Former president George W. Bush recently took a break from painting portraits of the wounded soldiers he fed into the maw of dual wars 20 years ago to complain about the end of one of those wars. In a rare interview, given to German news agency Deutsche Welle (DW), Bush had himself a nice little sad about the fact that the Biden administration was finally shutting down U.S. military involvement in the two-decade bottomless pit that was, and will ever be, his Afghanistan conflict.
Calling the withdrawal a “mistake,” Bush said, “I think the consequences are going to be unbelievably bad and sad.” Of course, the results of U.S. intervention (and its aftermath) in Afghanistan are indeed bad and sad. After 20 years of war, thousands of dead, wounded and traumatized U.S. servicemembers and tens of thousands of Afghan civilians killed, severely injured or displaced, absolutely nothing of substance was accomplished beyond lining the pockets of the warmaking industry. Despite U.S. propaganda to the contrary, the women and girls who suffered unspeakable abuse at the hands of the Taliban before the war are threatened with the same fate now, because U.S. intervention was never actually about human rights — and imperial war and militarism aren’t solutions to human rights abuses in any event.
After the interview, DW reached out to Kabul-based journalist Ali Latifi for his thoughts on Bush’s comments. “I think it’s very interesting that he’s suddenly, you know, concerned about women and children,” said Latifi. “His war made a lot of widows and made a lot of children orphans.”
A number of comparisons have been made to the U.S.’s scrambling retreat from Vietnam 46 years ago. While sailors are not pushing perfectly good helicopters off the flight decks of Navy ships to make room for fleeing U.S. personnel, the onrushing chaos in Afghanistan cannot be denied. A major effort is underway to evacuate Afghan translators and others who aided the U.S. war effort. There is no good way to end an unwinnable war. “A hundred percent we lost the war,” special operations forces Marine Raider Jason Lilley told Reuters. It was time to go.
But are we going? Mr. Bush can rest easy on that score, because while virtually all U.S. military forces have been withdrawn, the private military contractors (read: mercenaries) remain in Afghanistan in force. In fact, those companies are hiring at an enormously escalated rate, as they rush more private soldiers into the country to fill the gaps left by the U.S. military.
“Contractors are a force both the U.S. and Afghan governments have become reliant on, and contracts in the country are big business for the U.S.,” reported New York Magazine back in May, when the withdrawal was in its early stages. “Since 2002, the Pentagon has spent $107.9 billion on contracted services in Afghanistan, according to a Bloomberg Government analysis. The Department of Defense currently employs more than 16,000 contractors in Afghanistan, of whom 6,147 are U.S. citizens — more than double the remaining U.S. troops.”
If the war is over, and ultimately lost, why do these contractors remain? For that, you’ll have to ask the mining industry, not that the leaders of that industry tend to do much talking. They’re too busy, see. Afghanistan holds upwards of 1,400 mineral fields containing lucrative materials like barite, chromite, coal, copper, gold, iron ore and lead. The country has huge reserves of natural gas, as well as petroleum. The gemstone mines turn out emeralds, rubies, red garnet and lapis lazuli.
Mining interests from all over the world had their eye on Afghanistan’s natural riches long before the war began, and that interest has never waned. Back in 2018, Donald Trump claimed the U.S. was “getting very close” to achieving a safer strategic situation there so those resources could be exploited. “In a partial survey conducted by the Afghan Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, the country’s mineral wealth is estimated at $3 trillion,” reported CNBC at the time, “more than enough to compensate for the war’s cost.”
There was always more to that war than September 11 and terrorism, and those resources likely offer part of the reason why the U.S. spent thousands of lives, trillions of dollars and more than 7,300 long days trying to make that country safe for plunder.
Any student of history could have told them: Empires don’t tend to fare well in Afghanistan. U.S. assistance during the Soviet war there only strengthened that reality.
Hearing George W. Bush pule about our withdrawal from Afghanistan is galling, as he and his administration — in combination with almost all the Democrats and Republicans in Congress at the time — own majority stock in blame for this debacle. Both Presidents Obama and Trump stayed in that war for a combined 12 years. Nothing got better, because neither wanted to be the White House left standing without a chair when the music stopped. They did not want defeat and retreat on their records, and so it finally fell to President Biden to say enough, thanks in part to many years of pressure from grassroots antiwar movements.
Yet Biden is not without culpability in all this. In a CBS interview in February of 2020, the topic of withdrawal from Afghanistan was raised by host Margaret Brennan, who asked if Biden would bear responsibility if the U.S. withdrew and the nation collapsed into chaos. “Do I bear responsibility?” Biden replied. “Zero responsibility.”
A nasty echo of Trump in those words, and far from the truth besides. In September of 2001, then-Senator Biden voted with 97 other senators to give Bush the authority to wage war in Afghanistan. That vote also approved what has become known as the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), one of the most broad, violent and insidious pieces of legislation ever to pass through Congress. That AUMF is why the U.S. was legally able to remain in Afghanistan for 20 years, and served as a blueprint for the 2002 AUMF, which gave us the Iraq War. Biden voted for that, as well.
If you voted for it, Mr. President, you’re responsible for it, too. It’s a big ol’ crap sandwich, and everyone gets to take a bite.