Apparent suicide bombers struck at the Abbey Gate of the Kabul airport in Afghanistan just as evening was settling in, followed by a second bombing at a nearby hotel. The gate itself was not in use — other gates had been prioritized for the swift removal of U.S. personnel — but huge crowds of Afghan civilians were still gathered there, hoping for escape. U.S. intelligence had been warning such an attack was “imminent,” and had advised Americans to stay away from the airport for the time being. Multiple civilians and U.S. Marines were killed in the attack.
Reaction from the “news” media was swift: Here was the “nightmare scenario” for the Biden administration, which is of course solely responsible for the mayhem of this withdrawal, so there. While most agree that leaving Afghanistan was the right thing to do, the way President Biden did so has become an ongoing disaster involving bodies raining down from airplanes and now a bombing at the airport.
It has been like this for days now, a relentless drumbeat of finger-pointing by the media, fueled by a parade of generals and politicians who have spent the last 20 years warming up Afghanistan for the calamity it has become.
Yet what has been missing from all the conversation on Afghanistan is the simple truth: WE LOST THE WAR. Almost nobody seems willing or able to speak those four words out loud. The coverage has been shrill and angry, like a family trying to discuss an embarrassing secret without actually naming it. To name it is to make it real, and the reality that WE LOST THE WAR appears to be too overwhelming for the motherboards of many. Not enough RAM to encompass the new program; the old one has been running for so long.
The coverage has been furious in its narrowed scope. Look at this! How embarrassing! We can’t leave anyone behind! Biden must be impeached! Much of this is certainly political opportunism on the part of Republicans — as activist journalist Jeff Tiedrich noted on Twitter, all those voices were silent when Donald Trump bailed on the Kurds while handing bases over to Russia — but there is more to it. For all that has been said, what has been left unsaid looms large: WE LOST THE WAR.
The August 31 withdrawal deadline is a stinging example of the phenomenon. Virtually every face on the television, including scores of influential people who had a hand in crafting this long and dismal failure, is demanding that Biden extend that deadline… but he can’t. For one thing, the bombings today underscore the need for as immediate an escape as possible. However, more than that, if we recognize the fact that WE LOST THE WAR, we are confronted with the fact that we do not get to unilaterally dictate the terms of our exit. The victorious Taliban set that deadline, as all triumphant armies do, and we are not in a good position to break it or demand more time, because WE LOST THE WAR.
This withdrawal is so messy because there is nothing on Earth more vulnerable than an army in retreat, which is precisely what we are, Afghan personnel and all, because WE LOST THE WAR. Biden could certainly have prepared better for this exit, with humanitarian efforts and refugee assistance, but he could not have made it easy, any more than he could turn water into wine.
The arrogance is astounding. WE LOST THE WAR, and yet all these people seem to think we still get to dictate terms to the world because we’re Americans, so there. Losers don’t get to dictate terms — if they’re lucky, they’re allowed to leave with the shirt on their back. We are watching the “mighty” U.S. navigate its second lost war in 20 years, and many are unable to process the fact that the world now gets to dictate terms to us.
Last Monday, CIA Director William Burns met secretly with Abdul Ghani Baradar, de facto leader of the Taliban, to discuss the terms of the U.S. withdrawal. Baradar spent eight years in prison after getting captured during a CIA-run operation, and there he was, leader of a victorious army, sitting across the table from the director of the CIA and holding all the cards. The fact that Biden sent such a high-ranking official is a bright indicator of this nation’s thoroughly humbled estate.
If you’ve ever wondered what Japanese Foreign Minister Shigemitsu felt while seated across from Douglas MacArthur on board the USS Missouri with the ink of surrender drying on the table before them, Director Burns could probably give you a fairly accurate description of those emotions. Baradar’s version was not nearly as stark or ceremonial, but having him at that table with the reins in his hand is an astonishing turn for this “invincible” nation.
If we are not prepared to say WE LOST THE WAR even with the rank fact of it pouring out of every television in America, perhaps we should not be starting wars in the first place. Perhaps we should not be starting wars in the first place, no matter what we are prepared to say.
That, though, is the rub: The TV people, the corporations who own them and the wars that pump up their ratings cannot openly admit defeat. Doing so might make it harder to start the next war, or the last one all over again. This is simply impermissible, and so rolls the wheel.
WE LOST THE WAR. Nothing gets better until we admit this and accept it.
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