The lights have gone out in Kabul

The United States of America is now telegraphing feebleness in bold print to all of our enemies.

Kabul, Afghanistan. Credit: mbrand85/Shutterstock.
Kabul, Afghanistan. Credit: mbrand85/Shutterstock.
Sarah N. Stern
Sarah N. Stern
Sarah N. Stern is the founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), a think tank that specializes in the Middle East. She is the author of Saudi Arabia and the Global Terrorist Network (2011).  

Aug. 15, 2021 will forever remain a dark day in American history. After 20 years of being in Afghanistan, we haphazardly and chaotically left the country. We abandoned approximately 20 million girls and women who strive for an education and to actualize their potential, as well as journalists and interpreters who have been tainted by working with Americans, and many of the 40 million Afghans who hunger for basic human rights and freedom of expression.

The frenzied images from Kabul are haunting—people with desperation emanating from their eyes, scrambling to get out; the Taliban occupying the Presidential Palace; Afghans rushing onto the airport tarmac, desperately clinging to a plane to the United States, as it is taking off.

We abandoned them all to the barbaric hands of the Taliban.

This will be an irradicable stain on our nation and of our standing in the world.

Does anyone even remember the name Malala Yousafzai today? Malala, now 24, was the 15-year-old Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban for advocating for girls’ education. Her quest to make sure that all girls get an education made her the youngest person to ever receive the Noble Peace Prize.

Or the name Razia Jan, who in 2008 opened a girls’ school in Afghanistan and reported, “The day we opened the school, (on) the other side of town, they threw hand grenades in a girls’ school, and 100 girls were killed.” And “every day, you hear that somebody’s thrown acid at a girl’s face … or they poison their water.”

What will become of girls like Malala in Afghanistan today? Or a woman like Razia? Or of all of the other women who wanted to make something of themselves, who risk their lives daily to become teachers, doctors or lawyers? Or who simply to want to learn how to read and write?

We have done more than abandon our friends and our allies. American standing throughout the world has been rapidly and wantonly abandoned. How can people who trusted us and put their lives on the line with us, ever trust us again?

What are we telegraphing to Iran, China and Russia? Or to many of America’s vulnerable allies in the Pacific, the Middle East and throughout the world who depend on our might?

And what does the supreme failure of our intelligence analyses reveal about us? Intelligence estimates said it would be at least three months before Kabul was overrun by the Taliban. It took less than three days. In July, Mr. Biden said that “the Afghans have the capability to defend themselves.”

How well have they done that, with President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani fleeing the country, creating a power vacuum and abandoning his palace to the Taliban?

The United States of America is now telegraphing feebleness in bold print to all of our enemies. What is Iran thinking now about our commitments, such as the one President Biden made on June 28, to former President Reuven Rivlin that Iran would “never get a nuclear weapon on my watch”?

We know that Iran is gloating. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said on Monday, “America’s military defeat and its withdrawal must become an opportunity to restore life, security and durable peace in Afghanistan.”

Life, stability and a durable peace according to whom? How much of the Iranian wealth that was given to them as the “signing bonus” for the JCPOA made its way into the coffers of the Taliban? Despite the fact that the Taliban is Sunni extremist and the Islamic Republic is Shi’ite, we know that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and that their common bond is their supreme hatred of the United States.

Hamas has also been emboldened by this. In a statement today, Hamas “welcomed ‘the defeat of the American occupation on all Afghan land’ ” and lauded the Taliban’s “courageous leadership on this victory, which was the culmination of its long struggle over the past 20 years.”

The United States that I grew up believing in was that light for the world; what Massachusetts Bay Colony’s first governor John Winthrop and hundreds of years later, President Ronald Reagan, described as “that shining city on the Hill.” It was that special place where morality and decency rule.

Today, the United States, with our single-minded obsession on only domestic issues, is telegraphing to the international community that when it comes to a real knowledge of how international affairs operate, our threats and commitments are empty. We are a now rudderless ship.

The lights are going out in Kabul to the detriment of our friends and allies throughout the world, and ultimately, to the detriment of ourselves.

Sarah N. Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), a pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy institute in Washington, D.C.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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