As a very important voice in the American pundit-sphere, I would like to apologize for not offering a near-instantaneous opinion on President Joe Biden’s handling of the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Under the rules by which modern-day opinion-havers are bound, the moment the situation in Afghanistan became chaotic, I had two choices: pretend I’m an expert in foreign policy and sharply condemn Biden for abject incompetence, or pretend I’m an expert in foreign policy and defend Biden while blaming someone else. I did neither of those things, and for that, I can only beg forgiveness.
It was foolish of me to stand back and attempt to gain a fuller sense of what went wrong over the past 20 years of a military quagmire in a country known as “the graveyard of empires.” My responsibility was to react to the tragic and confounding televised mess that was unfolding and offer a forceful condemnation (or defense) of the current commander in chief while avoiding nettlesome issues like context, uncertainty, time and facts.
What did I think I was going to find? Nuance? That’s absurd.
Rather than boldly and blindly opining, I fell into a swirl of confusion and self-reflection.
Here’s all that I’ve learned since my inexcusable failure to shout:
Biden and his administration certainly screwed up. There’s no way to look at the obscenely swift fall of Afghanistan back into Taliban hands and the horrible scenes of both Americans and Afghan allies trying to escape the country and say: “Nice job, Joe! Nailed it.”
Whether the intelligence was bad or the president was stubbornly committed to getting troops out before the Sept. 11 anniversary, the lack of preparation is inexplicable and the unwillingness to halt the retreat and get better control of things when it all went south seems like strategic—and political –malpractice.
The one thing Biden and Co. should’ve wanted to avoid was a comparison to the American military exit from the Vietnam War. But that’s exactly what they got.
And as much as I wanted to knock Biden to raise my credibility among people who will never find me credible, there were some pesky details about how we got to this particular moment in American military activism.
Our soldiers spent 20 years in Afghanistan, and every president, Republican and Democratic, shied away from ending this fight, kicking the can down the road for the next guy. Every one except Biden.
“But c’mon” the desirous voice of fairness inside me shouted. “Biden let the Taliban take control of the entire country nine days after it seized its first provincial capital! That’s a massive cock-up!”
Yeah, but the former president signed a ludicrous deal with the Taliban that all but handed them the keys to the country and demoralized the Afghan forces we spent two decades training. And as part of that deal, he released thousands of Taliban fighters, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who may end up leading the new Taliban government.
So ... you know, nuance. Yuck.
There’s also the humanitarian side of the story, with thousands of Afghan people and their families who need and deserve our protection. Many Republicans have been howling angrily about the position Biden has put those Afghans in, and I agree.
But the Venn diagram of Republicans wailing about the plight of the Afghan people and Republicans who would never allow Afghan refugees safe harbor in America is a perfect circle. So ... again with the nuance.
Having failed so spectacularly to voice a ferocious opinion in real time and pounce on a golden opportunity to appear fair without actually knowing what I’m talking about, I have reached a conclusion that should please everyone:
Joe Biden screwed up and deserves the criticism he’s receiving. The previous president screwed up as well, and everyone now covering for him is a dissembling turkey. The president before him screwed up, as did the one who started the whole mess.
The only good people here are the Afghans who fought and worked to make their country a better place and the U.S. soldiers who served honorably while the people leading them, and the people opining about their situation, recklessly fumbled about.
I’m sorry I didn’t offer my opinion sooner. It won’t happen again.
Though it might be for the best if it did.
Rex Huppke is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.