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An End To The Longest War

Bill Everhart
Josh Landes/WAMC
Bill Everhart

The United States’ 20-year war in Afghanistan, the “graveyard of empires,” has come to an end. It could have concluded better, but it was never going to end well.

President Joe Biden promised that he would be the fourth and final president to preside over America’s longest war, and the last American soldiers left earlier this week. Biden knew the Taliban would take over the country after the U.S. left but what he and his advisers didn’t know - and should have - is that the Taliban wouldn’t follow his timetable.

Biden believed he had time for an orderly evacuation of U.S. soldiers and military equipment, along with the rescue of Americans living in the country and Afghans who helped the U.S. He thought the Afghan army and security forces would give him the time, but a military overly dependent on U.S. support collapsed. In no time, the Taliban was in the capital city of Kabul, its leaders sitting in the hastily vacated presidential palace.

Biden was saddled with a plan for withdrawal established by his predecessor that left the Taliban in a strengthened position. This plan was supported by Donald Trump’s Republican Party, which nonetheless quickly sought to make political gain from the growing tragedy.

Republicans criticized Biden for not doing enough to get Americans and refugees out of Kabul and then blamed him for putting U.S. troops in harm’s way. Without the troop presence it would have been impossible to get anyone out of Kabul. More than 120,000 Americans and Afghans were successfully evacuated.

Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York’s 21st district, a former moderate turned spokeswoman for the radical right, shamefully declared that Biden had “blood on his hands” after 13 U. S. service members were killed at Kabul’s airport. Actually, it was a terrorist bomber from ISIS-K who caused the bloodshed. By Stefanik’s logic, Republican President Ronald Reagan had blood on his hands after 281 Marines and Navy corpsmen were killed when poorly defended barracks were destroyed by terrorists in Beirut in 1983. That was back before Republicans poisoned every tragedy with political gamesmanship.

The press didn’t distinguish itself over the last couple of weeks either. It took Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, to draw attention to the fact that congressional Republicans wringing their hands over refugees had consistently blocked efforts by President Barack Obama to expand programs designed specifically to get refugees out of Afghanistan and settled in America. Obama admitted 2,700 Afghan refugees, Trump allowed in 400, and applications were stuck in the pipeline when Biden took over. Fewer refugees would have crowded Kabul’s airport had Republicans not blocked their departure for years.

Pundits did find the opportunity to declare, prematurely, the end of Biden’s influence on foreign policy around the globe, and report breathlessly that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair had criticized Biden for America’s withdrawal. Blair was among the first world leaders to sign on to George W. Bush’s cynical misadventure in Iraq, which also entailed putting the war in Afghanistan, a justifiable conflict following the attacks of 9/11, on the back burner. Blair has no more credibility on Afghanistan than does Stefanik.

Biden had a rare laugh when a reporter asked him if he was concerned about his declining poll numbers. The media’s insistence on reducing complex issues into horse race coverage does a disservice to readers and viewers. Biden was right to brush off the question.

Biden was also right to ask a condescending press corps how many more years the U.S. should spend in Afghanistan before accepting reality. The costly war in Afghanistan should have ended with the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011, but it lingered on without a clear purpose or capable leadership. All Americans are dismayed that the war ended as it did, but all Americans should be glad that it is over.

Bill Everhart is the former editorial page editor of The Berkshire Eagle and is an occasional Eagle contributor. 

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors.They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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