American involvement in another war theater ends. No victory. It just ends. American does not win wars, nor do we outright lose them with definitive peace treaties with pomp and circumstance. We do lose long term and in the slow bleed of the process. America is pulling out of Afghanistan, but there will be no dramatic video of an escape like in Saigon.
The most critical piece for this moment is that there is no election coming up nor a Republican in the Oval Office. The media does not have a target to wield the images of a collapsing Kabul for its gain. The entire establishment has been the only force in America pushing for us to remain there. It is a unified establishment as the Afghanistan Papers did not result in a full hearted pull out. When Trump wanted out even after their release, he was stymied by the permanent bureaucracy and their friends in the media.
Any video of Afghan National Army forces surrendering en masse, handing over weapons and giving up at the first opportunity will not lead the national news. Viral videos will stay viral and not be given broad establishment amplification. Humvees are falling into the Taliban’s arms with no hysterical emotion from pundits compared to their theatrics about anything the last five years.
This is the normal state of Afghanistan coverage. It was a low level war after the initial invasion that was portrayed as good and worth our full attention unlike Iraq. Obama’s Afghan Surge was good even if no one knew why. After Osama Bin Laden’s death (in Pakistan), we still were told it was worthwhile even though the only rationale was sending Afghani girls to school. Coverage was muted as we only learned of US military indifference to bacha bazi when a US soldier blew the whistle. Americans were told over 90% of global poppy was grown in Afghanistan and despite military assets in country & an opioid epidemic in America, no one burned the poppy fields. It was a decade of little news except to prevent a full withdrawal.
The Taliban controls 85% of Afghanistan now. A large difference between 2001 and today is that there is no Northern Alliance held stronghold. The day before 9/11 the Northern Alliance’s charismatic, made for Hollywood leader was assassinated. No multilingual telegenic leader did not slow down the US with destroying the regime, but no one has stepped into the vacuum. The Taliban has rolled up the northeastern territory that formerly was the alliance last redoubt.
Now the pullout could be for a repurposing of the Taliban and ISIS controlled Islamist assets. We aided them in the ‘80s, fought them in the 21st century but now can ask them to pivot to China with America. The weapons the Taliban are collecting are laundered through the Afghan Army similar to the Syrian weapons laundering to ISIS in last decade’s proxy fight. This is on China’s border and offers a refuge and training ground for Uighurs a la Syria. Terror camps can re-open, but this time be aimed at China.
This might explain the NatSec community finally allowing a pullout after the fit they pitched at prior attempts by Obama or Trump. One day in the ‘20s, the media might have to drum up support for Uighur freedom fighters. The image of the last helicopter out of Saigon stuck with a generation. America cannot have a repeat and be asked in short order to support the villains our troops and foreign service fled from in a panic. No major coverage of the quick collapse of the Afghan government also means that no one will notice that after twenty years, the map of control on 9/11/2001 and 9/11/2021 will look the same.