It's pile-on Biden time. Naturally Republicans are criticizing how the Afghanistan pullout is being handled. That's to be expected.
But many Democrats, along with mainstream media like CNN, MSNBC, and Washington Post/New York Times opinion writers, also are falling all over themselves in their eagerness to roast Biden over the Afghanistan coals.
I find this unfair.
Like I said a few days ago, "Afghanistan is horrible, but Biden is doing right thing." What I've learned since only makes me more confident that while our withdrawal hasn't been perfect -- what in life is? -- there's little evidence that the Biden administration has made a major blunder.
Talking heads on the cable news networks have been blasting Biden for ignoring intelligence that supposedly pointed to a rapid takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban as the August 31 deadline for withdrawing all American forces neared.
Thus, they claimed, Biden should have been getting American civilians and Afghans who helped us out of the country much sooner, given that intelligence.
Only problem is, today General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said something quite different.
The top US general said repeatedly on Wednesday that he had not seen any intelligence assessments suggesting that Afghanistan would collapse as quickly as it did.
"There was nothing that I or anybody else saw that indicated a collapse of this army and this government in 11 days," Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said at a Pentagon press briefing, his first since the Taliban seized control of Kabul.
He told reporters that "there are not reports that I am aware of that predicted a security force of 300,000 would evaporate in 11 days, from 6 August to 16 August, with the capture of 34 provinces and the capital city of Kabul," explaining that no one saw an army of that size falling apart that fast.
So there goes the basis for criticizing Biden because he failed to heed intelligence reports warning of a very rapid Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. If Biden was told that the country wouldn't fall to the Taliban for many weeks or months, it makes sense that he would wait to get all Americans and Afghan refugees out of Afghanistan.
After all, the Kabul airport would still be in the hands of the Afghan government, as would major cities and highways.
In an interview today Biden said something that strikes me as probably true: no matter when the American withdrawal happened, there would be chaos.
That's the normal state of affairs in Afghanistan, chaos. It's been that way for the twenty years since we invaded in 2001. It's been that way for a lot longer, also. This is a tribal nation. Afghans don't trust the corrupt central government. They are used to looking out for themselves. Their allegiance is to their tribe, not Afghan leaders.
We Americans tend to look at the world through our own nationalistic eyes. Since we would fight to defend our country, we assume that people in other nations would do the same thing. Bad assumption.
Today the New York Times has a fascinating story, "Collapse and Conquest: The Taliban Strategy That Seized Afghanistan." Basically, the Taliban negotiated terms of surrender with Afghan commanders, working their way up from check points and small towns to provincial capitals.
When they got Afghan forces to surrender in exchange for money, power, and not being killed, the Taliban acquired valuable military equipment and momentum that made it easier to control more territory. The process ended with the Taliban entering Kabul without having to fight for the Afghan capital.
Who among the Biden critics saw this coming? Probably no one. According to General Milley, the intelligence community didn't. At least, not as a likely scenario, since the rapid collapse of the Afghan military was just one possible outcome among many.
When something bad has already happened, it's easy for Monday morning quarterbacks to rewind the tape and point to things that supposedly were obvious. However, Afghanistan obviousness is anything but. The Biden critics weren't able to predict what was going to happen there ahead of time, but now they're expert in playing the "what should have been done" game.
Another gripe I have is that I'm not hearing these critics explain how Biden is supposed to make sure that all Americans and refugees under the SIV (special immigrant visas) program get out of Afghanistan. All they do is say, "Biden had better make sure that no one is left behind."
OK. That's a laudable goal. I hope it is achieved.
But the Taliban control all of Afghanistan other than the Kabul airport. Hopefully the Taliban will allow Americans and the Afghans who helped us during the past 20 years to enter the airport. This is a daunting challenge, though.
The United States isn't going to send our 6,000 or so soldiers at the airport out in vehicles like military Uber drivers to find people who need to be airlifted out of Afghanistan. As someone I heard interviewed today said, that would risk attacks or ambushes.
Yes, the folks who are rewinding the tape like to say that if Biden had started the airlift sooner, it would have been much easier for the people who needed to get out to make it to the airport. That's a valid criticism, since there's reason to believe that the Biden administration followed in the footsteps of the Trump administration by slow walking the SIV program.
Again, though, this problem only became crystal clear in hindsight. If the Afghan government and military hadn't collapsed much quicker than anyone expected, flights out of the country could have occurred over several months rather than several weeks.
What's happening in Afghanistan right now illustrates how limited the human ability to forecast the future is. Biden wasn't referring to chaos theory when he spoke about chaos, but that theory is very much relevant here.
Small changes in initial conditions can have huge nonlinear effects. Just as a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can help produce a hurricane many hundreds of miles away in Florida, all the small things happening in Afghanistan prior to Biden announcing his pullout timetable led to unexpected large events months later.
Life is uncertain. We can't control much with any sort of exactitude. So cut Biden some slack, critics. You couldn't have done any better than he did with the Afghanistan pullout.