Why do ‘they’ hate us?

The rapid collapse of Afghan government forces[1] should eviscerate any imagination that Afghans would mount a serious defense against, yet alone repel the Taliban. Yes, there are the lessons of (not) “nation-building” and U.S. military (non-)superiority.[2]

But more fundamentally, we have failed to see the error of colonialism: This was a U.S. fight from the beginning; when, after nearly twenty long years, we admit we cannot win it and leave,[3] events on the ground confirm this diagnosis. We were fighting for the injury of the 9/11 attacks but never, ever, truly for Afghans.

Comparisons to Vietnam[4] are unavoidable. But what I have yet to see is an accounting for the deceptions that led to both wars.

The Gulf of Tonkin incident that rationalized the Vietnam War was not a case of North Vietnamese attacking an innocent U.S. spy boat, but rather one in a series of skirmishes in which the Central Intelligence Agency “had systematically been provoking the North Vietnamese, running PT-boat raids against their naval bases, deliberately jamming their radar. We had provoked them, but our citizens did not know of this; all they knew about was North Vietnam’s response.”[5]

Similarly, we have too often labeled any challenge to Israel’s policies in the territories it occupies in contravention of international law and toward the people it has colonized—many displaced both by its founding and since—who have lived there for hundreds and thousands of years as anti-Semitic and as tantamount to Holocaust-denial.

After 9/11, we wondered why “they” (Muslims) “hate us,” rapidly concluded that “they hate us for our freedoms,”[6] and buried the question. In a conflict among desert religions that has too often seemed really to be about oil, Islam has been placed against Judaism and Christianity, with the latter two in lockstep while we jointly deny our Islamophobia and our colonialism. This has become so one-sided that any criticism of any Jew on any grounds may be proffered only at the risk of being considered anti-Semitic,[7] while we routinely demonize and even go to war with Muslims for nonexistent weapons of mass destruction[8] and for ‘terrorism,’ while we ignore our own provocations, indeed our own colonialism, our wars, indeed our endless saber-rattling at Iran.

And we still wonder why they hate us.

If we’re truly to learn the lessons of Afghanistan, and of Vietnam before it, both U.S. politicians and their supporters are going to have to start paying attention to the grievances of people they routinely stigmatize. They’re going to have to stop stigmatizing them. They’re going to have to respond realistically to their grievances. And they’re going to have to stop being so fucking self-righteous, including, horror of horrors, about Israel.

  1. [1]Tameem Akhgar and John Gambrell, “Taliban complete northeast Afghan blitz as more cities fall,” Associated Press, August 11, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/joe-biden-taliban-e2c0e7b46c03cebb4fdddca309e005e8; Al Jazeera, “Taliban seizes eighth Afghan provincial capital in five days,” August 10, 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/8/10/taliban-seizes-farah-seventh-provincial-afghan-capital-in-five-days; Ehsanullah Amiri, Alan Cullison, and Saeed Shah, “Taliban Seize Capital of Afghanistan’s Nimroz Province and Kill Official in Kabul,” Wall Street Journal, August 6, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/taliban-seize-capital-of-afghanistans-nimroz-province-11628259499; Jon Lee Anderson, “The Return of the Taliban,” New Yorker, August 13, 2021, https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/the-return-of-the-taliban; Deutschewelle, “Afghanistan: Taliban take control of Herat in major victory for militants,” August 12, 2021, https://www.dw.com/en/afghanistan-taliban-take-control-of-herat-in-major-victory-for-militants/a-58836723; Karen DeYoung et al., “Biden authorizes additional troops to Kabul as Taliban closes in on capital,” Washington Post, August 14, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/08/14/afghanistan-taliban-advance-humanitarian/; Kathy Gannon and Tameem Akhgar, “US vows to isolate Taliban if they take power by force,” Associated Press, August 10, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/middle-east-taliban-e5288f8c0a5d48677f703dbc40c22d3a; Susannah George, “Pace of Taliban advance quickens as militants overrun three major cities in a single day,” Washington Post, August 8, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/08/08/taliban-kunduz/; Susannah George and Bryan Pietsch, “Taliban enters Kabul, leaving Afghan government on brink of collapse,” Washington Post, August 15, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/08/15/afghanistan-taliban-kabul-embassy-jalalabad/; Susannah George and Aziz Tassal, “Taliban advances into major Afghan cities for first time in two decades,” Washington Post, August 1, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/08/01/taliban-attacks-afghanistan/; Susannah George et al., “Mass Afghan government surrenders as Taliban fighters overrun three key cities in sweeping territorial gains,” Washington Post, August 13, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/08/13/afghanistan-taliban-advance/; Greg Jaffe, “From hubris to humiliation: America’s warrior class contends with the abject failure of its Afghanistan project,” Washington Post, August 14, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/us-hubris-afghanistan-humiliation/2021/08/14/47fb025a-fc67-11eb-9c0e-97e29906a970_story.html; Dan Lamothe et al., “U.S. officials warn collapse of Afghan capital could come sooner than expected,” Washington Post, August 10, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2021/08/10/afghanistan-intelligence-assessment/; Stephen Losey et al., “More US Troops Heading into Afghanistan as Taliban Conquest Approaches Tipping Point,” Military.com, August 12, 2021, https://www.military.com/daily-news/2021/08/12/more-us-troops-heading-afghanistan-taliban-conquest-approaches-tipping-point.html; Melissa Mahtani et al., “US to send troops to help evacuate personnel in Afghanistan, as Kandahar becomes latest city to fall,” CNN, August 13, 2021, https://www.cnn.com/webview/politics/live-news/afghanistan-taliban-us-troops-08-12-21/h_75f8d8c2a81923885b9a0fe6d7e00f7a; Akhtar Mohammad Makoii and Luke Harding, “Taliban capture sixth provincial capital in northern Afghanistan,” Guardian, August 9, 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/aug/09/taliban-capture-aibak-sixth-provincial-capital-northern-afghanistan; Roland Oliphant, “Will the Taliban take over Afghanistan? Here’s what we know so far,” Telegraph, August 13, 2021, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/world-news/2021/08/13/will-taliban-take-afghanistan-know-far/; Reuters, “Taliban flashpoints in Afghanistan,” August 10, 2021, https://graphics.reuters.com/AFGHANISTAN-CONFLICT/FLASHPOINTS/lbpgnrazjvq/index.html; Ahmad Seir, Rahim Faiez, and Jon Gambrell, “Taliban seize Jalalabad, cut off Afghan capital from east,” Washington Post, August 15, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/taliban-seize-jalalabad-cut-off-afghan-capital-from-east/2021/08/14/131e00aa-fd75-11eb-911c-524bc8b68f17_story.html; Ahmad Seir et al., “Taliban fighters enter Kabul, await a ‘peaceful transfer’ of power,” Los Angeles Times, August 15, 2021, https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2021-08-15/taliban-fighters-enter-kabul-then-pledge-not-to-take-afghan-capital-by-force; Ishaan Tharoor, “Afghanistan’s rapid collapse is part of a long, slow U.S. defeat,” Washington Post, August 12, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/08/12/afghanistan-taliban-biden-moment/; Yaroslav Trofimov, “Afghanistan’s Taliban Seize Jalalabad as Panic Grips Kabul,” Wall Street Journal, August 15, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/afghanistans-taliban-seize-jalalabad-as-panic-grips-kabul-11629005282
  2. [2]Greg Jaffe, “From hubris to humiliation: America’s warrior class contends with the abject failure of its Afghanistan project,” Washington Post, August 14, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/us-hubris-afghanistan-humiliation/2021/08/14/47fb025a-fc67-11eb-9c0e-97e29906a970_story.html
  3. [3]British Broadcasting Corporation, “Afghanistan war: Biden says he does not regret troop withdrawal,” August 11, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-58167408
  4. [4]Greg Jaffe, “From hubris to humiliation: America’s warrior class contends with the abject failure of its Afghanistan project,” Washington Post, August 14, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/us-hubris-afghanistan-humiliation/2021/08/14/47fb025a-fc67-11eb-9c0e-97e29906a970_story.html
  5. [5]David Halberstam, The Powers That Be (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois, 2000).
  6. [6]This passage was widely circulated. It may be a paraphrase from George W. Bush, “Text: President Bush Addresses the Nation,” Washington Post, September 20, 2001, https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/nation/specials/attacked/transcripts/bushaddress_092001.html
  7. [7]David Benfell, “On ‘anti-Semitism,’” Not Housebroken, July 16, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2021/06/27/on-anti-semitism/
  8. [8]Mark Danner, The Secret Way to War: The Downing Street Memo and the Iraq War’s Buried History (New York: New York Review, 2006).

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