Asia, South Feed

Joe Biden: Speak Softly and Stand Your Ground.

By Patricia Lee Sharpe

(Background reading: “Did the War in Afghanistan have to Happen?” in the NYT: https://

Let me be the first to congratulate Joe Biden for his handling of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

He had the guts to make a tough decision and stick to it. This is leadership. This is courage. Joe Biden is a hard truth guy, a guy you can trust.

At the moment the departure is not a wholly appreciated decision. Especially its culmination at the airport in Kabul. But anyone who thought that the extraction of tens of thousands of foreigners and anti-Taliban Afghans was going to be smooth and painless is living in fantasy land. The Taliban were wise enough to facilitate (more or less) the departure of diplomats and other foreigners, but they have little to gain from easing the scampering of the hordes of Afghans who preferred reform to be imposed by outsiders, not won and held by their own efforts. Winners, not surprisingly, prefer their unpopularity to be less visible.

I don't understand why the speed of the Taliban takeover has astonished observers, including those who should know better.  It’s been obvious for years that the Afghan army couldn’t (or wouldn’t) hold a position without solid American support. Don’t listen to the ex post facto propaganda machine. Recall what’s been happening on the ground. Whenever, in the past, the U.S. has pulled out from a town or a position, that space has been occupied—rapidly!—by Taliban elements lurking in strength in the countryside.

The idea that outsiders had to train an Afghan army to recover the country from the Taliban was absurd from day one. Afghans know how to fight Afghans—and when they’re motivated, they’re fearless and creative. Did the Taliban have tanks and heavy artillery? No. They had machine guns and pick up trucks. Fast and lethal. Did they have sophisticated missiles? No. They had RPGs. They also had motivation. They believed in what they were doing the first time around, and they wholeheartedly believe in the form of Islam they intend to re-impose, which won’t be ideal for women, even if it’s a trifle less restrictive, which I doubt.

Here’s the crux: the Taliban believe more strongly in a society that severely sequesters women than their secular counterparts believe in a world of women’s liberation. So don’t blame Americans, meaning Joe Biden, for abandoning Afghan women. Blame their own fathers, brother, sons and husbands. These non-Taliban men saw how gloriously women flourish when released from patriarchal tyranny, but they weren’t willing to risk own their lives to preserve that interlude of opportunity for their own sisters, wives and daughters.

As for the so-called Afghan government during the American occupation, it’s never been anything but an oxymoron, a sand castle, a money dump for billions of American dollars, a profit-making operation for American contractors. (Talk about corruption!). Hamid Karzai tried to govern the ethnic, religious and tribal agglomeration that’s Afghanistan. For all his grave imperfections and inclinations toward nepotism, he tried to represent Afghans to Americans who couldn’t bear contradiction or resistance. So the Americans dumped him, supporting instead Ashraf Ghani, an American-trained academic without a political bone in his body, which means he lacked leadership instincts as well. What did Ghani do when things got tough? He abandoned the ship of state. And who stuck around to deal with the Taliban? Hamid Karzai.

And the Russians!

President George W. Bush turned a clear cut mission into a morass. President Barack Obama didn’t have the guts to get us out. Neither did President Donald J. Trump. Joe Biden did—and history will praise him for it.

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About Us

  • Patricia Lee Sharpe
    Poet, journalist, teacher, foreign service officer with 23 years public diplomacy experience in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean.
  • Patricia H. Kushlis
    27 years public diplomacy experience in Europe, Asia and Washington, DC as a US foreign service officer. International affairs writer, analyst and commentator.


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