Discover more from The View from the Front. By Stan R. Mitchell.
Afghanistan falls without a fight
I wrote several weeks ago, at the end of July, that Afghanistan needed its George Washington. We learned, with the fall of the capital city of Kabul just a few days ago, that Afghanistan had no George Washington.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the capital before trouble even arrived, and Taliban fighters entered the city of 8 million people with barely a shot fired. No hardened positions fought for hours. No checkpoints slowed them down. No one seemed to even resist.
It seemed the perfect, pathetic end to a fiasco that had been unraveling for weeks.
Ghani said he left in order to avoid bloodshed. I have no idea what he was talking about. There hadn’t been fighting in days.
The weakness of Afghan resistance to the Taliban made a mockery of the tremendous sacrifices our country has made these past twenty years.
2,448 military members killed.1
3,846 American contractors killed.
1,144 NATO members killed.
And more than $2 trillion spent, which will equal more than $6 trillion by 2050 since we debt-financed everything. (That is, we didn’t ask for a tax increase. We just went into debt the whole for the entire affair.)
And with the collapse of Kabul without a single shot fire, the lack of resistance made all the American assistance through the years seem a total waste.
President Biden is right about one thing: if the men and women in Afghanistan were unwilling to fight for their own country, I see little reason why we should.
Granted, as my readers know, I didn’t start in this position. I argued for days on social media that America should recalibrate. Send in more troops. Try to save some of the cities before it was too late. But it was abundantly clear online (and in polls) that Americans were done with this war.
And so we are.
Republicans immediately tried to use the horrific scenes at the airport (of Afghans hanging onto planes) as a cudgel against Biden. But it’s all a farce. Trump and most of the Republican Party wanted out as badly as Biden did.
Trump had already cut U.S. assistance in the country from 15,000 troops to 2,500. He also released 5,000 Taliban prisoners, many of whom rejoined the fight. And last month, he bragged about how he had forced Biden into a deal that couldn’t be stopped.
But this isn’t all on Trump. No, not even close.
Biden botched the withdrawal, without question. And he could have (and should have) altered how we exited the country. More interpreters should have been saved. The Visa program should have been streamlined. And I would even argue he should have altered the withdrawal plans given how fast the situation deteriorated.
But it goes back to the point made above. In the end, if the Afghans won’t fight, then why should we?
And if Americans don’t support the war effort, what could he really do?
Perhaps the Afghan people sensed correctly that our own willpower had dissolved. And when the U.S. said we were done, the Afghan forces simply collapsed, retreated, or melted away in secret deals made with the Taliban.
Biden doesn’t seem to be taking this nearly as hard as most veterans I know. Frankly, he seems to feel no responsibility on what has happened, as this mostly overlooked video from a year ago made clear.
In many ways, Biden’s position on this is almost the ultimate Republican, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps position. For Biden, the man who shows so much empathy in most situations, his attitude appears far too callous. It seems uncaring, almost. And in my mind, it is NOT a good look.
With the previous administration, Trump could get by with being the hard-edged jerk. It was his character. It was what people expected (and many wanted).
But to see Biden not speaking about this for days (until yesterday), and seeming so detached to the incredible suffering happening in Afghanistan, it has been hard to stomach (at least as a vet).
I think this entire mess could affect views on him, if he’s not careful. Even the staunchest Democrat would say that he has looked completely incompetent on this withdrawal. But on the other hand, 70 percent of Americans favored the exit. So, perhaps there will be little harm.
Biden will now need to work hard to overcome the incompetence narrative, which wasn’t even a thing before this, given how he had tackled Covid vaccinations and pulled together a strong, bipartisan infrastructure bill. (Nineteen Republicans supported that, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., even though Trump threatened any GOP member who supported the bill with a primary.)
Besides beating back the incompetence narrative, Biden will also have to work hard to assure allies that America will stand with (and support) our partners.
Only time will tell how this plays out. As I told a friend, most Americans couldn’t name three Afghan cities, much less find the country on a map. So Biden may come out of this okay, given how split the country is into partisan tribes.
The ones who WON’T come out of this well are veterans; particularly Afghan veterans. If you know anyone who served there, check on them.
While I will always hold onto the belief that we gave Afghanistan the greatest gift, for many, it all seems such a waste. Like a city that surrenders without a shot fired. Or a cause that neither party even supports.
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Stan R. Mitchell
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