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DC bureaucrats need a cuddle after their failure in Afghanistan

“American foreign policy is horrendous ’cause not only will America go to your country and kill all your people,” Scottish comedian Frankie Boyle once quipped, “but they’ll come back 20 years later and make a movie about how killing all your people made their soldiers feel sad.” 

Boyle was joking about melodramatic Vietnam war movies, but given what they endured in the jungles of Vietnam, the fact that many of these soldiers came home mentally and emotionally crippled is understandable. However, nobody ever thought of making a movie about the trauma suffered by the Washington bureaucrats who sent them to their deaths.

during the Biden administration’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in August.

Amid a deluge of phone calls and emails from Afghans desperately trying to flee the country before the last American jets left the runway in Kabul, the State Department’s staff in Washington crumbled, struggling to process the tales of human grief they heard on a daily basis, and haunted by their inability to get everyone who wanted to leave out of Afghanistan.

“This experience broke a lot of people, including me,” one official said, while others went “manic” or suffered “complete mental breakdown.” Colleagues met for breakfast “just to cry,” therapy dogs were dispatched to Foggy Bottom, support groups were established, and the Department of Veterans Affairs offered its help.

“The mental health ramifications of the Afghanistan evacuation are not over — we expect employees to potentially have adverse mental health in the months and years to come,” US State Department spokesperson Ned Price told Politico.

Psychological trauma is nothing to be sniffed at, and the State Department should be commended for looking out for its employees’ mental health. Yet one can’t help but ask these people, “Isn’t this what you signed up for?” 

Foreign policy, especially the foreign policy of the world’s foremost military power, has consequences, and human beings in far-flung lands generally suffer them. For years, the State Department propped up a thoroughly corrupt and unloved government in Afghanistan, one whose officials embezzled billions of dollars for themselves, their political clients, and corrupt warlords, many of whom received American protection from prosecution.

As long as the grift was chugging along nicely, nobody in the State Department felt the need to tell reporters how screwing over Afghans hurt their feelings. It was out of sight, out of mind.

Yet these bureaucrats presumably keep up with current affairs, and had they read the Washington Post’s Afghanistan Papers, released in 2019, they would have known what a casual observer could have surmised at any point during the war: that things were going badly, that the US military was clueless, its local allies untrustworthy, and its reconstruction schemes were barely-concealed graft operations.

Imagine being an Afghan shepherd reading this (assuming said shepherd could actually read and find an internet connection). Imagine being subjected to two decades of aerial bombardment, door-to-door raids, CIA kidnappings, and the propping up of an Afghan military and police force that routinely engaged in pedophilia. Imagine having survived this 20-year war and occupation, only to read about how the whole thing made some suits in Washington feel sad.

“We’re not used to failure at State, and in every single possible circumstance, it was failure,” one of the officials said. “You’re failing with the email, you’re failing with getting guidance on what we could do and what we could not do. We weren’t empowered enough. No one really understood what our policy was.”

Yet American efforts to make a democracy of Afghanistan had been defined by failure long before the US soldiers and diplomats made a hasty retreat in August. Multiple reports by the media and by the government’s own Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction attest to this. And long before President Biden visited the State Department in February proclaiming that “diplomacy is back!,” the department’s successes were few and far between.

Libya is an anarchic hellhole since the US military toppled Muammar Gaddafi and Hillary Clinton’s State Department threw its weight behind opposition leaders, Bashar Assad is still in power in Syria despite the best efforts of American diplomats, and attempts by John Kerry’s State Department to foment revolution in Ukraine resulted in a bloody and still unresolved war in the country’s east.

Failure is not an aberration at the State Department, and if staffers there can’t notch up a few victories, the therapy dogs might have to move in permanently. 

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

© 2021, paradox. All rights reserved.

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