The Afghan Endgame and the Proxy Myth  

In the arts, the writer must craft a fictional work to induce the willful suspension of disbelief: the audience must deny the fact the work isn’t real; immerse themselves in the imaginary settings and manufactured situations; and be emotionally invested in the fictional characters’ lives. When the fictional story is over, the audience returns to reality, edified—or at least entertained—by the experience.

By contrast, applying fictional narratives to actual foreign affairs and national security induces the suicidal suspension of disbelief. And no one is safe.

Foreign policy and, of late, national security planning are beset by magical thinking. All the limitations of human nature are wished away when discussing, negotiating, and implementing plans, policies, and treaties. 

For instance, the notorious media echo chamber script, crafted by failed screenwriter Ben Rhodes, was manufactured to lull Americans into the suicidal suspension of disbelief. Sure, the barbarous Iranian regime vows it will bring “death to America and Israel” and just happens to be the world’s most heinous exporter of terrorism. But even as it continues to pursue its insidious aims—abracadabra!—the Iranian regime can also be trusted to abide by a nuclear pact that will hinder its determined acquisition of nuclear weapons. For those who resist the suicidal suspension of disbelief, the media echo chamber waves its magic wand and turns the dissenter into a warmonger who needs to be ushered from their theater of the absurd.

Amidst the calamitous Afghan endgame, the Biden Administration has been engaged in further magical thinking; and, moreover, is encouraging Americans to embrace the suicidal suspension of disbelief regarding Afghanistan, in general, and the Taliban, in particular. Exacerbating the situation is an intellectual pathogen that infected both the Obama and Trump Administrations; and, reaching pandemic proportions, has now spread to the “global community.” 

The seminal delusion driving their failed Afghanistan endgame is the “proxy myth.”

In the wake of the Iraq reconstruction debacle, America’s elitist foreign policy and national security establishment realized a large military footprint in Afghanistan would result in exorbitant costs in casualties and finances. As evidenced by Iraq (and earlier by Vietnam), the establishment understood that achieving even the bare minimum of their goals in Afghanistan would prove impossible if the media provided a daily running tally of American casualties that turned the public into active opponents of the war. Consequently, the military footprint in Afghanistan was reduced to a troop level which allowed Americans’ interest in the nation to drift and dissipate. 

The swamp’s placement of pride flags on our embassies and promoting women’s studies in Afghan universities were simply propaganda for domestic Leftist consumption, to cover up the stalemate in building a “model democracy.” These diversions, however, provided the establishment the breathing room to pursue the only goals left that had a chance of being accomplished, namely: a deployment of a small contingent of troops to perform anti-terrorism operations; assist a nascent pro-American government; and stand up an Afghan army to ultimately defend said pro-American government and—crucially for U.S. interests—serve as our proxy counterterrorist force following our troops’ withdrawal.

Regrettably, having made the seminal mistake of underestimating the public’s willingness to support a successful Afghanistan reconstruction plan with identifiable metrics (one which it was never able to produce), the foreign policy establishment became trapped by its own Afghan endgame “proxy myth,” whereby America outsourced its counterterrorism effort to the Afghan army.

While the smaller troop deployments had the desired effect upon the American public, it couldn’t eradicate the Taliban militarily. Our policy remained trapped in an essentially top-down, highly centralized reconstruction strategy in a geographically forbidding nation composed of tribes. America was unwilling and, ergo, unable to clear, hold, and build enough of the country to create the safe space needed to nurture an effective, sustainable, pro-American Afghan government and army. The result was stalemate and a waiting game that only the Taliban could win. After two decades, over two trillion dollars, and over two thousand American service members fallen, America withdrew, the pro-American Afghan government and army collapsed, and the Taliban returned to power.

Yet amidst this catastrophe, the proxy myth persisted.

Having run to end “forever wars,” the progressive Obama-Biden Administration faced a conundrum. How could it end the U.S. presence in Afghanistan—“the right war”—without appearing “soft on terrorism.” Their solution was to outsource American security to different terrorists, i.e., the proxy myth. As it did in Syria, so it endeavored to do in Afghanistan. By initiating the covert discussions with the Taliban, the Obama-Biden Administration hoped to turn them into America’s proxy terrorism fighters. To publicly announce such a policy was politically impossible. Our nation’s scars were still relatively fresh from September 11, 2001. Moreover, the Obama-Biden Administration was already reducing our presence in Iraq; and was also secretly negotiating the Iran nuclear pact. But the Taliban negotiations did not end with the Obama-Biden Administration.

Inheriting this Afghan Gordian knot, the Trump administration put its own stamp on the Taliban negotiations. While the proxy myth was muted, the core conceit remained: the Trump Administration succumbed to the patent insanity that the American government could negotiate—never mind conclude an honorable and honored agreement—with the Taliban, an Islamist terrorist organization that believes it has a sacred duty to deceive and destroy the Great Satan (as do the other similar terrorist organizations, such as the Iranian regime).  

When the bell tolled on the Trump Administration, the incoming Biden Administration picked up the proxy myth where the Obama Administration left off, and, ultimately, implemented it with disastrous and continuing consequences. (You don’t think all that military equipment was accidentally left behind, or that the potential “humanitarian aid” to the Afghan people filtered through the Taliban “government” is anything but a payoff to get our abandoned Americans out of that country?)

At this point, a prudent person would ask the following:

1) Why, for years, was the United States negotiating our withdrawal with the terrorist Taliban, not the Afghan government?

2) During those years, if the Afghan government knew the United States was negotiating our military withdrawal with the terrorist Taliban, would the Afghan government start preparing to get out of Dodge, too?

3) As the talks intensified, wouldn’t the Taliban covertly plan and hasten to implement a strategy to undermine the pro-American Afghan government and military the minute America withdrew?

“Yes,” is the correct answer to questions two and three. The answer to question one is the national security establishment’s proxy myth.

The proxy myth’s true Achilles’ heel isn’t the Taliban. The Taliban knows who it is, why it exists, and will terrorize accordingly. Nor is it even the logical, Darwinian end of the proxy myth policy, whereby only the strongest terrorist organizations survive and threaten our national security and that of our allies. Nor is it the ineptitude and inanity of our establishment. Their magical thinking will provide the cognitive dissonance they need to sleep at night when the gruesome consequences of its proxy myth come to light. The Achilles’ heel and sole hope of ending the proxy myth is the American people.

Spurred by the spectacle of the Afghanistan withdrawal debacle, the Biden Administration has sprung into carnival barker mode to induce the American public to willfully suspend its disbelief and accept that the Taliban is “moderate” and that it can be a “responsible” international actor and proxy counterterrorism partner. Witness the patent idiocy of recent statements by both the Biden Administration and the “global community” regarding all the prospective aid they hope to provide and the activities with which they hope to partner with the Taliban. This is all to convince the American people to trust the “new” Taliban. 

This lie has two aims. The first aim is getting the American people to believe—or at least entertain—the proxy myth. The second and most important aim follows: if Americans can be deceived into trusting the Taliban, the public will also be deceived into thinking it can trust America’s national security establishment—yes, the very people who, after 20 years of expending (other people’s) blood and treasure in Afghanistan, have only managed to replace the Taliban with the Taliban. 

So, they cloak their historic failure by fitting the Taliban with the emperor’s new clothes. They may not have turned Afghanistan into a democracy, but they did talk the Taliban into becoming moderates who will respect women’s rights and serve as proxy fighters against America’s less “reasonable” terrorist enemies.

And thus, the proxy myth persists. 

Until the American people remind the Biden Administration and the national security and foreign policy establishment that those who seek to legitimize the Taliban only serve to delegitimize themselves.

About Thaddeus G. McCotter

The Hon. Thaddeus McCotter is the former chairman of the Republican House Policy Committee, current itinerant guitarist, American Greatness contributor, and Monday co-host of the "John Batchelor Show."

Photo: Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

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