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John Oliver Revisits the Site of America’s Longest War

It’s been one year since the United States withdrew from Afghanistan, surrendering the country to the Taliban and creating even more chaos and misery for Afghans who’ve endured nothing but chaos and misery for decades. So John Oliver devoted his main story to the country that served as the location for America’s longest war.

“Everyone knew the U.S. occupation [of Afghanistan] was going to end badly, but it’s still shocking just how bad it was,” Oliver said. “In terms of things not going the way that you thought, our exit was the foreign policy equivalent of putting a cake in the oven and then 40 minutes later taking out a live rat dressed as Hitler. It’s not just a fuckup, it’s a mind-blowing fuckup that’ll take years to fully comprehend.”

Oliver chose to avoid focusing on the past… mostly. He correctly shed some light on America’s disgraceful failure to bring to America the Afghans who worked with U.S. forces and by doing so put their lives — and the lives of their families — in grave danger under Taliban rule. The U.S. government effectively promised relocation to the U.S. to many Afghans, only to then set up an impossible array of bureaucratic hoops for them to jump through to gain a visa. The few who managed to beat the odds and jump through all of the hoops would often still be denied, told, for instance, that a part of their application had expired in the years it took the U.S. to process the paperwork and that they had to start the process all over again. Many Afghans were killed by the Taliban while waiting for permission to come to the U.S.

Today in Afghanistan women and girls have lost many of the rights they gained during U.S. occupation. An unimaginable 97 percent of Afghans may fall below the poverty line by the end of the year. Drought, earthquakes, and flooding have all ravaged the country just this year. The Taliban, meanwhile, struggle to maintain basic government functions much less effectively respond to out-and-out crises. 

“A militant insurgency group is pretty low on the list of people you want leading a government, right around the Hell’s Angeles, the Manson Family, and Ron DeSantis,” Oliver said.

Seventy-five percent of the former government’s budget came from foreign aid and grants. But because so many members of the Taliban government are sanctioned by the U.S. as terrorists, almost no one in the world is willing to do business with them in fear of violating U.S. policy on dealing with terrorists. Even aid for health care has been frozen, meaning hospitals have no money to buy medicine, a somewhat important aspect of healthcare. There is literally too little cash in the country for the economy to function; in some cases it’s not that food isn’t available, it’s that no one has anything with which to buy it.

“The key question here isn’t just what happens if we send Afghanistan money and aide, it’s what happens if we don’t?” Oliver said. “And we know the answer to that: Millions of innocent Afghans will suffer and die under a government they did not choose.”

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