Choice/No Choice

If the light-speed collapse of Afghanistan proves anything, it’s that, from day two, our involvement was a predestined failure. It did, however, make weapons manufacturers, Afghan “officials,” and warlords rich; and goosed the opium and meth industries.

Any president would have retaliated after 9/11. Bush chose invasion. Alternatives are hard to conjure, so probably all others would have, too. Severe economic sanctions on the birthplace, funders, and protectors of al Qaeda, namely Saudi Arabia, would have made sense, had we not been addicted to their oil, nor our politicians to their cash. Only one legislator, California’s Barbara Lee, foresaw the inevitable and voted against the war.

And it was inevitable. Not for nothing, across centuries, has Afghanistan been considered the graveyard of empires. With its neighbors looking the other way or aiding the Taliban, “winning” from half a world away was exceptionalistic, neo-con hubris.

Had Rumsfeld not let bin Laden escape when they had him in Tora Bora, the US could have claimed “Mission Accomplished” and left. Maybe then, basking in victory, Bush’s Iraq invasion — and the lies behind it — wouldn’t have occurred. But invade we did. If the die wasn’t already cast in Kabul, it was then.

Maybe if Carter and Reagan hadn’t armed and trained the mujahedeen to fight the Soviets, creating what became the Taliban, 9/11 plotters wouldn’t have had safe haven. But some say when those jihadis forced the Russians out, the end of the USSR began. So, worth it?

Twenty years, thousands of American lives, a couple trillion dollars better spent here, by Bush, Obama, Trump, and, briefly, Biden, claiming we’d created an uncorrupted, viable government there. Building, equipping (now in Taliban hands), training an army, 300,000 strong. (Far fewer, probably: audits found many more salaries paid, by the US, than identifiable people.)

Desperate to be the one who ended the war, Trump “negotiated” an art-of-the-deal with the Taliban, committing the US to complete withdrawal, leaving out of it the Afghan government and military leaders, who called it a complete capitulation.

Declaring the Taliban future partners who’d fight terrorism, who’d magically become good guys, Trump set a date certain for leaving, bragging it couldn’t be undone. Immediately, the Taliban knew Afghanistan was theirs, and set about taking it, village by village, bribe by bribe, defection by defection, months ago.

The final sweep confirms the one-sidedness of Trump’s “deal.” His usually fawning GOP would now like you to forget what he did.

President Biden had two choices: after twenty years, acknowledge the obvious; or commit forever to defending a people no longer willing to defend the corrupt government we’d given them. Aware, surely, it could cost future elections, he made the tougher choice; the one previous presidents promised but never delivered.

Having planted my stake firmly in favor of pulling up stakes, I must say President Biden handled the denouement very badly. It’s understandable to have presumed that, twenty years in, our custom-built Afghan government and military would at least forestall, if not prevent collapse. But didn’t they know what the Taliban were doing? Had they no eyes in villages?

Evacuating our civilians and thousands of theirs who’d helped us at great personal peril should have had the highest priority. Chaotically, frightfully, it’s happening now. Hopefully, not too late.

Biden’s Monday speech was forthright; explaining his decision, taking responsibility for mistakes. Was it a compelling counter to hypocritical, CYA (see above) screams from the right? Does a bear use public restrooms?

Facing Republican gerrymandering, voter suppression, brilliantly effective distraction and disinformation, Democrats can’t afford mistakes. They’re already fighting amongst themselves instead of producing a coherent, resonating message.

If ever messaging should be easy, it’s now. Republican leaders and refusers are wholly responsible for the resurgent pandemic, uncaringly making it worse, even as their ICUs fill with younger and younger victims. Outside hospitals, corpse-cooling trailers have reappeared.

They’re pretending the January insurrection was a pleasant winter picnic, and — the law and order party — claiming the arrested, felonious perpetrators are “political prisoners.” Heroes. Trump all but literally called for violence against the defenders. Only the irredeemably Trumpofoxified aren’t appalled.

Fast as they can, they’re legislating voting obstacles for non-Trumpists. Threatening election workers. Blocking aid to Americans in need. And still, while heatstroke kills, fires rage, glaciers melt, electric grids fail, acidifying oceans rise, sea creatures die, and water from the Colorado River is rationed, denying climate change. All to keep wealthy investors and corporate polluters on board. At whatever cost to everyone else.

Professionally-thickened skulls are impenetrable. For America to endure, in people and parchment, thoughtful citizens must vote in enormous numbers: the antipode of a sure thing. Maybe we should invade Grenada again.



Retired surgeon. Published author. Blogger. Columnist. Losing hope that American democracy can survive Republican attempts to end it.

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Sid Schwab

Retired surgeon. Published author. Blogger. Columnist. Losing hope that American democracy can survive Republican attempts to end it.