Afghanistan getting less US media attention isn’t surprising. US withdrawal was a compelling and highly relevant story, and now it’s over.
What stands out here is how little coverage Afghanistan got before. They didn’t care about the war, they cared only about the US leaving. https://t.co/10t0dzQN1a
— Nicholas Grossman (@NGrossman81) September 19, 2021
*Whispers* can we all acknowledge that a lot of the caterwauling about Afghanistan last month was just a wee bit overstated? https://t.co/7Vl9lVVlEo
— Daniel W. Drezner (@dandrezner) September 20, 2021
Sometimes, things do not go as badly as we feared they would…
Remember Afghanistan? It would be understandable if some readers did not, since mainstream media coverage of events there has nosedived over the past few weeks. If you recall, however, a month ago, a lot of U.S. analysts and commentators (myself included) were fretting about the collapse of the U.S.-backed government in Kabul and the rapid Taliban takeover of the country. The frenzied efforts to get Westerners and Afghan allies out of Kabul in the face of a Taliban deadline of Aug. 31 seemed daunting.
The take industry was churning out a lot of copy during this period, most of it heavy on the pessimism. I would wager, however, that Noah Rothman, online editor of Commentary and an MSNBC columnist, generated the most hyperbolic take of the past month. He tweeted, “This is the worst display of presidential maladministration in my lifetime.”
Now this was quite the empirical claim. Was the Biden administration’s handling of Afghanistan in August really the worst? Worse than 1983 terrorist attack in Beirut that killed 241 U.S. Marines? Worse than trading arms with Iran for U.S. hostages held in Lebanon? Worse than standing idly by while genocide tore apart Rwanda? Worse than failing to prevent the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks? Worse than deciding a year after 9/11 to prioritize the invasion of Iraq over finishing the mission in Afghanistan? Worse than the planning for postwar Iraq? Worse than the response to Hurricane Katrina? Worse than the confused intervention in Libya and the schizophrenic intervention in Syria? Worse than the abandonment of the Kurds in Syria? Worse than the initial federal response to the coronavirus pandemic? Worse than fomenting an armed insurrection at the U.S. Capitol? That is quite the maladministration!…
I suggested that we revisit this question in a month — and hey, what do you know, it is a month later. Has Rothman’s dire prediction come to pass?
It would appear not. Contra Rothman’s supposition, In the latter half of August, the U.S. military and allied forces were able to ferry considerable numbers of people out of Afghanistan. In his Senate testimony, Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted that in August, the United States and its allies “completed one of the biggest airlifts in history, with 124,000 people evacuated to safety.” This includes most of the Americans whom Rothman referenced in his tweets (though, to be fair, it is possible that he was unknowingly relying on inflated numbers at the outset).