Manolo Quezon is #TheExplainer Newsletter — Issue #27 Saigon and Kabul The Long View
My column this week and a related long thread on Twitter, plus a viewing I’d recommend.
This week’s The Long View
Philippine Daily Inquirer / 04:04 AM August 18, 2021
Our colleague Dax Lucas yesterday cited a BBC interview in which a Brookings Institution fellow tried to explain the quick fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban. He pointed out the Taliban had equally swiftly fallen from power in 2001: “Afghans don’t like to be on the wrong side of a losing fight.”
An American academic in Hong Kong pointed out that what most observers reacting now to the collapse of Afghanistan failed to notice — because of little to no media coverage, because the Americans weren’t involved — is that there’d been heavy fighting on the part of the Afghan National Army; but this was undercut by Donald Trump recognizing the Taliban and announcing a withdrawal.
What this achieved was a cease-fire where the troops of the West and the Taliban refrained from fighting each other; an agreement that supposedly continued to the last moment since the Taliban allowed the American evacuation to proceed. The real choice Trump’s successor, Joseph Biden, faced was to scrap the Trump-era deal, and take the lead in the fighting; this neither his Democratic constituency nor the broader American public, was prepared to do.
Ajmal Ahmady, the governor of the now-suddenly-defunct central bank of the now-nonexistent Afghan government, in a Twitter thread, recounted how Aug. 6 seemed a turning point; after many rural areas fell to the Taliban months ago, it was then that the first provincial capital fell, followed by six more in quick succession. He said the rumor mill whispered “that directions not to fight were somehow coming from above.” He blamed the (now) ex-president of Afghanistan for being abrasive and unyielding, and thus unable, to negotiate a handover of power.
All this suggests an explanation for the quick collapse of the Afghan government; people may quibble over the exact circumstances, but the public was quick to reach the conclusion the outcome was that the 2021 debacle in Kabul can be matched only by the fall of Saigon in 1975.
Since the fall of Afghanistan was inevitable, the real issue is America leaving those who worked with it in the lurch. Paul Wolfowitz published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal citing the American effort to bring out South Vietnamese in 1975. Senior officials had to collude to go beyond merely evacuating Americans and offer a lifeline to their defeated allies: “201 C-141 missions and 174 C-130 flights evacuating more than 45,000 Vietnamese to Guam. In addition, 71 US helicopters flew 660 sorties, evacuating more than 7,800 people to Thailand or to US ships. The aerial evacuation of South Vietnam was the largest such operation in history, with more than 50,000 evacuees.”
The 2014 documentary film “Last Days in Vietnam” by Rory Kennedy tells the story vividly and makes for a riveting watch: not least, today, with its scenes of stampedes in the airport, and the frantic efforts of Americans and South Vietnamese to escape the arriving North Vietnamese Army. The documentary starts with the Paris Peace Accords of 1973, when America negotiated its way out of boots on the ground in South Vietnam.
What kept that agreement in place, Kennedy argues, is that the North Vietnamese were convinced by the bombing campaign he’d unleashed against Cambodia, that Nixon was stark raving mad. But Nixon fell from power in the closing months of 1974, and the North unleashed an offensive it calculated America was in no mood to resist. The most chilling part of the documentary is the postscript describing the experiences of just a few of the many unable to make it out before the fall of Saigon.
We Filipinos know well that what Wolfowitz enumerated was not enough. Older generations will remember the Vietnamese boat people who found temporary refuge in the Philippines. Far fewer may recognize who they were and why they fled: Catholics persecuted for their faith; ethnic Chinese for their race; former officials and soldiers of South Vietnam, and the middle class for their identities as class enemies by the communists. Many went through labor and reeducation camps and if they survived those, only then could they think of trying to escape.
As it turned out, many thousands would find eventual refuge in America. But an anti-immigration attitude in large swathes of America made it impossible for Washington to consider taking in as many Afghans as it ought to; James Fallows said Biden due to age, has the YOLO attitude necessary to cut and cut clean; but he could not, and cannot, indict his own countrymen for an attitude that makes a real rescue of the US’ friends and allies possible.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @mlq3
Podcast Series Out At Last
Manolo Quezon is #TheExplainer Podcast №8: Conventions, Convenors, and Impresarios Part 1 — anchor.fm
The era when presidential candidates slugged it out for their party’s endorsement in a national convention are almost beyond living memory. In 1992, when Fidel V. Ramos pledged to participate in his party’s convention, only to bolt his party when he lost, he killed the chances for political party conventions to matter in picking presidential candidates. One of his advisers, Antonio Carpio, is now a Convenor of 1Sambayanan which is trying to unify the opposition on a different model from party conventions: the Convenors Group of 1984–85. This two-episode series looks at both models and why both have ended up failures. This is Part 1, focusing on political party conventions.
Manolo Quezon is #TheExplainer Podcast №9: Conventions, Convenors, and Impresarios Part 2 — anchor.fm
The era when presidential candidates slugged it out for their party’s endorsement in a national convention are almost beyond living memory. In 1992, when Fidel V. Ramos pledged to participate in his party’s convention, only to bolt his party when he lost, he killed the chances for political party conventions to matter in picking presidential candidates. One of his advisers, Antonio Carpio, is now a Convenor of 1Sambayanan which is trying to unify the opposition on a different model from party conventions: the Convenors Group of 1984–85. This two-episode series looks at both models and why both have ended up failures. This is Part 2, focusing on convenors’ groups — and political impresarios.
Additional Readingsand Viewings
Thread by @aahmady: 1/The collapse of the Government in Afghanistan this past week was so swift and complete — it was disorienting and difficult to comprehend. This is how the events seemed to proceed from my perspective as Central Bank Governor2/Although much of the rural areas fell to the Taliban over the past few months, the first provincial capital to fall was just 1 week and two days ago!
On Friday August 6th, Ziranj fell. Over the next 6 days, a number of other provinces fell — particularly in the north.
There were multiple rumors that directions to not fight were somehow coming from above.
This has been repeated by Atta Noor and Ismael Khan.
Seems difficult to believe, but there remains a suspicion as to why ANSF left posts so quickly. There is something left unexplained.
Currency volatility and other indicators had worsened, but DAB were able to stabilize the macroeconomic environment relatively well during the last week — given the deteriorating security environment.
Then came last Thursday.
I attended my normal meetings. Ghazni fell in the morning.
I left work, and by the time I went home — Herat, Kandahar, and Baghdis also fell. Helmand was also under serious attackwe received a call that given the deteriorating environment, we wouldn’t get any more dollar shipments.
People spread rumors that I had fled on Friday.
On Saturday, DAB had to supply less currency to the markets on Saturday, which further increased panic.
7/Currency spiked from a stable 81 to almost 100 then back to 86. I held meetings on Saturday to reassure banks and money exchangers to calm them down. I can’t believe that was one day before Kabul fell
8/On Saturday night, my family called to say that most government had already left. I was dumbfounded.
A security assessment accurately forecast Taliban arrival to Kabul within 36 hours and its fall within 56 hours
I got worried & purchased tickets for Monday as a precaution.
On Sunday I began work. Reports throughout morning were increasingly worrisome. I left the bank and left deputies in charge. Felt terrible about leaving staff.
But arrived at airport & saw that Mohaqeq, Rahmani, Massoud, etc were already there! Head of parliament seems content.
Saw VP Danish leaving — reportedly for Qatar. By then it was rumored that VP Saleh had left.
Ministers + others were waiting for a Fly Dubai & Emirates flights. Both were cancelled.
I secured a Kam Air flight Sunday 7pm. Then the floor fell: the President had already left.
I knew right then my flight would be cancelled and there would be chaos.
As expected employees & military left posts. Everyone ran through gates to on Kam Air flight. 300+ passengers boarded for a 100-seat plane.
The plane had no fuel or pilot. We all hoped it would depart.
However, I decided to disembark and spotted another military plane. It was surrounded by people trying to board, while the guard forces held people back and boarded their embassy staff.
There was a rush. Some shots were fired. Somehow, my close colleagues pushed me on board.
It did not have to end this way. I am disgusted by the lack of any planning by Afghan leadership. Saw at airport them leave without informing others.
I asked the palace if there was an evacuation plan/charter flights. After 7 years of service, I was met with silence.
During last days, I feared not only risks related to Taliban, but fear of transition period once there is no chain of command.
Once president’s departure was announced, I knew within minutes chaos would follow. I cannot forgive him for creating that without a transition plan.
I did not criticize them until now, but key figures Fazly & Mohib were too inexperienced in their roles, & was President’s failure that he never recognized such weaknesses.
He himself had great ideas but poor execution. If I contributed to that, I take my share of the blame.
And it seems it’s only gotten worse today at HKIA.
And this. I will be trying to support any requests for assistance, but worry that given my personal experience at airport that any support for friends and colleagues be limited.
Did I have a reason to worry? This is the text someone sent me:
“Taliban come to <area> and were looking for you. They were asking about Ajmal Ahmady DAB Governor.”
Whatever their personal views, I also had many personal enemies. Or maybe they just wanted to greet me.
Ninoy Aquino Day redux
Manolo Quezon is #TheExplainer Podcast: Episode 6 Bullet-ridden Conscience — anchor.fm
This audio long read is a recording of my The Explainer commentary broadcast on ANC on August 22, 2017. August 21 is an annual opportunity to reflect on the assassination of Ninoy Aquino; in 2017, it also invited a reflection the killing of a until-then anonymous youngster named Kian delos Santos.