For the past few days I've been agonizing over how I feel about the situation in Afghanistan.
It pains me that the horrific scenes of panicked people at the Kabul airport trying to flee their country are happening on Biden's watch, since I view him as hugely more competent than Trump, and so far he's mostly done the right things as president.
Last night my daughter, Celeste, and I talked by phone. Even though we're both progressives, much of our conversation centered on what was happening in Afghanistan.
Almost certainly the Taliban takeover will doom Afghan women and girls to subjugation under harsh interpretations of Islamic law. Which is beyond sad. And we worried about how the chaotic evacuation of Americans after an unexpectedly swift collapse of the Afghan military will impact the 2022 midterms and 2024 presidential election.
Celeste and I agreed that Biden had screwed-up. It felt weird for us to be so down on the action of a Democratic president we both strongly support, but that's how I felt yesterday.
Today, though, I'm more inclined to look favorably on what the Biden administration has done with the Afghanistan pullout. Here's why.
This afternoon I watched Biden's address to the nation, along with a Defense Department press briefing. Biden did a great job explaining why it made sense to withdraw all American forces from Afghanistan. There's no doubt in my mind that both Trump and Biden are correct in ordering this to happen.
(That's one of the few times I've used "Trump" and "correct" in the same sentence.)
Over the past twenty years the United States gave Afghanistan every opportunity to become a better country. We invested huge amounts of money in building roads, schools, other infrastructure. Over $80 billion went to the Afghan military. They got high tech weapons, an air force, training of an army far larger than Taliban forces.
Yet the Afghan military crumpled like a sheet of tissue paper in the past few weeks. The weapons our country gave them now are in the hands of the Taliban. Biden is absolutely correct when he said that it wouldn't matter if the United States stayed for another few months or another few years.
The collapse of the Afghan military proved that withdrawing all American forces was the right thing to do. Corruption and incompetence among Afghan leaders showed that Afghanistan squandered the support the United States poured into that country since 2001.
Our own military deserves a lot of blame also. Just as in Vietnam, our generals painted overly rosy pictures of how well the fight against the Taliban was going, and how strong the Afghan forces were. Sure, the soldiers who fought in Afghanistan were brave.
But in the end we have to face a harsh truth: their efforts were largely wasted. Soon after our invasion of Afghanistan, the mission shifted from hunting the 9/11 attackers to nation-building -- something the United States is really crappy at.
Just as in Iraq, we wrongly assume that Islamic countries want to be just like us: diverse, democratic, materialistic. We thought Afghanistan could be remade in our own image. Instead, Afghanistan pretty much remained the same, a nation beset with corruption whose people either tolerate the Taliban or actively support fundamentalist Islamic rule.
So there's no doubt Biden was correct to withdraw all American forces. The only question is whether he botched that withdrawal. I found Biden's speech and the Defense Department press conference persuasive in that regard also.
Biden said that Afghan leaders didn't want him to move rapidly on giving Afghan interpreters and others who helped the United States visas to leave the country, because this would have demoralized the Afghan military. Sure, it turned out that likely nothing could have made the Afghan military a worse fighting force than it already was, but this wasn't known at the time.
It does seem like our intelligence services should have been more aware of how rapidly the Afghan army would surrender to the Taliban. However, as a general said at the press conference, it's a truism that battle plans last as long as the first shot, then have to be revised.
I'm bothered by how difficult it will be now to get Afghans who worked with the United States out of the country.
However, it's hard to fault the Biden administration for not doing this sooner. Hindsight always is 20-20. Unfortunately, I doubt that the optimism of those who want us to get tens of thousands of Afghans out of the country in the next weeks and months is justified.
It's hard to believe that the Taliban will allow interpreters and their families to line up outside the Kabul airport and file onto waiting planes. Thus it's a undeniable tragedy that those who risked their lives to aid the United States will suffer mightily under Taliban rule.
Even so, I suspect that in the long run, Biden will have the support of the American people for how he handled the Afghanistan pullout. It wasn't pretty, to put it mildly. But it was necessary. And I have no doubt that if Trump was still president, he would have screwed things up way worse than Biden did.