Old Fool or Gray Champion?

Afghanistan, obviously. I guess I should talk about that for a minute. It was a bad idea, right from the beginning. But Americans were in such a bloody mood after 9/11. Fuck it, we said, let’s go kill something. We did. Only 12% of Americans were against the invasion of Afghanistan in the beginning, even though the memory of our failure in Vietnam was still fresh in our minds and culture. We were mad, though, and dumb. Americans can be so bloody dumb.

But that’s one of the things that has helped us to build an empire, I suppose. Collective, single-minded stupidity. Groupthink. Boy, don’t piss the Americans off; they can be of one vengeful mind like no culture on Earth. Man, they’re still pissed off about those colonial taxes.

We were ready for vengeance in 2001. Myself included. I was still so pissed off in 2003 I wrote a big paper on invading Iraq in defiance of my Critical Thinking professor. He gave me an A. My math teacher, a professed anti-Bush liberal, gave me a lot of shit. I was in my 30s, so I was closer to my instructors than a lot of my classmates. I even tutored some writing and mathematics at the behest of my progressive mentors. But I had my own damn ideas. I was still recovering from my Limbaugh conditioning in the 90s.

Where was I?

Oh yes, it was a bad idea from the start, the invasion of Afghanistan. But once we engaged well, you know, it was hard to pull out. Remember Vietnam? Remember the pictures of our escape at the end?

By the time Bush had left office I had managed to break my conditioning. Think for myself. Become independent. By the time Barack Obama came on the scene I wasn’t into groupthink or vengeance anymore. I thought Bush was an idiot and that we’d never do worse than him. Then I started seeing Sarah Palin and her ridiculousness and realized someone like that would be the stupidest president ever. I was proven right when Trump got elected pulling the same overall schtick. What a disaster that term was. Well, you know.

But though Obama was a better president, and overall human, than the man who preceded him and the man who followed him, even he didn’t have the wherewithal (balls?) to stop the fool’s war. It was going to be a PR disaster, and all three presidents who oversaw the Afghan War before Biden knew it. Not on my watch, they seemed to say. They all talked about getting out of Afghanistan but who wanted that failure, that inevitable chaotic exit, marked on their record? Who wanted to be the one to lose the forever war?

Joe Biden. It turns out the answer was Joe Biden.

Maybe it’s because he’s older. Somehow we made that a campaign thing, a negative attack. He’s too old. He’ll never last. He’s going to go, or already is, senile. Maybe.

Or maybe he’s the Gray Champion Howe and Strauss spoke about: the venerable man who combines the qualities of the archetypal “leader” and “saint,” whose presence ushers in the next generational turning. Maybe Joe Biden isn’t scared of how he’ll be viewed; maybe Joe Biden just wants to do the right thing.

I don’t know. I do know the War in Afghanistan had to end so marks to the president for doing that. It sure looks to the impulsively skeptical eye, though, that the process of getting Americans and their allies out of Afghanistan has been botched. Though, at the time of this writing, there have been no American casualties amid the chaos and the process of evacuation is still ongoing. I guess we shouldn’t tally the score until the whistle blows.

There’s going to be a lot of recriminations in the weeks and months to come. We can say for sure, however, that Joe Biden did indeed have the balls to call a play when three other presidents punted. The war is over. The aftermath of war is ongoing, as it always is, but pretty soon wiki will change its WiA end date from “Present” to “2021” and it’ll all be academic then.

Two-thirds of all Americans, and a majority of each major party, believe today that the War in Afghanistan is not worth fighting. Well, it isn’t. It never was. Getting out, ending it, was and is priority one. There will be casualties when we leave, particularly to the Afghan people who helped the Americans during the war, but even more if we stay. We should do everything we can to help those people we leave behind. We better. But we can’t fight a war for them any longer. We shouldn’t have started it; we needed to end it.

I don’t think Joe Biden will go down in history as one of the greatest US presidents, on the list with Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR, JFK, or even Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama. Nor will he be listed by historians among the worst, like Andrew Johnson and Donald Trump. But it’s early and I could be wrong. Biden rolled out the vaccines. He got agreements from both sides of the legislature on a major recovery act and a long-needed infrastructure bill. He oversaw the end to America’s longest war. That’s his first 6 months.

Presidents, like quarterbacks, get too much credit for victory and too much blame for defeat. In a real sense, they are the figureheads for a time in history more than the sculptors of history themselves. Overseers, at best. How history judges Joe Biden later is up to history, not me. But ending the War in Afghanistan was the right thing to do, and (by proxy) he did it. He’ll have many challenges yet to come, we all will. But, who knows. We may just have our Gray Champion yet.

21 thoughts on “Old Fool or Gray Champion?

  1. I’m very conflicted about this situation. While I applaud Biden for having the guts to finally pull us out of the shit show that is Afghanistan, the way he did it is simply… wrong. And every time I hear the administration say, “we didn’t know it would fall apart so quickly” I find myself screaming bullsh*t at the television. Their president was corrupt and their army is a joke, even after we spent 20 years and billions of dollars training and arming them. And my husband is a veteran so don’t even get me started on the loss of American lives. Another shameful withdraw with the people who helped us left swinging in the wind. Will we ever learn?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No, we won’t. No national entity ever does. As long as we have these divisions we’ll always have this conflict. As for the withdrawal, I truly think the administration and military were surprised by the SPEED of the Taliban takeover. It was going to happen, that was clear and inevitable, but no one anticipated the complete acquiescence of the Afghan forces. We might, in retrospect, talk about how we should have expected it, but we didn’t. I think I’ll say this over and over: there is no right way to lose a war. That’s why all the other presidents punted. Someone is gonna have this stain on their record. Everybody but Joe said “Not me.”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Agreed, but come on. The writing was on the wall as far as our withdrawal. If we wanted out, fine. But we should have gotten all our people out first. And oh yeah, maybe our Blackhawks, tanks drones and armaments too. We can’t be this inept.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Apparently there was a memo from the diplomatic corps warning of a speedy collapse and takeover, but the administration decided that an expedited withdrawal of civilians (and machinery) might undermine the confidence of the Afghan government and their troops and speed up their collapse. Oops. I suppose, in retrospect, if they’d known how quickly the Afghan army and government would fold they’d have handled the pregame differently. I guess there are better ways to lose a war, after all.


  2. And maybe Joe Biden thought, Fuck it, let’s pull out and leave Afghans to the Taliban. It’s now or never and now seems the right time. I mean, it’s not like they took over New York City. It’s only Kabul.
    Maybe Joe Biden dosn’t have the balls to start with. Maybe it’s same ole, same ole.
    (Sorry if I sound pissed. It’s because I am.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your assessment is every bit as plausible as mine, maybe more. At some point, now or later, someone had to pull up stakes and get out of Bush’s war, get out of the 9/11 “patriot” backlash. That person was going to have an absolute fucking mess on their hands and will be called out for it for weeks, months, and maybe even years. Maybe Joe is the perfect foil. Maybe he didn’t really give a shit. I don’t think so but I don’t know. The truth is there are no “good” leaders, only “favored” ones. As long as we have this form of citizen servility and leadership idolatry we will have this form of societal failure.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. We were in a war with no clear objective, no winning strategy, and no will to win anyway. Surprise, we lost and went home. We blew a trillion or so dollars, didn’t accomplish anything in the process except making the defense contractors wealthier.

    Is it Biden’s fault? Yes, and Bush, and Obama, and Trump, and every member of the House and Senate and those who elected them. So, that about covers it as far as I’m concerned.

    If only we had had some previous example to use as a guide to keep us out of shit like this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If only.

      Jason, you nailed it. It is the fault of the American people and every leader of America that was in charge before, during, and right until now. Look, there is no good way to lose a war. This was going to be as ugly as it gets whenever we pulled out. And we’ve spent two decades in Afghanistan making the next generation of terrorists very unhappy. So, expect what’s next. Us vs Them. It never ends.

      Can it?


  4. Trump set the stage for withdrawal to occur in 2021, and Biden – always in favor of leaving – inherited the obligation and completed the task. Messy? Hell yes. Could it have been otherwise? I doubt it. I’m puzzled at the outrage over this retreat, yet so little outrage over Trump’s withdrawal of troops from Syria, leaving our allies the Kurds to be slaughtered by the Turks. Or the hellish conditions in so many other places around the globe, situations going on for years/decades. Are we responsible for fixing those?

    Biden faced a no-win situation. I applaud him for making a decision, even if he/the State Department underestimated how quickly the Afghan government would fall. I always felt the Afghan military would run as soon as they had to defend on their own, so either we had to commit to being there forever, or leave.

    I agree with your premise, Tom. We should never have started in Afghanistan, and Iraq, and it’s long past time we departed. Sadly, I can’t envision any scenario where terrible consequences wouldn’t result from our withdrawal, but waiting would only prolong the inevitable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “we had to commit to being there forever, or leave.”

      Absolutely on point. Somebody along the line had to pull the plug. I honestly believe Joe Biden will get vilified for a bit for being the guy who did it but will be judged differently from a historical perspective. We’ll see.

      Damn! Syria fell completely under my radar on this. Wish I would have thought about/included that! Look, I said it above, but there is no good way to lose a war. At some point you have to tuck your tail and run.

      Blame it on who you want, all ye pundits, but the truth is this is and was an American failure. Through four administrations, two by each party, we failed. Learn from it, dammit, and don’t Vietnam again.



  5. Jovial Joe still has 3+ years to do other good things (or bad). This? It’s a scar that may never heal, but there’ll be other injuries to worry about.

    The TallyPo would and could never be beat, not on their own territory. “Fighting” them was always a bad idea. It’s like this: how would you “beat” the radical/religious-right in the US? Pounding logic and science into their brains. Never work. Infiltrating their ranks with equally insidious truth, sewing doubt about their back-asswards beliefs and ideals? Probably a better tactic.

    The most underutilized resource that was wasted in Afghanistan? Women soldiers. Women counter-insurgents. Women in general. This is your country, your education, your future. You fight or you lose.

    Give every mother in that country a single shot, custom made, concealable pistol and teach them how and when to use them. The TallyPo come for your girls and your rights? You know what to do.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Looks like some folks had the right idea: https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2021/08/the-talibans-return-is-awful-for-women-in-afghanistan/619765/
      Just not carried out as it should have been.
      But, maybe 20 years of living like a human being rather than property may trigger Afghani women to revolt and kill off those pathetic, fucknut TallyPo.
      “Yeah, I’ll marry one of your jihadist soldierboys. And then cut his dick and his head off.”

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I recall pictures of Afghan women with guns, standing a post, at the beginning of this surge. I imagine they had more reasons than the men around them to fight. I also imagine that, as the Afghan men laid down their arms and accepted the bloodless coup sweeping the country these women were the last to lay down arms. But, in the end, they had to. They could not fight the Taliban, and now their own comrades changing sides, alone.

      I wish we could have stayed. In a perfect world we have soldiers as heroes protecting the honor of women (of people) everywhere, for all time. And it works because such things work in perfect worlds (and comic book stories). In reality, however, it never works. The United States of America has only ever built one nation successfully and that was the United States of America (outcome pending). A nation much change from within. There are no Avengers to Assemble. Life goes on.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. There was no good outcome for Afghanistan even from the moment we went in. Well, let me rephrase that. I’m pretty sure there was no good outcome for Afghanistan because of the way we went in. At the start of the war I read a lot of articles about “a Marshall plan for Afghanistan”. There was even some focus on that, but it was never the main goal, and we lost sight of what was supposedly the goal–getting bin Laden–less than six months after the war started. Had we had been more focused on humanitarian goals, had we kept that focus, it might have created more goodwill. Even that might have failed, though. As many have pointed out all the Taliban needed to retake control was a willingness on the part of most Afghans.
    Also I wish I could find it again but at the war’s start I read an interesting article by a guy who’d been traveling the Khyber Pass in the ’70’s, although historically it’s always been a dangerous place, and he met up with some fierce local characters who stopped him and demanded…books. Specifically English books. They had copies of Charles Lamb’s Tales From Shakespeare and said, “We want more like this!”
    My great-great grandmother who lived in a remote town and never had any formal education in the Appalachians had that same book and, according to my grandmother, could tell you the complete plot of every Shakespeare play.
    I don’t know what conclusions to draw from the fact that people in remote areas on opposite sides of the globe could be connected by a love of literature, but perhaps it’s something.
    I also think about the Afghan writer Qais Akbar Omar who told a story* from his childhood about how he and a friend decided to “makeover” their local Taliban leader. They eventually developed enough trust that they showed him their TV and their videotape of Rambo III. The guy had never seen a television and was baffled by people in a “tiny box”, and had trouble grasping that Rambo was a fictional character. He ended up returning to his home village. Unfortunately he was replaced by someone worse.
    I’m not naive enough to think that humanitarian aid and sharing culture would make everything better. Omar’s story, like the Afghan war itself, didn’t have a clear ending, or even a happy conclusion, but I can’t get over the feeling that a seed of something better was planted.
    *Snap Judgment podcast episode #632, “The Fall Guy”, segment “Extremist Makeover”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think your assessment is accurate, but deeper than that your anecdote about the Khyber Pass plays directly into my true outlook on the world: everything is getting better, and education is the reason why. Not formal education (call it “information” if you like) but the sharing of each other and the world’s stories and histories on a scale unprecedented in human history. The story of human history is the story of the spread of information which, slowly, changed the world. The founding fathers of America were using the shared information of tomes and attempts at democracy worldwide to start their own, which changed the world despite its well-documented flaws. And now, today, information sharing and the acquisition of knowledge is faster than ever.

      Give Shakespeare to the Taliban. That could be a book title. Moreover, though, it could be a cure. Some will use information for good, some for evil, some for sport or respite, but the more it gets shared the more the next generation gets better than the last. Today’s generations are, overall, in a better position than any before (despite what the last generation always thinks of them) and, barring an apocalypse, that will be truer still until the end of time (which could happen quicker than we think if climate change, nuclear bombs, or robots have their way). 😉

      Thanks for the great response, Chris! Sorry I missed it til now.

      Liked by 1 person

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