The last U.S. soldiers have boarded the last U.S. airplanes out of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, bringing to a close America’s longest war.
The war will go on without us, which should be little surprise. It was going on before we got there.
Now the recriminations begin.
President Joe Biden is under blistering criticism for the way the withdrawal occurred. Those who want the U.S. to remain in Afghanistan indefinitely were always going to call the withdrawal a surrender, a defeat. But the chaotic way in which it occurred, as if the generals in the Pentagon didn’t really think it would ever happen, has only heightened that sense of defeat.
At least 100 Americans who wanted to get out of Afghanistan were left behind. That is a failure for which the Pentagon and the Biden administration must answer, just as they must answer for the maze of bureaucracy the Afghans who helped us these past two decades met as they were trying to flee to safety.
Already, members of Congress of both parties are gearing up for hearings. And while those hearings should address the chaos and failures of the past few weeks, it is even more important that they address the failures of the past 20 years — of an exercise in nation-building that collapsed even before the last American troops left.
Congressional hearings into the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead were largely political theater meant to embarrass then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. They barely scratched the surface of the real issue, which was U.S. involvement in and support for the violent revolution that led to the fall of Muammar Qaddafi’s regime in the first place.
By 2012, Qaddafi was a toothless threat who had given up his nuclear ambitions. Now, Libya is a breeding ground for terrorism and the center of a thriving slave trade.
The Benghazi hearings’ focus on the 2012 attack and the four Americans who lost their lives left unexamined the larger policy failure, the ramifications of which we and the rest of the world are still dealing with today. The migrant crisis throughout the Mediterranean region is just the most obvious unintended consequence of well-intended regime change.
Any hearings into the failures of America’s intervention into Afghanistan should not make the same error. The American people, and especially the troops who served in the field, deserve a full accounting. That means Congress must go back well beyond the past few weeks to the beginning, when the mission to punish al-Qaida for the 9/11 attacks became a futile effort to transform a nation of warring tribes into a 21st century liberal democracy. Apart from a well-educated elite in the cities, especially Kabul, the Afghans were not buying what we were selling, and the vast majority of Afghans live in the mountainous countryside.
Congress gave four successive administrations carte blanche in Afghanistan, just as Congress has largely done in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. Most congressmen would rather not have the responsibility that comes with holding the purse straps, or take the blame when it all goes south.
That time is over. Congress should look at all of the failures of America’s foreign policy. And it should start by looking in the mirror.