Tokyo, and Manila, are watching.
The precipitous decline in Joe Biden’s popularity polling, now sinking below his bête noire Trump to 39% nationally, and falling, is small consolation for the calamitously negative potential consequences of his, and his advisors’, mistakes, and incompetence.
At the center of the New Year service litany is the plea, “Forgive us, Lord, for we have sinned”. But in secular politics, as the wily Ançien Régime cleric-diplomatist Talleyrand, who survived the Revolution, put it, the only thing worse than a sin, is a mistake.
Let us pray that we shall not soon have to pay for re-learning this sad old lesson.
(Prof. Frederick Krantz is Director of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research, and Editor of its Israfax and Daily Isranet Briefing publications.)