Gwynne Dyer

Opinion: Biden’s words have no meaning

“If they go, we’ll all have to go. That’s the reality of it,” said a British source about President Joe Biden’s announcement that the last American troops will be out of Afghanistan by 11 September, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. (What can possibly have possessed him to choose that date?)

Not only the remaining 2,500 US troops in Afghanistan will go, but also the 7,000 British and other NATO troops in the country. Actually, they were ready to go long ago. They were just waiting for the United States to reach the same conclusion, because abandoning your principal ally in the middle of a war is not a good look.

Once they are all gone, the Taliban will take back power in Afghanistan, probably within months, certainly within a few years. They will close girls’ schools again, ban music, hang people with the wrong haircuts and all the other stuff they did before. Twenty years of being chased around the hills by gunships has probably not moderated their views.

And when journalists asked Biden the inevitable question – doesn’t he feel any responsibility for Afghan human rights, and especially women’s rights? – he said “Zero responsibility. The responsibility I have is to protect America’s self-interests and not to put our women and men in harm’s way to try to solve every single problem in the world by the use of force.”

Finally, a senior American politician using words as if they mean something. But it didn’t last. Soon enough a ‘senior official’ was talking twaddle on Biden’s behalf: “We went to Afghanistan to deliver justice to those who attacked us on September 11th and to disrupt terrorists seeking to use Afghanistan as a safe haven to attack [from].”

Ridiculous. ‘Justice’ could have been delivered by a single assassin or one mass bombing raid on the camp of Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda’s leader, tucked away deep in the Afghan hills. The invasion was just show business.

The 9/11 attacks were plotted by al-Qaeda members in Germany, and all 19 hijackers were Arabs, not Afghans. They were trained in Afghanistan because bin Laden was given refuge there by the Taliban, an Islamist regime, when the U.S. forced Islamist-ruled Sudan to expel him. But it would have been madness for bin Laden to tell the Taliban what he was planning.

Some of the brighter people in the U.S. intelligence services would have known that. However, President George W. Bush needed to invade somewhere to discharge American rage about the attack (which he had failed to prevent), and where else could it be than Afghanistan? A stealthy assassination or a single bombing raid wouldn’t do the job.

As it happened, the invasion of Afghanistan was so easy that it didn’t provide enough catharsis for vengeance-seeking Americans, so Bush ended up adding an invasion of Iraq to the list as well. Saddam Hussein certainly had nothing to do with 9/11 (or with the Taliban or bin Laden, for that matter), but a spectacular invasion plus Saddam’s capture and execution gave Americans ‘closure’.

That psychodrama was actually played out by 2004, but by then American troops were mired hip-deep in both countries, and it has taken all this time to get them out again. There is no evidence to suggest that either invasion prevented a single terrorist attack on the United States, but the same lies must be told until the end because there’s no other way to justify what happened.

And now on to Ukraine, which Russia is allegedly getting ready to invade: daily reports of the Russian military build-up, and veiled hints that Russian President Vladimir Putin is the new Hitler. You know, ‘Today Ukraine, tomorrow the world!” After all, he’s a proven aggressor: Georgia, Crimea, eastern Ukraine.

Stupid as it seems, it was Georgia that started the war with Russia in 2008, hoping to seize South Ossetia and seal the tunnel under the Caucasus range.

Crimea was settled by Russians after its previous rulers, Turkic-speaking Muslims whose business model was slave-raiding in Russia, were conquered in 1783. It remained Russian until Nikita Khrushchev gave it to Ukraine on a whim in 1954.

Putin took it back non-violently sixty years later with warm support from the mainly Russian population, although that was certainly illegal. So is Russia’s support for Russian-speaking rebels in two eastern provinces of Ukraine, which is just like Ronald Reagan’s military backing for ‘Contra’ rebels against the Nicaraguan government in the 1980s.

Putin is definitely a naughty boy, but a big-time invader of important places? This is just the media stirring things up, with some help from the politicians.

Gwynne Dyer’s new book is Growing Pains: The Future of Democracy (and Work).

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