By: Peter Sessum
Like many other veterans I have been asked what I thought about the recent events in Afghanistan a lot in the past week. My response is always the same, “America’s pull-out game is weak.” This was always going to be a cluster fuck and, honestly, it should have been done a long time ago. Military officers, politicians and the goldfish attention span of the American people doomed the efforts in Afghanistan long ago.
Army officers like to act like they are students of history, but if they were, the Afghanistan exit wouldn’t have looked almost identical to the fall of Saigon. I would love to place blame on a sitting or past president, but the truth is, they just give the go/no go order. They were trusting the SecDef, Joint Chiefs and all the officers between them and last pair of boots getting on a C17. I imagine that the Commander in Chief asked a four-star general if he had a plan, that general asked a three-star if he had a plan, and so on down to some captain who just wants to go home.
The president wasn’t assigning flights out of Kabul, that buck got passed down, but he had to ultimately reach back from the White House and grab that bill to say, “it stops with me.” It is a great line, but not accurate. Some officer wanted to get a bullet point on his OER that he redeployed his unit ahead of the Sept 11. deadline so he popped smoke as fast as he could. Naturally, it happened so fast that the Afghans on Bagram didn’t know they were gone until long after they were wheels up. There is not a single good reason to abandon a base without partner forces knowing. I hope you got that positive OER sir.
Politicians have been using the military and international conflict for their own ends since the first one was elected. Forgetting the past 20 years for a moment, the rhetoric from politicians in the past few months have been contradictory. The same politician that was supportive of the exit, is now critical of it depending on which way the political winds blow, or if they love or hate the current person sitting in the Oval Office. Whatever fits their narrative now is what matters, not what is good for Afghanistan. None cared about the Afghan people in the past 20 years, the current suffering is only an excuse to grab headlines.
And take the spotlight they will, until the American attention span moves on to something else. If half the people who cared last week, cared half as much 10 years ago, this would have ended differently. Veteran organizations have been screaming from the rooftops for help getting interpreters out for over a decade; no one cared. Now, when it is splashed across front pages, everyone is wondering why we didn’t do more. Where were you last year when the exit was planned? Where were you six months ago when the president announced the May deadline had been extended to Sept? Your concern/outrage is disingenuous at best. The bigger deal about it you make now, the more contempt you will get from veterans when your apathy returns. You didn’t give a shit a month ago, you won’t in another month.
Afghanistan was not one failure, and for sure not a recent one. The current state of Afghanistan is the result of two decades of systemic failures on just about every level. The politicians, military service members and yes, even civilians, that wanted to do some good in Afghanistan were drowned out by the negative words or actions of the ones who were fucking it up for everyone else.
So yes, the pull out of Afghanistan was completely botched by too many hands. But don’t project your outsider perspective on a veteran you know. Some might be having a tough time not knowing the fate of people they liked, trusted and respected. Especially, knowing the outcomes are most likely not good. This might be like a sudden death in the family. Some veterans are reeling, and are deserving of compassion. For others, it is like a death after a prolonged illness. While not a relief, it was expected and we mourned this moment a long time ago. However they are handling it, give them the space to do so. This isn’t your moment.