As this is written, chaos reigns in Afghanistan.
There’s terror in the country from border to border. The Taliban have complete control everywhere. Scenes of hundreds and hundreds of terrified Afghans chasing taxiing aircraft at the Kabul Airport are almost unbearable to watch. Some will cling after the plane takes off, only to fall to their deaths within minutes.
The frightened exodus has only begun. But already, Republicans are jumping all over President Biden as though he alone is responsible for the last two decades of strife, waste and death in that far away country. Even some Democrat voices are critical.
WAIT A DAMNED MINUTE!
We’ve poured several trillion dollars into that barren nation. We’ve propped up local leadership in one province after another – leadership that ultimately failed for lack of local support. Most wasted of all, the lives of several thousand young Americans who braved battle after battle, tour after tour. Until the final one.
The President’s knowledge of foreign affairs is second to none. Biden is surrounded by some of the best military and civilian minds anywhere. Countless days – and many nights – of poring over information gleaned from inside Afghanistan and neighboring countries gave him the best possible awareness of the terrain, the politics and its instability.
But, this is the one immutable fact. Our presence – our support of an unsupportable national government – our contribution of treasury and young American lives for 20 years – had to end.
Were mistakes made in some decisions? Yes. Were the strength and depth of the Taliban not recognized? Probably. Could our leaving that country – by a date previously negotiated – have been handled better? Maybe. But, for three previous administrations, there was an unwillingness to bite the bullet – to say “enough is enough” – to pull the pin and take the final action. To leave.
Somebody – a President of either national party – had to do what Biden did. And, he had to know the fallout would be great. He had to know heated criticism from the GOP – and even his own party – would rain down on his head. So did Bush-the younger, Obama and Trump. They all were faced with the same circumstances. They all knew what Biden knows. And they passed. Each one passed.
Yes, our leaving Afghanistan could probably have been handled better. Yes, maybe we had faulty intelligence that was unfortunately part of the decision. Yes, things might have been different.
But, like in poker, you have to play the hand you have. You have to act. None of us knows what facts – what intelligence – undergirded the decision to leave. Now. And, we may never know.
But, “leave” we have. The seemingly endless drain on our treasury and the lives of our young has come to an end. At least in Afghanistan.
In both Afghanistan and Viet Nam, this nation tried to introduce a form of governance that was foreign – and militarily resisted – by the locals. Democracy.
Both nations had their histories of governance long before America existed. For centuries, each experienced turmoil and efforts by some to change things. There were wars and brutality and even extreme terrorism visited upon the people.
But, in both nations, when outsiders tried to imprint their own ideas of governance, they failed. The “helpful invaders” soon became bogged down in the quagmire of endless war. Endless expense. Endless costs of human lives.
Maybe the clearest explanation I’ve heard for our failures in both Viet Nam and Afghanistan was from a late-night comedian. He likened our intervention this way. “Imagine the National Guard of Idaho going to Oregon and telling Oregonians, ‘From now on, this is how we want you to do things.’”
Oversimplified? Yes. But, just imagine.
The time for leaving Afghanistan was the moment we decided to go in. The cost in thousands of lives lost, and the thousands of lives changed forever, should have been reason enough not to venture into endless war. It should have been stopped before it began.
So, we’re out. A terribly messy exit. But, we’re out.
It had to be done. And it took a lot of heat and lost political capital to do it. But, Biden did it.
And, I’m grateful!