As President Joe Biden held his head in his hands during an East Room address to the nation on Aug. 26, to discuss the killing of 13 servicemen in Kabul by a suicide bomber, it should have been a moment of sober reflection.
It certainly was enlightening.
After 20 years acting as an unwanted sheriff, military governor and de facto government in a country that didn’t want us there, the United States under Biden did something three previous presidents failed to do: He got us out of Afghanistan.
He didn’t lose a war. He resigned as sheriff. It wasn’t his “darkest day” in office, as some in the corporate media painted it. His single biggest mistake was underestimating the amount of time (his administration predicted one year) between beginning the troop withdrawal and the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan. Yet it took less than a single Scaramucci for the Taliban to win out over a military force trained since 2001 by Pentagon. That should also be cause for sober reflection.
It did lead to a question Friday I asked of press secretary Jen Psaki as she defended Biden. He said that whoever was responsible for the terrorist bombing the day before would be hunted down and made to pay. I asked how we could rely upon that, since it would take a great deal of military intelligence—and perhaps boots on the ground—to understand and find the threat. Psaki urged faith in the US military. Shortly after, the Pentagon announced it had killed two people responsible for the suicide bomb that killed 13 US servicemen. US forces have also struck since then, blowing up a truck filled with suicide bombers, the Pentagon says, and killing civilians, according to sources on the ground in Afghanistan. There was the answer.
Much has been made about the Afghanistan situation across the globe. Diplomats worldwide are as divided as the American public about the success, necessity and execution of efforts to extricate ourselves from the military mission in Afghanistan. Since July, the administration says it has relocated about 122,300 people who wanted out of the country. By the time this is over, US troops will have evacuated the equivalent of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in just over a month.
“I know of no conflict, as a student of history—no conflict where, when a war was ending, one side was able to guarantee that everyone that wanted to be extracted from that country would get out,” Biden said.
That’s historic. Meanwhile, Biden’s critics continue to hammer him on the suicide bombings, the chaos of the withdrawal and his apparent inability to foresee every possible circumstance in closing out our military participation in a country that never wanted us there.
Government decisions in the United States, more often than not these days, comes with divisive political ramifications—even if those ramifications are unwarranted. And, unfortunately the divisive nature of American politics has stretched outward to embrace our allies and enemies who are eager to exploit the Afghan situation to their own ends. Corporate media? We aid and abet the division with questions and stories that highlight the division, often at the cost of facts and sober reflection.
History and voters will judge Biden on his actions. But what you cannot deny is that Biden, for better or worse, has done something we haven’t seen in the US in awhile, and is certainly scarce among most world leaders: He took responsibility for his actions.
The US has long tried to balance its participation in events outside of its borders. Prior to both world wars, Washington was content to let the world burn itself down, as long as it didn’t affect our country. After Nazism, fascism and Japanese imperialism forced our hand, the US took on a different role, that of “Team America, World Police.”
That role is coming to an end. As John Fogerty wrote in “Fortunate Son:”
Yeah, some folks inherit star-spangled eyes
They send you down to war
And when you ask ’em, “How much should we give?”
They only answer, “More, more, more”
That lyric reflected the sentiment of the baby-boomer generation that abhorred our country’s extended military role in an unsafe world which led to the deaths of untold thousands of American troops over the last 60 years.
Every president before Biden was, in some way, still willing to use American lives as chattel hoping to make the world safe for democracy. Biden reiterated in his speech last week how futile those efforts are, and how the money and lives invested in Afghanistan are better invested closer to home.
The US is retreating, militarily, from the world stage, while Biden says we must step up our diplomatic efforts to maintain our global presence and ensure that authoritarianism does not succeed over democracy.
Some are pessimistic about the future of self-government. Others who believe themselves highly educated and keen observers of world events and human nature are so apoplectic over the events in Afghanistan they see nothing but pain, torture and the disintegration of American involvement in world affairs‑and the triumph of chaos, terrorism and anarchy.
These people are not highly educated. They’re ignorant and arrogant. Arguably, the only time in our history we’ve been 100% successful in nation-building through protracted military action was when we built our own.
Perhaps that is why we always use this as our “go to” in world events. Education, trade and diplomacy have always taken a back seat to military intervention as we tried to assist the world, or build nations. Biden informed us that “nation-building” was never what the mission to Afghanistan was about, as he continues to push other, non-lethal, methods to maintain an American presence abroad.
During the last century it was American culture, through music, film, education and the allure of the American dream that attracted people to the United States—not to mention jobs. Yet it is our military oppression and endless wars, coupled with the hypocrisy of our government, that has encouraged and emboldened our detractors.
The world needs real leadership. It also needs to recognize it when it sees it. Whether or not you agree with Biden, he has made a decision and stuck to it. And he understands the circumstances of the decision and what that decision portends.
It has led to a mess. Biden made some mistakes. But in chaos, they say, is opportunity.
The question is, what does the world make of this opportunity?