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Afghanistan and Cuba Show the Limits of US Power

Steve Chapman on

If you've ever been on a date with someone who got up to go to the restroom and never came back, you know how Afghan officers at Bagram Airfield felt when they woke up the other day to find the American military gone.

According to the Afghans, our units vacated in the middle of the night without so much as a goodbye, cutting off the electricity on their way out. The sudden departure gave looters a chance to ransack some barracks before the Afghan military established control.

The American experience in Afghanistan has produced a lot of tragedy, but even tragedies can include moments of farce. It's conceivable that the U.S. commander decided to escape without an awkward breakup conversation.

The U.S. says it coordinated its withdrawal with the Afghan government. It's entirely believable that the Afghan military received a notification but, due to bureaucratic lethargy or simple bungling, never got around to acting on it.

In any event, the U.S. has completed 90% of its pullout from the country where our forces have been fighting for nearly 20 years. We are not leaving in the glow of victory but with the fragrance of failure. Our best efforts were never enough to stamp out the Taliban and establish a secure and democratic government in Kabul.

This really should not have come as a surprise. Afghanistan is a distant and alien land that, when we arrived in 2001, might as well have been on a different planet. The idea that we had the wisdom, resolve or tools to remake its society required an Olympic-sized leap of faith.

 

We might have learned from previous failures, including one that has been going on not for 20 years but for 60: Cuba. After Fidel Castro led a Communist revolution to gain power, the U.S. undertook a series of efforts to punish, isolate and topple the regime.

When Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency in 1975, allowing her to rule by decree, U.S. ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan jokingly informed President Gerald Ford, "Under your administration, the United States has become the world's largest democracy."

President Joe Biden can claim his own dubious achievement. It was under him that, for the first time since 1959, Cuba freed itself from the Castros. In April, Fidel's brother Raul, who succeeded his brother as dictator, stepped down.

Alas, he didn't make way for a democratically elected leader. He handed the reins to a fellow Communist whose paramount mission will be keeping all power in the hands of the party.

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