I’ve been harshly critical of the MSM’s coverage of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan here, here, and here. Cable news has been particularly shrill and sensational. They’re up to their old trick of looping footage. In this case of the woman handing a child over barbed wire at the Kabul airport. It’s given me Katrina coverage flashbacks. I’ll have more about that next week.
The coverage has largely ignored the three Americans most responsible for bogging us down in this 20-year quagmire: George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld. They started the war, then moved on to another disaster: Iraq.
Donald Trump and Mike Pompeo deserve their share of the blame. They strengthened the Taliban and pressured the Pakistanis to release the man who now is the leader of the Taliban, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar,
Joe Biden is taking all the blame. He agrees that the buck stops with him but, he issued the order, and the military was in charge of implementing the withdrawal. There’s lots of blame to go around.
In the end, we were on the losing side of a 40+ year civil war. There’s no tidy way to exit as those of us old enough to have lived through the fall of Saigon know first-hand.
That brings me to the last sane person on cable news: MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell. As his colleagues have overdramatized events in Afghanistan by focusing on the trees, not the forest. Lawrence has kept his eye on the big picture.
(The post title is, of course, my version of the hyperbole being peddled by an overwrought MSM. Nothing wrong with a bit of hyperbole among friends.)
Last night, Lawrence opened The Last Word with a brilliant essay about the withdrawal. I quote extensively from it after the break.
Well, as of tonight, and this could change because things could take a dramatic turn for the worst at any moment. But as of tonight, President Joe Biden is managing the most successful American military evacuation from a war that America lost. As of tonight, the Biden administration and the American military have managed to evacuate 7,000 people from Afghanistan after the capitol city of Kabul came under the control of the people who won the war.
In Vietnam in 1975 after Saigon, then the capital city of south Vietnam fell under the complete control of the north Vietnamese army, Republican President Gerald Ford was able to get absolutely no one out of Vietnam, no one. In those final days before the last American helicopter left Saigon, leaving thousands of our allies behind, the Ford administration and the American military were able to evacuate a total of 7,000 people.
The Biden-run evacuation is well on its way to evacuating many more people than the American military was able to evacuate from Vietnam in the final days. In Vietnam, the Americans were being driven out of the country at gunpoint. In Afghanistan so far, the Taliban have not fired a shot at the American military. In both desperate last-minute evacuations, the military did its very best.
The final days in both are filled with stories of American heroism, but they are also demonstrations of the American`s continuing ability to invade a country, spend 20 years losing a war, and then evacuate in a way that meets with the approval of an American news media filled with people who think they know how to do what the American military has never been able to do. What you`re not hearing in any of the critical analysis of how the Biden administration and the American military have handled the evacuation of Afghanistan is the example of who has done this sort of thing better.
No one is telling you that the Russians did a much better job of invading Afghanistan, losing the war there, and then evacuating. No one is holding up the Russian evacuation of Afghanistan as the model. No one is holding up the evacuation of any defeated army from a foreign country as the model. And of course no one is holding up the American evacuation of Vietnam as the model of how to do this because the American evacuation of Vietnam was much, much worse in every way, by every measure.
Every war produces a limitless flow of tragic individual stories. The end of every war produces a similar flow of tragic, individual stories.
But no individual story can tell you what your war policy should be or should have been. If this is your first experience with watching people left behind in war, then use it to decide whether you will support the next American war.
But if you use it as an example of something you know how to do better than the American military, then you are making the mistake of believing that the madness of war can be managed. The American military does not know how to manage the madness of war.
Catch-22 is a phrase that has entered our daily vocabulary to describe impossible situations. Sixty years ago, Joseph Heller put that phrase in our vocabulary through the title of his war novel “Catch-22,” which captures the clumsy and inefficient processes of the American military, which he experienced first hand serving in World War II. Armies are not efficient machines. Armies are not run like automobile affects when the CEO of Ford became the secretary of defense during the Vietnam War. That organizational master, Robert McNamara was lost in that job, as lost in that job as any of the other secretaries of defense during the Vietnam War.
The American military is a massive bureaucracy that does some things well. But the thing that it does not know how to do is the same thing that no military in the world knows how to do, and that is organize a dignified and honorable retreat and full evacuation from a war that we lost in a foreign country without leaving anyone behind. When someone tells you that the evacuation from Afghanistan could have been run better, ask them why that has never happened before in history. Ask them why this should be the very first time in history that a desperate, last-minute military evacuation from a lost war should not be chaotic and messy.
President Biden is now being criticized for saying he knew it would be chaotic. President Biden was a United States senator when he watched the chaotic exit from Vietnam. Of course, he knew this was going to be chaotic. And of course he could not say that publicly before the chaos developed because such a statement by the president would have immediately created the chaos.
The Democrats did not attack Republican President Gerald Ford for how he handled the exit from a war lost by Democratic and Republican presidents. The governor of Georgia, who was an Annapolis graduate and a navy veteran, was running for president on the day that the last American helicopter left Vietnam, and he did not criticize how Republican President Gerald Ford managed that evacuation, because Jimmy Carter knew there was no good version of an evacuation from a lost war.
No one was surprised by the chaos and the dishonor of the American final exit from Vietnam. The world was not surprised. Every day of the Vietnam War was chaos, including the final day.
Just a year after the evacuation from Vietnam, at the Democratic National Convention in his acceptance speech for his presidential nomination, Jimmy Carter said this.
JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT: I`ve never had more faith in America than I do today. We have an America that involved Dylan`s phrase, is busy being born, not busy dying.
In that speech, Jimmy Carter did not criticize Gerald`s management of the evacuation from Vietnam. None of the anti-war protesters that demand a withdrawal from Vietnam attacked his management of the final withdrawal from Vietnam. No one in the anti-war movement, including the Vietnam veterans, believed that they had a better idea about how to evacuate a lost war or that the American military was capable of doing a better job of evacuating from a war that they lost.
The lesson of the Vietnam War and the war in Afghanistan, including the last days of those wars is not that we have to teach West Point classes of future generals how to safely and honorably evacuate from our lost wars without leaving anyone behind. The lesson for a country that has not won a war since 1945 is, stop launching wars of dubious legality and unclear moral purpose that we do not know how to win.
The people who own the American exit from the Afghanistan war are the people who advocated launching that war and, more importantly, the people who never learned, the people who never stopped advocating for continuing that war.