Afghanistan, Joe Biden’s biggest mistake as president


At least, I hope and pray it will be his biggest mistake. We — by which I mean the United States, and the world that depends on it — can’t afford any bigger ones.

That takes a lot of explanation, more than I have time to address tonight, but let me at least get started.

It’s complicated, which is why, in these last few months, when I’ve had so little time to blog, I’ve not addressed the topic. Especially since I knew nothing I could say would change anything — not my readers’ minds, and certainly not the president’s course of action. But the Taliban, with its rough impatience to oppress the country again, wasn’t polite enough to allow me to wait any longer. So, this being an opinion blog, I need to express some opinions now.

As y’all know, I am profoundly grateful that Joe Biden is our president. Not only did he save our country from Donald Trump by winning the election, he has taking office done a great many impressive things. Good things.

But there’s nobody I agree with on everything, and sometimes I disagree profoundly with even the best leaders, people I admire greatly.

In the past couple of years, since he launched his campaign in 2019, Joe Biden has done two things I disagreed with to that extent. The first was at the very start of the campaign, when he dropped his support for the Hyde Amendment. No, I don’t want to have another argument with any of y’all about abortion. But I mention it just to set up what I want to say about Afghanistan.

As I understand it, Biden abandoned what he believed about the Hyde Amendment because it seemed impossible, to him and his staff, for him to obtain the Democratic nomination without doing so. Democrats, who tend to congratulate themselves on their open-mindedness, have zero tolerance for anyone who opposes any facet of the party’s doctrinaire position on abortion. If he had held on to his principled position, he would not have become the Democratic nominee, and Donald Trump would still be president of the United States.

No one could have removed Trump from office except the right Democratic nominee. And Joe had lost the argument within the Democratic Party on the Hyde Amendment decades ago. A mere senator could get away with that. But not the party’s presidential nominee.

Similarly, those of us who believe the United States needed to stay in Afghanistan in order to prevent the Taliban from retaking the country lost our argument long, long ago. And not just in one party. The hordes of those who disagreed marched upon us from the left and right both, and overwhelmed us politically long before Joe became president. I suppose he decided he had no choice on Afghanistan in light of that, so he might as well get it out of the way to concentrate on all the other ambitious things he wanted to do. A simple matter of political pragmatism, like the change on the Hyde Amendment. LBJ badly wanted to accomplish so many things domestically, and hated having Vietnam on his hands. But he didn’t dare withdraw, and you see how he came out on that. Joe was avoiding that mistake. “Our leaders did that in Vietnam when I got here as a young man,” the president said today. “I will not do it in Afghanistan.”

In his earlier post, Bryan said his objection was tactical, not strategic. He’s not arguing we shouldn’t have left; he’s criticizing the way we did it. Well, my objection is strategic. Leaving was the wrong thing to do.

Note that I don’t disagree with Joe on the politics. As I said, our opponents across the spectrum “overwhelmed us politically” on this long ago. But that didn’t make us wrong. We are told that our venture in Afghanistan was a failure. It wasn’t. Note what I said above. I believe “the United States needed to stay in Afghanistan in order to prevent the Taliban from retaking the country.” And we did that, for 20 years. In perhaps the most fragmented, ungovernable (by Western notions of governance — stable administration, rule of law, etc.) large country in the world — or one that at least was in the running for the title. And it had been that way for centuries, if not millennia. (Don’t ask me to be more specific; I don’t claim to be a student of Afghan history going back to Alexander.)

The goal was not, in the phrase of those looking for a phrase that made our presence there seem as absurd as possible, to establish a “Jeffersonian democracy.” (I’m not sure I would embrace that as a goal even here. Madisonian, maybe.) We just needed it to be a place where the Taliban didn’t rule. Where the Taliban didn’t oppress the people, especially, to a shocking degree, the women and girls. And, from the purely practical American perspective, where the Taliban couldn’t provide a safe base for entities such as Al Qaeda.

Did our presence completely shut the Taliban out of power? No, they were always holding onto this or that piece of the country. But it was like that when the Taliban itself was the chief national power. Look up the Northern Alliance, for instance. Look up tribalism (we have Identity Politics; they have tribalism, with AK-47s). Afghanistan wasn’t a showplace for what the Taliban wanted any more than it would ever be for us.

But our presence there held them in check, kept them from sweeping in and doing whatever they could.

Our presence. Not our perfection. Not our 1945-style victory. Just our presence, which in and of itself was better, far better than our absence (ask those thousands of Afghans scrambling to get on one of the last rides out).

Not even our fighting. No U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan since February of 2020. Just our presence.

And here’s the thing: If we’re going to have this big, strong military, the forces should be positioned where their presence does some good. As it did in Afghanistan. What good does it do to have the troops in, say, Georgia or North Carolina or Texas, where they just sit around and train. Why not have them where they do good just by being there? As they have, say, in Germany since 1945?

Of course, if you don’t believe we should have this big, strong military, well then I can’t possibly say anything that will make any sense to you. I, for one, believe it is essential that the world’s largest, richest liberal democracy have the strongest military forces, rather than ceding that position to, say, China — which would love to be in that position. If you don’t agree, well, perhaps you want to go read something else.

And as long as we have that military, why hide it away in places where the only good it does is provide an artificial boost to the local economy?

This, of course, is what John McCain was talking about when he said the thing that made people from the extreme left to the extremer right regard him as a lunatic, saying that we might need to stay in Iraq for 100 years, or as he said in 2015, we might need a permanent presence in Afghanistan:

INSKEEP: Is the United States headed toward a permanent presence, then, in Afghanistan?

MCCAIN: Oh, I think we are, just as we have a permanent presence in South Korea and in Japan and in Germany and other places where we’ve fought conflicts. That does not mean that we would continue to see casualties, but I am totally sure that if we pull everybody out to the degree as it’s presently planned, we will see the Iraq movie again. And that is the place, I would remind you, where the 9/11 attacks were inaugurated….

I don’t know why people think that was crazy. It makes perfectly calm, reassuring sense to me. We’re not talking about, to use another favorite phrase of the “let’s get out” contingent, a “forever war.” We’re simply talking about a presence. One that might not be permanent, but let’s just call it that to keep the kids in the back seat from saying, “Are we there yet?” every five minutes.

After Bryan wrote his post earlier, he and I had a brief discussion via text. In that context, he agreed with me to this extent: “I think we should have kept a presence in Afghanistan, but my group of folks lost that argument.”

I responded,

Maybe you lost the argument, but you’re not commander in chief.

If I were commander in chief, and people wanted to abandon Afghanistan (which I agree they do want), they’d have to remove me from office to get it done.

I like to make dramatic statements like that, but I do have that kind of stubborn streak. I’d rather fail at many other things than hand over to the Taliban all those people who put their lives on the line to help us help their country — not to mention every single woman and girl in the country. That’s something I couldn’t live with, if I had the power to stop it. And if I lost my job for refusing to go along, well, I’ve lost jobs before.

What worries me is that so much more than Afghanistan is at stake. Joe Biden probably has no more important international task than restoring trust in the United States after the nightmare of the past four years. This collapse in Afghanistan does serious damage on that front. And as I suggested in my first graf above, the world can’t really afford that kind of lack of confidence in America.

I could go along and say Trump put Biden in this spot. He made an agreement that would have had us out in May; Joe at least delayed that. Some make that argument, while at the same time noting, as did Bryan, that there were better ways to do this.

The president — my president, I’m still proud to say — gave a good speech today about all of this. I admired it, mostly. And I agree with him on this: “After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces. That’s why we’re still there.”

But in my book, this wasn’t a good time, either…

He gave a good speech...

He gave a good speech…



130 thoughts on “Afghanistan, Joe Biden’s biggest mistake as president

  1. Doug T

    Against my first impression, considering all the info, Joe probably made the correct decision. Trump had already drawn down troop levels from 15,500 to 2,500? The countryside was already under Taliban control? Afghan soldiers were selling our weapons to the Taliban? It would have taken another surge just to get back to where we were, which was precarious at best.

    We’re old enough to remember Vietnam. There is no good way to leave.

  2. Ken

    I find I’m rather indifferent over the question of an American military presence in Afghanistan. In or Out? Whatever.

    If a couple thousand US troops more or less had prevented the chaos we’re seeing now, it probably would’ve been worth it.

    But I do not buy the notion that the Afghan Army didn’t resist more in the final days merely because of a lack of US guidance and air support.

    What’s now clear is that 20 years of effort, treasure and lives built a Potemkin façade, nothing more. The military and government there were not in control of anything more than a few urban centers and maybe some roads – and much of that only marginally. The Taliban was effectively in control of most of the country, and had been for some time. They had already re-taken the country, not just this or that piece. That’s the only explanation for their rapid “advance” in recent weeks and days. They were just filling in the gaps. There was no point in our continuing to prop up a Potemkin façade.

    Afghanistan will see some very ugly days to come. Not least because the government now will have practically no budget, most of which came from the US, World Bank, etc.

    Our responsibility now is to accept as many Afghan refugees and asylum seekers as wish to come. Not the trickle that were coming in under the previous US regime or little bubbling brook under the current administration. Tens of thousands or millions, whatever it takes. Women and girls especially.

  3. Ken

    Show us not the aim without the way.
    For ends and means on earth are so
    That changing one, you change the other
    Each different path brings other paths in

  4. bud

    Biden got this mostly right. The Afghan people chose to go the Taliban route. That’s their right. It’s their country not ours. After a chaotic start the evacuation seems to be going well. Don’t be fooled by all the scare mongering that will come from the hawks. They’ve never gotten anything correct on these war issues. This is no exception.

  5. Barry

    Glad we are leaving.

    It’s been a huge mess and mistake for a long, long time.

    Not one American needs to be there in any military capacity.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      That column was in The Washington Post.

      But the Post’s editorial board took a position much closer to my own, in a piece headlined, “The debacle in Afghanistan is the worst kind: Avoidable.” An excerpt:

      Worse, this was avoidable. Conventional military triumph was not in the cards in Afghanistan, as Mr. Biden forcefully insisted in a speech to the nation Monday, in which he blamed his predecessors and Afghanistan’s political leaders for failures that set the stage for today’s disaster. Contrary to his and others’ cliches about “endless war,” though, U.S. troops had not been in major ground operations, and had endured very modest casualties, since 2014. Mr. Biden statically measures the dollar costs of staying in Afghanistan. Yet there will be costs, potentially high ones, attached to a botched withdrawal, too. A small U.S. and allied military presence — capable of working with Afghan forces to deny power to the Taliban and its al-Qaeda terrorist allies, while diplomats and nongovernmental organizations nurtured a fledgling civil society — not only would have been affordable but also could have paid for itself in U.S. security and global credibility….

    2. Bob Amundson

      Too much like Vietnam – IMHO, Vietnam a choice, Afghanistan a necessity. We lost this battle but I hope not the war on terror (which affects women and children disproportionally). Four Presidents “blew it.”

  6. Bryan Caskey

    Just for some context, a survey done from 8/14-8/15 on Biden’s handling of military operations in Afghanistan shows 69% disapproval, and with 23% approval.

    When you look at it by party, 48% of Democrats disapprove of the Biden’s handling of the situation, while almost 40% approved. Naturally, the gap was much among Republicans with 89% disapproving and 7% saying they approve.

    I would be interested in talking to the 7% of people who identify as Republican and approve of Biden’s handling of Afghanistan. I would guess there’s some overlap with Biden pulling out and people who are just fine to get out of Afghanistan regardless of what it costs in terms of lives and credibility – the America First people.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Well, here’s what Hunter Limbaugh had to say. He was a conservative Republican member of the SC House back in the 90s. And when I say “conservative,” I mean he was actually conservative, not one of these Trump yahoos. Very thoughtful guy:

      Let’s be clear about something: Our withdrawal from Afghanistan was negotiated by the Trump administration. Biden pushed the original deadline from May 1 to September 11. We’re leaving now. The logistics were always going to be messy. There was never any agreement to expatriate tens of thousands of Afghanis, and there’s no way that could happen. We’ve managed to get our people out safely. This “war” was abandoned years ago. The Afghans didn’t have the will, for whatever reason, to defeat the Taliban. It’s once again a reminder, as were Vietnam and Iraq, that we can’t, by force, create a pluralistic democracy where the people of the country are less willing to fight for it than are we. It sucks for the Afghanis who were willing to fight for it, but they were betrayed far more by their countrymen than by us.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Oh, and yes, I think Hunter is related somehow to Rush. He used to get asked that a lot back when he was in the House. I remember having the impression he would have preferred people ask him about something else…

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        Oh, and remember Ginny Wolfe, David Beasley’s press secretary when he was governor? Here’s what she said in response to Hunter:

        I agree with everything you say. It doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking for the girls and women going back under brutal Taliban control.
        I remember, when I was in Kabul for some time in 2009, during the presidential recount, having a meal with an Afghan journalist working with a major US paper. He told me we were trying to build democracy in a geographic area that was not a country, but a bunch of rival tribes joined only by an arbitrary circle drawn around them. That it would never work.
        That was big picture. Little pictures were women wearing burkas shortened just enough to show a bit of ankle and some cute shoes. Free to leave home without a male family member “escorting” them. Other women with no burkas at all (!) and lots of little girls in school uniforms. Professional women in meetings. And flowers planted in every bit of spare dirt .
        It’s just tragic that the big realities suffocate those little pictures in the end.
        Inevitable, really. Still tragic.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      Oh, and as for the 89% of Republicans disapproving… I suppose they would approve had we withdrawn in May, on Trump’s schedule, thereby leading to an even quicker disaster.

      Oh, wait. I was assuming that they would respond logically. Silly me…

    3. Randle

      That poll was done by the partisan group Trafalgar, which also predicted that Trump would easily win the 2020 election, including Georgia (known by most GOP operatives to have turned blue), Michigan, Nevada and Arizona. Their prediction record in 2020 was around 50 percent correct— so an F for them.
      It’s hard to imagine most people thinking this was Biden’s finest hour, but give the evacuation a few days to get on course. It’s going more smoothly today, and we should all hope that it continues to improve. I remember the fall of Saigon; the evacuation was a mess; we left thousands of our allies behind. So far, the military hasn’t figured out how to lose a war and leave without dishonor and chaos.
      And memories are short, especially when our own country is on fire. This is not a Biden win, but it may not be a crippling loss, either.

    4. Barry

      Polls like this are worthless.

      Republicans hate Biden. Democrats hated trump, Nothing will change that.

      Btw- glad the SC Supreme Court ruled against Wilson. That’s was an easy call.

      1. Bryan Caskey

        Heard about the SC Supreme Court ruling, but haven’t had a chance to read it.

        I thought the interesting part of the poll was how much Biden lost Democrats on the botched withdrawal that has thousands of Americans behind Taliban checkpoints. Your mileage may vary.

        1. randle

          You think it is interesting that Democrats don’t approve of a problematic withdrawal? It seems like a normal reaction to me. Democrats aren’t a cult; they’ re capable of critical thinking, including voicing disapproval when they think it ‘s warranted. Unlike the GQP.

        2. Barry

          It’s not surprising at all.

          The entire weekend has been full of “how awful Afghanistan is” news stories nonstop.

          Some of the negative reaction from democrats is people that think he should have pulled out day 1.

          As Michael Smerconish has explained in detail 2 days in a row on his national radio show: This was going to be a mess no matter when we pulled out.

          Americans and Afghans who have been paying any attention for the last 8-10 months knew to get the heck out of there any way they can.

          1. Bryan Caskey

            “As Michael Smerconish has explained in detail 2 days in a row on his national radio show: This was going to be a mess no matter when we pulled out.”

            Nonsense. The current situation is terrible execution and could have been avoided by better planning. It’s incompetence by either the entire Pentagon and our intelligence agencies if they failed to inform Biden of this possibility, or it’s incompetence on Biden’s part for not listening and planning for it. Where are all the people resigning in shame or being fired?

              1. Bryan Caskey

                No idea. Apparently, a radio host. I can’t think of the last time I listened to talk radio that wasn’t sports related, and then, it’s only when I’m actually driving to/from a Gamecock sports event.

              2. Barry

                It’s hard to believe you don’t know who Michael Smerconish is – in fact- I don’t believe it.

                Michael Smerconish is an attorney with the Philly firm Kline & Spector (Arlen Spector’s son), long time contributing columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer, served in the George HW Bush administration and has a 3 hour national radio show on the SIRIUS POTUS channel, was a MSNBC fill in host for years, and is currently a Saturday CNN host. He also ran several of Arlen Spector’s Senate campaigns in Pennsylvania.

                He also wrote the New York Times best seller Murdered by Mumia: A Life Sentence of Loss, Pain, and Injustice. The definitive story of cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal. He co-wrote the book with officer Daniel Faulkner’s wife.

                He was a diehard Conservative and is now a proud independent.

                His radio show if fantastic- and he has the best guests of any show on tv or radio.

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  You should believe it. I wouldn’t have told you were it not true.

                  Of course, it was only true when I said it. I did look him up a moment later, and saw those details you just shared. Not that that makes me familiar with him.

                  One of the many true things I tell y’all here — over and over, in fact — is that I don’t do broadcast media, for the most part. I don’t know much of anything about those people on CNN or Fox News or MSNBC, and from what little does seep through by osmosis, I don’t want to know more.

                  I do listen to radio, but only NPR. And then, mostly via the NPR ONE app, which allows me to control what is playing to some extent. Then there are podcasts, from NPR but also from sources such as the NYT, which I see as an adjunct to my newspaper subscription.

                  And that’s it. Mostly I read, and most of that via my iPad. And when I click on something on one of my newspaper apps and it turns out to be a video or multimedia presentation instead of text, I usually get irritated.

                  One thing I read about this Smerconish guy that interested me — his columns for the Inquirer. I’m guessing he started doing that over the last decade, because I don’t remember the name from the days when I looked at Philadelphia content — among the many, many other sources — for op-ed pieces. Or maybe they weren’t putting him on the wire; I don’t know. Or maybe I saw his stuff and it didn’t make much of an impression. Unlike, say, the work of Trudy Rubin.

                  Anyway, the name hit a blank with me…

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    Not that I was a huge fan of Trudy, but I did respect her views on foreign policy, so we did run her a lot. We had to. We had too few foreign policy columnists to choose from.

                    Mike Fitts and I had a running joke going about her columns. They were time-savers, if we wanted to be lazy. We could just put the same headline on any one of them: “Oh my God, we’re all going to die!”

                    Her columns tended to see foreign policy issues as pretty hopeless. She’s probably really in her element right now, with what’s happening in Afghanistan. And if she gets tired of that, she can fall back on Haiti…

                    1. Brad Warthen Post author

                      Yep, I guessed right. I just looked, and here are three of her latest columns:

                      • “The horror of Afghan women abandoned by America’s troop pullout”
                      • “China is pushing a big COVID-19 lie that makes a new pandemic harder to prevent”
                      • “Much of the world struggles on vaccination as Americans refuse COVID-19 vaccine”

                      Yep, that’s our Trudy…

                    2. Brad Warthen Post author

                      But wait! I also see this, from back on June 15:

                      “Three cheers for Biden not holding a joint press conference with Putin”

                      All right: Who are you, and what have you done with Trudy Rubin?

                  2. Barry

                    Not sure how long he’s written a column for them. It it’s been a long time.

                    Right before COVID, he finished up a national speaking tour called My Life in Columns. One of the tour stops was in Charlotte.

                    One of his books was Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokes to the Right”

                    Great interview with him here on how he’s staked out a place as an independent, in the middle

                    Here is one of the questions..

                    In a country that feels more virulently partisan than ever, you’ve staked out a position as an independent. Ever feel like a man without a country?

                    “I actually feel representative of the majority. The only people I meet who — how do I say this? — see the world entirely through liberal or conservative lenses are the talk-radio and TV hosts with whom I sometimes rub shoulders. In my very normal life in the Philadelphia suburbs, the people I meet are liberal on some things, usually social issues, conservative on some things, usually economic issues, and there’s a whole host of things they don’t have figured out. That is the typical American.”


                  3. Barry

                    “ One of the many true things I tell y’all here — over and over, in fact — is that I don’t do broadcast media, for the most part. I don’t know much of anything about those people on CNN or Fox News or MSNBC, and from what little does seep through by osmosis, I don’t want to know more.”

                    I don’t have cable.

                    I have Sirius satellite radio and do love the POTUS channel. It’s fair, balanced, and they have great guests. They also interview politicians sometimes but the interviews are well done and not like what you hear on cable or typical right wing radio.

                    but I do keep up with those people. Like it or not, blowhards like Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and right wingers talk radio have huge followings and Republican politicians across the country often take their marching orders from those shows.

                    When you see a politician do something kind of crazy and wonder how in the world they could do that, chances are they heard about it on one of those shows.

                  4. Barry

                    Michael Smerconish interviewed Robert Draper this morning on his show.

                    Draper stated essentially what I had said earlier- that the chaos we saw in Afghanistan was entirely inevitable.

                    It wasn’t going to end any other way. It was abrupt. But it wasn’t surprising to anyone paying attention.

                    Here is the article Draper wrote- and that Smerconish based his interview on. His insights are very interesting.


                    A caller also asked a good question: Why were so many Americans in Afghanistan ignoring the obvious signs and repeatedly clear statements from Biden and staying in Afghanistan instead of getting out months ago.

                    Michael also discussed Peter Baker’s tweet and how he thought it was correct

                    “The Biden team’s cold political calculation is that Americans won’t care what happens in Afghanistan as long as Americans are safe. To their point, today there are no front-page stories on Afghanistan in cities like Boston, Austin, Chicago, Atlanta, Indianapolis, Fresno or Miami.”

              3. Barry

                I’m actually surprised you don’t listen to him Brad.

                He talks about a lot of the subjects you post about on here. It’s not all politics.

                I assumed you might listen to him because sometimes you post stories- thinks that he was talking about just a day or two before on his show.

                and no- his show is not a right wing talk show – or a left wing. He hates that stuff- he hates talking points and loves when people call in that disagree with him. They usually get put on the air first.

            1. James Cross

              Do I have a book for you … _The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today_ (2012) by Thomas E. Ricks. One of the thesis in the book is that Presidents have gotten out of the habit of firing generals thus leading to a lack of accountability. Remember Abraham Lincoln? Now there was a President who wasn’t afraid to sack people if he felt it was necessary … although political considerations certainly played a role in who went (and who stayed).

              1. Bryan Caskey

                I will add that to the list. Currently reading this, but I’m almost done.

                One of my favorite lines from Lincoln during the Civil War with regard to military matters is when Lincoln was so frustrated at McClellan’s failure to act that he sent the general a telegram that read, “If General McClellan does not want to use the Army, I would like to borrow it for a time, provided I could see how it could be made to do something.

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Oh, yes. I also enjoyed it when Madeleine Albright echoed it by saying to Colin Powell, “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”

  7. Bob Amundson

    Strategic and tactical SNAFU: the mission changed once Bin Laden was exterminated, and was evolving as we searched for the “nevermind.” Women and their children are terrified.

    Biden’s Bay of Pigs. I hope he doesn’t need a Cuba Missle Crisis to prove his mettle.

  8. bud

    I keep seeing this word “disaster” bandied about. But is it really? At least not yet. Perhaps there will be mass carnage. Hopefully not. But perhaps, just maybe these doomsday predictions may not come to pass. Maybe the country will evolve into a sort of theocracy along the lines of Saudi Arabia or Israel. There will be some oppression of women perhaps. But otherwise this could be a largely benign country to American interests.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          That silly Malala is all worried, too. Bud should have a chat with her to calm her down: “Malala: I Fear for My Afghan Sisters.

          You remember Malala, youngest-ever winner of a Nobel Peace Prize. A Taliban gunman shot her in the head in Pakistan. But hey, she should have known better than to commit her special crime: going to school, and advocating that other girls go school. What a crazy kid…

    1. Randle

      For women, it could be a disaster, Bud, because the Taliban said it will respect women’s rights within the limits of Sharia law. Its spokesman didn’t elaborate on what that might include, in spite of repeated requests. That doesn’t bode well. So far, women in offices have been told their jobs will go to men, and female journalists have been told to go home, even though the Koran teaches that a woman has a right to work. Let’s see if they resume weekly public executions, where previously they beheaded women for listening to music, among other transgressions.

  9. Bob Amundson

    I am ex-military, and less than 1% of the US Population can make that claim. Please understand my point of view will always be affected by my service.

    1. Barry

      My dad is retired Army Reserves. He was never, ever pro war or pro interventionist but when my nephew started talking about joining the military when he graduated high school, my dad became increasingly “get the heck out of the Middle East” almost over night.

      He supported Trump but was mad when he didn’t get everyone out like he promised.

      One of my dad’s best friends died in Vietnam, age 21, exactly 1 month after he arrived in country. Shot in the stomach. Country boy, not an enemy in the world. Had never been anywhere. Never had been to the beach. Then went to basic and flew around the world. Never got to grow up, have his own house, etc. all for NOTHING. A huge waste.

      1. Bob Amundson

        SECDEF and the Joint Chiefs Chair made it VERY CLEAR today that each veteran is an individual and has the right to their opinion. I am so anti-war; I evolved to become a fierce advocate for vulnerable children and adults.

  10. Phillip

    The McCain analogy of South Korea and Germany and Japan just doesn’t wash. In each of those cases our troops are located in a stable liberal democracy, whereas as Zakaria says, “[the Afghan] government’s legitimacy was crippled because it survived only thanks to the support of a foreign power.” (By the way in truth we probably should have fewer troops in Germany eventually at least, Europe must continue to assume more responsibility for its own security, another matter on which…yes, I’ll say it…Trump was right.)

    I also think the “trust” or “credibility” issue is overblown, always trotted out by fans of America’s global military presence…we’ve been hearing that since 1975 yet it doesn’t seem to ever prevent America from pursuing whatever military mission it deems worthwhile. Also, should America really be totally “trusted” anyway? (A superpower that elected Donald Trump and almost re-elected him, should be watched VERY closely and warily by the rest of the world. Democracy hangs by just a few threads in the most powerful nation on earth. As Reagan used to say, “trust but verify.”) As with any country, we pursue things that are in our self interest. We only entered Afghanistan because of 9/11. We stayed, because as usual 1) we couldn’t agree on what the endgame was, and 2) war is good business for the military-industrial machine.

    Finally, to another point in Zakaria’s excellent and clear-headed take (thank you Brad for posting that dissenting view) : the Taliban is not a foreign invader of Afghanistan. This was a civil war. (Again, a completely different situation than the US presence in Germany or Japan as cited by McCain). Our continued presence in Afghanistan may have bought some time for the government, but simultaneously it kept the fuel burning that powered the Taliban, which (it must be acknowledged) obviously held support of a lot of the Afghan populace (as incomprehensible as they may seem from our vantage point) without which it could not have survived as it has.

    As Zakaria says, “Afghan identity is closely tied to resistance against foreign invasion, particularly the invasion of infidels. (Afghan history glorifies the century-long struggle against the British and the jihad against the godless Soviet Union.) It is easy to use these tropes to mobilize nationalism and religious devotion, which powerfully fuel the will to fight and die. The Ashraf Ghani government had no countervailing narrative of equal intensity to inspire its troops.”

    And again, none of this is to defend Biden’s handling of the final aspects of the withdrawal, which was obviously rife with wishful thinking, or blindly hoping things would go smoothly, wishing away a problem and a challenge. True, it was going to be messy in any case, but it could have been better.

    1. Bob Amundson

      “[P]revent America from pursuing whatever military mission it deems worthwhile.” Difficult when many of our citizens don’t understand history and/or have not served in the military. Please, don’ blame this on “us.” And Phil, I know you are not. But I have too many friends still hurt by Vietnam. This is hard, but that’s what we do.

    2. Ken

      Yes, let’s please leave West Germany and Japan (as well as Korea) out of any analogies. In 1965, twenty years after our “presence” in those countries began, Japan and West Germany were both firmly established, well functioning countries with stable governments largely accepted by their respective peoples. There was no internal threat our “presence” was aimed at quelling or keeping at bay. The reason we were present in each was a) as a legacy of occupation (making it easy to stick around) and b) due to a (perceived or real) great power threat from outside. Moreover, we were there because we felt it was in OUR interest to be. Not because we were propping up flimsy domestic regimes.
      Let’s put this comparison to rest, please, once and for all.

    1. Bob Amundson

      Hero pilots broke most every rule in the book (NATOPS in the Navy) and saved many lives. Expect more courageous actions as we “sort this out.”

    2. Bryan Caskey

      Yeah, it’s a testament to the men and women of the US armed forces getting things done that aren’t what is planned for. The stated capacity of a C-17 is 134 troops. Nevermind what it was built to do, the US Air Force are figuring out what it can do.

      My current concerns about the situation now:

      1. One bad guy with a grenade could do so much damage in a packed C-17 like this, and we know the security at the airport ain’t great.
      2. Americans behind Taliban checkpoints who will not be able to get to the airport without the permission of the Taliban.
      3. Having the US soldiers and marines operating in such a close proximity to the Taliban. There are reports that the Taliban is in charge of the “civilian side” of the airport, with the US in charge of the “military side” of the airport. Not sure exactly what that looks like, but close proximity of forces hostile to each other is inherently dangerous.
      4. FOD from a poorly secured runway.

      Hopefully, Biden has told the Taliban that if one single hair on an American is hurt during this evacuation, we are going to turn Kabul into a parking lot.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Regarding the “parking lot” thing…

        Yeah, that’s one thing we do know how to do. Not that I’m proud of it, and I would greatly, greatly prefer other options…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          By the way, I’m not talking about nukes or anything like that — although that’s always available. I just mean that our military is capable of wreaking destruction on a grand scale, if ever the leash is taken off. We’ve curtailed that sort of thing since Vietnam — really, since 1945 I guess. Sure, there’s been the occasional “shock and awe” exercise, but even that was quite selective and limited by total-war standards. (I’m thinking about things like the fire-bombings of Dresden and Tokyo, long before we dropped nukes.)

          Even with just conventional weapons, without strategic bombing. When we throw out the rules of engagement (and I’m always for hanging onto them), it’s time to hide behind something.

          We all know the U.S. lost 18 soldiers in Mogadishu one day in 1993. Most people tend to forget that we killed something like about 1,000 Somalis that day, maybe a lot more (no one knows exactly how many, and Aidid claimed it was only 315, but still…), just with infantry and helicopters…

          1. James Cross

            For comparison’s sake:

            A B-17 carried a 4,000 lb bomb load (it could carry up to 8,000 lbs for short distances), a B-24 5,000 lbs, and a B-29 20,000 lbs.

            A B-52 can carry 70,000 lbs of munitions and a B-1 75,000 lbs.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Interesting. Now that I look at it again, I see that — especially as you look farther back in the crowd — men seem to be the majority. Not all that many kids, either. I didn’t notice that at first.

        And I think that’s a bias on my part. I look at a crowd of people, and I tend to see the women first. Not because they’re necessarily sexually attractive or anything — not in such modest clothing — but I suppose I simply find women more interesting to look at. So when I look at a crowd, I see them first…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          As for there being so few kids, it makes me wonder: Would I drag my kids into such a situation — not just the overcrowded plane, but the dangers on the way to getting to the plane — or would I decide it was safer to hunker down and hope they would be safer at home, even with the Taliban swarming the city.

          Not having been in such a situation, I just don’t know…

  11. James Cross

    Some additional context:
    (by one of the officers who trained the Afghan military)

    The war was rife with strategic (in the broadest sense of the term), military, and cultural mistakes right from the start, filled with hubris and an unwillingness to see things as they were. The result was never inevitable but the US did its best to make it so.

    And let’s not go too far into the “poor Joe was driven to this by the left and the right” formulation. Biden was a skeptic concerning the troop surges during the Obama Administration; the left and right didn’t “drive” him anywhere he was not already inclined to go. Biden just bollixed up the withdrawal, which seems a fitting end to America’s involvement in Afghanistan, which after the beginning of the Iraq war became a sideshow and was treated that way thereafter.

    Finally, it is oh so tempting to deride the Afghan Army as cowards, somehow forgetting that this is the same people who drove out the Russians. The Taliban might be feared, but their own government was not something they could get all that enthused about either. And remember, the training the army received was in warfighting using logistical and tactical support that was run by the US military or contractors. Think of the drop in morale when they are abandoned by the people they rely on for that support. Unfortunately, the brunt of suffering is going to fall on the women and children. Which will make us sad for the moment, and then will be forgotten about. After all, it’s their own fault ….

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      You’re right on the last part. Modern warfare, the way the U.S. practices and teaches it, is a highly complex thing with many interdependent parts. It’s not just a guy with a rifle.

      It’s been that way for a long time. The Germans complained about it in WWII. They’d build a machine-gun nest, well protected and manned, and wait for the Americans. But the Americans, rather than attacking, would sit tight and wait for artillery or air support to deal with the problem, and then advance. The Germans thought this to be really unfair, perhaps even cowardly. Of course, if they’d been the ones with the air superiority, they probably would have done the same thing.

      Anyway, in Afghanistan, we yanked out some of the most important pieces, crucial pieces…

      1. Ken

        “if they’d been the ones with the air superiority, they probably would have done the same thing.”

        DID the same thing, you mean: when they launched the war.

  12. bud

    I don’t think the Taliban are much interested in stirring things up while we depart. They’re getting what they want. Why fix something that isn’t broken.

  13. Brad Warthen Post author

    It’s fascinating to see how many very different points of view there are among the people whose opinions I most respect on something like this.

    It’s a great lesson — if they’ll pay attention — for all the people who think the world can be explained in binary terms, left vs. right, as though that made sense.

    Anyway, I’ll now pass on this piece from Tom Friedman, “Biden Could Still Be Proved Right in Afghanistan.

    I hope he’s right. The piece is actually somewhat less optimistic than the headline, though. For Friedman, it seems, it remains to be seen HOW Biden will be proved right.

    Anyway, here’s how the piece begins:

    For years, U.S. officials used a shorthand phrase to describe America’s mission in Afghanistan. It always bothered me:

      We are there to train the Afghan Army to fight for its own government.

    That turned out to be shorthand for everything that was wrong with our mission — the idea that Afghans didn’t know how to fight and that just one more course in counterinsurgency would do the trick. Really? Thinking you need to train Afghans how to fight is like thinking you need to train Pacific Islanders how to fish. Afghan men know how to fight. They’ve been fighting one another, the British, the Soviets or the Americans for a long, long time….

  14. Bob Amundson

    “U.S. officials used a shorthand phrase to describe America’s mission in Afghanistan. It always bothered me:
    We are there to train the Afghan Army to fight for its own government.”

    By far and away U.S. Officials = Bureaucrats and Politicians. Sometimes it is just best to listen to our Senior Military Leaders.

    1. Ken

      Ha! As if members of the military ever agreed even among themselves on which approach to take.

      Many of them never cared for this GWOT stuff in the dusty back corners of the world, anyway. They wanted to get the focus back on the kinds of Big Power competitions they were used to, which didn’t require fighting, except over appropriations for big ticket “systems.”

      1. Bob Amundson

        I am proud to have served in a Civilian led military. Too bad the concept of a lawful order is purposefully grey (Mai Lai). As I said in an earlier post, my views are clearly biased by my service. Any other veterans on this blog?

        I’m thinking of James Smith a lot today. I met his Afghan translator/advisor; James helped him bring his family to the United States. Some of us have heard his Bronze Star story. James is one of my heroes.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            As for your question, “Any other veterans on this blog?”

            I don’t know. Anyone? I was never able to serve, or at least I assumed so. In my late 20s, I looked into obtaining a commission in the Navy, and even took the written test for potential Reverve officers. But while I was waiting for my results, I told my Dad — this was close to the time he retired as a captain — and he said they wouldn’t take me. On account of the asthma. So I didn’t follow up on it. But hey, I aced the test, so I take some satisfaction from that.

            I know that sounds pretty pathetic to a naval aviator, seeing as how you had pass a bunch of tests much harder than that one to climb that pyramid. But it’s what I’ve got.

            I know people think it’s easy for me to say “I wish I could have served,” but I do wish that, very much. It’s what I assumed I would do some day, when I was a kid. I’ve always had mixed feelings about the whole thing of shutting out asthmatics. I’ve had it pretty much under control most of my adult life, which tempts me to call it a stupid rule. Why couldn’t I serve on board ship? At the same time, I’d have felt pretty bad if I’d let people down by having a rare attack at a crucial moment. And if I’d been in charge of making the rules, I might have made a similar one, figuring, “Why take that chance?” At the same time, I resent it. Mixed feelings.

            Could I have lied my way in? Maybe. You hear about people doing things like that. I can’t imagine doing that, myself. Too much of a rule-follower…

            A digression… when I saw one of the Rangers in the movie version of “Black Hawk Down” using an inhaler, I cried out that that had to be inaccurate! He couldn’t have gotten in! But then I read Bowden’s book, and learned one of the Rangers DID have asthma. He didn’t lie to get in; he developed it during his service. And then he got special dispensation to be allowed to stay in.

            Lucky guy, I thought, but I didn’t envy him in the dust and heat of Somalia. It looked like the worst place in the world for a guy with that condition. Not like being at sea at all…

          1. Bob Amundson

            I always struggled with what is called “military bearing” as did John McCain. Military bearing – look pretty to keep Civilian Leadership happy.

  15. randle

    I should say he formed his ideas about what conditions lead to soldiers to perform well in battle while serving in Vietnam, and discusses how they apply to Afghanistan.

  16. bud

    So far no one has mentioned the real villain in this whole Afghanistan debacle – George W. Bush. He failed utterly to protect the country from Al-Qaeda. Then, we went in to get bastard he turned his attention to Iraq before the job was done! Remember Tora Bora? Then we foundered around for 2 decades because of this initial incompetence. Yes many people failed in this mess. But W is the Bungler in Chief.

    1. Bob Amundson

      I clearly said POTUS failed us, Biden all the way down to W. Not feeling a great deal of respect for politicians today.

    1. Mark Stewart

      Don’t think they ever did, honestly. These conflicts quickly become anything but a soldier’s war.

      1. Bob Amundson

        I respectfully disagree. War Colleges = These Scenarios Have Been Studied!

        Civilian led military – Democracy – Sausage Making.

        Better system our there, anyone? Of course, riffing on Churchhill …

        1. Mark Stewart

          If a war college is spending time, energy and thought on how to “win” an 18-year nation-building slog, it is not doing what it should be doing – understanding how to win kinetic wars. We did “win” in Afghanistan – we didn’t know how to shape and hold the peace. The only way we could have done that was to identify and provide opportunities for future national leaders to mature and connect with their people on their own terms. But that’s very complicated, opaque and not likely to replicate our own nation-state ideals; so, we went the easy path of picking stooges to be obsequious intermediary puppets. That works great until we try to leave.

          1. Barry

            Yep, plus

            Our soldiers don’t train their children and grandchildren to wait out the enemy.

            Taliban soldiers do. The Taliban would have waited 30 years, 50 years, 100 years – just wait.

          2. Bob Amundson

            We needed to leave – politicians, as in Vietnam, made a military victory unlikely. Known unknown – how will politics affect our military decisions. But as stated earlier, the unknown unknowns are difficult to manage.

            20 years – 1 Trillion. Anyone that sees that as success is nuts.

            1. Ken

              ” politicians, as in Vietnam, made a military victory unlikely”

              Afghanistan was not going to be fixed through “military victory.” Because there was NO military solution to that problem. So get that right out of your head. The military component was subordinate to the political one. Without a political solution, the military was just spinning its wheels.

          3. Ken

            A person generally doesn’t advance to the top ranks in the US military by winning slogging campaigns against bad guys in Fallujah or Kandahar. They advance by hauling in big appropriations and managing big ticket systems.

  17. Bryan Caskey

    The US is now in a situation where the evacuation by air, the safety of the Americans and friendly Afghans who also want to leave depends on whether the Taliban considers it in their interests to let them depart.

    Similarly, Biden’s legacy depends on the willingness of the Taliban to let the Americans depart without bloodshed.

    Basically, all the US can do is to bribe the Taliban to give safe passage and/or threaten reprisals, and hope the Taliban plays along. Not a great position.

    1. Bob Amundson

      Or just go and kick a**. Grrr. I hope you understand my option is ultimately a political decision, not a military decision. The presser that just ended shows the struggle our country will have at times because of a Civilian led military.

    2. Barry

      Seeing some governors publicly state they are willing to resettle Afghanistan refugees.

      Also seeing some Conservatives in the media world rail against it.

      Last night Steve Cortes, Trump advisor, Republican railed against bringing refugees here – by posting the picture of the people in the C-17. That wasn’t received too well as thousands pushed back against him- many posting pictures of those arriving on boats at Ellis Island. (Cortes has a long history of making inflammatory comments against refugees and immigrants. He’s had to apologize for some of them).

      and of course many simply posting bible verses quoting Jesus and his instructions on how to treat such people.

      Reason 1,459,211 I am not longer a Conservative.

      1. James Cross

        Be interested to see those governors’ reaction if they are actually asked to do so. And how many refugees they agree to take if they don’t backpedal on their willingness to resettle them.

  18. Bob Amundson

    An asthmatic can serve just as heroically as a woman. Our Military clearly needs to adjust. Agile – mobile – high tech. I guess I still have a Naval Aviators bias. This is hard for us …

      1. Bob Amundson

        Assume ability – women are great military aviators, etc., and I could see an asthmatic easily controlling a drone. We need to have some time of peace to adjust our military. I love aircraft carriers, but it takes a long time to turn them. Overall, our military needs to become more digital, more lean, more agile; more MODERN!

        1. Bob Amundson

          Agility includes the Naval Aircraft that literally crash land on the deck, full throttle. Nuts.

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        When I saw Randle’s reply, I thought, “Ha-ha-ha, you’re headed for a lee shore now, mate!”

        But I was smiling earlier, even. I tried to imagine Jack Aubrey’s reaction to “An asthmatic can serve just as heroically as a woman.” Women on the barky? Heaven forbid!

        Of course, had I lived in Jack’s day, I’d have to send my seconds to Bob’s seconds to arrange a meeting, so I could defend the honor of asthmatics everywhere. Such a comment could not be allowed to pass unanswered…

        Speaking of fiction…

        Anyone ever read Heinlein’s Starship Troopers? First, it’s nothing like the silly movie. (It was so different, I was surprised they were allowed to use that title.) One of the lesser differences: In the movie, you see women serving alongside men in the infantry. In the book, there are indeed women in the service, but they’re not ground-pounders — they’re starship pilots. That’s because, in Heinlein’s imagined future, women have been found to possess cognitive abilities that make them better at navigating through space than men.

        Bob is alluding to something like that. He alludes to women as pilots as well. And I’ve heard there is an advantage possessed by women when it comes to functioning in modern high-performance aircraft. The relative shape and size of their bodies — with a better center of gravity and shorter extremities — makes them better able to withstand the Gs without passing out. Shorter, more compact men tend to have a similar advantage.

        Or at least, that’s what I’ve heard in the past. I just tried to look it up and it wasn’t substantiated. Oh, well. Perhaps pilots being shorter and more compact is simply a matter of fitting into the cockpit more easily.

        But to the extent that one CAN substantiate such advantages, that would seem to be a sound basis for assessing what people with certain physical characteristics can and can’t do.

        Of course, “can and can’t do” isn’t the standard. For instance, an otherwise healthy guy with asthma can, almost all of the time, do whatever a healthy guy without asthma can do. But I’ve always assumed that the military’s ban on asthmatics (or whatever it is… I once had a senior Army officer explain to me that the real standard is whether you have to take daily medication for anything in order to function — which would disqualify me just as surely) is simply a matter of not wanting to deal with a potential problem. Why not just recruit people who don’t have that problem? It’s like flat feet. We’ve always heard that would keep you out of the draft (although it didn’t work that way for my father-in-law, who had flat feet but ended up in the Army, and captured at the Battle of the Bulge). Guys with flat feet can do a lot. But why not recruit guys without that problem instead?

        At least, I assume that’s why we have such policies…

        1. Bob Amundson

          Starship Troopers – yup. I am 6 foot 200 #. IMHO, too big to be Top Gun. Love women aviators. You tried to serve; our scumbag prior POTUS avoided service.

          I am glad I don’t have to worry about your “second” scenario. 🙂

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Probably only Bryan — or, if he happened to look at it, Mike Fitts — fully appreciated my Aubreyisms, but I couldn’t resist.

            One of the many sources of humor in those books is Jack’s strong opposition to having women aboard the ship, often even as guests.

            On one level, this is about avoiding a rather appalling situation allowed on other ships — on many Royal Navy ships back then, when one of His Majesty’s Ships put into ports, many small boats full of prostitutes would head out to meet it, and you would have dozens or even hundreds of them in the hammocks in the men’s sleeping quarters. Sleeping quarters so cramped that the hammocks would all be touching even when the men were in them alone.

            Jack didn’t consider that to be in keeping with good order and discipline. He required the men to get their entertainment ashore. And then, of course, many of them would come back with the pox, the treatment for which would be stopped out of their pay.

            (His friend Stephen Maturin once or twice needled Jack by pointing out his seeming hypocrisy on this point. As a midshipman many years before, Jack himself had been stripped of his rank and sent before the mast for having kept a girl hidden in the cable tier — something that everyone serving under him knew about him, especially after the “natural son” resulting from that relationship turned up 20 years later. In Jack’s defense, he had had no idea the girl was present when the captain turned her ashore, and when the son turned up, he was eager to do anything he could for him.)

            But despite his many denials, Jack also bought into the superstitions common on the lower deck, and considered having women aboard, period, to be bad luck.

            There were exceptions, of course. The gunner was allowed to have his wife aboard, and she was expected to help look after the younger midshipmen, who often hadn’t entered puberty yet, and really shouldn’t have been so far away from their mothers. Jack was OK with that, as it was in keeping with “the immemorial custom of the service.”

            But then in one book, the gunner’s wife was unusually young (only 19) and beautiful, and her husband was impotent, and she got involved with one of the OLDER midshipman — he was 30 or so — and it led to all sorts of trouble, eventually murder and suicide. Which affected everyone aboard, not just the three involved — it cast a pall over the whole ship’s company.

            Which, of course, helped confirm Jack in his superstition. But the bad luck wasn’t all due to poor Mrs. Horner. Jack and much of the crew had from the start suspected her midshipman lover of being a “Jonah” — a jinx — and to them, there was no worse luck than having a Jonah aboard…

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              It’s interesting that, in the movie based in part on that book, they left out the gunner’s wife, and showed Hollom to be a Jonah in other ways.

              That’s surprising, since Hollywood seldom passes up a chance to include a beautiful young woman. I’m guessing they would have thought the audience would be confused, and maybe even assume Hollywood only threw her in for the sex appeal.

              So they kept things simple by leaving her and the one other woman — the carpenter’s wife, an older lady whose presence did not in any way prove disruptive in the book — out of the movie.

              It’s almost like the movie was being directed by Jack Aubrey himself…

              1. Bryan Caskey

                One of my biggest disappointments in Hollywood is that we only got one Aubrey/Maturin movie while Pirates of the Caribbean got like four or something. I had hope that with the rise of streaming original content, someone would take on the Aubrey/Maturin series in depth, but as yet, no luck.

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Yes. Hollywood loves to go cheesy. And of course, even thought the “Master and Commander” film was quite well done, and enjoyable, they did one typical Hollywood thing with it…

                  In the book that the film is sorta-kinda based on — the tenth in the series, The Far Side of the World — the Surprise is chasing an American ship into the Pacific, this being during the War of 1812.

                  The filmmakers turned the USS Norfolk into a French privateer, the Acheron.

                  Which, you know, is irritating. But one must cater to the ignorant American moviegoer. As was done in my favorite movie when I was a kid, “The Great Escape.” The filmmakers crammed “Hilts” and a couple of other fictional Americans into the story, even though there were no such men involved in real life. And they made Steve McQueen the star.

                  Of course, I loved that character — you could find no bigger Steve McQueen fan than I — and the motorcycle chase made the movie for me. But hey, I wasn’t even 10 years old when it came out, so gimme a break…

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    It wasn’t just about the motorcycle. It was about Hilts being a smartass American who would show open, careless disrespect to the Germans:

                    You know how those Yanks are…

                    1. James Cross

                      To be fair, Americans did act as lookouts and worked on the “Tom” tunnel. Unfortunately they were transferred out of Stalag Luft III before the Great Escape took place. One American-born British soldier, Major John Bigelow Dodge, took part in the escape and survived. And his nickname? The “Artful Dodger,” of course.

                    2. Brad Warthen Post author

                      Dang. I tried responding to that — on my phone — and it disappeared. Let me try to recreate it…

                      Yes, there had been Americans at the camp where the three tunnels were dug. And I suspect the makers of the film read that, and cursed their luck: “We came sO CLOSE to having some marketable Americans involved!”

                      Having fallen short, they fixed it by creating Hilts.

                      Personally, I think Dodge’s story was plenty interesting enough. And in a way, James Garner’s character was sorta like him: An American who had joined the RAF (or was it the RCAF?) in order to get into the war ahead of Pearl Harbor.

                      But poor Dodge had been recaptured almost right away, at the local train station. Rather than after a daring flight in a stolen plane, or a thrilling motorcycle chase…

                2. Brad Warthen Post author

                  As for this…

                  “One of my biggest disappointments in Hollywood is that we only got one Aubrey/Maturin movie while Pirates of the Caribbean got like four or something.”

                  … You remind me of a post I’ve been eager to write about how many cartoonish “spy” movies Hollywood cranks out, while so seldom giving us a realistic film about espionage — which of course would be FAR more interesting…

                  Maybe I can get to it this weekend….

  19. Bart

    I haven’t posted anything in a long time but on this issue, anything Bob Amundson had to say on it, I am in complete agreement with both thumbs up.

      1. Bart

        “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
        ― Theodore Roosevelt

        You are welcome and the posting of the Theodore Roosevelt is for you. While you and I may disagree on some points, I highly respect your service and value your input because when someone has not only “talked the talk but walked the walk”, they need to be heeded. Instead, a once great blog has become literally an echo chamber with the same memes repeated over and over again. More often than not, I find you to be the lone voice of reason when you do reply to a subject. No effusive praise or overly harsh criticism, but a comment from an informed mind.

        1. Bob Amundson

          I like this blog because it does give me a forum. But I see what you do Bart – you and I will never agree on everything, but dang, we’ll try to find “common ground.” I never saw or see you as needing to be right.

          I shared what you wrote with some my friends. I write this as I listen to the morning presser. Tears of Joy because of my friend Bart; tears of pain I wish would just go away …

    1. Bob Amundson

      Hash OIL. Ok, wait; but I do wonder how you say “You’ve got to cough to get off” in Dari. 🙂

  20. Barry

    “Unfortunate that after 6,935 days of war in Afghanistan with no operational failures whatsoever, the Taliban was able to overrun the country with minimal resistance and then out of nowhere Biden came with this “botched” withdrawal plan wrecking an otherwise flawless mission.” Matthew Yglesias

    1. Bryan Caskey

      Pretty great how well this is going! Biden couldn’t have managed or planned this any better!

      It’s amazing the Americans trapped in Afghanistan aren’t busy building a statue of the dear leader.

      1. Phillip

        Again, it’s a question of the “what” vs. the “how,” two separate issues. On the former, Biden was right. As for the latter, well, there is a lot of blame to go around as one can read here, but ultimately the buck stops with POTUS.

  21. Ken

    Summing up.

    We got a little too full of ourselves back in 2001. When the Taliban were so easily routed using so little force, we suffered a bout of feeling nearly invincible. But it wasn’t our prowess or skill that led to that outcome. It was comparatively easy to remove the Taliban because any kind of control there is so tenuous and marginal. It’s not hard to topple one group or faction. Which is why it’s so hard to ever be in control there.

  22. Barry

    former MIke Pence advisor. A thread about how Trump and Stephen. Iller put up roadblocks to help Afghanistan refugees and translators

    “There were cabinet mtgs about this during the Trump Admin where Stephen Miller would peddle his racist hysteria about Iraq & Afghanistan. He & his enablers across gov’t would undermine anyone who worked on solving the SIV issue by devastating the system at DHS & State.(1/7)“

    “ I tracked this issue personally in my role during my WH tenure. Pence was fully aware of the problem. We got nowhere on it because Trump/S. Miller had watchdogs in place at DOJ, DHS, State & security agencies that made an already cumbersome SIV process even more challenging.(2/7)”


  23. bud

    To paraphrase Ed Harris’ character in Apollo 13 “This won’t be NASA’s worst hour. Rather, this will be NASA’s finest hour.” And so it will be with Afghanistan. We will look back on this rushed evacuation as a fine hour in American history. Rather like Dunkirk.

    1. Bob Amundson

      The post mortem will be UGLY! Both administrations negotiated with the Taliban from a position that we will be leaving. What Military Academy did Pompeo graduate from? Not afraid to show my bias; at least it wasn’t the Naval Academy.

      So many NGOs and others are involved (many having served in country), and they will fill in the gaps. We/THEY are about the SIVs and their families. Women and children. LISTEN TO THE CHILDREN!

  24. Barry

    I apologize for quoting Greenwald

    But in this one case, he’s right.

    “Just as Democrats discovered Americans care far less about the Kremlin and Putin than their pundits and think tanks cared, I think people are going to find out Americans care less about chaos in Afghanistan than DC elites. The US public has wanted out for at least a decade.”

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