On my way outside of Middleton this afternoon I spotted an image that matched the mood of the nation. Three large American flags audibly flapped in the brisk breeze. Heavy, sad, and a most weighted feel matched the somber atmosphere across our nation.
There is no way to escape the enormity of the moment we are living in as the nation withdraws from Afghanistan after 20 years of war. The national angst was underscored with live coverage Sunday morning as 13 dead American soldiers returned in caskets to Dover Air Force Base.
The Taliban threatened us as we entered the war in 2001 and are seen now as victors upon our defeat. No matter how it is assessed the bulk of the war was a colossal failure.
Yes, we did gain an advantage over the ones who fueled the hatred and perpetrated the heinous crimes on 9/11. We sent the remains of Osama bin Laden to the bottom of the ocean.
We did open up the ability of a younger generation of Afghans to dream and see the world outside of a burqa and a tortured reading of the Koran. Therefore, we feel deep sadness about ‘turning off the lights’ on their education as the Taliban will again reject modernity when governing.
But the nation-building and processes for building a government, and have it in any way to be self-sustaining did not succeed. There was not enough time, or the willpower on the larger part of the Afghan populace. The urban areas grew, but the tribal foundations of the countryside did not have time to turn towards the 21st century.
Meanwhile, many people in America who by their own admission find history to be boring, have no real touchstones with the past so to weigh and balance what is now happening with the chaos and death in Afghanistan. One of my childhood heroes, astronaut John Glenn, after becoming an Ohio Senator spoke in 2009 about dead soldiers, also returning to Dover from Afghanistan.
As John Glenn said: “It’s easy to see the flags flying and the people go off to war, and the bands play and the flags fly. And it’s not quite so easy when the flag is draped over a coffin coming back through Dover, Delaware.“
The gung-ho mentality that too often leads a nation to war is not able to define goals, strategy, or any exit policy. As Glenn said flags fly, and bands play.
And then soldiers die.
As a nation, we will most certainly be arguing how the Afghanistan evacuation policy was created and executed during the past months. There will be those expressing that our nation only needed to maintain a few thousand military personnel in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future. A land, I need not remind my readers, which is termed the Graveyard of Empires.
Such arguments can be rebuffed with those pesky things called facts. After 19 years of our footprint all over Afghanistan, their government had seen its control seriously erode to 30% of the country’s 407 districts. Meanwhile, the depraved Taliban controlled 20% of the country, and it should be noted that was more than at any time since the U.S. started the war. As I said, 19 years previous!
We all are unpleased how this larger episode defines our nation on the international stage. After the past four years, we needed to start the restoration of our country’s image and undertake that mission by doing masterful deeds. While no defeat at the hands of the Taliban was ever going to look good the exceptional chaos and blunders (and worse) by the Defense Department, State Department, and White House–and there is plenty of blame to share–is beyond mind-boggling.
Just more reason to stand under a flag at half-staff and sadly ponder it all.
And so it goes.