COVID Is Becoming the Afghanistan of Pandemics | Opinion

COVID-19 is fast becoming the Afghanistan of pandemics.

We are suffering tremendous losses in blood, treasure, mettle and might, with no end to the intervention resulting in these losses in sight.

Our response to COVID over the last 18 months has shown that we have failed to heed the lessons of Kabul over the last 20 years.

If Afghanistan should have taught us anything, it is this: When confronting an enemy, we need a clear set of goals, a reasonable plan to achieve those goals as efficiently as possible and an ironclad exit strategy. How one addresses these matters hinges on knowing both ourselves and our enemy.

Yet with COVID, as with the Afghanistan boondoggle, the stated goals have been ever-shifting and often nebulous. "Two weeks to flatten the curve" evolved into "defeating the virus"—whatever that means—and of course "building back better," which is to say, exploiting the pandemic to forcibly impose a full-spectrum progressive agenda. Routing al-Qaeda and the Taliban regime that harbored it evolved into making Zurich out of Kandahar. And if "zero-COVID" is the implicit goal, it is equally as farcical. The totalitarian means that would be employed in a bid to achieve that would only compound the disaster. In both cases, mission creep was baked in from the beginning by dint of the mission itself.

The measures by which to achieve these vague goals have proven similarly haphazard. With COVID, our authorities conjured social distancing rules almost out of thin air; urged us to wear no masks and then up to three at a time, despite their questionable efficacy; and imposed on-again, off-again lockdowns—all selectively enforced based on political ideology. The politicians that have inflicted the most pain on their constituents—from the elderly consigned to their deaths in nursing homes, to the children kept out of school—have hidden behind public-health bureaucrats, as insulated as the national security and foreign policy establishment officials behind Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, that establishment oversaw the development of a sharia-subordinate political regime, bribed thugs and warlords, poured billions into bridges-to-nowhere, imposed on our soldiers suicidal rules of engagement and demanded they turn a blind eye to bacha bazi and all manner of other awfulness—all in service of liberal, moralistic nation-building.

The facts and figures necessary for Americans to assess whether policies have "worked" and to what extent they were justifiable, in the case of COVID, have been hard to come by. It requires considerable effort to find information on items as basic as how and how accurately COVID deaths have been coded, statistics on deaths with COVID versus deaths by COVID, the severity of COVID hospitalizations, breakthrough infections, vaccine adverse events and state-versus-state comparisons on relevant virus-fighting metrics. Neither the federal government, nor the states collectively, have run a grand postmortem on the efficacy of mask mandates and lockdowns. In Afghanistan, at least there was SIGAR to catalogue failure and corruption. But all the same, year in and year out, our leaders continued reporting success, and the war persisted.

Critics would say that, at minimum, the development of vaccines counts as a standout achievement. Insofar as they have saved the lives of those who would have otherwise died and turned acute cases into mild ones—and that these benefits outweighed the costs of any adverse events, and the foregoing of the benefits of natural immunity—they are correct.

But this then brings us to the issue of exit strategies. With COVID, as with Afghanistan, it is apparent that there is none. It was supposed to be the much-bandied-about vaccines. Yet breakthrough infections and new variants have thrown a wrench in that calculus. Just as Americans were largely instructed by their benign overlords that they could once again enjoy their natural rights, the vaccines being a panacea, masking was suddenly reimposed. Then came the pending lawless and tyrannical mandate that Americans inject themselves with a drug that authorities admitted largely does not prevent transmission. Israel and the United Kingdom stood as cautionary tales to the notion that mass vaccination meant the end of COVID. Now, the effort to push booster shots is accelerating. How many Americans will receive them? How frequently? Starting at what age? Voluntarily, or under coercion?

Where, when and how does the burgeoning Forever Pandemic end? No one has said, but it is not hyperbole to see the makings of a biomedical security state apparatus. That there was no exit strategy in Afghanistan is a matter of fact, and the Biden administration's calamitous withdrawal is a testament to it.

A man walks along a road outside
A man walks along a road outside Bagram Air Base, after all US and NATO troops left, some 70 Km north of Kabul on July 2, 2021. ZAKERIA HASHIMI/AFP via Getty Images

It is worth noting that open-ended wars on COVID and in Afghanistan have yielded powerful winners, who have profited as long as the wars have persisted. COVID has empowered and/or enriched politicians, public-health bureaucrats, Big Pharma, Big Tech and large corporations that could weather the storm better than their smaller competitors. Afghanistan did much the same for the military-industrial complex.

By induction, then, we can perhaps see an unstated implicit goal in these wars: For the Ruling Class to increase its wealth and power—in the one case, by remaking Afghanistan in its image, and in the other, by imposing its rule on a dissenting Deplorable America. As the late Angelo Codevilla put it, in what would become his final piece: "Avenging 9/11 and preventing its recurrence served as justification for putting enormous effort and money into unrelated or even counterproductive activities the ruling class sold to Americans as antiterrorism." Do we not see something similar in the COVID response?

The starting point in a war of any kind, as noted, must be an understanding of both ourselves and our enemy.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, America was still a relatively free country. We allowed individuals to take risks as they saw fit. We never completely shut down in the face of threats to life and limb of any kind.

We learned quickly that the elderly, the overweight and those with other comorbidities were the ones most at-risk from COVID. The overwhelming majority of others would not die, and would make full recoveries.

Yet in no small part on the basis of garbage-in, garbage-out models as unrealistic in their logic as those who said we could, or should, make Switzerland out of Afghanistan, we allowed power-hungry officials to run roughshod over our freedoms and implement policies in a haphazard manner. Those policies were not aimed at protecting the health of the at-risk minority and the liberties of the safer overwhelming majority, but rather treated everyone as if they were obese 85-year-old lifetime pack-a-day smokers—freedom of religion, speech, association and commerce alike be damned.

That China has proven arguably the greatest beneficiary of both of these interventions, as we diminished our strength and vitality, is almost a footnote.

A rational America would recognize—and would have recognized months back—that we are going to have to live with the Chinese coronavirus as we live with myriad other infectious diseases; that mercifully, again, recovery rates are high, and children are the least at-risk; that under six percent of the COVID deaths Americans have suffered have been solely ascribed to COVID, meaning encouraging healthy lifestyle choices, led by weight loss, could be a powerful part of any long-term mitigation efforts; that cheaper, less-invasive outpatient treatments merit substantial research, not shunning, as part of an all-of-the-above strategy in a pandemic footing; and that, more broadly, the goal ought to be to live with the disease, rather than submitting to the disease, by maintaining liberty and justice, as we have done with every other affliction America has ever suffered.

We should have similarly recognized from the start in Afghanistan that we were going to have to live with an Afghanistan that was a seventh-century, tribal, sharia-dominated backwater. The goal ought to have been to mitigate those effects by eliminating threats with maximum force, swiftly, as a deterrent to future enemies who might proliferate there.

There will always be an excuse for more regulations and lifestyle restrictions under threats of public health or public safety if we are on a permanent wartime footing, whether or not the threat merits it.

We see the convergence of the Global War on Terror, under which the Afghanistan War was initiated, and the coronavirus pandemic, in the way our national security apparatus has turned its focus now to the domestic threat of critics of the federal government's COVID-19 forever war and, more broadly, in the Biden administration's targeting of millions of unvaccinated Americans.

That a former CIA director affirmed the idea that the "MAGA wearing unvaxxed" be shipped to Afghanistan tells you all you need to know about the state of our republic.

As with Afghanistan, it appears with COVID we are heading toward a quagmire—one in which we stand to lose far more, far quicker, and from which we may never recover—unless and until Americans rise up en masse and reassert their sovereignty.

Ben Weingarten is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research, fellow at the Claremont Institute and senior contributor to The Federalist. He is the author of American Ingrate: Ilhan Omar and the Progressive-Islamist Takeover of the Democratic Party (Bombardier, 2020). Ben is the founder and CEO of ChangeUp Media LLC, a media consulting and production company. Subscribe to his newsletter at bit.ly/bhwnews, and follow him on Twitter: @bhweingarten.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.