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                    



  1. Well Said, thank you for putting this together. Many of us who were over there are having a hard time right now.

    Kathy Chiodo

    1. I just can't imagine how hard this is for you

    2. There’s free support resources at a veteran-focused non-profit called Code of Support, codeofsupport.org, if that’s at all useful to folks who served.

  2. THE usa under hthenReublicans is morally crimnal'

    1. The USA is often morally criminal, no matter which party is currently running things. That said, it does usually seem to be bigger, more blatant, more unapologetic and generally worse in almost every way when the Republicans are in charge. Hold onto your hats, here comes 2022.

  3. God, this hurts so much. First, I lived through the Nixon administration and the Fall of Saigon. Then I told my friends who wouldn't vote for Hillary because she wasn't Bernie to hold their noses and pull that lever for Hillary anyway because the Trump Administration would make Nixon look like a peach. And clearly they did not do that. Here we are. Here we mothafookin are, and I feel like Cassandra with a perpetually broken heart. I never wanted to be in a position to say "I told you so."

  4. I am a fan of your writing. This was painful to read, but so well done.

  5. Once again you've nailed it!
    Thank you!

  6. Thank you for bringing clarity to this, as you so often do.

    Pam Gutschalk

  7. Biden will be maligned but he has a hell of a lot more courage than Trump. Also, he has the courage to go ahead with plans whether or not the GOP agrees. I applaud him for that. As I also feel sorry for him having to shoulder this long overdue burden.
    You hit the nail on the head, AGAIN, Chief!

    1. I agree with President Biden's reasoning that if the Afghan forces did not want to fight for their country; then the US should not either. It is extremely sad to watch as this happens. I am very concerned about what will happen to the women and girls in Afghanistan though and my heart breaks for them. Many Americans have given their lives to improve Afghanistan's treatment of women and children; but it is not the reason troops were sent there.

      It was an endless war with massive US Dollars and we need to work through why we stayed so long and had such a dismal outcome.

  8. One of your best essays yet. Thanks

  9. This essay is brilliant in its analysis of the war machine. I cried with both sorrow and anger. Thank you for laying bare the machinations that led us into these wars and how the results we're witnessing today were inevitable.

  10. Always enjoy reading your perspective, Jim.

    Figures Donny would saddle Biden with this shitshow.

    Where’s the “You are my God” box gone?

    Thanks - miss these essays.


    1. A couple more perspectives...


      I also found this Afghanistan causality history interesting:

  11. Yes, it was always going to end this way, and Biden always knew it. Imagine how many lives could have been saved had we left after getting Bin Laden. But we're here now and I'm so sad for the women and girls who are going to get the short end of the stick, not to mention all the Afghani interpreters and their families. I pray we get as many out as possible, but I'm not hopeful it will be all who deserve it.

    1. I've heard a number of people ask why Biden didn't do more to stop this when he was vice president. Those people need to be reminded that the vice president is not in the military chain of command.

  12. Afghanistan----soon to engender a dozen screenplays.

  13. Solid work. Precisely correct. Thanks.

  14. Another good, thought provoking article. Thanks, Jim. I've been here and saw it all happen too. Sad. We, as a society, never seem to learn. Thanks for making it too obvious to ignore.

  15. Brilliant writing. Thank you for articulating what so many of us are stumbling to put into words. This was always going to happen-- yes, yes it was. I hope GW Bush, Dick Cheney and his cold, mechanical heart, and Donald Rumsfeld all feel this one right in the chest... but of course, they won't.

  16. Excellent commentary Jim. Thank you.

  17. Thank you for writing out the facts here. So many people refuse to acknowledge that this is what happened, both in '75 and today. I would like to think it will make a difference, but I know better. To some, yes, it definitely will. To the rest? Deaf and blind to any criticism of the U.S. Wonder how long it will be before we repeat the process, yet again.

  18. Thank you for the depth of your analysis. It appears - without being a conspiratorialist - that Trump purposefully left this mess in order to make Biden appear inept. However, while perception and politics have a way of convincing others, I believe that the clear stating of the facts has the ability to alter that pereception. I read a post just last night from somebody who is a strategist from the Democratic Party and that individual was placing all of the blame on Biden. Despite my responses telling said individual that the entire debacle is much more complicated, he remained firm that this is entirely on Biden. Perhaps, but context is needed. Much like the context you provide in this piece. At the end of the day, I do agree with Biden's words when he spoke to our Nation just an hour ago: "It is not in our national interest to fight in a Civil War when they will not fight for their own country. How many more Americans should I send to fight when they refuse to do so?" Thankfully, he accepted responsibility stating "I accept full responsibility because the buck stops here."

    1. That 'strategist' for the Democratic party is probably about 12 figuratively, and has no idea what they are talking about, much less the historical context within which to frame it.

  19. Thank you for the (always) clear writing. I may rage, I may weep but you elucidate.

  20. Can someone help me understand why it had to be this bad, though. Why a mad dash to the airport, instead of an orderly withdrawal. Why didn't we invite all the civilians who we were taking out first, and evacuate them before any of our troops. Why couldn't the documents and most of the equipment be destroyed before we withdrew? Why would we wait until after the military left to evacuate the embassy? Why couldn't some of our troops retreat, and fly out, while being covered by the rest, ending with air support covering the last of the ground troops, then destroying any/all equipment left on the ground?

    I understand about how terrible the Taliban were going to be to their own people, and there was nothing short of competent nation building we could have done to stop that, but why did the withdrawal of our own people and resources have to be so chaotic?

    (And no, I'm not asking because I think I know the answers better than the generals do, I'm asking because I want to know the answers.)

    1. Because there was a collossal Intel failure, either not getting it or having it and not using it. I cannot believe that anyone thought the Afghan Army would just dissolve or that the Taliban after 20 years of being hunted and beaten down were still powerful enough to sweep the entire nation in a week. They figured the orderly withdrawl would go for 6 months as the Taliban slowly nibbled away at the distant provinces and then slowly the real fight would start as the ANA fought to a draw and kept Kabul and a few major cities and they would get some kind of negotiated peace over a fractionated Afghanistan. Collossal intel failure somewhere.

    2. Afghans wanted to wait until the last moment, until all hope was lost, to leave. No one thought the Afghan forces would hand over their weapons and give up or so quickly. But then again, it all seems too... scripted. In what universe does the president/prime minster get to run away and not get caught when surrounded? Was that part of the trump deal?
      We need an investigation into what trump said to who, to Putin at Helsinki, to the Taliban, what involvement MBS has in all of this. There’s so much we don’t know. SO much. And we need to know it.

    3. In Afghanistan there is a so called "Fighting Season" in the Spring to Fall time window where the Taliban demonstrate a higher level of mobility. The Trump withdrawal time window concluded in April, or about the start of the peak fighting time window. That date was changed to September 11th, then moved back a few weeks to August moving the final withdrawal into the peak of the "Fighting Season". Additionally the shifting dates may have suggested to the the US supporting Afghan civilians, that the date could be changed yet again and supported by their hope to stay in their homeland.

      I don't think that the US troop April exit was a reasonable timeline given the planning involved. However, it might have turned out better for the Afghan civilians had it been planned for the Winter months where troop ground movements are hampered by the weather, but air transportation would still be possible.

  21. You're always right on and explain it so well. Sad that you were right again.

  22. I served in Viet Nam and spent tine in Iran. We don't understand the thinking of those people. I left Iran in August before the Shah left. I wish every person in the country could read this and maybe they might understand what happened. Thank you for your work and insight on this,

  23. To paraphrase the president, "I do not regret his decision."

  24. The same men, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were the men who made Pres. Gerald Ford not help NYC in 1975-76 when NYC was on the precipice of bankruptcy.

    Here is the story.


    Governor Carey later turned to President Ford for the federal loans and guarantees that Wriston and the nation’s leading bankers had refused him. He was denied again, because Ford’s chief of staff, a native of Illinois, had consulted with Mayor Richard Daley Sr., and agreed with him that if the nation’s largest city went bankrupt, it would be a good thing — for Chicago. The name of Ford’s chief of staff was Donald Rumsfeld.

    Carey turned instead to Albert Shanker and his much maligned United Federation of Teachers union for the nearly $500 million needed to keep New York afloat. He got the money. The city was saved by the further sacrifices — the cutbacks and the layoffs — endured by its municipal workers and its other citizens.

    Ford eventually came around with the loan guarantees necessary to let the city borrow again, but only after intense pressure from Congress and European governments — and after his chief of staff’s assistant, an ambitious young draft dodger named Dick Cheney, made the city agree to end free tuition at the City University system — something it had provided through war, recession, and municipal malfeasance since 1847.

    Such wonderful men.

    1. Ugh, I hate learning that Chicago (my city, which I love despite its many, many flaws) was a part of that shitshow. But Daddy Daley was a bastard of a man who had bastards for sons, so I shouldn't be surprised they were a part of that corrupt, stinking circle of filth.

  25. I'd be bitterly disillusioned after reading this if I weren't already so. Once again, you've nailed it.

  26. So many spilled blood and mental health. I so wanted the ending to be worth the sacrifices they made.


    Bush Jr, told us to just keep shopping and going about normal life. During a war that his administration started. Yes, Congress too. Mostly his administration though.

    And the dark corners of my mind kept warning me: It won't end well. In fact, Saigon falling will repeat.

    I am so heartbroken for those who sacrificed so much in the war-effort/police action/ whateverthehell this was.

  27. We go around the world as Democracy's evangelicals.

    Just open your heart to self governance and the angels of democracy will flood in!!

    There was a lot of history that led to our grand experimentwith all of it's contradictions, stumbling tripping and even now wobbling on it's feet.
    The only nation building that we had any success in followed those nations being bombed to rubble.
    To walk in to another culture and graft the thing we still struggle with more than two centuries on is naive at best. But then for men like Cheney and Rumsfeld it was only ever thinly veiled domination and colonizing.

    If it was going to happen it was the bombed rubble or you stay for generations. Until the people know nothing else.
    If we are not willing to do either we should not plant false hope.

    The truth is the best hope for self governance everywhere is for those that have it to work on perfecting it where they are. To do the hard work required. Then we will have something to point to and say "If you want that we can show you how"

  28. And Biden knows this. He's said as much -- and he also said that he refuses to send another four to eight years' worth of soldiers to fight and be traumatized and die just so it could be someone /else's/ problem.

    This was going to come down on someone's head, and he's decided "Then let it be mine."

    Which is more moral courage than any of those GOP clowns ever managed.

  29. "The buck stops here."
    When Harry Truman said this, I suspect he never expected that a President would come along who made it his life's goal to virtually pass all the responsibility of his mistakes and foolishness onto other people.
    And sadly, that President succeeded in doing just that.
    But we may come to admire Biden's for at least making that decision and standing by it.
    At least one hopes we'll see it.
    But right now, you are absolutely correct.
    It's on Biden.

  30. Insightful, well-written, and in need of being broadcast far and wide. As always, thank you!

  31. Thank you for speaking more truth.

  32. Thank you for speaking more truth.

  33. Facts can be brutal, and the truth often hurts. Excellent essay.

  34. Excellent analysis, as usual.

  35. It's sad that you're right, and were right from the beginning....and that so few elected officials have the moral courage to accept that while they are *elected* by the voters, their job is to LEAD, not just be a boss.

    Poor President Biden is getting the opprobrium, but that's because he's willing to make a hard decision that can be spun negatively by those who hate what the US aspires to, at our best.

  36. Powerful stuff and resonant as ever.

    One minor thing though. Did you type Indochina into a machine that thought it knew better?

    1. That's exactly what happened. It's fixed. Good catch. Thanks // Jim

  37. Jesus. That was well done. I'm closing the internet for the day.

  38. Excellent post. I wrote this a few days ago on Dan Rather’s Facebook page.
    Afghanistan is the world’s Type II Diabetes. It is a chronic condition that can be ignored for a while (1989-2001) but as with diabetes it strikes and you lose a toe. Does a doctor refuse to treat a patient who has Type II diabetes? No. He may be upset that due to genetics and far too many cheeseburgers the patient now has diabetes, but the doctor does not refuse his patient.
    Our (America & the Western Allies) made the mistake of assuming the post-Soviet situation in Afghanistan was fairly simple ‘beat the bad guys, win battles, install democracy’. It worked in World War II. But Afghanistan is not a fight, it is a chronic condition. ANYONE who has even casually studied the history of The Great Game, the Soviet Occupation the ‘lull’ before 9/11 and the Afghan War could easily predict what is happening now. Kabul will fall. Thousands will be slaughtered. Another lawless state will arise. And the world, tired of a ‘no win’ situation, will again have to face another, possibly more horrible, 9/11 in the future.
    Type II diabetes is also a no win situation. But if the world wants to avoid another 9/11, the world, and specifically the United States, has to accept that this is a chronic situation and not something as simple as winning a battle and going home.

  39. Biden is hanging tough and I'm proud that he is. The initial mission clearly did not include rebuilding a culture destroyed for the umpteenth time, by said culture, itself. There will never be a peaceful democratic way of life in Afghanistan, ain't gonna happen. Jihad after Jihad and a whole generation of rogues like Bin Laden and his cadre of killers, are now, two decades later, much more adept, more well armed, meaner, more brutal and evil - so we've been told, and they've learned to fight from the best, they've watched and waited, and been tremendously patient,they have intelligence and aren't all who maraude with wild abandon in the streets. But their presence is highly orchestrated. And, they're absolutely solvent, heavily and solidly financed by dark actors who need a war, any war, to keep the cycle churning. The Afghani people we helped and worked alongside and, who in turn who helped us,and by virtue of the big shoulders of the U S A, also pledged allegiance in their minds and through their deeds and actions to what we, as a free nation of opportunity, and promise have to offer, well, damn. This was a war, afterall. I can sit here all day long and second guess and surmise and criticize. I have no fucking idea how anyone feels, and I don't have a right to pretend I know anything about anything, other than people. We're fucked up, basically. We can't get along, we fight. But, that's just an opinion and one vote for the man who stood the fuck up and owned it all, 20 long years of some mighty heavy burdens, he set them down. War is a fuck show, always has been. I don't actually know what we expect, but you can bet your by god ass we'll bitch about it and allow it, welcome it into out beds at night as we try to sleep, but we let it gnaw at our own twisted manic thoughts, it changes nothing. Nothing. But, everything is changed, isn't it. Life is some crazy shit. We should really treat one another better and save this world. 😏 🌎 πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ

  40. one of the best analysis' that I have read....just wish more folk had as clear an outlook as you.

  41. Excellent read on what has happened.

  42. The bandaid had to come off, and while I also wish it had been more orderly, it was at least owned. And it's done with enough years left on this presidential term that the ire will fade. It likely won't leave any whiff on Kamala if there's a hand-off. Difficult to watch, though.

  43. Thanks, Chief. Good to see you again, despite the news of the day, and the bad taste it brings.

    Minor thing: 'prisoners lose' should be 'loose'(?)

    1. Glad to see you back writing again. We've missed your insights.

  44. This situation is no more Pres. Biden's than it is mine. Our entire country has been at the mercy of those heartless bastards, Rumsfeld and Cheney.

    I've always thought we should just declare "Victory!!" and get the hell out of there.

  45. Once again, we’ll said and thanks from a fellow soldier.

  46. Thank you. Your essay cleared my head a bit.

  47. As always, your essays are spot on. I will remember.

  48. This really helped me sift through the crap flying around out there. Thanks for putting it all down so clearly. I hope what you’ve given us here will be widely read…I sent it to my thinking people, on whom it won’t be wasted.

  49. Twenty years ago Barbara Lee had it right.

  50. "It was always going to end this way"

    See, that's the thing.

    How come even *I* knew that, but so many people are apparently shocked? The pattern couldn't be much clearer. Are we still so intoxicated with our WWII victories that the last 75 years are just ignored? Swept under the proverbial rug in deference to VE and VJ celebration pictures?

    This was always the eventual outcome. Could it have been done better? Sure. Maybe. I mean the evacuation is ugly and heart-wrenching, but these desires for "an orderly withdrawal" deny the reality that Afghanistan is fundamentally a disorderly place. The government was propped up with American might and American money and required Americans in harm's way. Which leaves you with only two real options.

    Leave and watch it likely fail, or stay.

    And stay forever.

    The burden has been borne by a tiny fragment of the population. The rest of us? We didn’t sacrifice squat. We bitch and whine about taking our shoes off at the airport and maybe applaud when we see a group of soldiers returning or being honored somehow, but actual sacrifice? Not so much.

    About ten years ago I was driving down the Main Street in our small town and found myself in the middle of something. The local fire department had their hook and ladders lined up along the street with the booms hanging over the road, draped with flags. There were people milling about at the High School. I realized that it was a memorial service for a young man from our community who’d been killed in action in Afghanistan. I’d never met him, but his sister was in my son’s High School graduating class. I knew the parents. Not well, but I knew them. I had forgotten to attend.

    We were already ten years in by that point and the whole war had become completely abstract. So distant I’d quit reading the few items that still came across my view. They told the same story, again and again. If we’d have left then, I can’t help but think it would look exactly like it looked today.

    I think about those parents today. How gut-wrenching to send your son off to war. How reality shaking it must have been to get word of his death.

    And how it was always going to end this way.

    1. Wow...

      Jim's original post was well spoken, as always. Yours brought tears.

  51. Replies
    1. If you're looking for a poem about the dirty side of war, Kipling is a good place to start.

      If any question why we died,
      Tell them, because our fathers lied.
      --Rudyard Kipling "Epitaphs of the War"

  52. Thank you for the perspective. Afghanistan has always been a country in conflict, mostly a Shia/Suni hatred that dates back many centuries. In all the reporting over the past few weeks, I’ve read very little about the corrupt underpinnings is this war. Who were the private contractors making untold billions extending tge war? Which were the military contractors riding the gravy train supplying the effort? Are they to be held to account? And what about opium????? Afghanistan is the largest supplier in the world of opioids. Did the Afghan army control the opium export system? Did the American military control the opium export system? How could this industry exist in the middle of a 20 year war without vast corruption? We will probably never know…. And there’s also the immense wealth of undeveloped mineral extraction, but that’s another chapter.

    1. Who were the [people] making untold billions extending the war?

      Bingo. That's the trillion dollar question.

  53. Jim, another fantastic and spot-on essay.

    Thank you for this.

  54. Thank you so much for putting into words, the thoughts I have been thinking all along. Trump set his successor up for grand failure and just today is starting to spout his rhetoric to fan the flames. Bless Joe Biden for having the courage of his convictions. I lost friends to "nam and all those who fought; died or came home lost so much more.

  55. It seems that Biden has thrown a curve ball. It appeared to me he had two options... renege on the withdrawal promise, and leave it to his successor to suffer the ignominy, or follow through on the shitshow and try to blame it on his predecessor.
    I suspect that some in the military/industrial complex were expecting the former, a cash flow guarantee for another decade… and hoped that the worst-case second option would be the millstone that ensured a one-term presidency.
    By finding a third way of following through and taking accountability without reserve (“I am President of the United States of America, and the buck stops with me.”) he has managed to make the office of President look… well… Presidential.
    I never thought Biden was the best man for the job, and settled with him being ‘better than the last guy’; he has gone up in my estimation.
    But what an unfathomable burden.

  56. Thank you. And yes, it was always going to end this way because we lost sight of the mission (get Osama bin Laden and Get Out) and decided to do some more "nation building." Thankfully, Joe Biden has more integrity in his little finger than The Former Guy has in his entire corrupt body. He can handle the fallout. I just wish the Media would stop playing the Blame Game. They really do have better things to do, don't they?

  57. How much more of this before we end the Imperial Presidency we've created, or end the Republic we inherited? They are not compatible.

  58. No one who was there and who paid attention should have been surprised at this final shitshow. Many of my veteran friends, unfortunately, didn't pay attention, and are upset how it ended. They were just kinda tromping around out there, looking for TICs (Troops in Contact - aka Firefights).

    I am upset, to be sure, but not surprised in the least. The ANSF generally did not have the temperament or stomach to go it alone, and so here we are.

    Lastly, people have the government they want/deserve.

    SSG, USA

    OEF IX-X

  59. Well said. This is what the media should be reporting. Facts.

  60. Your essay laid bare how people have felt about Afghanistan all along. As painful as it was to read, thank you for laying it all out.

  61. I was waiting for your official account of this. Thank you for your clarity and POV.

  62. "Such as thing as the evening news" pretty sure you meant 'such a thing as' brilliant as always.

  63. Time to read Joseph Kessel's The Horsemen again.
    Although written a decade before the soviet invasion, this remains a fascinating metaphor of Afghanistan to this day.

  64. Just like Vietnam. It’s not possible to win political wars. You’d have to eliminate virtually the entire population. Guns and bombs don’t change minds or provide a basis for revamping multiple outlooks. You end up declaring victory and skedaddling if you weren’t smart enough to get out before even starting. Thanks for your excellent analysis, Jim.

  65. There is no way to win political wars. Guns and bombs don’t change minds or provide any basis for stable governments. You can either declare victory and skedaddle or stay out period. Just like Vietnam. Thanks for your excellent analysis, Jim.

    1. I've seen it said of this that it'd important to note we didn't lose a war here. There's nothing 'military' about this.

      We lost a Peace. We firmly beat back an opposing force, and then failed at every conceivable turn to help make a nation capable of standing on its own.

      How intentional that failure was is open to some interpretation, but the failure itself is very specific.

      This will be painted as a 'military' failure. It isn't. Because you're very eloquently right, in that past a certain point the military aspect was all but meaningless. You can't kill an ideology, and victory condition can only move further away the harder one tries. But if we were remotely competent we *could* have helped build a nation. We chose, repeatedly, not to.

  66. Americans always want to fit everything into their blue team vs. red team domestic narrative, but what about the bigger picture? Strategically, this is a huge blow to the US empire. China will probably now assist the Taliban in developing the country, integrating it into their BRI project. NATO will be a lame duck, unable to ever again muster a large coalition for interventionist wars. The US will be forced to abandon interventionist wars and campaigns to remake the world in its image and focus on its crumbling imperial core. The Taiwanese might conclude that the USA is an unreliable partner and try to make friends with China, or China might conclude that the USA is a paper tiger and make a move on Taiwan. Russia might draw similar conclusions vis-a-vis its satellites. To me this looks like our Suez moment, the beginning of the end of Pax Americana. Expect the USA to be pushed out of Eurasia by coordinated efforts of China, Russia and Iran, and a new Eurasia-centric world order to commence. Meanwhile, Americans are obsessed with partisan bullshit and marginal cultural issues, while the world moves on and leaves this mad dog empire in the dustbin of history.

  67. Dr Brin on his Contrary Brin Blog has a link to this page and an interesting and slightly different "Take"
    In his opinion this is not so much a "conquest" by the Taliban as a "Shift In Coalition Power"
    The soldiers and commanders of the old Afghan government are still there - only they now report to a different group at the top
    If he is correct this will not be as bloody as the rest of us expect
    Fingers crossed

  68. Simply extraordinary analysis. Thank you. Doesn't stop it from being a bitter pill, but context is everything.

    "This is what comes from empire-building," to paraphrase Edward Woodward in "Breaker Morant," a movie you ought to see.

  69. Joe Bidden will be remember as the president that got us out of Afghanistan, Donald Trump will be remember as a chronic pathological liar.

  70. A damn fine read, and truth to the core.

  71. Strikes me as a win-win for Trump. He saddles Biden with the mess or, should he actually win a second term (validly or not), Afghanistan falls and he gets to claim that *he* (not the USA) was the only one holding it together.

  72. Trump negotiated the withdrawal, and Biden approved it. So the withdrawal, and consequent defeat, is bipartisan.

    The previous Afghan government vanished away so softly and suddenly that it's as if it had never been there. Trump and Biden didn't create defeat, they revealed it.

  73. This whiney screed is based on the false premise that Republicans have suddenly decided we are against pulling out of Afghanistan.

    Again: false.

    We wanted out of Afghanistan, but Biden clearly botched the exit strategy, considering he left weapons AND thousands of our citizens behind.

    This is why everyone is upset.

    As for Trump, he assumed he would be returning for a second term, and he would have pulled out of Afghanistan in May with none of the turmoil that Biden caused.

    So your conspiracy theory is based on the false premise that Trump somehow knew he was going to lose the election and his successor would have to deal with it?

    Utter crap.

    This is on Biden 100%. Even cnn can't find a way to cover for him, that's how bad it is.

    1. Thanks for playing. Trump did not act on Afghanistan until after the election. And he lost. And despite what he says, he knew it.

  74. Wow. As always, so honest and well-argued. You're the sanest, most enlightened voice I've read so far on Afghanistan. Thank you for that! The MSM is, per usual, taking its words from the same rotten people who started this war and who will once again avoid accountability. It's their insanity we keep having to relive.

  75. Nice to see your words. I was worried that you had totally left us.
    As always, your words resonate.

    This is not Biden's Saigon. It's Bush's Afghanistan. There's too much in the wind to dump the entire travesty in the current Presidents lap.

    And rest assured, the fractious nature of the American Psyche will have forgotten all of this by November 2024. Too many new outrages, too many new strawmen, too many new culture wars to fight to try to retain any relevance to this by then. The goalposts keep moving and the outrages pile up until you cannot see any of them but the one currently on top.

    Case in point, George Floyd. BLM. Forgotten. Its a meme now. It was just a year ago.

  76. Thank you. May you have peace.



  77. yet another BOHICA to add to the long and growing list.

  78. You write well, but I have a problem with this bit:

    "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."

    Going there wasn't about Afghanistan "falling to the Taliban." They were already in power. The "domino" theory had nothing to do with this war. It was about international terrorism. It was about Al Qaeda. 9/11 had just happened, so you were already "fighting them over here."

    You're old enough to remember this. It was NOT for nothing. Maybe Iraq, but not Afghanistan. I don't know why you would say this, but it's offensive.

  79. "What a waste. What a sad waste."

    Wish we'd gotten your writing back under happier circumstances. But then they so rarely are.

  80. James McMurtry, the singer-songwriter son of Larry McMurtry, released a new album today. This song seems perfect for the occasion:

    “Operation Never Mind"

    We got an operation goin' on
    It don't have to trouble me and you
    The country boys will do the fighting
    Now that fighting's all a country boy can do
    We got a handle on it this time
    No one's gonna tell us we were wrong
    We won't let the cameras near the fighting
    That way we won't have another Vietnam

    No one knows, 'cause no one sees
    No one cares, 'cause no one knows
    No one knows, 'cause no one sees it on TV

    She works a checkpoint in the city
    Choking on the gravel dust and smog
    She knows not to stop the black Suburban
    Those guys will run you down just like a dog
    The KBR man knows her trailer
    He hips her to some recon that he's found
    Says he'll be coming by for a late inspection
    And there'd best not be no soldier boy around

    No one knows, 'cause no one sees
    No one cares, 'cause no one knows
    No one knows, 'cause no one sees it on TV

    Don't they look just like on "SEAL Team", Lord don't they look the best
    When we trot them out at halftime or the seventh inning stretch
    They stand up in their uniforms and help us sell the show
    Dying by their own hands for reasons we don't know

    We got an operation going on
    It don't have to trouble you and me
    A KBR man cooks a T-bone
    A soldier's choking down an MRE
    We just go on about our business
    Drop the kids off at the mall
    Play the Black Ops on the laptop
    And don't make too big a fuss about it all

    No one knows, 'cause no one sees
    No one cares, 'cause no one knows
    No one knows, 'cause no one sees
    No one cares, 'cause no one knows
    No one knows, 'cause no one sees it on TV

    We got an operation goin' on

  81. Trump can't be blamed for the disaster. The rapid disintegration of the "puppet" Afghanistan government cannot have been unforeseen.
    The United States and their cronies at NATO have never succeeded in "nation building" in a single country ever. Almost always, they have left their killing fields maimed for generations. Vietnam, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan...the list is endless.
    Wars started by big Defense Corporations: Boeing, Lockheed, Northrop, Raytheon et. al. via their puppets Cheney, Rumsfeld and the like because nothing works like war and conflict to boost their bottom line.
    Paid for not only by countless innocents in the killing fields but also by young people's lives and hard working tax payers sweat and blood throughout the US and Europe.
    It was always going to end like this.
    Except that it is NEVER the end.

  82. Ah. The oldest of reasons to go to war, plunder.

    No wonder I'm re-reading Jingo by Terry Pratchett.

  83. Unfortunately, many Americans are susceptible to the desire for simplistic, easy-to-swallow, pat answers to the question of who to blame. I am almost 70 & lived through the rhetoric of the Domino Theory, communist & socialism scare tactics, and all the other fear & hate tactics predicting doom & gloom. And look at what some of us have done, or are still trying to do. We’re doing it to ourselves. We have seen the enemy, and he is among us, the fractured social fabric rent by lying, narcissistic frauds, thieves & conspiracy theorists bent on instilling fear, hatred & simplistic solutions for complex human problems.

  84. I only wish this had a wider audience and that people would listen. You have stated the cold, hard, truth in as plain a language as possible, why can so many people not see it. They couldn't see it 50 years ago, and they can't see it now. The greatest tragedy is that they won't see it when the next wannabe warlord sends American troops into some Third-World tribal conflict with no hope of achieving anything more than enriching defense contractors and their stockholders.

  85. Thank you SO much for posting, Mr. Wright. I know you were taking a break for good reasons but the length of the silence on the blog worried me a lot!


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