Anniversaries Are for Remembering

It is framed by airplanes.

On September 11, 2001, I stood with a bunch of other New Yorkers on a street corner on the Lower East Side, gazing up at the surreal sight of smoke billowing out of a gaping hole in the North Tower of the World Trade Center, and a cloud of what looked like glitter—shattered glass—floating in the sky around it. No one knew exactly what had happened, but talk was that a plane had hit the building. A small private plane, we assumed. An accident. Nothing else was conceivable, or crossed our minds. 

Soon after, as we watched, a fireball erupted as a second plane crashed into the South Tower. Not a small private one, and not an accident either. Neither was the first, it turned out.

This week it was another airplane that dominated the news, the last US Air Force transport to fly out of Afghanistan as our bungled twenty-year war there came to an ignominious but necessary end. It was fitting, as our Afghan misadventure had of course been kicked off by that terrorist attack on New York and Washington twenty years ago. 

When the Biden administration chose the symbolic date of September 11, 2021 for the end of US involvement in Afghanistan, I’m sure it did not have this sort of symmetry in mind. 

Already we are witnessing the establishment of a counterfactual narrative about Afghanistan, much like the one told about Vietnam: the risible claim that we “could have won the war,” or at least departed it more gracefully, if only we had bombed the country more, sent in more troops, been more psychic, yada yada yada. And this hypocritical rush to condemn Biden comes not only from the predictable troglodytes and shameless opportunists on the right, some of whose own hands are red with blood over the matter, but also from various naïfs on the center-left. 

When they gaze upon its anarchic twilight, these critics are furious that, in their view, Joe Biden “lost” the war because he didn’t do these things. But what they are really mourning, without knowing it, is the imperialist delusion that the US can readily impose its will on countries around the world by force, a persistent fantasy that three times in my lifetime has led us into bloody quagmires of precisely this kind. 

What is it that Pete Seeger sang? Oh yeah:

“When will we ever learn?”

OPINIONS AND ASSHOLES, ONE PER CUSTOMER

The iconoclastic conservative Andrew Sullivan seized on a similar, even more macabre parallel in a recent Substack piece called “Two Men Falling.” In it, he noted the infamous image of what became known as The Falling Man, widely believed to an employee of the Windows on the World restaurant, who was among those desperate people who leapt to their deaths from the top of that burning skyscraper on 9/11. (The identity of the exact individual is in question.) Sullivan twinned it with the image of a desperate Afghan refugee—also one of several—who was photographed falling thousands of feet from the exterior of a massive USAF C-17 to which he was clinging as it flew out of Hamid Karzai Airport in Kabul last week. 

In some ways, Sullivan is a kind of Christopher Hitchens in reverse—a conservative turned quasi-liberal by war—and he writes eloquently about the  “the Potemkin emptiness of the entire project” in Afghanistan:

Leaving Afghanistan…is not the blow to American power and prestige these pundits are claiming. Staying in Afghanistan is.”

Everyone who has ever tried this Sisyphean task has failed. We lost the war long ago, and had conceded defeat already. Despite extraordinary sacrifices by Americans and Afghans and Brits and others, a viable, stable, less-awful alternative to Taliban rule existed only so long as it was kept on life support by the West—and not a day longer.

It was not long ago that many on the American right agreed…..until Joe Biden actually pulled us out. Now Biden is being assailed by the full range of critics, including America Firsters who enthusiastically cheered the idea of withdrawal when Trump initiated it; the neo-cons who led us into this debacle, then bungled it (with the distraction of the pointless invasion of Iraq in particular), and now shamelessly blame Joe for their mess; and a whole range of others who didn’t give Afghanistan a thought until this week. 

(Here again we see the difference between the two ends of the American political spectrum. The right defends their guy even when he tries to murder them and overthrow the government, while the left feels free to attack their leader even when he’s doing the right thing.) 

Sullivan:

(T)here is something about the unreal huffing and puffing this week from the left-media, the neocon holdouts and the opportunistic Republicans that seems far too cheap and easy. It’s as if they have learned nothing—nothing—from the 21st Century. They are acting now as if we are snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, rather than finally ending the dumbest, longest war this country has ever fought.

They say they’re just decrying the way we left; but of course, this is the motte, not the bailey. Read any of their screeds, and you’ll see they still want us to stay. They still think they are right and that the American people are wrong, still believe they have the moral high ground, even as their morality has led to strategic blunders, and hundreds of thousands of innocent deaths. 

Sullivan concludes, “We are not a very grown-up country these days. Mercifully, we have a president who is. Who did the right thing, when others refused to. And who is mercifully not backing down.”

In a piece called “The Bloodlust of Joe Biden’s Afghanistan Critics,” The Week’s Ryan Cooper praised Biden for “continuing to hold stubbornly to what is very obviously the only realistic course of action, despite a mindless frenzy of condemnation from the media and the GOP, and little support from his own party,” calling it “the strongest act of political courage I have seen from a president in my life.”

(T)hese blood-crazed critics have no arguments or even suggestions that do not involve getting more American soldiers killed, except genocidal slaughter of Afghan civilians. 

Not a single one of these cretins has even bothered to outline a medium-term plan.

These armchair generals don’t care about any of that. They don’t care about working out a viable plan to do anything in particular, or defending any conception of American interests, or respecting the sacrifice of Our Troops. They want to leverage the shock, horror, and pain of American soldiers getting killed to whip up a good old war frenzy, just like they did after 9/11, and get hundreds or thousands more troops injured and killed in the process of yet another madcap imperialist crusade. The American military is a plaything for these people in their crusade to seize domestic power by driving the citizenry into a frothing desire for vengeance.

In an op-ed for USA Today, the foreign policy thinker David Rothkopf wrote that “the intellectual dishonesty in critiques of how President Joe Biden is handling the US departure from Afghanistan has been off the charts.” (He then tidily decimated the full menu of complaints.) Continuing his argument in The Atlantic, Rothkopf wrote of how the haters have been “incandescently self-righteous in their invective against the Biden administration,” saving his most scalding contempt for the oft-heard conventional wisdom, bandied by both sides, that “Biden owns this.”   

America’s longest war has been by any measure a costly failure, and the errors in managing the conflict deserve scrutiny in the years to come. But Joe Biden doesn’t “own” the mayhem on the ground right now. What we’re seeing is the culmination of 20 years of bad decisions by US political and military leaders. If anything, Americans should feel proud of what the US government and military have accomplished in these past two weeks. President Biden deserves credit, not blame. 

Unlike his three immediate predecessors in the Oval Office, all of whom also came to see the futility of the Afghan operation, Biden alone had the political courage to fully end America’s involvement. 

On that point, many of the people who are screaming the loudest about the loss of Afghanistan are the same ones who assured us that the war was won back in November 2001, and who blithely took us into Iraq under false pretenses (sometimes called “lies”), dooming what slim chance we ever had to hold our gains in that first war. It astonishes me that in the gnashing of teeth over Afghanistan, the role of Iraq is not more frequently or prominently mentioned. Even now these Republicans would have us believe that we could still “win” this misbegotten crusade—like Iraq before it, and Vietnam before that—if we would just stick to an obstinate non-strategy that hasn’t yet worked despite two decades of violent, financially exorbitant effort. 

I’m beginning to question their judgment. 

Bush and Cheney must be laughing their asses off that the national debate is over who’s to blame, Biden or Trump. (For that matter, the US is responsible for creating the Taliban in the first place, as a proxy force to fight the Soviets after their 1979 invasion. See Kai Bird’s terrific new biography on Jimmy Carter, The Outlier.)

Or as former Under Secretary of State Richard Stengel put it on Twitter: “Blaming Biden for Afghanistan is like saying the last batter in a 9-inning 10-to-nothing rout was responsible for the loss.”

LAST TANGO IN KABUL

I am generally a fan of the writer Anne Applebaum, but in a recent piece she derided the notion that “there is no military solution in Afghanistan” as the laziest of cliches. Like Rothkopf’s article, it ran in The Atlantic, but it read like the sort of right wing sneering you’d find in National Review. 

She then went on at length about the usefulness of military power, and the times when it is the only possible recourse.

Was that up for debate? 

To say “there is no military solution in Afghanistan” is not to say there is never a situation where military force should be applied, and I’m not aware of anyone but the Quakers making that claim. Ms. Applebaum sets that up as a false equivalence allegedly made by those she criticizes, then spends a lot of time making a bad faith argument against it. 

When we talk about the limits of military power in Afghanistan, what we mean is that we could not impose democracy there by force alone, particularly with an ill-conceived strategy that failed to take into account the people, history, and conditions in question. (Our enemy, however, very much could impose tyranny that way. How long they will be able to maintain it is a separate issue, as ISIS-K will attest.) Moreover, I am not sure what Applebaum would have us do in Afghanistan, either now or over the preceding twenty years, because she never lays that out. 

Are there situations that demand military force? Of course. But the problem is not usually our reluctance to use it, but rather, our tendency to think it’s a literal magic bullet.

The opposite tack is taken in a recent New Yorker piece by Robin Wright headlined “US Retaliation for the Kabul Bombing Won’t Stop ISIS or End Terrorism.” One might say that title is laughably obvious, almost Onion-worthy….except that we as Americans continually fail to learn it.  Wright:

(T)he central flaw in US strategy is the belief that military force can eradicate extremist groups or radical ideologies. On Friday evening, a senior Biden Administration official acknowledged that the United States “can’t physically eliminate an ideology. What you can do is deal, hopefully effectively, with any threat that it poses.”

“The bottom line is that kinetic action by itself cannot significantly counter terrorist organizations,” Seth Jones, a former adviser to US Special Operations forces in Afghanistan, told me. “It is very limited in what it can do. It can disrupt operationally and take people out. But tactical and operational impact is very short-term.”

Airpower, like the recent drone strike on ISIS-K in retaliation for its suicide bombing at the Kabul, is particularly feckless in this regard, since our enemy in Southwest Asia—not unlike the Viet Cong—is geared for asymmetrical warfare and by design uniquely resistant to those kind of high tech attacks. Indeed, Wright goes on to note that airstrikes like that one, while doing relatively little operational damage, can actually serve the enemy’s needs—particularly a heretofore marginal insurgent group like ISIS-K—by raising its profile and street cred. 

That is the sort of thing that has made it rather challenging for the US to win hearts and minds throughout this whole fucking crusade. The “quick and easy” surgical strikes that many Americans imagine are within our power are rarely either. 

Especially when we kill innocent civilians including children in the process. 

Ironically, Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers now find themselves in the Russian / American position of fighting a counterinsurgency, against the smaller, even more ruthless Islamic State-Khorasan, which it brands as a “terrorist group.” And they may find that they cannot defeat ISIS-K by force alone either, only by destroying its appeal to any appreciable number of Afghans. 

“ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US”

One popular right wing fairy tale is that there really was no more shooting war in Afghanistan, and that we could have held off the Taliban with just a small military presence that would suffer an “acceptable” level of “minimal” casualties, presumably ad infinitum. Among those advancing this view were former US Ambassador Ryan Crocker and the New York Times’ designated conservative columnist Bret Stephens. 

But in The Week, Joel Mathis wrote witheringly of this view:

There is something disturbing about the casual disregard for American lives underlying those statements: ‘Minimal’ casualties means only a few soldiers killed or maimed, only a few families back home devastated by the loss of their loved ones. Even if you accept that idea, Crocker and Stephens and the other hawks aren’t really arguing that the sacrifice is worth it, but rather that there won’t be any real sacrifice at all.

To be fair, I do understand the impulse here. In two previous blogs about Afghanistan (“Banging On a Window That Long Since Closed,” back in April, and “Now Ain’t the Time For Your Tears,” two weeks ago), I’ve mentioned what might be called “the Berlin option,” stating that I had favored it, with caveats. In short, this was the idea—popular in the military and intelligence communities, and advanced by people like the much-respected former NATO Supreme Commander Admiral (Ret.) James Stavridis—that a small cadre of US combat troops garrisoned in Kabul could stave off a total Taliban conquest by acting as a kind of tripwire, like the US Army’s old Berlin Brigade.

I want to be clear that I believe this approach might have eased our exit from Afghanistan, but could never have been a long term solution. After all, the Berlin Brigade analogy is not quite right. The Soviet army wasn’t closing in on the Kurfurstedamm in active combat over 45 years; it was holding fast in a permanent stalemate. 

By contrast, the status quo in Afghanistan was not tenable. The low level of active combat was due not to military success on our part, but to a deal with the Taliban to hold its fire on the promise that we would soon be gone. They surely would have ramped the bloodshed up dramatically if we’d changed our minds and decided to stay. (Even the Never Trump conservative Max Boot, who is otherwise supportive of Biden, reverted to his hawkish neo-conservatism and bought into the idea that all was well in Afghanistan until last week, fooled by the Taliban’s strategic pause while awaiting the US withdrawal.) In that scenario, a US combat brigade hunkered down in a Green Zone while Islamist insurgents slowly took over the rest of the country would not constitute victory, or even a draw, and could not be maintained indefinitely. 

In other words, there might have been marginally better ways to have gotten out of Afghanistan, but all of them were going to be ugly; the only question was one of degree. As the Carnegie Senior Fellow Stephen Wertheim says, “You don’t get to lose a war and expect the result to look like you’ve won it.”

And MAGA Nation was always going to blame Biden no matter what.  

MEANWHILE AT MAR-A-LAGO

To that end, tribalism is naturally at the core of much of this criticism of Biden.

As the Internet wit Jeff Tiedrich tweeted: “If you sat silent when Trump abandoned Syria and evacuated exactly zero of our Kurdish allies and handed over our military bases to Russia, kindly sit the fuck down and shut the fuck up and spare us your fake outrage over Afghanistan.” 

Even as the MAGA minions are shrieking that “this tragedy would never have happened under Trump!” it’s risible to think that the former guy would have done better in managing the withdrawal from Afghanistan, which is an article of faith in conservative America. You will be shocked to learn that, in order to traffic in this delusion, Trump’s pinwheel-eyed disciples are willfully ignoring a few pertinent facts. (So unlike them.) To wit:

Trump is the one who made the decision to pull out of Afghanistan so hastily, and has continually taken “credit’ for it, bragging as recently as June that Biden couldn’t reverse the decision if he wanted to. Trump made a deal with the Taliban last year to keep hostilities low while he ran for re-election, and gave them everything they wanted in exchange, including the release of more than 5000 Taliban fighters from prison. The Trump administration arranged the release from prison of the new Taliban leader, Abdul Ghani Baradar, even as Trump further inflamed the Islamic world—and thrilled his white nationalist followers—with his racist, xenophobic, and sectarian rhetoric and policies. Trump failed to reckon with the rise of other insurgent groups, like ISIS-K, reduced US troops levels incountry which allowed the Taliban to accelerate its gains, and slowed the screening process to bring Afghan refugees into the US, part of Stephen Miller’s racist campaign against any kind of immigration whatsoever. So much for the sanctimony about abandoning our allies. 

Indeed, Trump put this endgame in motion, arguably speeding the very collapse of the Afghan government that took almost everyone by surprise. Doug Lute, a former ambassador to NATO who led Afghanistan policy in the Bush and Obama administrations, told The New Yorker’s Robin Wright that after “Trump took office and vowed to leave Afghanistan, the Taliban told tribal leaders and local governments to make a choice—ally with them or stick with a corrupt central government that would soon no longer have US protection.” A slew of cease-fire arrangements-in-waiting commenced, paving the way for the Taliban to take Kabul months faster than US intelligence predicted. 

Arching over all of this, of course, Trump howled for four years about putting “America First” and ending wars exactly like this one—including this one by name, in fact—while the same supporters who are now eviscerating Joe Biden rubbed their hands raw applauding. 

Despite all that, Republicans would have us believe that somehow Trump would have carried out an efficient and effortless end to US involvement. To no one’s surprise, Trump himself feels no shame in making that same claim in between rounds of golf and cheeseburgers at Elba-Lago.

Back here on Planet Earth, however, there’s no evidence he could successfully manage a lemonade stand, let alone a strategic withdrawal under pressure. I refer you to his performance presiding over the deaths of some 400,000 Americans—more than we lost in all of World War II—through his jawdropping mismanagement of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the most horrendous display of criminal incompetence in US presidential history. 

But on the bright side, he did try to stage a violent coup d’etat here at home. So there’s that.

ONLY THE POPE IS INFALLIBLE—ACTUALLY, NOT EVEN THE POPE

The dishonest, hypocritical, and vastly unwarranted criticisms of Biden over Afghanistan do not excuse the valid ones. 

Biden made some crucial errors in failing to anticipate the speed of the Afghan collapse (so did I, but I’m not president), the early stages of the pullout were terribly chaotic, and the delay in beginning the evacuation of US citizens and Afghan allies was a black mark on America’s honor that we will not soon live down (notwithstanding individual acts of great valor). If that smacks of cheap and unearned hindsight, on my part this time, I am only judging by the tales of credible figures on the ground—senior military personnel, State Department and other governmental officials, journalists, NGO personnel, and others—and the consensus they are reporting. 

In the New Yorker, David Rohde—who in 2009 spent seven months as a prisoner of the Taliban—wrote movingly of the anarchy of the US withdrawal, and above all the lack of a coherent system for trying to rescue the tens of thousands of Afghan civilians who had worked and fought alongside US. (The Taliban leader who headed the faction which abducted Rohde is now the security chief for all of Kabul.) That is perhaps the principal, indelible stain that Biden will have to bear, far more than delusions that there were things he could have done to “win” the war. 

But as I’ve written before, this is the difference between Biden supporters—and other sane Americans—and the Trump cult. We don’t believe our man is infallible. We don’t fly giant BIDEN flags from our vehicles as we blast down the highway (especially months after the election), or believe him when he says to trust him rather than our own eyes, or think he can redirect the path of a hurricane with a Sharpie. If I err on the side of defending him, it’s because he remains infinitely preferable to his opponents, who have shown us that they will consistently do all the wrong things in every possible way, and gleefully. 

While there is now Monday morning quarterbacking aplenty from the safety of home, even some of the people on the ground have had a hard time envisioning the details of a smoother exit. In another New Yorker piece, Robin Wright quoted a US official in Kabul as saying that “in the end, there was a consensus among the exhausted American military personnel and envoys that they just wanted out, even as they questioned the frantic chaos of how it was done.”

Among people who risked their lives to fulfill the ever-evolving directives, there was a final sorrow that the US campaign in Afghanistan would never have worked, whatever the commitment by one of the largest military coalitions ever assembled. “How were we going to fix it?” the official said. “It was time to cut our losses. People out there said, ‘We need to go—but not like this.’ The problem,” he added, “was that no one knew what better looked like.”

It is, of course, quite possible to accept that Biden has done a courageous and pragmatic thing in carrying out the US withdrawal from an unwinnable and unwise war, and at the same time believe that he botched his moral duty to stand up a working system to get out as many of those who helped us as possible. Life being a complex and non-Manichean thing, he may go down in history both for his remarkable political bravery and for the mismanagement that led to so many valiant people being left behind. 

Even so, he gets the benefit of the doubt, if only by virtue of the moral bankruptcy of those who oppose and excoriate him. 

Sullivan again:

Between these think-tank critics who helped create this nightmare in the first place, and Biden who fucked it up but actually did it, I’m with the president. 

(V)iolent regime collapse is always chaotic….There was never going to be a smooth or orderly transition; or any result that didn’t bring the religious fanatics back to power. Never. If the last few days do not persuade the pious think-tankers and Blob stenographers of that, they are a lost cause. The least they can do as we witness the end of their delusional disaster of two decades is to shut up.

I mean: how many of us were closely following developments in Afghanistan this spring? How many read any stories about the place? How many segments did CNN devote to Afghanistan in June and July? And how many of us who cheered the original invasion have been able to acknowledge candidly how deeply wrong we were since, and retain a modicum of humility and shame as we watch the inevitable end of our own hubristic dreams? 

Speaking of courage, the Washington Post recently carried a gutting story of Biden meeting with the families of the final thirteen American servicemembers to die in Afghanistan, as their remains were returned to Dover AFB in his native Delaware. 

Many of these family members were not Biden voters, and were understandably furious with him. Some of the angriest ones nevertheless came away with some grudging respect amid their pain. Others did not. Biden just had to stand there and take it. That is the burden of leadership, though some shirk it. (Trump never met in person with any Gold Star families, and spoke by phone or mail with only a few, though he did make a habit of insulting them.) 

The searing grief of these American family members is heartbreaking. But as commander in chief, Joe Biden has clearly asked himself whether he can in good conscience carry on with a futile war that will send still more silver coffins back to Dover for years to come. One might accept that—as even some of these grieving family members did—and yet still say that Biden partially mishandled the endgame. I am sure that people who were on the inside will, in the coming years, tell us the details that will allow history to judge.  

THE THIN KHAKI LINE

Perhaps the only good thing that can be said about the fall of Afghanistan is that its timing forces us to reckon with 9/11 in a more somber way, and not in what might otherwise have been an orgy of nationalistic self-pity on its 20th anniversary. 

Normally on this anniversary, I repost a piece I originally published in this blog in September 2017 called “The Voice of the Prophet,” about Rick Rescorla, a US Army officer who fought in Vietnam alongside my father, and three decades later, as head of security for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, saved the lives of some 3000 people in the World Trade Center before sacrificing his own life by going back into the building to look for stragglers shortly before it collapsed. I invite you to read it in honor of Rick and the other anonymous heroes of that terrible day. 

But the timing of the Afghan collapse compels me to focus more narrowly on some of the things Rick said in that 1998 interview I filmed with him on the 44th floor of the South Tower, three years before he gave his life there. (I cut that interview into a documentary short, also called The Voice of the Prophet, which was shown at Sundance 2002, and which can be seen online here.)

Rick began our interview with a scalding critique of the wrongheadedness of the Vietnam war in which he fought. (An Englishman by birth, he had fought in Cyprus and Rhodesia before emigrating to the US.) Turning to what was then the present, he went on to describe the context in which terrorism would arise in the 21st century, indicted the Gulf war and its oil-soaked motive, and condemned US involvement in Nicaragua and other places where we were “backing the wrong people” and propping up dictators for the benefit of corporate interests. He argued that if the US instead lived up to its professed values, the rest of the world would applaud and follow suit, eliminating much of the anti-Americanism that motivated problematic US military interventions in the first place.

He concluded with these words:

Military power is completely secondary to national will and national morality…. 

We in America have been very fortunate. We’ve been blessed with a wonderful country and everything, and wonderful resources, but don’t let us think that we can be the world’s top cop. (We are now) first in the front line troops fighting wars that we don’t understand, in places that the people in the United States have never heard of and can’t pronounce, let alone know why we’re there. And American blood is being spilled. 

Finally I would say that the residue of hatred this is creating in these foreign countries, where we’re going these things and we don’t think there are any repercussions—those people should think about the (1993) World Trade Center bombing and things of this nature. Things will come home to roost—and they may be twenty years later—of cavalier actions that we’re taking now out there…

We think we can go out there and be the world’s top cop? It’s impossible.

In closing, amid the politics surrounding the US exit from Afghanistan, let’s pause to note the incredible bravery and dedication of the members of the US Air Force’s Air Mobility Command—and the members of the other armed services and civilian US personnel assisting them—in carrying out one of the largest, most dangerous, and most remarkable airlifts in human history. Pictures emerged of C-17s loaded with as many as 800 passengers, challenging the laws of aerodynamics, and attesting to the skill and bravery of the American aircrews. (For perspective, the C-17 is designed to carry a total of combat-loaded 102 paratroopers. Even if you count each paratrooper and gear as two empty-handed people, that plane was still at quadruple capacity.)

Such is the individual heroism that attends even the most fucked up foreign policy shitshow.

We were right to go into Afghanistan in late 2001 to seek out the people who had attacked us, and those who gave them sanctuary. We were wrong to think we could occupy that country afterward and remake it in our image, largely for—let’s be honest—our own purposes. Unfortunately, that nationbuilding phase was integral to securing a lasting military victory, which speaks to the limits of military power alone.

A conundrum for sure.

Some of the US Marines killed in the recent ISIS-K suicide attack were infants when Al Qaeda attacked the US on September 11th. For some nations, twenty years of war is not unusual; in the US, however, we prefer quick victories, ideally with a minimum of American sacrifice. That may be in part because the foreign wars we fight are not usually against existential threats, let alone on our own soil. Our enemies, whether they are the Vietnamese or the Iraqis or the Afghans, often have more motivation to stand and fight. 

But in the end, no superpower—not the US nor any other—can simply impose its will by brute force alone if that brute force is not part of a broader, multi-pronged strategy of the kind we were never able to develop in Southwest Asia. (Nor Southeast Asia before it.)  When the US went into Afghanistan after 9/11, it was with a sense of national unity and a righteousness of purpose that I’ve rarely seen in my lifetime, at least not for genuinely honorable reasons. That we let that mission devolve into debacle while distracted with a separate, venal, and wholly unnecessary war next door was a crucial mistake, but sadly not the only one, or the last. 

The grim results were on display this week, made even worse by the shameless partisanship of American reactionaries. 

Twenty years is a long time to come away having learned less than nothing.  

*********

Photo: A US Air Force C-17 flying out of Kabul in the final days of the US occupation, late August 2021

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