WASHINGTON: Distinguished American newspaper The Washington Post in an editorial on Thursday said that conservatives in the United States are once again preparing to put the blame of failure in Afghanistan on the liberals as they had been doing in the past whenever anything bad happened.
The editorial reads: “After nearly 20 years, the US military presence in Afghanistan is rapidly winding down; within days, only around 1,000 of our troops will be left there, to guard our embassy and the airport in Kabul. Just as pretty much everyone expected, the Taliban is rapidly taking control of large sections of the country. It will be a disaster for the Afghan people, just the latest turn in decades of misery, war, oppression and deprivation they have endured."
It’s also what would have happened if we had left last year, or the year before, or the year before that, or just about any time since we invaded in 2001. But the criticism from Republicans — none of whom ever had any better idea about how to bring about the dream of a stable, secure, democratic Afghan government — will come swift and sure.
Rich Lowry of the National Review calls the withdrawal “a fiasco.” And the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee is predicting “devastation” and “killings” and a “humanitarian crisis,” which “President Biden is going to own.”
But this is the real preview of how Republicans will talk about Afghanistan in the future: Ah yes, the reason we lost in Afghanistan wasn’t that we set ourselves an impossible goal and then spent 20 years trying and failing to meet it. It was because the media were a bunch of Debbie Downers. If only they had cheered more loudly, one supposes, the war could have been won.
It’s particularly odd to hear that coming from H R McMaster. He spent a good portion of that 20 years intimately involved in the Afghanistan policy, first as an army officer who served there and then as President Donald Trump’s first national security adviser. Of late, McMaster has argued essentially for an indefinite US military presence as Afghanistan travels “the slow path to self-sufficiency.”
Despite his unforgivable decision to work for Trump, McMaster had long been known as a thoughtful officer. In his book about Vietnam, he wrote that the war “was not lost in the field, nor was it lost on the front pages of the New York Times or the college campuses. It was lost in Washington, D.C.”
I’m sure he has plenty of criticisms to make about the decisions made in Afghanistan by political and military leaders. But when a war is lost, conservatives will almost always revert to the explanation that it was because of liberal betrayal.
The echoes go far back, perhaps most famously with the “stab-in-the-back myth” promoted by the Nazis as a way to explain Germany’s defeat and humiliation in World War I. The war had been lost not on the battlefield, the story went, but because disloyal Germans, especially Jews and leftists, undermined the effort at home.
During the 1950s, Sen. Joseph McCarthy and other Republicans charged that Franklin D. Roosevelt and a treasonous State Department had stabbed Eastern Europe in the back at the 1945 Yalta conference, where he, Stalin and Churchill set out the postwar order that would govern Europe. The loss in Vietnam was blamed on hippies and journalists and weak-kneed bureaucrats unwilling to do what it took to win.
In other words, whenever bad things happen in foreign and military policy, conservatives will inevitably find liberals to blame; this will be no less true of Afghanistan than prior conflicts.
The fact that Biden is the one who is finally doing what his three predecessors would have liked to do makes it much easier for conservatives to make this claim. Had Trump pulled out of Afghanistan (as he dearly wanted to do), it would have been harder to say it was all the left’s fault.
Not that they wouldn’t have tried; for a certain kind of conservative, admitting that there is any such thing as an unwinnable war is too much to take. And since liberals are to blame for everything else, why not pin the war that George W. Bush started on them as well?
All that isn’t to say Biden should escape scrutiny on Afghanistan. We should certainly examine this withdrawal and consider how it might go better; like all presidents, Biden should be accountable for his decisions and his mistakes. But anyone who casts blame for the loss of Afghanistan ought to say precisely what they would have done differently.
As Biden said on Thursday, “I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan with no reasonable expectation of achieving a different outcome.” And that’s the whole problem. In the United States’ longest war, there was no brilliant plan left unexecuted, no decisive stratagem ignored, no course of action that would have led to victory had we only followed it. Once we decided not just to go after Osama bin Laden but to take over the country and try to secure it for a government built in our own image, our failure was all but inevitable. The only question was how long it would take to admit it. The answer turned out to be 20 long years.
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