When President Joe Biden announced the “withdrawal” of U.S. troops from Afghanistan after almost 20 years of occupying the country in violation of international law, corporate media not only misled their audiences on what the U.S. is actually planning to do in Afghanistan, but also somehow made it seem as if withdrawing from the longest overseas war in U.S. history would be premature (FAIR.org, 9/11/19).
Establishment reporting over the future of Afghanistan after Biden’s announcement also demonstrated the imperialist mindset of corporate journalists, who presented Afghans controlling their own country as an unacceptable outcome.
By ‘all,’ we mean ‘some’
Initial reporting on the supposed “withdrawal” from the country cast Biden’s decision as a reckless and hasty one, made against the wisdom of his military advisers. Headlines failed to accurately characterize Biden’s decision as reneging on a previous official agreement reached with the Taliban to fully withdraw all U.S. troops by May 1 of this year.
The Associated Press’s headline “US to Withdraw All Troops From Afghanistan by September 11” (4/13/21) was deeply misleading, even as the accompanying article contradicted the headline by revealing that the U.S. understates its actual military presence in Afghanistan, and intends to leave covert forces in the country after September:
American troop totals in Afghanistan have been understated by U.S. administrations for years. Officials have quietly acknowledged that there are hundreds more in Afghanistan than the official 2,500 number, and likely would include special operations forces conducting covert or counterterrorism missions, often working with intelligence agency personnel.
In other words, the U.S. isn’t actually withdrawing from Afghanistan, as Jacobin’s Branko Marcetic (4/16/21) pointed out. Biden’s announcement is actually a violation of the May 1 deadline agreed upon by the Trump administration, delaying the (partial) withdrawal for another four months. It also risks prolonging the occupation, due to the Biden administration threatening retaliation against the Taliban for any attacks on U.S. soldiers—attacks the Taliban has already threatened to carry out, since the troop presence violates the negotiated agreement with the U.S.
Others have pointed out that it’s more accurate to say that rather than ending the U.S.’s supposed “War on Terror” in Afghanistan, the U.S. is privatizing it, since the Pentagon employs more than seven contractors for every soldier officially stated to be in Afghanistan. This is an increase from the ratio of one contractor per soldier a decade ago (Covert Action Magazine, 4/15/21).
Not following orders
CNN’s “How Biden Went His Own Way on Afghanistan Withdrawal” (4/14/21) reported that “President Joe Biden ordered the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan over the advice of some of his senior-most advisers in the Pentagon and State Department.” Reporters Jim Sciutto, Kevin Liptak and Kylie Atwood said he settled on the reportedly “absolute” deadline of September 11—the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks—because he “promised voters he would end the country’s longest war, even if that meant going against the recommendations of his top generals.”
CNN concluded with an ominous reference by Michael Evanoff, the former assistant secretary for diplomatic security:
What we can hope is that if Taliban rule eventually takes over the country, that Kabul will not fall violently like Saigon did in April 1975. However, I have a sinking feeling that within two years U.S. diplomats could be scrambling from the roof of our embassy onto helicopter skids pulling us out of harm’s way. I hope to God not, but it is definitely not out of the realm of possibility when we pull our military out.
It’s worth remembering that the U.S. exit from Vietnam came after years of large-scale killing failed to keep an unpopular government in power there—a context that should discourage media from indulging this kind of historical self-pity.
Like CNN, the New York Times’ report “Biden to Withdraw All Combat Troops From Afghanistan by September 11” (4/13/21), by Helene Cooper, Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Eric Schmitt, began with a marked deference to the views of the U.S. national security apparatus over those of the elected commander in chief:
President Biden will withdraw American combat troops from Afghanistan by September 11, declaring an end to the nation’s longest war and overruling warnings from his military advisers that the departure could prompt a resurgence of the same terrorist threats that sent hundreds of thousands of troops into combat over the past 20 years.
In rejecting the Pentagon’s push to remain until Afghan security forces can assert themselves against the Taliban, Mr. Biden forcibly stamped his views on a policy he has long debated but never controlled. Now, after years of arguing against an extended American military presence in Afghanistan, the president is doing things his way, with the deadline set for the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
The Times then misled readers by falsely asserting that the illegal invasion of the country was “launched with widespread international support” before becoming the “same long, bloody, unpopular slog that forced the British to withdraw from Afghanistan in the 19th century and the Soviet Union to retreat in the 20th.” The biggest poll of international opinion around the time of the invasion was conducted by Gallup International in 37 countries, and aside from the U.S., Israel and India, a majority of people in every other country favored extradition and prosecution of suspects instead of U.S. military aggression (Global Policy Forum, 11/21/01).
This was also the approach the Taliban favored when it made repeated overtures to surrender Osama bin Laden for trial to the U.S., both before and after the 9/11 attacks, which the U.S. rejected in favor of enacting vengeance upon an entire nation rather than the suspects responsible for the attack. (Fifteen of the 19 9/11 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia.)
The Times then promoted the familiar pretense that the U.S. invasion had morphed into a humanitarian mission:
The war then evolved, and expanded, from a counterterrorism mission to one devoted to nation-building, democratization and securing rights for women. But the inability to create effective local security forces allowed the Taliban to stage a comeback, prompting a significant surge of foreign troops back into the country starting in 2009, an effort that amounted to a second invasion.
This account reversed cause and effect by blaming the Taliban for the U.S.’s prolonged occupation, when it was actually the U.S. occupation that was responsible for the Taliban’s resurgence. As I pointed out earlier (FAIR.org, 12/26/19), the Washington Post’s Afghanistan Papers (12/9/19) had already confirmed that U.S. officials had been extensively lying to their citizens for years, asserting benevolent intentions while propping up a despised and corrupt government, and purchasing the loyalty of warlords viewed as “cruel despots” by many Afghans.
I also pointed out (FAIR.org, 6/12/20) that the U.S. was actually responsible for the Taliban’s rise when the US intervened in a civil war by supporting Osama bin Laden and the reactionary Mujahedin extremists against the the indigenous Afghan Communist Taraki government—which had made advances towards ostensible U.S. goals like educating girls—six months before the U.S. baited the Soviet Union into invading Afghanistan in 1979 (FAIR.org, 3/21/14).
The Taliban resurfaced when the U.S. rejected their agreement with the Afghan government to give up their weapons and last stronghold in exchange for amnesty. Instead, the U.S. military engaged in prosecuting, torturing and killing suspected former Taliban members who had fled to Pakistan, or had stopped fighting and returned to civilian life (New York Times, 12/7/01; Intercept, 8/22/17).
Yet the Times report framed the U.S.’s rejection of the peace agreement reached by the Taliban and the Afghan government as “nation-building,” and described an illegal invasion opposed by most of the world as a “near masterpiece of planning and war-fighting.”
Geostrategy, not humanitarianism
The Washington Post’s “Biden Will Withdraw All US Forces From Afghanistan by September 11, 2021” (4/13/21) also perpetuated the false narrative of a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, but tellingly reported on Biden’s decision as motivated by geostrategic rather than humanitarian interests. The Post‘s Missy Ryan and Karen DeYoung reported that the U.S. intends to reallocate resources towards heightened aggression toward China (falsely characterized as a mutual “military competition”) in Washington’s New Cold War (FAIR.org, 5/15/20, 4/8/21):
The decision highlights the tradeoffs the Biden administration is willing to make to shift the U.S. global focus from the counterinsurgency campaigns that dominated the post–9/11 world to current priorities, including increasing military competition with China.
Biden’s fake withdrawal announcement provoked a flurry of concern trolling in corporate media, ranging from nakedly self-serving worries that leaving Afghanistan “costs more than staying,” and that the Biden administration shouldn’t count on a “windfall of freed-up money for other defense priorities” (Foreign Policy, 4/26/21), to the longstanding trope of “liberating women” designed to sucker left-leaning audiences into supporting U.S. imperialism (FAIR.org, 4/9/21).
Corporate media echoed the West’s familiar White Man’s Burden propaganda when it reported on the real possibility of deteriorating women’s rights if the Taliban were to take over Afghanistan after NATO troops withdraw. Foreign Policy (5/3/21) warned about the “grim picture for the future of women’s rights in Afghanistan,” while Fox News (5/4/21), CNN (5/4/21) and the Associated Press (5/4/21) all cited U.S. intelligence agencies’ assertions that “gains” in women’s rights under U.S. occupation would be eroded if Western troops leave. As FAIR (4/9/21) reported, before the Taliban took over, half of the university students were women, as were 40% of the country’s doctors, 70% of its teachers and 30% of its civil servants, whereas now only 37% of adolescent girls can read, and fewer than 20% of teachers are female in half of the country’s provinces.
Human rights lawyer Daniel Kovalik (RT, 10/9/20) pointed out the absurdity of believing that the U.S. cares about protecting foreign women when it can’t even protect its own female soldiers from sexual harassment and rape. The U.S. military has a history of abusing and sexually assaulting women in virtually every country it has a presence, and setting up prostitution systems near U.S. military bases abroad. It’s why, Kovalik noted, the main legal instrument purporting to advance women’s rights, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), makes it clear in the preamble that the eradication of…colonialism, neo-colonialism, aggression, foreign occupation and domination and interference in the internal affairs of States is essential to the full enjoyment of the rights of men and women.
This may be why the U.S. refused to ratify this Convention.
Falling under Afghan control
Whatever one thinks of the Taliban, as Australian journalist Caitlin Johnstone (3/26/21) pointed out, reports from corporate media warning about the possibility of the Taliban taking over Afghanistan are really warnings about Afghanistan falling under the control of the people who live there. The U.S. has always tolerated or actively supported governments that run counter to its supposedly humanitarian ideals, as the U.S. already supports death squad governments in places like Colombia and Honduras, apartheid in Israel/Palestine, and misogynistic feudalism in Saudi Arabia, whose sponsorship of the extremist Wahhabi strain of Islam sparked Al-Qaeda and ISIS (FAIR.org, 12/23/20).
Respecting the sovereignty of other nations, no matter how much one might disapprove of certain aspects of their self-governance, is a core principle of international law enshrined in the UN Charter. It does not imply an endorsement of other governments. It is actually the position of most countries in the world—including China, whose professed noninterference policy has kept it from militarily intervening in Afghanistan, despite Beijing’s fears of terrorism spilling over into its neighboring Xinjiang province and destabilizing its Belt and Road Initiative (MintPress News, 5/1/21). Johnstone (4/11/21) also notes that consistently applying the U.S.’s imperialist logic of permanently occupying Afghanistan because the Taliban is politically unacceptable would require the U.S. to invade, and occupy, every country in the world that doesn’t uphold its purported values.
It’s certainly possible that women’s conditions could worsen if the Taliban were to regain power, but leaving Afghans to govern themselves is not an endorsement of the Taliban. Corporate media presume the U.S.’s right to permanently control the affairs of other countries when they echo fears of the Taliban coming back to power, which is really a fear of Afghans governing themselves outside U.S. control in a key geostrategic position bordering Iran and China’s Xinjiang province. However, if the U.S. had respected international law and norms earlier on, there would be no worries of the Taliban being in control of Afghanistan to begin with.