The images from Kabul airport as American forces departed were heartbreaking. But there was no glorious way for the U.S. to pull out of Afghanistan.
As this is being written, more than 100,000 souls have been evacuated in the past 11 days, with no loss of U.S. life within the airport, although bombings, probably by ISIS, near the airfield have killed and wounded several Americans. Nevertheless, this is the most successful such evacuation in history. For perspective, during the same 11 days, 8,925 Americans have died of COVID-19.
There are snipers, but most of them seem to be American politicians. Among them is political tumbleweed Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who concluded that neither Donald Trump’s extortion attempt on Ukraine’s president nor his incitement of the Jan. 6 riot were impeachable offenses. Yet, of Afghanistan he said, “If we leave one American or Afghan ally behind ... Biden should be impeached.” All that remains for Sen. Graham is a melodramatic swoon onto his fainting couch.
The U.S. never developed a coherent definition of winning in Afghanistan. We went there to get Osama bin Laden. Ten years later, we got him, in Pakistan. For another 10 years, we have attempted to accomplish something in the rocky nation. But what, besides stay there? The reality is that President Joe Biden took the political risk of cleaning up the mess, a task avoided by George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Trump wanted to end the war, but his efforts were torpedoed by his own well-honed incompetence.
With about a year remaining in his term, and working behind the back of Afghanistan’s president, Trump began exit negotiations with the Taliban. The Taliban’s leaders easily snookered Trump into a prisoner swap whereby the Taliban would release 1,000 members of the Afghan military that it held, while the Afghan government would release 5,000 Taliban fighters it was holding. In signing that agreement, the Taliban’s leaders likely were estimating the number of fences Mr. Art of the Deal had whitewashed during his boyhood.
What must Afghanistan’s president, its military and citizenry have felt upon learning of that deal? And how did they react to Trump’s subsequent pullout of about 8,500 U.S. troops? Had it been a football game, Afghanistan’s citizens (other than the Taliban) would have broken the huddle and approached the line of scrimmage only to see their coaches standing on the opponent’s sideline.
The fall of Kabul is being compared to the fall of Saigon in 1975. Pictures of desperate people at Kabul’s airport are not to be ignored. But if that comparison is suggested as a rationale for our remaining in Afghanistan, the individual who draws that parallel should be asked whether we should have stayed longer in Vietnam, and for how many more years.
Now, after 20 years of creeping enlightenment among the Afghan masses, we leave them to their fates. We may only pray that this version of the Taliban is somewhat more removed from the Stone Age than was the last.