Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
The collapse of Afghanistan is a story that’s going to have a long tail, I’m afraid. It’s a genuine tragedy and one that most people consider avoidable, even though avoidance would have resulted in the death and injury of many more American soldiers over two or three more decades. All geopolitical dilemmas go on a metaphorical balance scale, and so often the two sides appear equally fraught.
What’s bothering me right now is how vociferously everyone is piling on Biden. Republicans and Democrats alike. Even though the policy of complete withdrawal was ratified under Trump last year, the reality of these terrible consequences is happening on Biden’s watch, and no doubt he and his team have made choices that contributed to the messiness. But in all likelihood, these would have been the consequences no matter who was pulling the levers. Our handling of the Afghanistan project was a failure.
I keep asking myself, would I be criticizing Trump if the exact same things were happening under his hand, and the honest answer is yes. I would be ranting about how he screwed the whole thing up, how he doesn’t care about the Afghans we’re leaving behind, how he’s consigned Afghan women to lives of abuse and oppression. I suppose Biden could have overturned the Trump policy and opted to maintain a troop contingent on the ground in the same kind of open-ended strategy we’re still practicing in South Korea, but he’d take a lot of heat for that choice too. Both he and Trump, along with a majority of the American people, agreed that twenty years was long enough to experiment with the idea of bringing democracy to a country like Afghanistan. Twenty years, two trillion dollars, and 2400 American lives.
Yes, I’d have ranted at Trump, but I have a nagging feeling that I’d come to see it as the best of several bad options, since it would (and now will) drive home the truth that we have no business invading other countries with the goal of imposing our way of life, our principles, and our economic desires on them. Now we know, thanks to both Iraq and Afghanistan, that those ventures are doomed to fail.
As far as the humanitarian crisis in that country is concerned, the fate of women and girls there is the biggest calamity of all, yet we don’t intervene in other countries, particularly in Africa, where ethnic and religious practices oppress and mistreat women. You’d think widespread genital mutilation would be cause enough to send in the marines, but no. We turn a blind eye.
Twenty-twenty hindsight tells us now that we should have withdrawn from Afghanistan upon completing the mission of destroying its capacity to harbor and train terrorists in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. But many of us were saying that all along, and many of us understood that the “you break it you bought it” line of Colin Powell’s was no laughing matter.
We bought it all right. And the price was inconceivably high.