The current debacle in Afghanistan has been generations in the making.
The events leading to a fiasco of U.S. forces and civilians fleeing the embattled country as the Taliban rushes back into control was not solely the result of actions taken by a president just months into his term.
Republicans hoping to make political gains by trying to heap decades of delusion, naivete, malfeasance and miscalculation solely on President Joe Biden are as absurd as was the 20-year war itself.
That fact doesn’t excuse the Biden administration’s glaring missteps and miscalculations in executing the long-coming and long-ago announced exodus.
The very reasons Biden threw the fallen Afghan military and government under the bus — essentially calling them weak and disinterested — were the very reasons Biden’s team should have built up the U.S. military presence to hold the nation together long enough for Americans and other nations to clear it. It’s undeniable that Biden’s advisors miscalculated the capability and commitment of the Afghanistan military.
On the too-fresh heels of America suffering through four years of Donald Trump’s impeachable treachery, however, Biden himself has frequently acknowledged the need for honesty and candidness to come from the White House.
Biden discarded all that last week when he told Americans he’d never promised getting everyone who wanted to leave, out of Afghanistan safely. In fact, he’d done just that, with cameras rolling. He emulated the Trump administration by stretching or discarding the truth and shifting blame to everyone but his own team for their part in the botched departure.
Biden owes the nation a detailed explanation of how his administration so badly misjudged the situation in Afghanistan, and what the full cost of his missteps actually are.
Far worse and damaging, however, are the political histrionics performed by a full chorus of pearl-clutching Republicans, eager to dig into Biden’s approval ratings. Going beyond rewriting Afghanistan’s bleak recent history, Republicans ignore that it was Trump who struck a deal with the Taliban to hand back the country. Biden implemented it.
Biden is right that the futile war in that country had to end now. In the 20 years of trying to wring democracy out of the chaos of Afghanistan, Americans cannot be accused of being half-hearted or giving the effort short shrift, under four presidents from both parties.
The toll in human lives alone is staggering:
- American service member deaths: 2,448, through April 2021, 32 more as Americans fled Afghanistan.
- U.S. contractors killed: 3,846.
- Afghan national military and police killed: 66,000.
- Other allied service members, including from other NATO member states killed: 1,144.
- Afghan civilians killed: 47,245, dozens more in the last month as the United States fled the country.
- Aid workers killed: 444.
- Journalists killed: 72.
Looking back, relatively so little was gained for the United States and Afghanistan for the price that was paid. The nation was still overrun with corruption, warlords, religious and political extremists and a foundation of opium agriculture still pervasive in the country.
A virtual college of journalists, military and foreign affairs experts have chronicled the clearly impossible task of building a western government in Afghanistan. Eons of ruthless potentates and systemic corruption have created impermeable roadblocks to democracy or any other sustainable change.
The mission of pushing Afghanistan beyond its own past is a dubious job for the world, not just one nation. For far longer than just the past 20 years, the world was not meaningfully interested.
Perhaps now — seeing the brutal tide of the Taliban wash away the tentative building blocks of a civilized Afghanistan society that cost America, Afghanistan and the world so many lives and trillions of dollars — the world will step up. Perhaps now the European Union and others will react to the clear danger a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan creates for all nations, even Russia and China.
And while Biden owes the nation an account of how so many new losses came on top of the old losses, there are pressing missions for Democrats and Republicans.
The first is to ensure that neither Afghanistan’s vast lands nor other resources are used to inspire or aid terrorist operations, again.
The Biden administration and other nations must continue to extract Afghani allies put at risk from the Taliban for their service to the United States.
All members of Congress and the administration must work to preserve human rights for all Afghanis, especially women and girls.
Finally, Republicans and Democrats alike rushed recently to decry the fate of non-American allies, whose assistance to the United States over the past 20 years now creates unique risk for them. Many have been spirited away by the United States of allies. Getting them out of Afghanistan was only part of the solution. Refuge here and a clear and attainable path to U.S. citizenship is the next step that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle need to focus on.
The United States, like other nations, have found their involvement in Afghanistan regrettable. No political leaders now or in the past are blameless for what happened in Afghanistan over the last two decades of the last two weeks. Bickering over that only detracts from the fact that we withdrew our troops from Afghanistan, but not our responsibilities.