Historically, the Chinese was often a massively wealthy and powerful empire to the point that Europeans disbelieved Marco Polo. The empires had millions of soldiers and ruled “all under heaven” and yet China witnessed a the stunning collapse of power in 1126. It was not a foregone conclusion brought about by any fatal economic hardship, natural disasters, rebellion or mutiny, but instead ushered in by political decisions at the top. This story is a good example of how bad leadership can cause utter disaster for strong nations.
China at this time had the advantage in population, a large army, strong tax base, and prodigious fortifications but a stunning failure to understand the true political and military situations led to their initial troubles. They violated their treaty with their former allies, but performed dismally. Their enemies, the nomadic Jurchens witnessed the bad performance of the army of the Song Dynasty, and must have suspected that the Song court was similarly incapable.
Then, they quickly defeated the Song armies and forced the remnants back to the capital. China had witnessed many invasions from nomadic barbarians and usually had the political will, military strength, and economic capability to stop the invasions through a combination of military strength and savvy diplomacy like intermarriage or trade concessions. Yet in this case the court was beset and terrified by minor setbacks and failed to use the tools previous leaders had successfully employed.
Yet weak political leadership and stunningly bad military decisions led to the collapse of the capital. In China’s case, the Song leader left millions of soldiers stationed throughout China instead of protecting the emperor and the capital. Even lacking support of it’s political leader and the elite, the soldiers performed well in battling along the walls. But military leaders left their dead in the open which completely demoralized their own soldiers. The capital fell along with much of the country until a rump was established in Southern China.
The parallels are as scary as they are numerous. Despite all its challenges- inflation, an open border, the woke-ification of the military, the country remains strong. It is the strongest and richest nation in the history of the world, but stunningly poor military leadership and bad decisions can severely injure the country despite all of those strengths. We haven’t witnessed the fall of America like China, but the disaster in Kabul is an unmitigated disaster to American credibility.
The United States cannot be defeated militarily by the Taliban or terrorist groups. Our military is bigger, stronger, better trained, better funded and better equipped. America is only defeated because citizens lose the will to fight through a combination of a steady (and in Afghanistan, not so steady) drip of causalities and internal political narratives against endless war. We suffered only one combat casualty in the past 18 months (until the devastating terrorist attack on the airport.) With an investment of roughly 2,500 soldiers, far smaller than many deployments around the world, and 50 billion a year, a far smaller amount than the fire hose of money being unleashed in DC, the U.S. could maintain a terror free and relatively stable Afghan government and country in perpetuity.
But it was Biden’s decision to set an arbitrary date for withdrawal in the middle of the fighting season, and to knee cap the Afghan army built around airpower and long term American technical support that suddenly took the Taliban from fighting to a stand still to overrunning the country in record time.
Even then, like the Chinese emperor, the Americans could point to many strengths. They had a several million-man army and numerous assets that could quickly regroup. They could land more soldiers at the Kabul airport and expand the cordon. They could send armed patrols to pick up citizens and allies. They could retake Bagram airbase, which is much bigger, more secure, and could be a staging area for rescue operations across the country. But the U.S. remained in the small Kabul airport, and relied upon a ring of Taliban soldiers to provide security against terrorist attacks and allow stranded Americans and friendly Afghans passage to the American controlled gates.
As a result, many flights returned empty, and many Americans remain afraid and stranded. The U.S., inexplicably, gave the Taliban a list of Americans and friendly Afghans to allow through the gates, which will be used as a kill list.
This of course, resulted in an untenable situation where American forces can’t stop terror attacks like the recent bombing. And they can’t use their prodigious power to ease the situation. Instead, Biden continually uses the bad decisions and horrendously bad optics as an excuse to withdraw even more hastily.
None of this had to happen. America is a strong and resilient country. But the people lacked the will to stay, which was influenced by biased political narratives. American military power was muzzled by horrendously bad decisions. A president that cared about the limited political value of ending a so called “endless” war, surrendered a friendly nation to barbarians, accepted a poor tactical position at the airport that made it impossible to evacuate needed personnel, and put remaining military personnel at risk. It has produced images and a situation that demoralized thousands of U.S. veterans, chilled alliances around the world from Taiwan to Poland, and left America far weaker than we could imagine with such a still strong military. President Joe Biden is a weak leader.