America’s longest war ended today. After nearly 20 years, the final U.S. military aircraft lifted off from Afghanistan. General Kenneth McKenzie of the United States Marine Corps oversaw the war. Here was his announcement:
General Kenneth Mckenzie Jr, Monday: I am here to announce the completion of our withdrawal from Afghanistan and the end of the military mission to evacuate American citizens, third-country nationals, and vulnerable Afghans. The last C-17 lifted off from Hamid Karzai International Airport on August 30th, this afternoon at 3:29 PM east coast time. And is clear from Afghan airspace.
So we got everyone out, and we’re done. A poignant moment. More than 4,000 Americans died in Afghanistan over two decades— including, last week, several enlisted Marines who were just infants when American troops first arrived there. Finally, after decades, it is done. But is it done? Just moments after announcing we’d left Afghanistan for good, General McKenzie conceded that, actually, not all of us did leave. In fact, there are still Americans trapped in Afghanistan. The United States military left our people behind:
General Kenneth Mckenzie Jr, Monday: No American citizens came out on what we call the last joint tactical mission last five jets to leave. We maintained the ability to bring them in up until the last minute before departure, but were not able to bring any Americans out. That activity ended about 12 hours before our exit. Although, we continue the outreach and continue to be prepared to bring them on until the very last minute but none of them made it to the airport and were able to be accommodated.
“None of them made it to the airport.” So that answers a lot of questions. In the past week, you may have wondered about this large but unknown number of Americans you keep reading about who are stuck for whatever reason in Afghanistan. Who are these people? Why are they still there? “Maybe they don’t want to leave,” you may have concluded. “Maybe we don’t owe them anything.” It would be nice to believe that, but now we can’t. We’ve just learned from the commander of U.S. troops in the region that at least some of these people — our countrymen, our fellow Americans — really are trapped in a nation controlled by the Taliban. They tried to flee, but it was too chaotic and dangerous. As General McKenzie put it, they couldn’t get to the airport in time. So the U.S. military just left. Tough. Call us if you make it to Tampa.
It’s hard to believe Kenneth McKenzie admitted this in public. The reporters in the briefing room seemed to think it was all perfectly normal — just another Pentagon briefing. But it’s not normal, not in this country. It’s appalling on every level. It’s the definition of dishonorable. What’s the point of having a military that doesn’t bother to rescue its own citizens? Serious question. Why do we have an army — all those guns and helicopters and missile systems? Isn’t the whole purpose to protect Americans? Apparently, there’s another purpose, or at least that’s the view of the man who oversees the military’s central command. Those trapped Americans aren’t our problem, General McKenzie explained. Let the State Department deal with them.
And with that, tanned and relaxed from his vacation in the Hamptons, garage band enthusiast and part-time Secretary of State Tony Blinken took the podium. Yes, Blinken confirmed, there are more than 100 Americans who’ve been abandoned in Afghanistan and are desperate to get out. No, we have no actual way to guarantee their safe passage, the military’s gone. But no problem. The medieval theocracy that now runs the country has everything under control. The Taliban have given us their word American citizens in Afghanistan will be fine. And with that, Tony Blinken left the stage. He took no questions. Nor did Joe Biden appear, then or at any other time today, to explain what’s happening to these Americans or what’s happening in Afghanistan. The president of the United States is missing again.
Clearly, we’re watching a pivot point in our history. The most obvious casualty — apart from 13 dead servicemen last week — is American power and prestige, both of which, in the span of just days, have been profoundly diminished. There will be huge consequences of this moment, both in the near term and through the generations going forward. But for now, it’s worth wondering, who’s taking responsibility for it? Who’s paying for this disaster? Not so long ago, that would have been an easy question to answer: our leaders. Until recently, the people in charge understood that leadership comes with obligations, not just privileges. If you’re going to make big decisions, you have to be willing to suffer if they go wrong. In the spring of 1912, Edward Smith ran his ship into an iceberg in the North Atlantic. As the ship went down, Smith didn’t blame climate change for the disaster. He stood stoically in the wheelhouse and rode the Titanic to the bottom of the ocean and people applauded. No one thought that was strange. It was expected. He was in charge. He stayed until the end.
Who’s in charge of this and more to the point, who’s paying for it? Over time, an entire class of foreign policy experts and political leaders watched for 20 years as Afghanistan turned into a pointless mess in which Americans died and we were damaged beyond repair. As this happened they said nothing. In fact, they lied about it repeatedly. Who are they? The name Liz Cheney comes to mind. But there are many like her. And then there are the people responsible for what has happened over the last couple of weeks, a pullout that couldn’t have more ineptly managed if you’d scripted it: Joe Biden’s and his many lieutenants, all incompetent, if not deranged.
What’s their punishment? How many have been fired or resigned, or even apologized? That’s the best place to start always. To our knowledge, none. In fact, the only U.S. military leader to suffer so far for this disaster is a Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel called Stu Scheller. Scheller didn’t decide to abandon Bagram airbase. The blood of the 13 service members who died last week is not on his hands, his crime was posting a video on social media:
Stuart Scheller, Thursday: If an O-5 Battalion commander has the simplest live-fire EO complaint. Boom. Fired. But we have a Secretary of Defense that testified to Congress in May that the Afghan national security force could withstand the Taliban advance. We have a Chairman of Joint Chiefs who the commandant is a member of that, who is supposed to advise on military policy. We have a Marine combatant commander. All of these people are supposed to advise. And I’m not saying we have to be in Afghanistan forever. But I am saying did any of you, throw your rank on the table and say hey it’s a bad idea to evacuate Bagram Airfield, the strategic airbase before we evacuate everyone?
This is a disaster, that is obvious. That disaster is the result of a series of bad decisions made by people whose names we know. Have any of those people been punished, explained themselves, or apologized? That is the question Stu Scheller asked. And for asking it the Pentagon relieved Stu Scheller of his command. On Sunday, Stu Scheller announced he was resigning from the Marine Corps, just three years from his retirement and the pension that comes with it. But he’s leaving—here’s why:
Stuart Scheller, Sunday: All I asked for was accountability of my senior leaders. When there are clear, obvious mistakes that were made, I’m not saying we can take back what has been done. All I asked for was accountability for people to comment on what I said and to say, ‘Yes, some mistakes were made’ // I think them accepting accountability would do more for service members and PTSD and struggling with purpose than any other transparent piece of paper or message. And I haven’t received that.
Thousands of Americans have died in Afghanistan. Tens of thousands—hundreds of thousands—were permanently damaged by the time they spent there over 20 years. The exit diminishes our country permanently. Who did that and why haven’t they apologized? It’s a really simple question and for asking it, Scheller was relieved of command.
Instead of taking any form of responsibility for the disaster they’ve caused, the Biden administration is bewilderingly doing the opposite—bragging about what a great job it’s done. Biden’s flack has already announced that the White House doesn’t plan to punish anyone at the Pentagon or at the intel agencies for what we are watching now—no one:
White House Press Briefing, Friday, Reporter: Does he believe he was given bad advice? And will he ask for any resignations of his generals, given the high cost of American and Afghan lives? PSAKI: “No” to both of those questions.
The Biden administration’s position has always been the same in the face of all the evidence we are watching on television. They’re telling you they did as well as they possibly could have done. Joe Biden first said that on August 19, prior to the bombing in Kabul. But as recently as today, the Pentagon’s top spokesman said it again. The oily John Kirby explained that there was no possible way to predict that Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, would suddenly abandon the country to the Taliban:
John Kirby, Monday: Our expectation was that the Ghani government would stay in place. Nobody could’ve imagined how quickly that government would’ve literally just dissipated almost overnight. There was simply no way to predict that.
We could spend the rest of the show, the rest of the week, the rest of the year forensically going through each lie they are telling you and batting it down because these are the flimsiest lies. We’re not going to do that, it would give everyone a headache. Let’s just take a close look at this one: There was simply no way to predict the president of Afghanistan was going to fold and run away. To get a sense of how ludicrous that statement is—what a lie it is—consider what our government knew about Ashraf Ghani.
According to the Washington Post, the Pentagon didn’t even know that Ghani had fled Afghanistan until they saw it on television—they had no idea. Quote: “U.S. officials were as surprised as anyone. The Americans had expected Ghani would stay for an orderly transition to an interim authority. … But he did not inform most of the government’s senior ranks, including his two vice presidents. about his departure. Nor did Ghani contact the U.S. government, which was left to piece together the absent leader’s movement from rumor and media reports.”
Our intelligence agencies received a combined $85 billion in last year alone in federal tax dollars. That’s more money than Russia, Germany, and the UK all spend on their entire annual military budgets. And after all that money, our generals and our spies were confident Ashraf Ghani would stick around for an “orderly transition.” They say there was no way to predict otherwise. Meanwhile, no one — not the Pentagon, the C.I.A., or the State Department — could say where Ashraf Ghani was—they had no idea. Out authorities have no problem finding, say, a middle-aged woman who committed the crime of waving a flag at the Capitol building in January, but not the president of Afghanistan.
That’s not to say we were completely in the dark. What our leaders did notice is that, before Kabul fell, it was evident that Ghani didn’t care about doing his job—and not capable of doing it. This is the guy we installed effectively. As the Taliban began seizing key territories all over the country this summer, for example, Ghani was transfixed not by what was happening in Afghanistan, but by a new government salary payment system that was slated to roll out soon. According to the Post, quote, “Even as a cascade of provincial capitals fell .. president [Ghani] appeared distracted.” According to one official who spoke to the Post, quote, “Ghani would want to talk about digitization of the economy. It had nothing to do with the dire threat.”
Keep in mind—Ghani, no background in any relevant discipline. The guy was a college professor who worked at Johns Hopkins. We picked an incompetent tool from American academia, rather than an actual Afghan who could run the country—of course, we did. Tony Blinken liked him, and people liked that Tony Blinken liked him. So the president of Afghanistan’s flakey behavior reportedly concerned some U.S. officials, including Marine Gen. “Frank” McKenzie, The head of Central Command.
The Post reports McKenzie was quote, “mystified” by Ghani’s behavior. Did anyone in the Pentagon do anything about it? Of course not. They just pretended everything was fine because they are dumb. As the Taliban swept through Afghanistan, the State Department wasn’t reaching out to Ashraf Ghani to figure out where he was and what he was doing. Instead, Tony Blinken and his deputies were working to get other countries to sign a statement to send to the Taliban, urging them to let Americans get out of the country. The statement was ultimately signed by military powerhouses like Haiti, Papua New Guinea, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. That’s what the secretary of state thinks is significant—getting Papua New Guinea and Haiti and Congo to sign a stupid document that means nothing. These are children.
But still, none of our leaders are apologizing for any of this—they’re not even acknowledging they screwed up. They’re not having a moment of self-reflection about why they were on the phone with the government of Haiti as American citizens were trapped in Afghanistan run by our new friends the Taliban. They’re never going to explain why they put the safety of thousands of American citizens in the hands of a president who didn’t care enough to stick around. And of course, Ashraf Ghani isn’t apologizing either. He was trained by the United States after all — he was educated at Columbia. He’s taken the millions of dollars we’ve given him and fled, all the while claiming to be a hero who left his country to avoid more bloodshed, rather than what he really is which is a coward. Meanwhile, his kids—who are Americans and who are living in million-dollar properties in Washington, D.C. and Brooklyn — are demanding this country to accept as many Afghan refugees as possible. His son, by the way, worked for Pete Buttigieg on the presidential campaign. That tells you everything. So to choose a president of Afghanistan our braindead ruling class chose someone just like them. Of course, they did.
Suddenly a lot of what we’ve seen over the past 20 years in Afghanistan, and in particular the past four months, makes a lot of sense. The “experts” in the State Department and the C.I.A. took trillions of dollars to install people in Afghanistan who are as clueless as they are. Remember that it was in June that U.S. intelligence was predicting that Ashraf Ghani’s government would remain intact for six months. As recently as this month, Mark Milley said he had no intelligence that the Taliban would take over Afghanistan quickly.
Gen. Mark Milley, August 18: There was nothing that I or anyone else saw that indicated a collapse of this army and this government in 11 days.
So they actually believed that because the incompetence around them kept repeating it as if it were true and they bought it. That’s one of the reasons the Pentagon abandoned Bagram Airfield — a far easier location to secure than a commercial airport in Kabul. They didn’t think they’d need it; they had confidence in Ashraf Ghani, the guy who was obsessing over Afghanistan’s new version of Paypal. That’s also why the Biden administration reportedly turned down the Taliban’s offer to cede all of Kabul to the U.S. military. They thought they had far more time than they did.
Jake Sullivan, Sunday: On the tactical decision of which is the right airport to have for an evacuation, of course, any responsible president would give significant weight to the advice of the commanders on the ground. And their advice was to close Bagram and focus on Kabul.
“Close Bagram and focus on Kabul.” We did that, and now a lot of people are dead and people are stuck there. And once again, to beat a dead horse, no one has apologized. If one of your kids did something wrong, you wouldn’t rest until that kid apologized. Contrition is an essential part of fixing a problem. It’s not just practically important, it’s spiritually important. Admit you were wrong, and they won’t because they don’t care what you think. So to this moment, the only person who has been punished for these terrible decisions—one Marine Corps officer who criticized those decisions.
This can’t go on. When leaders refuse to hold themselves accountable, over time people revolt. That happens. We need to change course immediately—and acknowledge our mistakes, the people in charge need to acknowledge their mistakes—or else the consequences will be awful.