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August 18, 2021

Any American soldier assigned to the Afghanistan hell-hole knows far more than me. But my study of that country began seriously in fall, 1979 as a Harvard grad student preparing to join the West Point faculty. Despite being an Army intelligence officer, my unclassified sources included Dr. Louis Dupree, a former WWII paratrooper with an encyclopedic knowledge of Afghanistan and its deeply conflicted history. My term paper submitted in early December, 1979 to Dean Graham Allison and Ambassador Joe Nye predicted 3 things: that the Russians would invade; that they would do so with all available force; but that their efforts would ultimately be unsuccessful to convert the "Graveyard of Empires" into a Soviet satrap. At the end of my military career in Bosnia, I served in Bosnia alongside a Soviet major general who, as a young Spetsnaz captain, personally led the special forces squad that assassinated the reigning strong-man in Kabul. I tell you that to underline several points you may not hear elsewhere.

Immediate Implications: Her op-ed in today’s Washington Post shows why former SECSTATE Condoleezza Rice has such a formidable reputation as a diplomatic historian and practitioner. Arguing that “It didn’t have to be this way,” she instantly de-bunked President Joseph Biden’s calumny that the Afghans had somehow chosen the Taliban. Instead, “they fought and died alongside us, helping us degrade al-Qaeda...In the end, the Afghans couldn’t hold the country without our airpower and our support. It is not surprising that Afghan security forces lost the will to fight, when the Taliban warned that the United States was deserting them and that those who resisted would see their families killed.” The most obvious implications of reversing 20 hard-fought years of progress: Taiwan, Ukraine, the Persian Gulf and our non-existent southern border. Simply take a quick glance across the globe and isolate those pressure points where US interests don't match available forces - from our hard-pressed ground forces to our over-matched Border Patrol. Do you seriously imagine that our adversaries will not test those limits in search of more low-hanging fruit? Similarly, few Americans seem to grasp the intrinsic linkage between those external threats and our internal security, already under attack from hostile criminal-political syndicates (e.g., Mexican drug cartels, BLM, Antifa.) Fewer still will recall that 10 years ago Oklahoma authorities warned that that the cartels were becoming a bigger threat to the state than tornadoes.

Deceptive Metaphors: Today there are many incautious parallels drawn between Kabul and Saigon. Officers of my generation vividly recall that the Saigon withdrawal - for all its drawbacks - was far better organized than Kabul. Wherever they happen, strategic withdrawals in the face of an armed adversary are always tough and dangerous operations. The American Army first began learning those difficult lessons under George Washington, who didn’t so much beat the British as to (narrowly) avoid being defeated by them. Ever since, Murphy’s Law has been as omni-present in American ranks as camp followers. The better metaphor may be to Dunkirk (without the English Channel) or - even more ominously - to the 1885 Siege of Khartoum. To those readers who may not recall the Charlton Heston movie, things ended badly for the British and especially for Heston’s character, General Charles Gordon. In outlook, ferocity and ideological single-mindedness, there are eerie similarities between the armies of the Mahdi and those of the Taliban. Listening yesterday to Jenn Psaki and Jake Sullivan’s ignominious presentation to the White House press corps, it was appalling to think that such mendacious, naive and utterly un-serious people were anywhere close to the halls of power. The question not posed by the fawning press munchkins: Were the same officials who planned the Kabul operation also involved with defending our southern border?

Immediate Political Consequences: National security as a political issue is much like oxygen: un-noticed and inconsequential until suddenly it seems threatened. But when those threats materialize, they immediately transform lesser political questions. Right now, that specter most benefits former SECSTATE Mike Pompeo and Ambassador Nikki Haley. Ambassador Hailey is the former South Carolina governor who overcame ethnic and gender profiling to become a compelling, highly articulate leader as Donald Trump’s Ambassador to the UN. But the big winner after Kabul may be Mike Pompeo. He calmly personifies traditional American values: e.g., Eagle Scout, West Point graduate, business leader, Congressman, CIA Director, SECSTATE, and born-again Christian). That stunning resume gives him an immediate appeal for a Republican establishment that badly needs a super-star who can help re-build Republican credibility.

Macro-Changes to Start Thinking About: We can anticipate that our enemies will do their utmost to test us, ideally while the Biden White House still resembles deer-caught-in-the -headlights. The short list certainly includes the seizure of Taiwan and the increasing likelihood of another 911. I live in San Antonio, where we grimly chuckle over the latest (and fastest-growing) Border Patrol category of illegals: OTM, meaning "Other Than Mexican." The considerably more sobering reality: If our enemies fail to take advantage of our open borders, then it contradicts everything we know about their relentless character and their endlessly adaptive tactics. If you are familiar with the Sicario movie series, then you may have already glimpsed the future. The American people need to demand an end to the PC-heavy, Woke soft-headedness that has already begun to compromise our military. To cite but one current example: Testifying before the House Appropriations Committee on May 4, BG Daniel Hokanson (Chief of the National Guard Bureau) asserted that "Among my most pressing concerns are premium-free health care for every Guardsman...." Seriously, General? Aren't those the very same forces primarily responsible for our homeland defense, either in coping with disaster or deterring an enemy attack? And yet you're primarily concerned with their health care?

Fasten your seat-belts, folks, we may be in for a bumpy ride!

Colonel Ken Allard (US Army Ret.) is a former draftee who became a Cold War intelligence officer, West Point faculty member and Dean of the National War College. For ten years, he was an on-air military analyst for the networks of NBC News.

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