BY RICHARD C. GROSS
“The strongest of all warriors are these two — Time and Patience.”
Leo Tolstoy, “War and Peace.”
Thirteen American military dead in a horrific suicide bomber explosion at Kabul airport, 11 of them Marines, five of them only 20 years old, barely out of their teens. One of the 20-year-olds reportedly was expecting a child in three weeks.
A child he’ll never see. But a child who will grow up hearing never-ending stories about his/her father.
All at the start of Joe Biden’s presidency during an evacuation from a forsaken 20-year war in Afghanistan gone terribly wrong at its tail end, with warnings of more possible terrorist attacks to come before the exodus is to end Tuesday. And everything had been going so well domestically for Biden. He’s dropping in the polls.
The hurried, impatient departure of so many U.S. and NATO troops before the evacuation started in mid-August, when the Taliban shocked America and its allies by blitzing through Afghanistan, is partly to blame for the chaos and lack of heavier security at the airport. Biden promised a more orderly departure and assuredly will pay politically for a botched and miscalculated withdrawal that includes the dead Americans.
Where was the competence and efficiency expected of Biden and his top advisers after the catastrophic incompetent Trump administration? The Afghan exodus may go down in history as Biden’s Folly.
Marine Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum, seven months old when al-Qaida terrorists blew up America on 9/11, igniting the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, was among those who died at Hamid Karzai International Airport trying to save the people of that faraway country that the United States failed for 20 years to clear of brutal terrorist killers.
The New York Times and The Washington Post singled out his unique story.
McCollum, of Jackson, Wyo., and the 12 other Americans
were the first U.S. casualties in Afghanistan since February 2020.
Twenty, the age of most college juniors. Twenty, the age when you can’t even legally get a beer in most states. Twenty, the age when the beckoning future looms as bright as the spit shine on a Marine’s dress shoes.
Something major must change in the way America conducts the business of foreign policy and deploys its military. And foreign policy is business. Just ask those contractors that President Dwight David Eisenhower tagged as the military-industrial complex.
Biden made the right decision to get out of Afghanistan, reportedly disregarding the advice of his foreign policy advisers and generals. It’s been said he can be stubborn. The concern is Biden’s policy — a doctrine in the making? — will be reversed once conservative and far right Republicans get back in power.
The problem has been the frantic departure, the panicky scenes at the airport that 5,800 American Marines and soldiers tried to control as they checked people for explosives. They were too few for the thousands of Afghans who showed up, many with little kids, trying to flee their country.
As of Saturday, 117,000 people have been evacuated since Aug. 14. Not everyone who wants to get out will get the chance to leave before Tuesday. Biden said the Taliban could help with a withdrawal afterward. Fat chance.
Biden’s move to quit a terrorist arena, his years-long goal, is merely a baby step in the direction the United States needs to take in refusing to spend its treasure in lives and money trying to spread democracy where democracy won’t take root in infertile political soil. Not every leader is an admirer of the Enlightenment. President George W. Bush tried that in Iraq and failed. But America did not learn the lesson. Will it now?
“We will not be deterred by terrorists,” Biden said after the bombing that also killed 170 Afghans. “We will not let them stop our mission. We will continue the evacuation.”
The Pentagon did retaliate, launching a drone strike from outside Afghanistan against an ISIS site involved in planning attacks in Kabul, killing at least one person. It blew up a truck headed for the airport Sunday.
But the ability of the U.S. military to conduct airstrikes against terrorists is likely to be curtailed once it departs from Afghanistan because of a truncated intelligence gathering capability without a presence on the ground.
The evacuation is to end Tuesday, a deadline Biden has refused to extend, despite advice to the contrary, because of fear of another terrorist attack. He warned of such Saturday.
Republicans, of course, jumped at the chance after the bombing to denounce Biden for it. It was Biden’s predecessor who agreed with the Taliban to vacate Afghanistan by May. Biden extended that to Sept. 11 but changed it to Aug. 31. But U.S. forces had been withdrawn in great numbers before August because of the Trump agreement.
“It was the direct result of horribly misguided decisions from President Biden,” the Times quoted Rep. John Katko of New York as saying. He is the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security Committee. “Our commander in chief has been missing in action and has failed to rise to this pivotal moment in our history.”
As if Katko’s commander in chief didn’t go missing during the pandemic.
Real love was Rylee McCullum’s feeling for the military. His sister, Roice, said he wanted to join since he was 2-years-old, the Post reported. He signed up the day he turned 18. He went to boot camp in San Diego and hoped someday to be an American history teacher. He first was deployed to Jordan and from there, two weeks ago, to Afghanistan.
“He was a beautiful soul,” his father, Jim, told the Times.
Richard C. Gross, a correspondent, bureau chief and foreign editor of United Press International, retired as the opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun.