Talking Points

Conservatives should understand why Afghanistan collapsed so quickly

There's a cliche in media coverage that when something bad happens under a Democrat, conservatives "pounce." The chaos unfolding in Afghanistan is more serious than most such stories, but conservatives are undoubtedly seizing on — another variation of this theme — the military and humanitarian catastrophe now in progress to amplify their critique of President Biden as a weak, ineffectual commander-in-chief ahead of the 2022 and 2024 elections.

Criticism of Biden's execution of the American withdrawal is well deserved, but conservatives should also be best situated to understand why the Afghanistan project was bound to fail and its easily toppled government was built on sand. The ill-fated regime in Kabul was as dependent as any welfare recipient, living off foreign money, arms and supplies while the U.S. and its allies performed their core function of providing basic security for them. Dependents suddenly made to stand on their own fail frequently, as any astute reader of Thomas Sowell or Charles Murray could predict.

Then there is the fact that bureaucrats, who make up as much of the Pentagon as the DMV, will always in the face of failure plead for more taxpayer money and time. These officials knew they were failing for quite some time and lied to the public about it.

Finally, culture matters. A stable, centralized government in Afghanistan was always going to be a heavy lift if imposed in a manner consistent with our values. And many people in Afghanistan do not share our values, especially on women's rights. A military occupation intended to change might not have succeeded in 100 years, much less 20.

Conservatives, or at least the politicians they have supported, haven't always applied these insights to Afghanistan or foreign policy more generally. Former President George W. Bush, who claimed in 2006 that the "days of the Taliban are over," essentially believed in instant freedom, just add American troops. For all Biden's blame-shifting and buck-passing, his own speech was more realistic about the limits of what was achievable in Afghanistan than anything Bush — the president who turned a mission for 9/11 retribution into a nation-building exercise — has uttered in the past two decades.

None of this makes the heart-wrenching images out of the Kabul airport easier to take. But it could prevent a future Republican administration from recreating those images elsewhere.