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Failure and chaos in Afghanistan all the more reason to appreciate those who served

President Biden blew it on Afghanistan just like Donald Trump did with the coronavirus. In February 2020, President Trump musing about the virus said, “It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.” But, in 2021 its rage is greater than ever.
Few politicians can overcome a failed assertion as emphatic and assured as President Biden in July: “The likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and own the whole country (Afghanistan) is highly unlikely.”
Or this: “There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy of the United States from Afghanistan. It is not at all comparable.”
But, of course, Biden was wrong. Everyone would be better served if he could simply say, “Well, we made a mistake.”
As cities in Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, many U.S. military veterans who served in that war-torn country were processing their feelings about their mission. Many expressed fury at the rout of the corrupt, weak, U.S.-backed Afghan government, wondering why their friends were among the 2,000 members of the U.S. military who died in that country as part of an attempt to build a Western-style democracy there. Many parents of fallen servicemen and women felt the same way.
Donnie Davis of Elizabethton saw his life end in Afghanistan.
President Biden justified his decision to pull forces out of the country by blaming the failure of the Afghan military: “One more year, or five more years, of U.S. military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country,” he said. “And an endless American presence in the middle of another country’s civil conflict was not acceptable to me.”
Like Vietnam, the war in Afghanistan was always unwinnable. Trump concluded the surrender to the Taliban in February 2020. The Afghan government was excluded from the negotiations. It was a separate peace that disheartened the Afghan military and gave the green light to the insurgents to begin the attacks, negotiations, threats, bribes and intimidation that paved the way for their breathtakingly rapid seizure of the country.
Biden deserves credit for making the decision to leave Afghanistan after two decades of futility. But the hasty exit from Kabul was bungled. A bad war is always likely to end badly, but it was the Biden administration’s job to plan for and to minimize the chaos.
It’s an illusion to think that Trump could have managed a more orderly retreat, but the Biden administration has little excuse for being caught flat-footed. And if Joe Biden would like to be a truly transformational president he could begin by admitting that what we’re witnessing in Kabul is a failure of planning, bureaucracy, intelligence and imagination.
But our first thoughts are with those of our fellow Americans who gave their time, their energy, their hearts and in some cases their lives for the multiyear U.S. mission in Afghanistan.
Military service is demanding even when the outcome is victorious. But when the mission ends in a finger-pointing muddle, veterans looking back on sacrifices are understandably filled with complicated memories.
America thankfully has overcome the demonization of those who served in the aftermath of the war in Vietnam; that is one of this nation’s signature nonpartisan accomplishments of the last decades. But, especially given the images of evacuation by helicopter, the comparison of the impact on those who served in the two missions is inevitable.
So not only do the pictures from Afghanistan not diminish those who served and lost their lives there, they should remind us of just how much they are owed by those of us who remained at home, safely out of this impossible difficult mission.
It’s always a good idea to thank fellow Americans for their service. But at this moment, when so much attention is elsewhere, when so much criticism is being attached to goals they were asked to reach, it’s especially important to thank those who served in Afghanistan.
And, in the future, we might exercise more caution before we drift into another hopeless adventure like Vietnam or Afghanistan.