I guess we’re going to learn how much truth the American people can handle, because the president gave them an adult portion on Monday afternoon. It was time for the adventure in Afghanistan to end. It was time for the Afghan government and the Afghan military to defend their country without the United States holding their hands, and neither one was up to the job, nor did it appear as though they ever would be. And that was the basis of his decision, and he stands by it.
I’m now the fourth American president to preside over war in Afghanistan. Two Democrats and two Republicans. I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth president. I will not mislead the American people by claiming that just a little more time in Afghanistan will make all the difference. Nor will I shrink from my share of responsibility for where we are today and how we must move forward from here. I am president of the United States of America, and the buck stops with me.
I stand squarely behind my decision. After 20 years, I've learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces. That's why we're still there, we were clear-eyed about the risks, we planned for every contingency. But I always promised the American people I would be straight with you. The truth is, this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated.
For decades, I’ve heard barroom sages wax nostalgic about Harry Truman, and how plainspoken he was, and how we needed that kind of man back in the White House. (It got so thick for a while that Chicago made a record about it, displacing Paul Simon’s Joe DiMaggio as the archetypal American hero.) Well, there it was, in the face of the terrible video from the airport in Kabul, and the carping of superannuated neocon geniuses who got us into this whole mishkadenze in the first place, and the ravings of the Madman of Mar-a-Lago, who cut the deal that set the chaotic endgame in train, and all the rest of the second-guessing world. He made the decision. He stands by it. And if America can’t take that, then America should grow up.
And by the way, Lord, do we need a new foreign-policy establishment. One more white guy in a suit talking to me about “credibility” and I very well may move to the Maldives.
Early returns are not promising. A quickie poll from Politico and Morning Consult reported that support for the military withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan had fallen from 69 percent in April to 49 percent this week, a true measure of how public opinion in this country is nothing more than a dandelion in a gale. And Senator Rick Scott of Florida, once America’s premier Medicare crook, decided to go whole hog. From Politico:
Scott, who is widely viewed as a potential 2024 presidential candidate tweeted: “We must confront a serious question: Is Joe Biden capable of discharging the duties of his office or has time come to exercise the provisions of the 25th Amendment?”
Oh, shut up. Please.
There are open questions about why the administration was caught so flat-footed by the speed with which our erstwhile allies folded. (We were there for 20 years. Somebody should have had an inkling.) But there is no question about why the president made the decision he did. He spoke as plainly about it on Monday as any president has on any event or policy in my lifetime. What I recalled halfway through his speech on Monday was an interview John F. Kennedy gave to Walter Cronkite one day on Cape Cod, talking about Vietnam.
"In the final analysis, it is their war. They are the ones who have to win it or lose it. We can help them, we can give them equipment, we can send our men out there as advisers, but they have to win it.”
Two months later, Kennedy went to Dallas. Less than two years later, the first combat troops landed in South Vietnam—3,500 Marines, sent to “stabilize the situation” around the airfield at Da Nang, and we were off. On Monday, another American president said:
More importantly, I made a commitment to the brave men and women who serve this nation that I wasn’t going to ask them to continue to risk their lives in a military action that should’ve ended long ago. Our leaders did that in Vietnam when I got here as a young man. I will not do it in Afghanistan.
Now he has to stand the gaff of screaming recriminations from his political opponents, and the gaff of an elite political press corps that will be more than happy to amplify those screams into an apocalyptic howling. That’s the real test: will this president stand by his decision to stand by his decision?
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