The following is an opinion column that originally appeared in the print edition of The Pine Belt News on September 9, 2021.
America, land that I love, has been disgraced and humiliated before the world by a gang of radical Middle East Islamic zealots, professing allegiance to Sharia Law, a religion that sanctions the denial to women the basic rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, to include education and freedom from fear.
America’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan represents planning and operational failure at the highest levels of civilian and military leadership. It’s enough to make every soldier and patriot weep for America. How did it come to this?
It all started with President Joe Biden’s announcement that all U.S troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by end of August 2021. In war, the most certain way to lose is to tell your opponent when you are going to leave and quit the fight. Better to tell him you will leave when your victory is achieved and he is vanquished.
Watching Afghans scramble frantically to get a place on an aircraft departing Afghanistan brings back memories of Vietnam, 1975, as Americans abandoned South Vietnam, leaving America’s South Vietnam ally to face the North Vietnam armies about to overrun Saigon. Now, with the Afghanistan debacle, “it seems like déjà vu all over again”, in the words of Yogi Berra, a famous 20th Century American baseball player and philosopher known for his wisdom and wit.
The short-term impact of America’s failure in Afghanistan may very well be the return of Al Qaeda along with all of the bad things that band of criminals brings to the neighborhood. Dealing with the long-term impacts will be more difficult. America may not soon be welcomed back as an ally among the community of nations seeking assistance. The inclusion of Vietnam and Afghanistan in America’s résumé may create too much uncertainty among our historic friends and allies regarding America’s trustworthiness and reliability when the “stuff hits the fan.”
The U.S. spends billions annually to fund defense. The question on the minds of many persons, all over the world, military and civilian, is this: regarding Afghanistan and recent events there, how could this happen? Where was America’s billion-dollar, high-tech military establishment that the world had been told by America was the most powerful military force ever? Where were the generals and high-level civilian defense officials, trained in the planning and execution of military operations, as the attempt was made to withdraw military and civilian assets from Afghanistan, only to have our plan go “belly up?”
The simplest, and yet the most important lesson from Afghanistan may be: don’t trust America with your national security. South Korea, Taiwan, Ukraine, Eastern Europe, all should exercise caution in accepting America’s future promises of support in their time of need.
It didn’t have to happen this way. The United States Army possesses, among its vast inventory of warfighting skills, the ability to plan and execute operations at all levels of unit activity, including brigade, division, corps, and field army operations. It appeared that President Biden's hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan lacked the thoughtful planning for a Withdrawal Under Pressure, one of the most complex and difficult combat operations to plan and execute. “Shooting from the hip” or “winging it” when conducting operations against an armed opponent doesn’t work well. Biden would have been well advised to charge one of the Army corps headquarters with the mission to plan and execute America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.
There is one more lesson to be drawn from the experience of withdrawing from Afghanistan. It is a not-too pleasant lesson, but one that must be admitted and dealt with because we are likely to face it again, maybe frequently during the coming four years. America is sorely lacking in effective leadership at the presidential level and among the president’s closest advisors. There is a leadership vacuum in the Oval Office. Joe Biden has neither the leadership instincts nor skills that will be required by America’s president when dealing with the crises likely to face America in the coming years. This condition could hurt America down the line in several critical areas of potential international and domestic involvements (e.g., China and Taiwan, Iran, Korea, drugs, crime and violence at home, the ugly specter of internal insurrection of the Jan 6, 2021 type).
The bottom line to the Afghanistan withdrawal is this: it represents the most tragic and shameful event in the history of U.S. participation in the support of foreign nations. After 20 years in Afghanistan, we departed that nation in disgrace, with “our tail between our legs.”
Now the blame starts. It’s fair, and accurate, to say there is plenty of blame to go around and plenty of people to share the blame. In the final analysis, however, it must be concluded that President Biden’s announcement that all Americans would be withdrawn from Afghanistan in 30 days started the scramble for the exits and it all went “south” from there.
Anyone familiar with the history of America’s military knows we can do better than our withdrawal performances in Vietnam and Afghanistan would indicate. In both cases, it was America’s political leadership that pulled the rug out and then passed the mess to the military. That’s what comes from placing the military in the hands of civilians with little or no experience in military operations and warfighting, and whose knowledge and experience with the military was acquired from watching war movies.
The United States faces a long and hard road ahead in struggling to regain the trust and respect of the international community following our ignominious retreat from Afghanistan. While Joe Biden remains president, America may have difficulty finding anyone willing to trust the U.S. Biden is not the solution to America’s leadership problem at the top.
America, we need to be scouring the country, searching for presidential leadership. There are a number of potential candidates for president in America with proven political records. Senator Joe Manchin, Senator Tim Scott, and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley come to mind. Each of these appears able to provide the quality of leadership America will require in the years ahead while competing with China and Russia for world leadership, a position held by America for 80 years before being humiliated and chased from Afghanistan in 2021.
Felsher, a longtime Hattiesburg resident, is a retired Army colonel. He can be reached at email@example.com