Furious Over Afghanistan? Blame Republicans, Too | Opinion

Bodies littered the Kabul airport on Thursday as bloodied and battered survivors of a suicide bomber were carted off in wheelbarrows. When the dust generated by the blast settled, more than 100 people had perished, including at least 13 American service members: 10 Marines, two soldiers, and one sailor.

For many Americans, fury has replaced grief in the wake of tragedy. After two decades of wandering in the Graveyard of Empires, they have nothing to show for it but a mountain of skulls and a river of blood. Two trillion dollars burned in the furnace of the war machine, thousands of Americans killed before Thursday; and now, more sons, brothers, fathers, and husbands will never return home.

Americans want someone to fault, and, understandably, they're pointing the finger at President Joe Biden, whoas commander-in-chief does deserve the brunt of the immediate blame. But the truth is that Biden's deadly mistakes are a symptom of a thoroughly rotten established political order, one to which Democrats and Republicans alike, along with conservative and liberal media, are beholden.

Recall that by November 2001, the Taliban had been beaten into submission and were suing for peace, making virtually no demands. But Washington was not interested; its hubris would not even allow it to entertain the idea of yielding.

"The United States is not inclined to negotiate surrenders," Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said at the time.

President George W. Bush went from campaigning against the fool's errand of nation-building to boasting in his memoir that "Afghanistan was the ultimate nation-building mission." Only a year before the war began, Bush warned that "if we don't stop extending our troops all around the world in nation-building missions, then we're going to have a serious problem coming down the road." And yet, just two years after the first shots were fired in Afghanistan, Republicans would launch a second nation-building war in Iraq.

During former President Barack Obama's first days in office, tens of thousands more Americans shipped off to Afghanistan. By 2012, one year after Osama Bin Laden—the original target of the war—had been killed, insider attacks by our Afghan "allies" made up 20 percent of casualties among the International Security Assistance Forces.

Though he promised a complete exit, Obama determined that American troops would nevertheless remain in the country, albeit in fewer numbers, by the end of his presidency. Republicans squealed even at that. "This troop reduction, while it will seem small to many, will have a negative impact on the security situation in Afghanistan," complained South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who continues to pound the war drum now.

Marine Officer criticizes American withdrawal from Afghanistan
U.S. Marine officer Stuart Sheller spoke about the mistakes in the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and urged his senior military leaders to take accountability for what went wrong. Above, a Marine with the 24th Marine Expeditionary unit (MEU) passes out water to evacuees during the evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport during the evacuation on August 21. Photo by Isaiah Campbell/U.S. Marine Corps via Getty Images

To Obama's credit, he resisted a push toward outsourcing troop level authority to the Pentagon, something Republicans had demanded. "It has been my long-standing position that input from our commanders about the conditions on the ground should dictate troop decisions, and not an arbitrary number from Washington," then-House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement, as if the Pentagon were not part of the same Washington machine.

The appeal and hope of Donald Trump was that he would do what Bush and Obama did not: bring Americans home from Afghanistan. But the opposite happened: As president, the anti-establishment candidate delivered a long-sought victory to the establishment.

"Conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, will guide our strategy from now on," Trump said in 2017, consummating Boehner's vision.

The media, which has always been the trumpet of war, could hardly contain its glee. The creatures who tried and failed to wrench power out of the hands of Obama were now part of Trump's national security team and had "achieved a sizable turnaround—by persuading the 'America First' commander in chief to send thousands more troops back into Afghanistan, with no set timetable for them to leave," Politico guffawed.

Meanwhile, Afghan civilian airstrike casualties under Trump soared 330 percent between 2016 and 2019. In 2019 alone, airstrikes slaughtered 700 civilians, more than any other year since the early days of the war in 2002 under Bush. Observers confused by the Afghan people's reluctance to fight and die for the U.S.-backed kleptocracy needn't look further than mass graves filled with the corpses of Afghan children.

Among the vaunted generals who beguiled Trump was Defense Secretary James Mattis and national security adviser H.R. McMaster. After the 2020 election, Mattis published an article in Foreign Affairs warning against leaving Afghanistan, demanding "America First" be eradicated as a principle of national defense policy. McMaster, a CNN darling, is now lying to the public, telling them the Taliban were co-conspirators in the attack on the airport, no doubt to gin up support for fully reentering the desert. Though there is no meaningful difference between Mattis, McMaster, and Gen. Mark Milley, who views the white servicemen under his command with racial suspicion, Republicans have been happy to play along with the very same "woke" generals they recently denounced. Indeed, the GOP has abandoned any pretense of its departure from the legacy of neoconservatism.

In an instant, the GOP's old war hawks—Karl Rove, John Bolton, and Rep. Liz Cheney—have been joined by the new hawks—Rep. Dan Crenshaw and Rep. Madison Cawthorn—in an effort to channel public anger into more pointless wars and policies that needlessly place Americans in harm's way. With few exceptions, the supposedly populist Trump movement is now unified with them. America First is dead and buried.

Republicans have taken the incoherent position of attacking Biden's attempt to withdraw from Afghanistan while demanding and trusting his administration to competently vet and resettle up to 250,000 Afghans in the United States. GOP House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy flatly admitted on August 25 that, were he president, there would be no withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

There is, in reality, no daylight between the GOP, CNN, and Democratic Party spooks like Leon Panetta, who served as Secretary of Defense and Director of the CIA under Obama. "I understand that we're trying to get our troops out of there, but the bottom line is, we can leave a battlefield, but we can't leave the war on terrorism, which still is a threat to our security," Panetta told CNN. "We're probably going to have to go back in when al Qaeda resurrects itself, as they will, with this Taliban," the former Obama appointee concluded. And Republicans agree.

Americans should be angry, but they should not let their anger be cheapened by hawks and hacks and coopted by the military-industrial-academic complex, whose zeal for nation-building stretches from Afghanistan to Appalachia. They should not give an inch to the criminally negligent, corrupt, and delusional generals, journalists, and intelligence assets singing the siren song of war.

Not one more American should die for an establishment that is glad to ship off men and women for pointless conflicts and doesn't care that 18 veterans commit suicide every single day. Indeed, if they survive the United States' imperial projects and dodge a self-inflicted gunshot, there is a good chance their own government will regard them as Gen. Milley's harbingers of "white rage," as Taliban in their own land. Perhaps they'll live long enough to see the pro-war press liken them to Nazis, as VICE News did Marines on the same day a squad of them were wiped out, even as it demands they charge unceasingly into the graveyard.

Americans should be furious at the establishment that led us into war, kept us there with lies, and is now trying to shame us into staying with moral blackmail. And that includes Republicans.

Pedro L. Gonzalez is the associate editor at Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture.

The views in this article are the writer's own.