“Thank you for your service.”
How many times did I say those words to troops in the airports from San Francisco to Houston to Orlando as I traveled, first on business, and later to visit family and for other reasons?
Whatever happened to those young soldiers in their uniforms, looking so self-confident in their khakis? To the female soldier I sat beside on one flight? She was making a quick turnaround flight to go home to see her child. Is she with that child today? Are those strapping young men who walked past me in the airport corridors coping well now or do they suffer PTSD and suicidal ideation, like so many of their peers?
Are any of them even with us anymore?
None of us who honored our troops in airports with those words know what became of their lives afterward. But my, weren’t we proud of how patriotically we supported “the troops.”
Kabul fell on Aug. 15. Afghans who served alongside our troops continue to scramble for ways to get out of the country and everyone is raining down condemnation on President Joe Biden’s head for what appears to be a poorly planned evacuation from the country. Yet history tells us it was always going to be like this, like Vietnam when Saigon fell.
This is what war looks like: messy and uncoordinated, innocents caught up in conditions over which they have little control. If people truly expected that a courtly pullout would be allowed by ideologically driven fanatics who we have spent 20 years fighting, they have been watching the wrong war.
Even Gen. Robert E. Lee didn’t dignify his own surrender at Appomattox; he first sent someone else to make it for him. And fighting between the North and the South continued long after because communication about the end of the conflict took time to reach troops battling regionally across the land.
But we don’t like seeing war’s chaos on our TV sets at home. We only want to see grand successes. Oh, we’ll tolerate the somber scenes from Andrews Air Force Base of the bodies coming home; patriots honor their war dead for the minute it registers on their TV or iPhone screens.
Then we go back to our lives, forgetting the many distant lands where our military serves so we don’t have to worry about war finding its way onto our own soil. We have the greatest military in the world, you see.
If only we had presidents who made better decisions that affect our lives here and abroad.
When George W. Bush sent troops to Afghanistan, it was ostensibly to find Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the twin towers in New York, the Pentagon in D.C., and an aborted mission to strike the U.S. Capitol that ended in a Pennsylvania field.
A year was frittered away, bin Laden escaped to Pakistan, and the “war on terror” morphed into the siege on Iraq in search of weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist. These imaginary WMDs were based on a lie: a picture of aluminum tubes purported to be capable of being used to create a centrifuge that would make fissile material.
Except they weren’t capable of that, and a competent nuclear engineer could have told the Bush Administration so. Not that we would have had those at Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos or Oak Ridge. But wait … we did.
So we settled for toppling Saddam Hussein and destabilizing the Middle East instead. We created a new enemy called ISIS to fight, and the years progressed.
We should have stayed focused on the hunt for bin Laden. We didn’t, and we lost and more of our troops were maimed as a consequence.
After 10 years, we had ensured al-Qaeda was no longer capable of attacking us. But were we smart enough to leave Afghanistan then?
No, because too many people were making too much money off the “forever war”; the armament manufacturers, the defense contractors, the private security forces that we paid many times over the cost of what we paid our troops. Furthermore, we hold on to this quaint ideal that because we beat the British and went from colony to superpower, we can turn any country into a democracy, even Afghanistan, despite thousands of years of its own history and culture.
This mission, above all others, should have been proof enough Barack Obama wasn’t a secret Muslim.
And then came He Who Shall Not Be Named, aka the former guy. Or the man who would cross any boundary for a photo op.
The man who wanted to bring the Taliban to Camp David. The man who went to Doha instead.
The man who made a deal with the Taliban the contours of which we may not even know.
The man who set this withdrawal in motion.
When he wasn’t trying to illegally overturn a presidential election and foment an insurrection in his own country.
Enough of us hated that man that we voted for Joe Biden instead. We wanted the compassionate president, the soother-in-chief.
We wanted him to save our lives in the time of the Covid pandemic, and he has for almost all of us willing and able to be vaccinated.
We want him to raise the minimum wage, give parity to the work of caregivers and rebuild the country physically and technologically. Create union jobs, jobs, jobs! Oh, and save all our voting rights and the entire planet from climate change while he’s at it.
How dare he show a stern and steely resolve when it comes to the fall of Kabul and the removal of our troops? How dare he not soothe our own souls for using Afghanistan as a shield for the safety of our own country? How dare he not guarantee the safe removal of all Afghan interpreters that we had 20 some years to persuade and help them to leave?
How dare Joe Biden not meet our every expectation? He is meant to be the complete antithesis of the former guy. Give us everything we want, and do it all in eight short months!
And we want him to do all of it after the former guy hollowed out the State Department and changed every immigration rule we had. Now Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) refuses to advance Biden’s State Department appointees. Why aren’t those SIVs rolling out like they are on a printing press?
Biden says the buck stops with him and as POTUS, he’s right, it does. But I don’t think we have asked this much of a president — ever. We want him to be Lincoln, FDR and LBJ rolled up into one — with an overlay of George Washington and the saintliness of Francis of Assisi if you please.
Of ourselves we expect nothing, examine nothing, exemplify nothing.
Except our ability to turn on our hero at the first moment things get tough.
What a great bunch we are.
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