By John Krull
There’s a reason three different presidents kicked the can down the road when it came to getting out of Afghanistan.
As the attack by ISIS that killed at least 13 U.S. military personnel and more than 150 other people demonstrates, it was bound to be ugly when we did leave. There is no easy, clean way to exit from an ongoing civil war, particularly when no one from that country really wanted us there in the first place.
President Joe Biden has come under severe criticism for the way his administration has conducted the withdrawal.
Some of that criticism is both fair and just.
I do not understand the president’s stubborn, almost unreasoning adherence to an arbitrary withdrawal deadline. That unnecessarily gave the Taliban and other bad actors in the country a pricey bargaining chip they could use with us.
A wiser approach would have been to say to all parties that we plan a phased withdrawal with no set final date. That way, we could have told those with mayhem on their minds that our departure — in theory, the outcome they want — would be accelerated if they were to help keep the peace and make the transition as efficient as possible. We could have used our departure as an incentive for, at the very least, benign observation.
Rather than murderous interference.
Maybe that would have made a difference.
Maybe it wouldn’t.
Because the reality is that people who are intent on slaughtering each other have only tenuous ties to rational behavior.
Once this withdrawal has been completed, the decisions and actions the Biden administration took should be investigated.
And the president should order the members of his administration to cooperate with them.
That is, after all, what ethical and responsible presidents do when there are concerns about national security and public policy. This is true regardless of whether the president is a Republican or Democrat and regardless of whether the source of concern comes from Russia, the Ukraine or Afghanistan.
But, while we’re looking at the way we left Afghanistan, we also ought to examine the folly that led us to it in the first place.
It is a particularly American form of hubris that encourages us to think that we can remake other parts of the world either in our own image or in fashions that please us. We ought to know better by now.
This, too, is not a partisan matter.
Conservatives and liberals each have their own sets of delusions.
Conservatives — particularly neocons — believe that our vast military might makes us almost omnipotent. Our troops and our weapons, they think, allow us to dictate how things should be.
Liberals, on the other hand, all too often contend good wishes and a genuine desire to liberate the human spirit give us the moral authority to be cultural imperialists. We think we can teach the benighted peoples of the world how to be good democrats with a small “d.”
But anyone with any appreciation for human autonomy and the right of self-determination realizes one fundamental truth.
Different people from different parts of the world with different traditions, cultures and belief systems live in different ways and want different things.
Trying to force those people to live in or conform to ways that please us is a sucker’s mission — an act of arrogance, self-destructiveness and plain cruelty.
There are times we Americans — as all people do — must defend ourselves and our interests. But that defense should not extend to telling other people that they must think as we think, want what we want and live as we do.
Such haughty presumption just plants seeds for future conflicts.
Nor should serving as an occupying force in another land for decades qualify as an act of defense.
Doing that only makes our troops targets for resentment and reprisal.
More than a dozen of our soldiers and more than 150 other people died because we Americans have refused to take heed of this truth. These dead now join many, many others who have lost their lives because we engaged in a foolhardy and self-destructive quest to remodel a place and people that did not wish to be remodeled.
We should honor their sacrifice by doing something new.
Learning our lesson.