Other voices: A house of cards inevitably collapses

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Everyone knew that we had to leave Afghanistan.

We’d sacrificed too much blood and treasure with too few results. And 20 years of American presence was long enough — far too long. The necessity of leaving the country was one of the very few issues on which former President Trump and current President Biden agreed.

Everyone knew that leaving would be bad, too. They just didn’t know it would be this bad, this quickly.

In a tsunami of military operations, the Taliban ten-pinned every major Afghan city in less than a week, finally sweeping into the nation’s capital, Kabul, on Sunday. Chaos ensued. Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani and other government officials fled the country. Afghan citizens scrambled to run and hide. Some clung in futile desperation to departing airplanes.

And though President Biden authorized U.S. troops to help Americans and NATO allies evacuate, they will only be there temporarily. We’re leaving.

Thus ends the United States’ 20-year experiment with democracy in a fractured country that prided itself on never surrendering to an occupying force.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said that his group would soon hold talks aimed at forming an “open, inclusive Islamic government” — phrasing that sounds as if it’s meant to troll the international community. The oppressive, murderous Taliban doesn’t “do” open and inclusive. It does brutality and barbarism. Especially brutal when it comes to women’s rights, we expect the worst for the long-troubled nation.

In the face of the turmoil that’s occurring now, many think we should have done something different. What, they’re not quite sure.

Or they’re too sure. Everyone who was an expert on vaccines last week has suddenly become an expert on foreign policy this week.

We understand. Many feel disgusted and ashamed by the turn of events, and tempers are high. Assigning blame likely makes us feel like we’re in control. People want to blame either Trump, the architect of the departure, or Biden, who executed it, or one of their predecessors.

Biden deserves his share of criticism — he and his military and diplomatic advisers seriously underestimated how quickly the Taliban would take charge and how little opposition it would meet from the Afghan military.

But there’s no evidence to suggest that anyone else could have done better.

There’s plenty of blame to assign to other parties as well, 20 years’ worth. And there’s plenty of shame, for the greatest country in the world, which not only failed in its mission to bring democracy to Afghanistan — or at least stability of some variety — but is too mired in disinformation and political division to even stop a communicable virus that is currently, needlessly, killing our children.

Maybe everyone needs to sit down and listen for a change.

And that includes us.

We won’t pretend to be prophetic; we don’t know what could have been done differently in Afghanistan or what should be done now. Once we and our NATO allies invaded in 2001, there were never any good options — only slightly less horrible options. All we can do is follow the news and try to stay informed. Wait patiently.

Those who pray can pray for peace and for mercy.

And we can stand by those who stood by us.

Translators, drivers, diplomats and others who helped U.S. forces during our time there are in line for special punishment from the Taliban. Some have already been executed in retaliation for helping us.

But many have been evacuated by U.S. forces and more need to be. For the sake of our nation’s reputation, in anticipation of the cooperation we’ll likely need in the future and for the sake of sheer decency, we’ve got to continue the evacuation of Afghans who assisted American forces.

We can also still support our military personnel. They did everything we asked of them and more. Even as they leave, they do so heroically.

But we should know by now, for certain and forever, that military might has its limitations.

Our departure from Afghanistan is a tragedy that will resonate with us for decades to come, with serious implications for our nation, for our allies and for world security. We can’t bluster our way through it. No number of “America first” chants will absolve our responsibility. We must reckon with it.

— Greensboro News & Record