How long ago did we lose the Afghanistan War? My friend James died in that war in a battle where he and his fellow U.S. military personnel were hopelessly outnumbered to begin with. That was sixteen years ago. The war was already lost by then, because so many U.S. troops had been pulled out of Afghanistan two years earlier in order to invade Iraq. We lost any hope of a positive outcome in Afghanistan that long ago.
And yet until just a couple years ago, there was still the potential for a mixed outcome in Afghanistan. Having missed our initial opportunity to wipe out the Taliban decades ago, we were never going to be able to turn Afghanistan back into a prosperous or even safe place. But just maybe, we could have found a way to exit the country without the result being a total dumpster fire.
Then two words happened: Donald Trump. Yes, I’m blaming him for this total disaster in Afghanistan. And yes, I’m tired of blaming him for so many things. But the facts are what they are. Trump spent four years not only weakening America across the board, but also specifically sabotaging things in Afghanistan. It was Trump who released thousands of prisoners back to the Taliban, who are now taking over the country. It was Trump who set up our departure from Afghanistan to be precisely as ugly as Vladimir Putin wanted it to be. And of course it was Trump who cut the U.S. presence in Afghanistan to an untenable minimum, but then declined to actually complete the final withdrawal during his own term, because he didn’t want to be the one to get blamed for the ugly ending.
The media is, of course, blaming President Joe Biden for the fall of Afghanistan. Numerous liberal pundits are doing the same as well. That’s all to be expected. Why not try to paint themselves as judicious, by taking cheap shots at Biden? Accurately blaming Trump for forcing a disastrous end, or even accurately blaming Bush and Cheney for willfully costing us a would-be victory nearly two decades ago, might make the media look biased.
But there’s more to it than who’s to blame. President Biden is not some helpless damsel in distress or some aloof figure who’s simply going to let this fall apart. He’s committed to getting the U.S. out of the quagmire, but he’s also making moves as we speak to try to counter the fallout. It won’t end up being as ugly as it’s being portrayed right now. But it’ll still be ugly. Republicans will try to turn it into a Biden scandal. It won’t stick, because Americans long ago gave up hope of a good outcome in Afghanistan anyway, and – right or wrong – most Americans are ready to just take the loss and move on.
And that right there may be the crux of the current situation we’re in. The Trump era brought America to its knees. We had a “President” who tried to sabotage and weaken us at every turn, so he could please our enemy Vladimir Putin. Our influence around the world has fallen to a generational low. We suffered through a completely botched pandemic that broke our health care system, our economy, and our patience. We have a State Department that was effectively all but scrapped and is still being rebuilt. We have homegrown domestic terrorists who spend all their time plotting things like a U.S. Capitol insurrection and the kidnapping of a Governor. We have endless internal issues. We’ve lost so often these past four years, it feels like it’s all we know how to do. We’re just six months into figuring out how to get up off our knees and dig out of the rubble – and the rest of the world hasn’t slowed down.
One of the most horrifying aspects of the Trump era was the reality that, even though we were going to defeat him, we were going to end up so damaged as a nation that we would continue taking losses for quite awhile once he was gone. Here we are taking a loss in Afghanistan, where – mighty Americans as we may feel we are – no one on any side has any idea at this point how to save it from being a loss.
Credit Biden for being the one willing to take the loss, rather than keeping a minimal force in Afghanistan for the rest of his presidency for the sole purpose of forcing the next U.S. President to be the one to take the inevitable loss. Criticize Biden for his handling of the withdrawal if you must, but be sure to include the specifics about how you would have handled the withdrawal better, because at this point we’re all listening. Keep in mind that we lost this twenty year war about eighteen years ago, and that the past four years guaranteed we’d lose it ugly.
But keep in mind that America is going to continue to take some losses. We spent four years on our knees, while our own President beat us up in precisely the way that America’s enemies wanted us beaten up. It’s remarkable that we’ve recovered in 2021 as much as we have, and that our losses haven’t been even bigger along the way. None of this should make you feel great. But just imagine how many more losses we’d be taking right now if we hadn’t put in the work required to defeat Trump after just one term.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report