Ray Nothstine: Biden, Walter Jones offer striking contrast on Afghanistan

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 2, 2021

By Ray Nothstine

The late U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, a N.C. Republican, ended his speeches on the House floor about the pitfalls of Afghanistan by asking God’s blessing and protection for our service members.

After 20 years in the war-torn country, U.S involvement in Afghanistan ends just as Jones predicted. Yet, one wonders if even he could have foreseen such a botched and embarrassing withdrawal.

Jones signed over 12,000 letters to families who lost loved ones in Iraq and Afghanistan to atone for his 2002 vote in favor of the Iraqi invasion. The outside of his office on Capitol Hill was adorned with Camp Lejeune Marines killed in Afghanistan, a base in the congressional district. Jones commented that it would force lawmakers and other visitors to see the faces of sacrifice for a war that many had pushed aside or entirely forgotten. Jones spent much of his time in Congress trying to get his own party to acknowledge the importance of debating the mission in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, much of his own party ignored him.

A sobering line from the World War I trench poet Wilfred Owen says, “Those who feel most for others suffer most in war.” The weight he felt over the American loss of life in the War on Terror speaks to his character as a leader. Grieving family members of war spoke at Jones’s 2019 funeral in Greenville. A sure sign that he earned their trust and respect.

The entire U.S. cost of the War on Terror is around $6 trillion. Mind-blowing for a country approaching $30 trillion in debt struggling to find a common purpose, not just abroad but here at home. Yet, the money still pales in comparison to the loss of life. Nothing can replace the human loss. The families and children whose lives are now forever altered.

Americans were again reminded of the high cost of war as a suicide bomber killed 13 service members Aug. 26. “The loss of American service members in Afghanistan, and the nature of those lost, has shaken the country to its core,” said current U.S. Rep Virginia Foxx, R-NC.

“It should have never gotten to this point,” Foxx added. “The failures of President Biden and his administration cannot be overstated. The Biden Administration seems blinded by the notion of making these next few days our nation’s last in Afghanistan — and in so doing, some of the worst in our modern history.”

Sadly, it doesn’t end there. Biden appears to have bungled the recent interactions with Gold Star families during the dignified transfer ceremony at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. He was called out for his lack of empathy and looking at his watch multiple times as the caskets passed by for review. Biden reportedly interrupted family members, trying to soothe the grief of loved ones by bringing up the loss of his own son Beau — a veteran — to a brain tumor in 2015. It would have been wiser for the president to listen. There is nothing one can say, anyways. Leadership is so often listening, even if one must absorb insults hurled at them.

It’s surprising Biden is struggling to empathize given that he has suffered his own mountain of tragedies. Biden not only lost a son, but decades earlier, he lost his first wife and a daughter in a tragic auto wreck.

Perhaps Biden’s fallen victim to becoming overly scripted and managed by those around him. “Joe from Scranton” — a moniker he’s embraced throughout his career — suggests he knows how to connect with people. But Biden is misfiring everywhere on Afghanistan. Most important, he’s failing with those Americans who have sacrificed the most.

Biden should channel the late North Carolina congressman. In the end, Biden agreed with Jones it was time to get out of Afghanistan. The difference is Jones became a model of owning up to his mistakes. Biden still hasn’t here. Listening is what changed his views and made him an even more effective leader. Jones embodied humility.

Americans aren’t stupid. They see the debacle for what it is, and they don’t see any accountability or ownership in the White House or Pentagon. Only Biden can change that. The country, and especially our recent Gold Star families, deserve that much.

Ray Nothstine is opinion editor of the Carolina Journal, where this column first appeared.