First, a bit of housekeeping.
Alas, I failed in my self-declared determination to resume blogging every Wednesday and Saturday. My mending knee has made it clear that for the time being, my posting schedule will be “whenever….”
I’ll get back to what had been my “pre-surgery normal” before long. But clearly, I can’t push too far.
So much for scheduling.
As for content, I’ve made several attempts to write about others’ views of Afghanistan that feel right to me–and have discarded the posts I began. I continue to believe that it’s not only too soon now to draw any conclusions about events in Afghanistan; it will take quite a while before we can get a clearer picture of why our withdrawal was so messy.
But a column from the brilliant Washington Post journalist Eugene Robinson is, I believe, some of the wisest coverage I’ve seen to date. I’m quoting from it liberally below, with slight reformatting.
“How, exactly, did the Biden administration’s critics think U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan was ever going to end?
“‘Certainly not like this’ is not a valid answer, however tragic Thursday’s attacks near the Kabul airport prove to be. Please be specific. Did you envision a formal ceremony at the U.S. Embassy with the American flag being lowered and the Taliban flag raised?
“Did you see the Taliban waiting patiently while the U.S.-trained Afghan army escorted U.S. citizens, other NATO nationals and our Afghan collaborators to the airport for evacuation?
“Did you imagine that the country’s branch of the Islamic State would watch peacefully from the sidelines, or that regional warlords would renounce any hope of regaining their power, or that a nation with a centuries-old tradition of rejecting central authority would suddenly embrace it?
“This is not an apologia for the tragic and chaotic scenes that have been unfolding in Kabul. Rather, it is a reality check. If there is a graceful, orderly way to abandon involvement in a brutal, unresolved civil war on the other side of the world, please cite historical precedents. I can’t find them.”
Robinson stresses that we were never going to fight as hard as the Taliban because they’ve been fighting for their own land—and even the Pakistanis have a stake in the area that we can’t match. The war would just drag on, costing us blood and treasure year after year, while taking a huge toll on the Afghan people, fighters and civilians, as well.
And if we needed evidence of how little we understood the situation there, the rapid collapse of the 300,000 member Afghan army was proof positive.
Here Robinson makes a point that I’d like to see discussed more widely.
“Should we have begun airlifting Afghan translators and others who helped the allied effort out of the country earlier, perhaps using the now-abandoned air base at Bagram as the departure gate? Maybe so, but such an evacuation might have created a panic — ‘The Americans are leaving!’ — and a target both of the Taliban and ISIS. However we tried to leave, I believe, things were going to be bad.”
In fact, Robinson notes, the Biden administration began urging Americans to leave Afghanistan some months ago, but about 6,000 didn’t do so. Approximately 4500 have now been removed, with another 500 scheduled. Of the 1,000 or so left, according to Secretary of State Blinken, it’s not clear if they’re actually citizens or if they want to go.
At the same time,
“…we and our partners have already evacuated more than 100,000 Afghans and others who feared for their lives under Taliban rule, a truly remarkable logistical achievement under daunting circumstances. We owe a great debt to these people and we should continue the airlift as long as we can.”
Unfortunately, as the bombings indicate, we won’t be able to continue these rescue efforts indefinitely, and some people won’t make it to safety.
“That is tragic. But it would be true, I believe, whenever and however the U.S. mission ended.” (emphases mine)
“The images we’re seeing from Kabul are shocking, heartbreaking and embarrassing. But the real stain on our national honor was in making promises to Afghans that we never had the intention or even the ability to keep. Twenty years of U.S. blood and treasure gave Afghanistan not a secular democracy but its flickering illusion. And history will see this withdrawal, painful as it is to watch, not as ignominious but as inevitable.”
What are your thoughts about Robinson’s assessment?