When David P. Goldman is in the mood to write grimly realistic assessments of our present difficulties, he adopts “Spengler” as his pen name, a hat tip to the German author of the early-twentieth-century apocalyptic best-seller The Decline of the West. And when Goldman feels the situation especially dire, Spengler consults the ghost of Cardinal Richelieu, one of history’s most thoroughgoing realists. Here is what the shrewd cardinal had to say about the Taliban’s triumph in Afghanistan:
America set out to create a modern democracy out of a tribal society, an enterprise as likely to succeed as the attempt to breed a griffin by mating a lion with an eagle. It poured US$2 trillion into Afghanistan, or one hundred times the country’s gross domestic product. It paid Afghani politicians, generals and warlords to play-act at democracy in a revolting, silly masquerade.
Whatever was not corrupt before America came in became corrupt in the maelstrom of American money. Meanwhile, American soldiers and bureaucrats made fortunes as consultants, contractors, sutlers and armorers to the dream palace of Afghan democracy.
Because the entire project was a monstrous hoax to begin with, everyone associated with the project lied—lied about the state of Afghan government forces, lied about the disposition of the Taliban, lied about the robustness of supplies to Afghan troops, lied about their dependence on airpower.
Afghan officials lied to their American paymasters, American commanders on the ground lied to their superiors and American generals lied to the politicians. The key to promotion, and to wealth, lay in perpetuating the ridiculous fiction that motivated the occupation of the country in the first place.
Where did $2 trillion go? The Taliban offensive began in April after the Americans announced their intent to depart. No one fought for Afghanistan because there was no Afghanistan to fight for. Within weeks the Afghan army had no ammunition, no food and no air support. Whoever could steal from the Americans did so. The Afghanistan government collapsed in a matter of days because it was never there to begin with.
The ghost of Richelieu gets it pretty much right.