Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Having It Both Ways

The New York Times led the paper over the weekend with a “news analysis” by Peter Baker that implied that Biden — in ending a war that had dragged on for nearly two decades, in a move supported by a strong majority of regular, non-journalist Americans — had trashed his long reputation for empathy and that the threat to the safety of U.S. allies also showed incompetence on a level rivaling Trump. The story was published on a weekend when the Pentagon evacuated a stunning 11,000 people in an operation in which not a single American has died.

CNN’s Brianna Keilar — anchor of its not-opinion morning show “New Day,” but also the wife of an active-duty Green Beret who writes frequently of being a military spouse — has also struggled to contain her anger at the Afghan withdrawal, writing an analysis and tweeting frequently about the “moral injury” of it all. Big-time journalists like Keilar or her CNN colleague Jake Tapper — whose reporting on U.S. troop valor in Afghanistan became a book and a movie, The Outpost — have a personal connection to these events that they don’t seem to feel for the world’s other tough stories like (for example) China’s ethnic cleansing of its Uighurs.

The problem is that the average American who’ll never go to Afghanistan is totally dependent on the news media to understand what is happening there. The chaos and “Biden fiasco” narratives seem hard to unlock, even as the accelerating success of the evacuation seems to have become the more up-to-date news. What’s more, the endless replays of desperate Afghans clinging to the wing of a U.S. jet, now several days old, seem to crowd out needed discussions of issues like how America spent more than $80 billion training an Afghan army that then refused to fight, or when the so-called experts who promoted this war think would have been a better time to end it, as the 20th anniversary loomed.

Bunch thus criticizes the media for generally a) ignoring other, even more serious, stories such as genocide in Xinjiang; b) ignoring other issues pertaining to Afghanistan, including the financial resources expended by the USA, the failure of the Afghan army to fight, and c) allowing the President's critics not to offer an alternative.

In the last several years, even after the Trump Administration negotiated a virtual surrender at Doha and President Biden announced the withdrawal of soldiers, there was nary a hint of criticism of the war from most of the mainstream media, CNN perhaps especially. Those outlets knew what the polls indicated, that a solid majority of Americans wanted out.

In the commentary ("analysis") to which Bunch links, Keillar writes

In Afghanistan, thousands of translators, cultural advisers and other Afghan support staff who worked and fought alongside American troops will be left to the mercy of the Taliban if the US doesn't get them out of the country.

For many Afghan war vets here in the US, it's a violation of a promise at the core of the military ethos: you don't leave a brother or sister in arms behind.

For veterans of the Afghanistan campaign

It's a war they couldn't win. But even when you lose a war, there are some very important things you can still keep, or at least hope to: your friends who got you through, your values, your word.

The botched exit in Afghanistan could cost veterans that too.

Sorry, no. There are tens of thousands of individuals who have been airlifted out of a country now completely controlled by a brutal, sadistic bunch of religious extremists, whose victory was a foregone conclusion once withdrawal of American troops took place. 

The "unscripted ending of the war" is a part of the war. Leaving was never going to be clean and easy, except in the imagination of Keillar and, judging by her implication, some veterans of the war. The airlifts and the continuing danger to the people left behind are a function of the war and the withdrawal. If they are dissatisfied with the Taliban's deadline, which will curtail the rescue mission, they should suggest a military alternative.

If Brianna Keilar- and the "so-called experts" to which Bunch refers believe that the USA should have remained in Afghanistan, they need to have the courage to tell us so. If instead they are satisfied that the USA pulled out, they need to summon the intellectual integrity to acknowledge the nearly unavoidable result of the policy, popular with Americans and little questioned by media, chosen by President Biden.


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