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The Ugly Truth About Afghanistan

Joe Conason on

When we last heard from the Taliban 10 months ago, they sent an urgent message addressed to the American people. In early October 2020, the same Taliban official now appearing on screens everywhere as their official spokesman took the highly unusual step of endorsing a candidate for president of the United States.

Their man was then-President Donald J. Trump.

"We hope he will win the election and wind up the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan," said Zabihullah Mujahid during an Oct. 10 interview with CBS News.

If not quite equal to North Korean strongman Kim Jong Un's "love letters," the endorsement radiated warmth. The Taliban leader predicted Trump "is going to win the upcoming election because he has proved himself a politician who accomplished all the major promises he had made to American people."

Their endorsement gleefully insulted American democracy. Trump, crowed the Taliban, was the man who "could control the situation inside the country," meaning our country. Trump, it emphasized, was the kind of leader that the Taliban admires.

Perhaps the Taliban chiefs were then still hoping for an invitation to Camp David, a prize the American president dangled in 2019. But the immediate occasion for the Taliban endorsement was Trump's announcement that he expected to withdraw the last U.S. troops before the New Year.

 

"We should have the small remaining number of our brave men and women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas," Trump tweeted on Oct. 9. His endorsement by the Taliban came the very next day.

The Trump administration's impulsive, often idiotic approach to national security served our adversaries very well. Among other things, he forced the release from prison of over 5,000 Taliban fighters -- including the commanders who ultimately led the takeover of Kabul.

Imagine the horror show on the ground in Afghanistan if the U.S. government had tried to fulfill Trump's pledge to pull everyone out by Christmas. Or even by last May, the date ultimately negotiated but pushed back four months by the Biden administration, which came into office without any idea what Trump was doing because he denied access to crucial information during the transition. Meanwhile, at Trump's instigation the Republicans were busily spreading lies about the election and plotting an insurrection at home.

So, while congressional Republicans and right-wing pundits work themselves up into a lather over the collapse of the Afghan regime and ensuing chaos, we can put their sudden indignation into perspective. Very few have any standing to criticize Biden after silently passing over Trump's withdrawal plan, which they're now trying to erase.

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