Now Ain’t the Time for Your Tears

In April, when Joe Biden announced that he would follow through with Donald Trump’s impulsive decision to withdraw all US forces from Afghanistan, I wrote a blog about that decision called “Banging On a Window That Long Since Closed.” The gist of that piece was that the window for any kind of American “peace with honor” in Afghanistan, or even anything that could be lipsticked-onto-a pig to pass as such (if you squint), had long since slammed shut. As I wrote back then:

Victory in warfare is like art or pornography: it’s hard to define, but you know it when you see it. What we have in Afghanistan is not victory by any definition, though it’s pornographic in that plenty of people got fucked. 

So as we watch the sudden, unexpectedly rapid end of a failed military campaign that sprawled over twenty brutal years, here’s what I got right and what I got wrong back in April.

Right first, because everybody gets a trophy. 

I was correct that our cause in Afghanistan was lost and that the Taliban would regain power. That did not require the talents of Nostradamus, Kreskin, or even Madame Kavorca who reads palms in a storefront in between the vape shop and Ray’s Pizza on my street. I was correct that reaction to that collapse would cut across the usual ideological lines, and that the right wing would blame Biden no matter what, willfully ignoring Trump’s fingerprints on the mess. 

I will also take credit for identifying what remains the fundamental lesson at the core of this whole two-decade-long debacle: “The real lesson that the literal no-win situation in Afghanistan ought to teach us—again—is the limits of military power.”

Is that super duper obvious and not worth bragging about? Maybe so, but it’s a lesson the United States seems to have a lot of trouble learning. And by “United States” I mean not just our government but the American people as well.

Now here’s what I got wrong: 

I vastly underestimated how quickly Afghanistan would fall. In that I am in good company, along with the White House, the CIA, State Department, Pentagon, and the US press. (Reliable sources now report that the speed of that collapse is largely due to a slew of cease fire pacts—surrenders, if you will—pre-negotiated between the Taliban and government forces in various regions.)

I was also overly optimistic in terms of how much Biden would avoid the blowback, and how much he could piggyback on Trump’s decision as a means to get us out of an unwinnable and unpopular war without shouldering too much of the blame himself. I wrote: “Biden’s choice to withdraw under cover of Trump’s folly, even with all its drawbacks, may prove to be the most prudent available course.” 

So Madame Kavorca I’m not. More on that in a bit. 

What is most interesting now is the way that this tragedy should come as no great surprise, and what it says about us that it somehow still does. (To that end, I’m going to recycle some parts of that piece from April—the correct ones, updated where necessary—because they bear repeating.)

SAIGON IN THE SAND

Many column inches are being devoted to what the US did wrong in Afghanistan over the course of twenty years, and what we could have done differently. It’s the same post-mortem that followed Vietnam. I can only touch here very briefly on some lowlights, but the silver lining of that long, terrible misadventure was supposed to be that we had learned our geopolitical lesson—that there would be “no more Vietnams.” But it’s clear that we did not learn that, because there have been.  

The veteran war correspondent Jon Lee Anderson, who covered the US invasion back in 2001, writes in The New Yorker that in Afghanistan “the Americans did not merely not learn from the mistakes of others; they did not learn from their own mistakes, committed a generation earlier, in Vietnam.”

The main errors were, first, to underestimate the adversaries and to presume that American technological superiority necessarily translated into mastery of the battlefield, and, second, to be culturally disdainful, rarely learning the languages or the customs of the local people. 

By the end of the first American decade in Afghanistan, it seemed evident that the Western counterinsurgency enterprise was doomed to fail, and not only because of the return of the Taliban in many rural parts of the country: the Americans and their NATO allies closed themselves off from Afghans in large regional bases, from which they operated in smaller units out of combat outposts, and distrust reigned between them and their putative Afghan comrades. 

Incredibly, as in Vietnam, we again rotated personnel so frequently that no institutional knowledge could be accrued; hence the famous axiom that we didn’t fight a twenty-year war, but a one-year war twenty times. 

We tried to build an Afghan military that looked like our own, ignoring the specifics of the situation, and equipped our partner forces with high tech Western weaponry that required a foreign infrastructure to maintain. 

While the Afghan air force and special forces were reportedly solid, the rank-and-file was never a force that could stand on its own, even after twenty years of military assistance. In part that is because it’s much harder to build a standing army than a small air force and an SOF capability, and in part because that was the warfighting paradigm the US favored, going all the way back to the Rumsfeld-championed “Revolution in Military Affairs” in that original 2001 invasion—unironically titled Operation Enduring Freedom. (America’s history of seeing airpower as a magic bullet is long and ugly, but has never resulted, on its own, in what is recognizable as victory.)

Above all, from the very beginning the US pursued a shortsighted vision in Afghanistan that was also reminiscent of Vietnam in that operational success was the metric of choice, untethered to its political ramifications. 

Here’s Professor Jason Dempsey of the Center for a New American Security, who served as a US Army infantry officer both in Afghanistan and Iraq, and as a civilian adviser to the Afghans, writing in the military affairs website War on the Rocks in 2019:

In the eyes of America’s uniformed leadership the United States was “winning militarily” in Afghanistan for the entirety of the conflict. For nearly 18 years, American military commanders declared solid progress as they rotated through Afghanistan. These positive assessments became so standard, and seemingly so out of line with reality, that in 2018 even the normally staid Military.com wrote (an article about) Gen. Mick Nicholson’s farewell remarks….titled “Outgoing US Commander Continues Tradition of Hailing Progress in Afghanistan.”

A headline worthy of The Onion.

Ultimately, again as in South Vietnam, the fundamental flaw in Afghanistan was that there was never a substantive, sustainable democratic government that could lead the country. As with Nixon-era “Vietnamization,” the Pentagon had been focused on standing up a national army capable of defeating the enemy on the battlefield without recognizing that that is but one part of a functioning, viable state: necessary but not sufficient. 

In Dempsey’s words, we were “building a military for a nation that did not exist.” Or as Anand Gopal, author of No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes, writes: “The US designed the Afghan state to meet Washington’s counterterrorism interests, not the interests of Afghans, and what we see today is the result.” 

Per Clausewitz’s most famous aphorism, war is the extension of politics by other means. In that regard, force alone is highly limited in what it can achieve in the interest of national objectives. Simply put, we could not bomb and shoot our way to democracy in Afghanistan, much as we tried.  

It also didn’t help that we were fighting a second war at the same time.

THE DOUBLEHEADER THAT SHOULDN’T HAVE BEEN

You want to blame someone for the fall of Afghanistan? Don’t blame Joe Biden. Don’t even blame Donald Trump.

Blame George W. Bush.

Way back in September 2001, the idea presented to the American people was that the Taliban was a ghastly, totalitarian junta with no appreciable public support, savagely oppressing the majority of Afghans, and that its forcible removal by the United States would allow democracy to flower in that country, with the help of postwar nationbuilding. (The United States’ culpability in creating the Taliban in the first place, during the 1979-89 Soviet war, is a separate story.)

The problem is that we didn’t carry through on the second half of the equation. After evicting the Taliban with shocking speed and relative ease in late 2001, we patted ourselves on the collective back and shifted our attention to invading Iraq for no apparent reason, at a time when we should have been pouring our energies into ensuring security, stability, and the painstaking establishment of nascent democracy in a place where the odds were stacked against all three. That postwar phase of the Afghan invasion was, in fact, the far more difficult and time-consuming part of the job—never the United States’ strong suit. By bollocksing it up as we did, we ceded whatever victory we had won, and gave the lie to notion that we were in the “postwar” phase at all. (In fact, subsequent events tarnished even the pride we took in the quick military victory in the first place. Some would say that the Taliban merely beat a strategic retreat, knowing that they could wait us out. And they did.)

In his speech Monday, President Biden made the argument that our mission in Afghanistan was complete ten years ago, when Al Qaeda was rendered combat-ineffective and Bin Laden was killed. “Our mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to have been nationbuilding. It was never supposed to be creating a unified, centralized democracy. Our only vital national interest in Afghanistan remains today what it has always been: preventing a terrorist attack on American homeland.”

But it’s semantics. “Nationbuilding”— “pacification,” as they called it in Vietnam—was the necessary process of creating a state in Afghanistan formidable enough to prevent the Taliban or someone like them from regaining power, and the region from again becoming a haven for terrorism. That proved a lot harder than taking down the country in the first place. 

We had a very small window to secure our military foothold in Afghanistan and begin that difficult process. That window closed with a definitive slam when we irrationally invaded Iraq. Distracted with a separate, pointless, and totally avoidable quagmire, in Afghanistan we found ourselves allied with some of the most corrupt and incompetent elements available, while fighting a slow, grueling war of attrition against a very very patient and experienced enemy, and without the resources or bandwidth to win it. 

Over the centuries, Afghanistan has successfully resisted invasion by Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, the Persians, the British, the Soviets, and now us. Not for nothing is it known as “the graveyard of empires.” It would have been plenty difficult to pacify Afghanistan even if it had had all our attention. While waging a second, disastrous war in another country, it was impossible.

IF I STAY THERE WILL BE TROUBLE, AND IF I GO IT WILL BE DOUBLED

As I wrote in April: 

An argument over whether we are prematurely pulling out of Afghanistan elides the bigger question of whether our current strategy there would ever work, no matter how long we stay, or if indeed any workable strategy even exists. If we had a such an approach, matters would be very different, but over twenty years of fighting we’ve never been able to develop one, suggesting that something is deeply wrong with the DNA of the entire endeavor.

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the US is propping up an unreliable regional partner that can’t stand on its own, while making no appreciable progress toward building a stable democracy that can. On balance, that argues for an end to the pursuit of a lost cause, even if it is only the lesser of two evils. 

Of course, when the Taliban regain power, which they almost inevitably will, there will be blame aplenty to go around, and it may be President Kamala Harris (or still Joe Biden, or maybe the odious Tom Cotton) who will have to deal with it. Then the fingerpointing and “who-shot-john” will really begin….what we in the Army used to call the desperate search for the low man on the chain of blame. 

But ugly as that will be, in and of itself, that fact does not justify staying a losing course.

In his speech Monday, President Biden affirmed this belief that the fundamental nature of our involvement in Afghanistan, at least as it stands circa 2021, is untenable: 

The events we’re seeing now are sadly proof that no amount of military force would ever deliver a stable, united, secure Afghanistan….What’s happening now could just as easily happen five years ago or 15 years in the future.

“If anything, the developments of the past week reinforced that ending US military involvement in Afghanistan now was the right decision,” Biden argued, echoing former Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and others who have cited the speed with which the Afghan government collapsed as evidence of just how hollow it was. Given that, the President correctly pointed out that there would never be a good time to withdraw US forces. (He was also quite correct that “China and Russia, would love nothing more than the United States to continue to funnel billions of dollars in resources and attention into stabilizing Afghanistan indefinitely.”)

….(I)f Afghanistan is unable to mount any real resistance to the Taliban now, there is no chance that one year—one more year, five more years or 20 more years—that US military boots on the ground would have made any difference.

How many more American lives is it worth, how many endless rows of headstones at Arlington National Cemetery? I’m clear on my answer. I will not repeat the mistakes we’ve made in the past, the mistake of staying and fighting indefinitely in a conflict that is not in the national interest of the United States, of doubling down on a civil war in a foreign country, of attempting to remake a country through the endless military deployments of US forces. 

I cannot and will not ask our troops to fight on endlessly in another country’s civil war, taking casualties, suffering life-shattering injuries, leaving families broken by grief and loss. This is not in our national security interest. It is not what the American people want. It is not what our troops who have sacrificed so much over the past two decades deserve. 

I’m onboard with all that. Some military people I know will be too, and some will not. 

But notwithstanding the corruption of various post-2001 Kabul regimes, The New Yorker’s Steve Coll is hard on the reductive notion that the Afghans themselves bear the blame for not getting their shit together: 

(T)o suggest that the Afghan people haven’t done their bit is a kind of blame-shifting that I think is not only unjustifiable but outrageous. 

The Afghans now have suffered generation after generation of not just continuous warfare but humanitarian crises, one after the other, and Americans have to remember that this wasn’t a civil war that the Afghans started among themselves that the rest of the world got sucked into. This situation was triggered by an outside invasion, initially by the Soviet Union, during the Cold War, and since then the country has been a battleground for regional and global powers seeking their own security by trying to militarily intervene in Afghanistan, whether it be the United States after 2001, the CIA in the nineteen-eighties, Pakistan through its support first for the mujahideen and later the Taliban, or Iran and its clients. 

To blame Afghans for not getting their act together in light of that history is just wrong.

So was there any sort of feasible middle course between total withdrawal and what the great Dexter Filkins dubbed “the forever war” (and he dubbed it that twelve years ago, in 2009), aimed at the unlikely goal of total destruction of the Taliban and establishment of Jeffersonian democracy?

In April I wrote that “If this were an American version of Brexit, I would cop to being on the side of ‘Remain’—with a severe qualifier.” The qualifier I had in mind was along the lines suggested by the former NATO SACEUR Admiral (Ret.) James Stavridis, who proposed that keeping even a battalion of US combat troops incountry might be a wise move, as a kind of tripwire to deter Taliban aggression, not unlike the role of the old Berlin Brigade (1961-94). 

In some ways that was not very different than the US approach over the past several years, as Coll writes:

The decisions of the Obama Administration, and the Trump Administration in the first couple of years, reflected a rare political consensus in the United States that there was a willingness to sustain a relatively small troop deployment and expenditures in Afghanistan for a path out that would not lead to what we are watching now. 

But even remaining with a small footprint and constrained ambitions is not a long term solution for a country where there is no appreciable homegrown counterweight to monsters like the Taliban. Even Coll, comparing the process to negotiations with FARC in Colombia, admits that that might have taken another twenty years. And America is not known for that kind of patience.

WHAT DUTY AND HONOR DEMAND

It is of course possible to believe that withdrawal from Afghanistan was the right thing to do, and also believe that we could have handled it, ya know….better. 

Per the Stavridis plan, Coll has posited that the real objection to the Biden-led withdrawal is not that we should have remained, but rather, the haste with which the administration “pulled the plug on what was not a large deployment, and one that was not incurring a lot of casualties.”

Writing in The Week, Joel Mathis quoted retired General (Ret.) Douglas E. Lute, who told The New York Times. “The puzzle for me is the absence of contingency planning. If everyone knew we were headed for the exits, why did we not have a plan over the past two years for making this work?” Mathis adds: “Even if you believe it was important for America to finally get out of Afghanistan, and even if you believe things were always going to end badly, the way we’ve chosen to leave has been ugly and harmful.”

The images of desperate Afghans trying to cling to the outside of a giant US Air Force C-17 Globemaster as it took off from Kabul airport inevitably recall the searing images of Vietnamese trying to get on Huey helicopters on the roof of the besieged US embassy in Saigon in April 1975, and of other American helicopters being pushed off the decks of ships like the USS Midway, and Kirk, and Okinawa to accommodate the incoming aircraft bearing those refugees. (Human remains were subsequently found in the wheel well of one C-17.)

These images do bring up some memories for me. 

In 1991, my parachute infantry regiment of the 82nd Airborne was laagered in southern Iraq, in the spot where we had halted our advance when the cease fire was announced. Forbidden to intervene, we watched helplessly as Saddam turned his surviving forces on his own people to suppress the discontent rising in his cities. Nightly we could hear the artillery being fired in nearby towns like An Nasiriyah. Dissidents and rebels came to our checkpoints with tales of atrocities by government troops, begging for asylum or pleading for help, which George H.W. Bush had promised as he encouraged the Iraqi people to rise up against Saddam. The rebels expressed their dismay that the United States now declined to assist them in their cause, and they weren’t comforted by nuanced explanations of geopolitics, the limits of the UN mandate, or realpolitik. Meanwhile our medics kept busy treating an increasing torrent of civilian casualties. Hysterical Iraqi mothers came to the aid station with bleeding and burned children, and the medics held the dying babies in their hands, bundled them onto helicopters, did everything they could, their best efforts only a wall of sand against a tidal wave of pestilence and death and destruction. It was gutting, but our orders were to stay out of the civil unrest. So we stood by helplessly as the remnants of the Republican Guard limped north to put down the Kurdish rebellion, passing right by US checkpoints manned by itchy-trigger-fingered paratroopers who could do nothing but watch. 

It’s a similarly helpless feeling now to watch that sort of thing happen again, writ large, and arguably far worse.

Afghanistan is now in the throes of a major humanitarian crisis that promises to continue for some time. As part of that, America has a moral responsibility to evacuate and resettle in the US as many of the Afghan nationals who worked alongside our forces as humanly possible: warriors, interpreters, officials, and others. The plight of these people, who are now being hunted like dogs by the country’s new rulers, is heartbreaking, and our duty to help them is both ethical and pragmatic. (In a gutting interview with The Bulwark, a US-trained Afghan pilot now in hiding pleaded: “Please don’t leave us behind. Please. We will be great Americans.”)

As Charlie Sykes says, it is “a fundamental test of our national honor and decency.”

The failure to organize this better—and sooner—is the most egregious failure that can rightly be laid on the Biden administration, and it has an obligation to un-fuck it most tic. We as American citizens have an obligation to demand it. It is particularly inexcusable as this nightmare was foreseen by many in the know. (George Packer offers a blistering indictment in The Atlantic.). 

The future for women and girls under this hateful medieval theocracy is especially grim, as we all know. But I’m not going to sit still for lectures on feminism from the GOP—a cult of personality to a serial sexual predator, for which misogyny is a core value, and which itself promotes a viciously anti-female domestic agenda under the guise of its own religious fundamentalism. As gutting as those images are—and the grisly thought of what the Taliban will do once back in power—they don’t change the calculus that there was and is no solution here that the US can impose at the point of a bayonet. 

The Afghan crisis will present many of the same refugee and immigration issues that plagued Europe during the Syrian war, and the US cannot justifiably shrug and turn away, even though a great many—especially on the right—would like to. As with the plight of Afghanistan’s women and girls, I’m not prepared to have the “Build the Wall” demographic lecture me about how Biden has forsaken these refugees, though mostly they are lobbying for him to do just that. The likes of Charlie Kirk are already claiming that Biden wanted Afghanistan to fall because he “wants a couple hundred thousand more Ilhan Omars to come into America to change the body politic permanently.” Tucker CarlsonJ.D.Vance, and Stephen Miller made similar points. 

So the GOP at once wants to blame Biden for abandoning our allies, while actively advocating to make that abandonment as awful as possible. 

INSIDE BIZARRO WORLD

On the subject of domestic repercussions, it’s beginning to look like I had it totally backward with my earlier assessment that Biden was cleverly using Trump as cover. In the end, Biden may get all the blame even though Trump initiated the pullout, a function of how fast and ugly the endgame was, and how willing Trump’s supporters are to believe any old nonsense he spews.

Again, Madame Kavorca’s market share seems secure. 

All but forgotten—and certainly ignored by the GOP—is the fact that the Trump administration made eye-popping, self-serving concessions to the Taliban to keep them from killing Americans ahead of Donald’s 2020 re-election bid, concessions that helped create the conditions Biden must now contend with. But we have long known that Trump & Co. are very keen to make side deals with our enemies. 

(That Trump deal is part of the reason Biden carried on with the planned withdrawal, knowing that the alternative might well be a renewed campaign of Taliban bloodshed that would target US troops, and make the current fiasco look like a church picnic.)

But I’m still not convinced it will hurt Biden that much, for that very same reason, which is how calcified partisan loyalty is in these United States. If a third of the country gives Biden absolutely no credit for getting us out of a pandemic and restarting the economy, are they going to despise him any more because of Afghanistan? Nothing he does will win him any points in MAGA World….but neither will he lose any, since the hate-o-meter is already pegged. 

Conversely, it’s hard to see many Democrats switching sides to Team Trump because Kabul fell, even as ugly as it was. Of course the GOP will hammer Biden over it, dishonestly, but how many Americans are not already hunkered down in their tribes and available to go over to the other side? Is there a significant sliver of swing voters, Never Trump foreign policy hawks, and others who will be so upset about Afghanistan that it will push them into the GOP camp? We shall see.

Meanwhile, I’m sure the Lincoln Project is already at work on an ad featuring Trump speaking at a rally just this past June, taking “credit” for the Afghanistan withdrawal, saying he “started the process” and that Biden “couldn’t stop it” even if he “wanted to.”

It goes without saying that the assertions this week by Donald Trump that if he were still in charge the withdrawal would have gone swimmingly are risible beyond belief. (He also promised Infrastructure Week would start soon, that he’d release his tax returns, and that he would unveil his Much-Better-Than-Obamacare health plan.) Naturally, Trump sycophants like Hugh Hewitt, with his lip prints firmly embossed on Donald’s butt cheeks, are promoting this “I alone can fix it” fairy tale, which no one who hasn’t been comatose since 1983 ought to swallow for a minute. Over four years Trump showed that he could not successfully manage a lemonade stand, let alone a strategic withdrawal under pressure from America’s longest war.  

But because I’m a masochist, I dipped into some right wing social media this week to see for myself what MAGA World is saying. Hold on to your hats: it’s astonishingly….hmmmm, what’s the word? 

Oh, yeah: deranged.

Everything was fantastic in Afghanistan while the great patriot and Christian warrior Donald Trump was in charge! It was only when Joe Biden took over that things went to hell! (Also: Trump can bench press 700 lbs, dunk from the top of the key, and make love to seven different Eastern European prostitutes at the same time!) The comments are riddled with willful distortions, inaccuracies, and outright lies, as you would expect from folks who believe Trump won the election, COVID is a hoax, and lizard people are running a secret Satanic sex ring. Most of it is just red-faced ranting about Joe and Kamala and libtards in general. 

You know: Trumpism.

I didn’t notice much concern for the war in Afghanistan in that community for the preceding two decades. On the contrary: it was all America First and “bring the troops home.” As David Frum writes in The Atlantic:

Over the next weeks, pro-Trump critics of Biden will astonish the world with their shamelessness, as they convert from attacks on endless wars to laments for the last helicopter out of Saigon. That shamelessness will prove more effective than it deserves to.

This is utterly predictable, of course, but it’s going to be the narrative that will last for generations in the fever swamp that is right wing America, like the notion that the press lost Vietnam, or that the only thing Nixon did wrong was get caught. But it has about as much connection to reality as a seminar hosted by Mike Lindell. It is tribalism at its worst, pure and simple.

Another sign that Afghanistan is just a maguffin in MAGA World’s regularly scheduled Two Minutes Hate is the vitriol directed at General Mark Milley, including calls for his resignation. Memo to America: The CJCS is not in the chain of command and has no operational role in the Afghanistan withdrawal. Demanding Milley resign is like calling for the surgeon general to quit because you’re mad at your family doctor. Needless to say, the bile here has more to do with GEN Milley’s slapdown of Matt Gaetzhis efforts to stop Trump’s coup d’etat, and his subsequent demonization by Tucker Carlson than anything rational. 

THE SHAMELESSNESS OF THE NEO-CONS

Redhatters venting on Facebook don’t merit a millisecond of our time, except anthropologically. But there are credentialed voices on the right who are promoting the same narrative, which is equally insidious, if not more so.   

In The Bulwark, the Iranian-born neoconservative writer Shay Khatiri offered a savage indictment of the horrors that, in his view, Biden has wrought by letting Afghanistan fall. Setting aside the question of who really bears the blame, those horrors are true enough. But there is no alternative universe in which the US, in 2021, could prevent that situation, short of some sort of permanent military occupation, which Mr. Khatiri overtly favors. Apart from that open-ended commitment, he does not offer much in the way of concrete proposals for what we ought to have done differently or should do going forward. He does weigh in with praise for Trump in ordering some feckless airstrikes on Syria in 2017 (adjective mine), which, like the headline itself—“Blame Biden for Afghanistan’s Return to the Dark Ages”—hints at the real agenda here, which may have more to do with elections in America than combat in Afghanistan.

A graduate student at the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins (fitting for those who remember Nitze’s own record), Mr. Khatiri writes in his bio on his website that his “studies are centered around the application of military power and war to politics.” Yet one very much gets the feeling that he holds a pre-Vietnam War, counter-Clausewitzean vision of military power as an omnipotent force in all political matters. His cred takes a further hit when one sees in that bio that he counts Paul Wolfowitz, Elliot Abrams, and Scooter Libby among his mentors. 

These, of course, are some of the chief bozos who led us into Iraq. 

When it comes to the neo-cons, I was gonna say, “Have they no shame?” but I think by now we know very well that they do not. 

BUT YOU WHO PHILOSOPHIZE DISGRACE

I’ve now rambled for 5000 words and not even scratched the surface of the strange and terrible saga of American involvement in Afghanistan. So I’ll wrap up by quoting a Mr. Robert Zimmerman of Hibbing, Minnesota, who wrote a song called “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” about another American cancer, wanton racial injustice. The hubris of American exceptionalism and the blind faith in military power is a different but equally toxic strain in our country, and his words apply there as well:

“Take the rag away from your face, now ain’t the time for your tears.”

You don’t get the Nobel Prize in Literature, as Mr. Zimmerman did, for being dim. The time for weeping over our strategic errors in Afghanistan was in the spring of 2003, when we pointlessly, stupidly invaded Iraq, and in the years that followed, when we continued to pursue a strategy that emulated our last great foreign policy debacle, in Southeast Asia. What we are witnessing now is only the all-but inevitable result. The recriminations will go on and on, but these expressions of shock, either genuinely naïve or Captain Renault-like, ring hollow. 

We have seen this movie before, and ought to have known how it ends.

*********

Photo: Framegrab from smartphone video of desperate Afghans clinging to the exterior of a departing USAF C-17 as it takes off from Kabul airport, August 15, 2021.

2 thoughts on “Now Ain’t the Time for Your Tears

  1. The Afghanistan situation is not a surprise. I could see parrallels with Vietnam when USA entered the arena. Hilary Clinton’s word on US role in inadvertantly contributing to problems there was interesting. I also think that if the Soviet Union at the height of its power, couldn’t suppress the Taliban, what hope would anyone have? Like other arenas of the world, conflicts go back centuries and the situation is complex. Typical of Trump to use the situation to his adavantage. Is anyone except his deluded followers listening to Trump rhetoric?

    Like

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