Afghanistan was a failure of our elites

Robert Gates, who served in key national security positions for both Republican and Democrat administrations, wrote that Joe Biden has "been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades."

Yet America's foreign policy establishment and our elite opinion-writers, at a time when the United States faced a rising and increasingly aggressive China, a resurgent Russia, and other serious foreign policy challenges, saw fit to support Biden for president. 

The Biden administration's incompetent and amateurish handling of our pullout from Afghanistan is being condemned by the likes of Bill Kristol, Rep. Liz Cheney, Sen. Mitt Romney, author George Packer, former president George W. Bush (who got us into this mess in the first place), CNN, NBC, ABC, the Washington Post, the New York Times, National Review, The Atlantic, and others who told us that a President Biden would end the "nightmare" of the Trump presidency.  You reap what you sow.

America's elites have failed us again, just as they did in Southeast Asia nearly fifty years ago.  Then, the very men who authored the Vietnam quagmire — Robert McNamara, Robert Kennedy, McGeorge Bundy, and other members of "the best and the brightest" — turned against the war and with their media accomplices sought to portray it as "Nixon's war."  Then, when Nixon negotiated a fragile peace and gradually withdrew U.S. forces, the Democrats in Congress financially abandoned our South Vietnamese allies, leaving them to their terrible fate at the hands of the communists in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.

Some media stories have noted the eerie parallels of our ignominious withdrawals from Saigon and Kabul.  But the more fundamental parallel is the failure of our elites and our ruling class in both instances.  Yet the elites rarely suffer from their errors — McNamara went on to lead the World Bank and was treated as an elder statesman; Robert Kennedy was accepted as a legitimate voice of the anti-war movement and continues to be lionized by historians; the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff continued to proudly wear their medals and ribbons.  And the many journalists and opinion-makers who championed our involvement in Vietnam only to later turn against the war continued to get prizes and get viewed as oracles of wisdom and "truth."  Meanwhile, some 58,220 American boys died to defend an ally that our elites saw fit to abandon.

Afghanistan has been called the "graveyard of empires."  The British Empire fought three wars there between 1839 and 1919, wasting men and resources in an effort to hold on to its waning imperial rule in Southwest Asia.  The Soviet Union fought there between 1979 and 1989, suffering more than 14,000 dead in its futile effort to prop up its communist ally.  And now, after 20 years of attempting to build a stable, democratic nation out of a land of tribes, the United States is leaving Afghanistan to the tender mercies of the Taliban.

The most recent failure of our elites in Afghanistan brings to mind the wisdom of William F. Buckley, Jr.'s remark that he would rather be governed by the first 200 names in the Boston phone book than by the faculty of Harvard.  

Image: U.S. National Archives, public domain, via Picryl.

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