I know I promised to examine the fallout from the U.S. military escape from Afghanistan, but I believe it is simply way too early to analyze the real damage that may or has already occurred. Instead, let’s first take a little historical look at how the U.S. handled one particularly troubling situation in its infancy.
I suggested in last week’s column that President Joe Biden had made an all-cash deal with Taliban leadership to control and protect U.S. citizens and to allow a certain number of Afghanis to leave the country unharmed. If that is so, such payments have a long and glorious history in that region of the world.
“From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli, We fight our country’s battles in the Air, on Land and Sea” are the opening words of the Marine Corps Hymn.
Most of us know that the “the Shores of Tripoli” is a reference to the confrontation between Barbary Pirates and the fledgling U.S. Navy and Marine Corps in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
For hundreds of years, France, Spain, England, Holland, and other world powers regularly paid ransom to North African pirates who plied their trade menacing merchant ships along the Barbary Coast (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya) and who’d capture foreign-flagged vessels, enslave its crew and demand the affected governments cough up ever-increasing negotiated amounts for their freedom.
It was the cost of doing business along the North African shore, particularly in and around Libya and its capital, Tripoli.
John Adams, America’s second president, determined that the cost of paying ransom was less than the cost of creating a navy large enough to take on the pirates, so never did much about it. But Thomas Jefferson, our third president, disagreed and decided to take action.
The U.S. then interrupted what had been a fairly lucrative career choice for many a Libyan sailor when President Jefferson’s policy of “Millions for defense but not one penny for ransom” began to take hold.
Through a series of events and ship captures, Tripoli, in a state of hubris, declared war on the United States. Jefferson responded by sending a series of U.S. frigates to Tripoli, one of which — the USS Philadelphia — was boarded and taken by the Tripoli pirates when its captain hit an unexpected reef and lay helpless near the port of Tripoli.
Capt. Stephen Decatur and his crew hopped aboard a small ship and in the dead of night sailed next to the Philadelphia, attacked the Barbary crew and set the ship ablaze, thereby depriving the Libyans of a substantial military prize. None other than British Admiral Horatio Nelson called it “the most bold and daring act of the age.”
But that didn’t rescue the 120-or-so sailors being held captive by the pirates, so Jefferson sent in the newly formed U.S. Marines, who marched across 500 miles of desert to reach the town of Derna, captured the Tripoli leader and raised the new flag of the United States of America above the town.
That was then.
This is now. The Taliban are in control of nearly all of Afghanistan, and they have been gifted with billions of dollars worth of the latest high-tech U.S. military equipment, including helicopters, troop carriers, thousands of rifles, pistols, grenades, night goggles and a dizzying array of other weapons. They’ve also been provided with lists of Afghanis who have been instrumental in keeping the Taliban out of power.
And, as seen in various news reports, they are also recipients of millions of U.S. dollars in stacks of $100 bills. My gut feeling is that those dollars are simply a small part of a gigantic war chest of cash that the new Taliban government has now received and is going to use to pay its troops, manage the takeover and pay off whoever needs to be paid off.
No doubt the U.S. military should have been ordered to destroy those confiscated weapons of war, and certainly those lists of Afghan collaborators will become death sentences for many. But the Taliban offensive really did take everyone by surprise; sadly, as far as we know, the vaunted deep state armchair “intelligence” predicted none of that.
But we can’t fault our hapless president for making the deal, if that’s what he did.
President Biden is not a particularly clever man and certainly not a creative one (his background includes several instances of flagrant plagiarism). Knowing that piles of cash were instrumental in convincing the Iranians to go along with former Secretary of State John Kerry’s nuclear accord and that a lot of money is still sitting around for the use of the various “intelligence” agencies as “walking around money” for clandestine missions, Mr. Biden probably seized upon the suggestion that he use some of that cash to pay the Taliban for the protection the U.S would need to extricate itself from what had quickly become a precarious situation.
Even the Rolling Stones rock band, for example, fell prey to the siren call of rogue protection when members hired the Hells Angels motorcycle gang to serve as “security” at the band’s Altamont concert in 1969, which sadly included the stabbing death of a concertgoer.
Upon making the deal, the Biden administration probably felt reasonably secure that delaying cash payments until all U.S. troops were gone would secure Taliban cooperation.
The question is, why wouldn’t Taliban leaders take that deal? After all, they were getting everything they’ve been fighting for and could possibly want. Deep down, no doubt, many of the Taliban would love to have embarrassed and punished the U.S. for what they saw as interference in their internal affairs, but leadership prevailed in holding back virtually all actions of retribution.
And a deal was struck, as such deals have been struck in that part of the world for a thousand years.
If the Biden administration hadn’t done what I believe it did, the level of bloodbath that may well have occurred at the end of the U.S. involvement in and around that God-forsaken airport in Kabul, would have been of historical, even biblical proportions. As it is, Afghanistan lost 100-plus unfortunate residents — men, women, and children — and the U.S. lost 11 good young men and two beautiful young women — 13 service members whose futures seemed so promising and whose lives were cut short by intelligence ineptitude of the highest order.
This may not sound like a “conservative” idea, but I do believe it’s time to start calling for defunding one or more of the 17 or more bloated so-called intelligence agencies.
James Buckley is a longtime Montecito resident. He welcomes questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.