Happy Afghanistan Christmas, Afghanistan War Is Over
On Tuesday afternoon President Joe Biden addressed the nation about the just-completed US military withdrawal from Afghanistan, praising the job American and allied forces did in evacuating more than 120,000 people from Kabul's airport, defending his decision to end the 20-year war that hadn't accomplished the goal of uniting Afghanistan in a stable democracy, and suggesting that — just maybe — America shouldn't keep trying to achieve impossible things around the world through making war.
One line that, as a parent, I suspect will stick with me for a long time:
We've been a nation too long at war. If you're 20 years old today, you have never known an America at peace.
It's hardly a new observation, but can you imagine it being said by most American presidents of the last 30 years? Certainly not in the context of a horribly long war finally coming to an end.
Here's the full speech:
Biden noted that the evacuation from Kabul was among the biggest airlifts in history, "with more than 120,000 people evacuated to safety. That number is more than double what most experts thought were possible." Strangely, he didn't claim that success was solely possible because he's the greatest president ever. (Oh Crom, we do not want to imagine the Donald Trump Afghanistan withdrawal speech.)
He followed his praise of the sacrifices of the military men and women who died and were injured in last week's car bombing outside the airport by acknowledging the decision to withdraw — and the responsibility — was his alone, but also noted that the decision to end the pullout by August 31 was the "unanimous recommendation of my civilian and military advisors."
Much of the speech aimed at once more explaining why leaving Afghanistan was necessary, and at making clear that there's no such thing as a tidy end to a forever war. After Donald Trump — Biden only referred him to as "my predecessor, the former president" — reached an agreement last year with the Taliban to withdraw, and began drawing down US forces, Biden said he had just two choices. He could complete the withdrawal, but extend the departure date to allow more time to get people out, or he could have sent in "thousands of more troops and escalate the war," because by the time he took office, the Taliban was already beginning to retake much of Afghanistan.
Biden went into more detail, but essentially his argument matched what most Americans believe: No thank you to a third decade of war. He pointed out that the original mission, to eliminate the threat of al Qaeda and to kill Osama bin Laden, had been met, so why were we still in Afghanistan a decade later? If the terror attacks of 9/11 had come from any other country, he said, we never would have been in Afghanistan trying to build a modern democracy to start with.
Jeff Greenfield — like CIA involvement in Afghanistan, he's another relic of the Reagan era — notes at Politico that Biden laid out a different vision of America's role in the world, neither the bigoted-guy-at-the-bar isolationism of Trump's "America First" or the old internationalism of America as the "essential" nation for peace and stability. Instead, Biden argued that it's time for America to end
"an era of major military operations to remake other countries … trying to create a democratic, cohesive and united Afghanistan — something that has never been done over centuries in Afghanistan history."
We spent "$300 million a day for 20 years," he said. "What have we lost as a consequence in terms of opportunities?"
To be sure, $300 million a day could have built a hell of a lot of roads, wind turbines, and solar panels, not to mention funding insane socialist goals like educating all our kids and providing healthcare to all Americans.
Greenfield sees Biden expressing
a belief now shared across ideological lines: America's international role has been an exercise in overreach. For more than a decade, in fact, this has been a more powerful current than the foreign-policy establishment might like to admit.
You wanna see a belief "now shared across ideological lines"? Try this on for size:
But Greenfield points out that Biden's call for a more realistic sense of limitations on America's foreign policy ambitions doesn't quite answer a "larger question":
what are we to do about the immense global military machine that remains very much in place? As intent as Biden is on bringing the so-called forever wars to an end, the reality is that he and others skeptical of U.S. intervention abroad need to look not at particular conflicts, but at America's massive military apparatus.
What to do about that enormous "defense" establishment, Greenfield suggests, just might become the impetus for a "fundamental rethinking of the enormous, and largely unquestioned, amount of resources America expends in the name of national security." For a relic, he's actually pretty good.
That would be nice, but come on: We're Americans! We'll probably half-ass it like always, while the military-industrial complex keeps pouring money into Congress with the promise of jobs, and that gigantic military will remain Chekhov's Gun, waiting for whatever next international crisis an imperial president wants to point it at.
Might be nice to actually use a "peace dividend" for things other than getting ready for the next war. Those 20-year-olds may like the idea a hell of a lot.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.