Our Circle of Shame

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Most of the time I have disagreed with a great deal of what Donald Trump has said and done, but I’m not of those people who refuses to acknowledge the good in the man. When he insisted over and over again that we needed to get out of Afghanistan I wholeheartedly supported him. He seemed to understand that twenty years of fighting a seemingly endless war was untenable, something that his predecessors had been unwilling to accept. Eventually President Trump, along with Mike Pompeo, brokered a deal with the Taliban to leave Afghanistan by May 1, 2021. While I felt a bit queasy about a peace treaty with a group known for terrorism, I once again believed that President Trump understood the Afghanistan way of operating better than most and so I actually celebrated his decision. 

It seemed to me that we had lost sight of our original reasons for invading Afghanistan in the first place. We had rendered the nests of terrorists less powerful and had even killed Osama bin Laden, but the war drug on in a belief that we might somehow create a democracy where warlords once ruled. Thus our involvement in Afghanistan continued through two different presidents for sixteen years. When Trump came to office he was as good as his word in finally achieving a set date for withdrawing from the region. 

President Biden would eventually announce that he was honoring the agreement but that he would mark September 11, 2021 as the day when Americans would be gone from that country. While I was a bit upset with the idea of providing an exact date, I was happy that our last two presidents had finally come to their senses as the other had not. Of course I had little idea how complex the logistics of such a maneuver would be, and I’m beginning to believe that those in charge may have been just as naive as I was. 

On Sunday, the government of Afghanistan completely collapsed in the most shocking way as Kabul fell to the the Taliban without resistance from the government. In fact, the president of the country had snuck out under cover of darkness. Chaos has ensued ever since and the opposing sides in the United States are standing in a circle pointing fingers at one another in hopes of placing blame. Thus far President Biden is bearing the brunt of the furor with even former President Trump insisting that Biden should resign from the presidency in shame. Meanwhile I am shaking my head in disbelief at the politicization of yet another issue in our country.

First of all, there is lots of blame to go around. It might be argued that President George W. Bush never should have gone to Afghanistan in the first place. If we had gone, then we should have left once the original mission was accomplished. President Obama first insisted that we needed to leave and then lost his nerve and created a surge in forces there. President Trump was able to get a deal and begin plans to leave but he was voted out of office before having the opportunity to meet the May 1, deadline he had created. We will never know if his plans would have gone any better than those of President Biden. Instead of all of the accusations and hypocrisy I think it would be best if we instead faced the reality of what is happening and worked together to get Americans and their allies out of Afghanistan as quickly as possible. 

Afghanistan has been a thorn in the sides of Britain, the USSR and the United States for over a hundred years. Part of the problem is that the country has a culture that is based on tribal and familial relationships rather than allegiance to the country. The people are more likely to respond to informal agreements with people like them whom they trust more than even well-meaning armies from foreign lands. The level of corruption among government leaders is difficult for us to imagine. Money and support that we send there does not always filter down to the places we intended it to be. The people are more likely to settle for relationships that preclude fighting when given the opportunity. It seems as though they are just as tired of the decades of war as we are.

The Taliban understands how things work in Afghanistan and so even before Donald Trump left office they began aligning with local Taliban chieftains who knew and understood who the elders were and which tribes to which they belonged. They did not suddenly overtake the country in a matter of days. They had been plotting and planning for over a year even while Trump was still president. I’m not sure why they did not choose to wait until the Americans were gone to execute their plans, but perhaps it was because they distrusted us as much as we distrust them that they took the initiative. At any rate the die had been cast already. The things that we are suddenly worried about happening to the women and girls of Afghanistan were inevitable as soon as Trump and the Taliban shook hands. What should have gone better was a process of getting key people out of the country sooner, but who knows if accelerating those logistics would have only made the Taliban react even more quickly?

What is certain is that the leaders of the government in Afghanistan, established with the help of the United States over twenty years and billions of dollars, was a cardboard sham. The fact that the president and the military surrendered so quickly is proof that none of the training and investments had worked the way we had hoped. The hearts of the people were not really in working with America to create a democracy. It would not have fallen apart so quickly if they had been willing to fight for it the way our troops have been doing. 

President Trump was right and so was Present Biden. It was time to end the war in Afghanistan as soon as possible. Five more years would not have made a difference nor would fifty or one hundred. I suspect that most of the people there just want us gone, and while I worry about how the women and girls will be treated I wonder if staying there would have made any real difference when we were not looking.

I am heartbroken by the scenes that I have watched unfold. I suspect that in our usual fashion we will direct our ire toward President Biden without thinking much about all of the others who have made horrific mistakes in Afghanistan that have led to loss of life. We won’t notice or mention that Donald Trump took down the messages on his website extolling the treaty that he had made with the Taliban. He and his supporters will conveniently forget about the photos of him with Taliban leaders at his home in Florida. They will hide the old tweets in which he chided President Biden for taking too long to retreat from the country. It will be more politically expedient for them to turn Biden into a villain than to suggest that they would like to help in speeding up the safe departure of those desperately attempting to leave the airport in Kabul. They will milk this event all the way through the next many elections rather than admitting that continuing our presence in Afghanistan for perpetuity would be a huge mistake. The only moral thing to do is to set aside the circular shooting match and help those who desperately want to leave. Those refugees must become our top priority, not making political hay.

I hope and pray that Afghanistan does not become a bloodbath. I pray for the people there. The Chinese and Pakistanis are already eyeing opportunities to bring their influence to the region. Even the Russians are considering another pass at using the country for their own purposes. Sadly the people have been pawns for centuries but we were never going to be the saviors that we wanted to be. Sometimes it’s important to know when to walk away, but not without protecting those who have helped us in the past.