Was Afghanistan Just a Schell Game?Roundup
tags: foreign policy, war on terror, Afghanistan, blowback
Nick Turse is the managing editor of TomDispatch and a fellow at the Type Media Center. He is the author most recently of Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead: War and Survival in South Sudan and of the bestselling Kill Anything That Moves.
I waited almost three months for some acknowledgement, but it never came. Not a bottle of champagne. Not a congratulatory note. Not an email of acknowledgement. Not one media request.
Authors wait their whole lives for I-told-you-so moments like these. But mine passed without accolades, awards, or adulation.
Being way ahead of the pack is supposed to bring honors and rewards, isn’t it? Imagine the response if, for example, a writer had predicted the 9/11 attacks.
In fact, one more or less did. “I conceived of Blowback — written in 1999, published in 2000 — as a warning to the American public. It was: you should expect retaliation from the people on the receiving end of now innumerable clandestine activities,” TomDispatch regular Chalmers Johnson recalled of his blockbuster book in a 2004 interview. “The warning was not heeded… But then after 9/11, when, all of a sudden, inattentive Americans were mobilized to seek, at least on an emergency basis, some understanding of what they were into, it became a bestseller.”
Johnson had been ahead of the game by a year and was celebrated for it. In 2010, I published The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan, a collection of essays and articles highlighting the futility of that conflict and the need to end America’s involvement there. This summer, the arguments that other contributors (including Johnson) and I made finally carried the day. “Last night in Kabul, the United States ended 20 years of war in Afghanistan,” President Joe Biden announced on August 31st. “I give you my word: With all of my heart, I believe this is the right decision, a wise decision, and the best decision for America.”
It may have been the best idea, but it wasn’t an original one. And yet, Biden never mentioned my book. Or offered me cursory acknowledgement. Or admitted that he was at least a decade behind the curve.
Of course, I understood the reasons. If I were him, I’d want to keep my failings quiet, too. So, I waited for the cable news networks to take note. I kept checking my phone as the war in Afghanistan careened to its close. I could almost imagine the way the interview would go.
“How does it feel to have been so prescient and have had the arguments in your book finally win out?” Fox News’s Chris Wallace would ask.
“Well, Chris, it’s about time somebody asked that…” I would say before launching into an answer that would, of course, double as an advertisement for my book and, after all these years, land it atop the bestseller list.
But that call from Fox News never came. And when I checked the bestseller list, what I found there was some ridiculous book on “the final eight months of the pursuit of Osama bin Laden” — co-written by Chris Wallace, no less! — instead of mine.
Maybe MSNBC would get in touch. So again, I checked my phone messages, my email, my texts. Nothing. Instead, they went with retired Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, a former national security advisor to President Trump and one of the Americans who lost the war in Afghanistan. In fact, McMaster popped up on MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News seven times between August 16th and August 26th, just edging out disgraced former general, CIA director, and Afghan War chief David Petraeus, who appeared six times on those networks, according to Media Matters for America.
I was heartened to see that some news outlets did, at least, seek out TomDispatch regular and president of the Washington D.C.-based Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, Andrew Bacevich. One of them even referenced prescient comments he made in Foreign Affairs five years ago. But did any of them mention that his work appeared in The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan five years before that? Nope!
Let down by the mainstream media, I still held out a shred of hope. Surely my publisher, Verso, would get in touch. “We did it!” the managing director would write. “You offered the argument for withdrawal. A multitrillion-dollar organization made the case against it for 10 years, but as in Afghanistan itself, they lost!” If he tried to send that message, it must have been by Western Union telegram, because it still hasn’t arrived.
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