Monday, August 16, 2021

Bitter Pill

“We should leave Afghanistan immediately. No more wasted lives. If we have to go back in, we go in hard and quick. Rebuild the US first"
-- Donald Trump, August 2017

Kabul has fallen. 

The Taliban have taken the country.

The US withdrawal from Afghanistan is an unbridled disaster.

The Afghan government we created and propped up has collapsed and the Afghan president has run away to another country. The Afghan military we created and supported didn't hold for even a week, they've thrown down their arms, abandoned their posts and their duty, and are now killed, captured, or fled. And our erstwhile Afghan allies are now going to die, a lot of them anyway. Children are going to die, women are going to be raped, the men are going to be lined up and shot. 

That is inevitable at this point. 

The ragged American forces left in-country are in full retreat, falling back and back to the airplanes that will maybe get them out of the carnage. No time to destroy their equipment. No time to destroy classified materials. No time to save our allies. No time left but to run. And it's the fall of Saigon all over again. All it needs is a sad Billy Joel ballad and some helicopters being pushed into the sea on the Six-O-Clock news. If Joel was still writing ballads and we still had such a thing as the evening news anyway. 

And it's all Joe Biden's fault

Yes it is. 

But that's not surprising, is it?

No, that's not surprising at all. 

Because that was the plan. 

That was the plan. 

Trump ran for president on the idea of pulling American forces out of Afghanistan. He had a lot of fiery rhetoric that appealed to the Isolationists in his party and oh how they cheered him. Get us out! No more war! 

Trump was against the whole thing right from the start -- well, according to Trump, anyway. 

When Obama was president, Trump was on Twitter nearly every day, calling for the withdrawal of American Troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. Take the oil, take the minerals, take the treasure, and get out. 

"Why are we continuing to train these Afghanis who then shoot our soldiers in the back? Afghanistan is a complete waste. Time to come home!"

"We should leave Afghanistan immediately. No more wasted lives. If we have to go back in, we go in hard & quick. Rebuild the US first."

"Let’s get out of Afghanistan. Our troops are being killed by the Afghanis we train and we waste billions there. Nonsense! Rebuild the USA."

"I agree with Pres. Obama on Afghanistan. We should have a speedy withdrawal. Why should we keep wasting our money -- rebuild the U.S.!"

"We have wasted an enormous amount of blood and treasure in Afghanistan. Their government has zero appreciation. Let’s get out!"

"Do not allow our very stupid leaders to sign a deal that keeps us in Afghanistan through 2024-with all costs by U.S.A. MAKE AMERICA GREAT!"

Those are Donald Trump's words, verbatim

Donald Trump ran for president on those words, and his followers cheered him. Get us out! No more war! No more blood and treasure, right? Rebuild the USA. 

You remember, don't you? 

Trump never told you how he'd actually do it. 

Trump was never much for details or plans and those who cheered him aren't the kind of people who ask. Just, get out and make America great again … somehow. 

Then Trump was elected President. 

For the first time he had to face the horrible complexity of Afghanistan. 

And he couldn't do it. 

Trump was not equipped in any fashion, not by temperament or training, to manage the terrible, complex reality of Afghanistan. 

In fairness -- though I am loathe to be fair to Donald Trump in any manner whatsoever no matter how small -- the truth is that few presidents actually are equipped to deal with the complexity of war, especially one like the conflict in Afghanistan. 

That's why the decision to go to war, or to abandon one, was supposed be made only with the steady and duly considered advice of Congress and a Presidential Cabinet who base their recommendations on the expertise of professional diplomats, the military, and the intelligence community -- among others.

But over the years, Congress abandoned its Constitutional duty and vested more and more of its power in a single man. 

Until one day that man was ... Donald Trump.

And there are few things Donald Trump despises more than expertise. 

"I know more about courts than any human being on Earth."

"I understand politicians better than anybody."

"Nobody knows more about trade than me."

"I know more about renewables than any human being on Earth."

"I think nobody knows more about taxes than I do, maybe in the history of the world."

"I’m the king of debt. I’m great with debt. Nobody knows debt better than me."

"I understand money better than anybody."

"I think I know more about the other side than almost anybody."

"I think I know about [the economy] better than [the Federal Reserve]."

"Technology, nobody knows more about technology than me."

"I know more about drones than anybody."

That's Trump. He knows it all, better than anyone. 

"I know more about ISIS than the generals do."

Trump claimed he knew more about war than those fighting it. As if war was something that should be left to amateurs. As if war isn't a profession, one that takes decades to master -- and even then, it's an iffy thing.

As if diplomacy isn't the same. 

Trump is a fraud. His alleged knowledge is bravado and bluster. And so there are few things Trump despises more than professionals, more than those who've spent their entire lives becoming experts, those who might show him for what he really is. 

Trump calls expertise "elitism" and his supporters cheer and jeer because they feel diminished and belittled by the idea that there might be those who know more than they do. 

Once in office, Trump did what he always does: surrounded himself with toadies and fops and fools whose primary function was to tell Trump how smart he is instead of offering actual expertise. 

Remember Trump's first cabinet meeting?

It was staged in front of the Press. Trump began by praising himself, "Never has there been a president, with few exceptions . . . who has passed more legislation, done more things. We’ve achieved tremendous success. I think we’ve been about as active as you can possibly be and at a just about record-setting pace." 

And then, Trump demanded each Cabinet member say a few words about how great Trump was, "Start with Mike" he ordered, pointing to Vice President Pence. 

And Pence, of course, obliged, "It is the greatest privilege of my life to serve as the vice president to a president who is keeping his word to the American people!" 

Jeff Sessions went next, "It’s an honor to be able to serve you."

Alex Acosta, “I’m deeply honored and I want to thank you for keeping your commitment to the American workers.” 

Rick Perry, "My hats off to you."

Nikki Haley, “It’s a new day at the United Nations. We now have a very strong voice.”

Mick Mulvaney, “At your direction, we were able to also focus on the forgotten men and women who are paying taxes, so I appreciate your support on pulling that budget together.”

Tom Price, “What an incredible honor it is to lead the Department of Health and Human Services at this pivotal time under your leadership. I can’t thank you enough for the privilege that you’ve given me, and the leadership you’ve shown.”

Elaine Chao, “Thank you for coming over to the Department of Transportation. Hundreds and hundreds of people were so thrilled to hang out, watching the whole ceremony. I want to thank you for getting this country moving again, and also working again.”

Robert Lighthizer, “I apologize for being late for work. For about four months, I got bogged down in that swamp you’ve been trying to drain.

Sonny Perdue: “I just got back from Mississippi. They love you there.”

Steven Mnuchin, “It’s been a great honor traveling with you around the country for the past year, and an even greater honor to be serving you on your Cabinet . . .”

Around the table it went, all the while Trump sat there, basking in the praise of his sycophants, grinning hugely for the cameras. 

 But there was one group missing. 

The military. The generals. The experts. 

"I know more about ISIS than the generals do."

It enraged Trump that the military experts and the diplomats wouldn't kiss his ass like the rest of his cabinet. Wouldn't do what he wanted, just get out of Afghanistan, quit the war and bring the troops home. You're so smart, Sir! So handsome and brilliant! 

No, instead the military experts told Trump what would happen if we just pulled out. They told him how it would go, just like it's going right now. He didn't care ... until his handlers, Bannon, Miller, maybe Ivanka, told him how it would look. 

It would be a disaster, it would be Saigon, and it would be all on him.

He couldn't keep his promise. 

Now, all presidents learn this. 

All presidents discover pretty quickly that they aren't going to be able to keep their campaign promises. 

It happened to Obama. He promised to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. He couldn't. Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, wouldn't let him. He had to eat it and he did. Obama learned, like the presidents before him, that the political realities of the office are vastly different when you're actually sitting behind the Resolute Desk. 

But not Trump. 

Trump seethed. He wanted it -- not because it was or was not the right thing to do. Not because the experts did or did not advise it. Not because it was, or maybe wasn't, politically expedient. 

No, Trump wanted it. 

He wanted it the way a spoiled selfish child wants.

Trump raged and threw tantrum after tantrum, usually on Twitter, like a child who doesn't get his way.

I know more than the generals! I do! I do!

But he didn't have the guts. 

Trump couldn't get us out of Afghanistan because it would have ended just exactly like it's ending right now and Trump never had the kind of moral courage it takes for that buck to stop at his desk. 

And that's the thing, you see, it was always going to end this way. 

That's how America's war in Vietnam ended. 

Two decades in the jungle, 58,000 American lives, trillions of dollars later and it all ended on 29 April, 1975, on the roof of a building at 22 Gia Long Street, Saigon. 

Many, many others are making that comparison today, and it's a fair one. 

Kabul has fallen just as Saigon did 50 years ago and we have learned not a goddamn thing. 

Why were we there? 

What was the objective? What was victory? 

Those who ran that war, they'll tell you. They'll tell you why we had to go, why the best part of a generation had to die or be damaged forever, haunted by the ghosts of that terrible conflict.

Oh, they'll tell you what victory was. 

Yeah, they'll tell you, all right. The Domino Theory, remember? We had to stop the commies. Fight them over there or we'll have to fight them over here. That's what the politicians said. If South Vietnam falls, the rest of Indochina will follow like dominos and pretty soon they'll be here. Besides, they're just savages. We can win this thing in a month. Don't you believe in America? 

And so we went. 58,000 of us died there. 

And then, we just left. 

April 29th, 1975, the last helicopters flew away and we left. 

And Saigon fell to the communists. 

And same sons bitches who'd told us we had to go, now declared victory at our retreat. Well, maybe not a military victory, but, you know, a moral one. And they washed their hands of it and were never held to account. 

Oh, but it doesn't end there. 

No, it doesn't end there. 

Because, you see, three decades later, the men responsible, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, et al, all the crooked sneaky bastards who'd been lurking in the shadows of that failed war, well, now they were running things. 

Nixon, Cheney, Rumsfeld, 1970
Image by Byron Schumaker, Nixon Library

That's right, the same men who presided over the fall of Saigon, well, by and large they were the very same men who sent America to war in Afghanistan thirty years later. 

And again they had no objective. No definition of victory, despite what Joe Biden said today on Twitter. No, it was the same old same old. The War on Terror! We gotta fight 'em over there, or we'll have to fight 'em over here. If Afghanistan falls to the Taliban, why other countries will fall, one by one, like dominos...

Besides, they're just savages. 

We can win this thing in a month. 

Don't you believe in America? 

Oh, they had a plan for war, yes indeed. They knew how to blow things up. They knew how to kill. After all, they'd killed 58,000 Americans once upon a time. 

But, again, they had no plan for what comes after the killing.

They're great at starting wars, not so good at ending them. 

They're great at destroying a nation, but they have no idea how to build one. 

Bush, Obama, Trump, and now Biden, twenty years, thousands dead, trillions of dollars, there was never any plan or any will to build civilization. You can't bomb people into democracy. You can't kill people into civilization. Hell, we can't even convince our own citizens to stop hating each other, to work together for the greater good, to build a better nation -- I mean, hell, some of them just tried to overthrow our own democracy. How would anyone expect us to do it in Afghanistan? 

There was never going to be any way out but what is happening right now. 

The architects of this war, those who lied us into it, they never had any idea of how to end it. 

And why should they? 

Not only was there never any consequences for their lies and their failures in Vietnam, or their cowardice in avoiding that conflict themselves, they were rewarded with wealth and power. 

What was to stop them from doing the very same thing again? 

It was always going to end this way. 

It was only a matter of when. 

Trump promised to end this war. 

"Blood and Treasure" made a great campaign slogan. 

Like his father and his sons, Trump never served. He has no vested interest, he made no personal sacrifice, it wasn't his life risked. It was easy, just pull out. After all, Trump knew more than the generals, remember? 

And his supporters cheered, blood and treasure! Ironically, these were the very same people, by and large, who demanded war in the first place, back in 2001, and shouted down any who dared oppose it. Of course, a number of those Trump supporters were also Vietnam Veterans, who, again ironically, voted for a draft dodger who told them to their faces that they were suckers and losers. 

But he couldn't make good. 

For four years, Donald Trump could not make good on his promise to pull America out of Afghanistan. And he couldn't do it because Trump was not capable of the kind of moral courage that would have been required to make good on his promise. 

Because it was always going to end this way.

And Trump would never take responsibility for that. 

But then, Trump lost the election.

Joe Biden won.

Trump lost the White House and Republicans lost the Senate. 

And that's when Donald Trump could finally make good on his promise. 

As soon as it became certain that he would have to leave office, Trump ordered American forces out of Afghanistan. Trump and Pompeo invited the Taliban to Camp David -- not the actual government of Afghanistan and our alleged allies, but the Taliban. And he turned thousands of Taliban prisoners loose, one of which is now the de facto president of Afghanistan. 

Trump didn't try to hide it, he bragged about it. 

Here's Donald Trump at a "Save America" rally in Wellington, Ohio, on June 26, 2021, taking credit for pulling US Forces out of Afghanistan and giving Joe Biden no options at all:

(quote starts at 1:19:05Afghanistan, where, by the way, I started the process. All the troops are coming back home. They couldn’t stop the process. Twenty-one years is enough, don't we think ... twenty-one years. They couldn’t stop the process. They wanted to, but ... it was very tough to stop the process when ... other things were ... Yeah, thank you, thank you ... it's a shame, twenty-one years by a government ... that wouldn't last. The only way they last is if we're there. What are we gonna say? We'll stay for another twenty-one years, then we'll stay for another fifty? The whole thing is ... ridiculous. So we're bringing our troops back home from Iraq! We're bringing the troops back home ... from Afghanistan ... 

Republicans not only bragged about it, they posted the details to the GOP webpage:

For some reason, that entry was scrubbed from the GOP website last night and conservative media pundits have today conveniently forgotten all about it. 

And now, Joe Biden owns this disaster. 

Because that's how it works. 

I didn't say it was right. I didn't say it was fair, because it most assuredly is not.  I said that's how it is. That's how public perception and politics work. The buck stops at the Resolute Desk and America will remember this as Joe Biden's disaster. 

Trump, with the support of the most radical elements of the Republican party, finally made good on his promise and left Joe Biden holding the bag. 

That was the plan. 

When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier
-- Rudyard Kipling