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Guest Opinion: A failure in leadership

By Craig Jones

Like most Americans, I am sickened by the images coming out of Afghanistan. I can only hope and pray that all Americans return home safely. I spent 22 years in the U.S. Army and this defeat sickens me. Twenty years of blood that our military shed has been for naught. Al-Qaeda will reemerge, but this time they will be very well-equipped with uniforms, weapons, vehicles and aircraft that our military left behind. I saw a Taliban fighter wearing the coveted maroon beret of the 82nd Airborne. The image made me physically ill.

Obviously, there should be an independent inquiry, devoid of politics, to discover what went wrong in Afghanistan. Was the mission flawed? It went from a punitive mission to “nation building” after the Taliban and al-Qaeda were defeated militarily or was “nation building” the plan all along? Was trying to turn Afghanistan into a western-style democracy and one respecting women and individual rights a fool’s errand? What was the exit strategy going in? Was there one? Could a small U.S. military presence been enough to keep the Taliban in check for another 20 years, allowing for freedoms not experienced before by the Afghan people or was the mission doomed to failure as President Biden now claims? Can “nation building” ever work? If yes, what are the conditions on the ground and the time and resources required to make it work? If no, then let’s delete it from our doctrine. These are just a few of the questions that must be answered.

I understand that The House of Representatives will write a report; there will be arguments between the Democrats and Republicans on the committee and the result will be a written document with a mealy-mouth conclusion and no one being held accountable. The American people have a right to know what lead to this failure, and the State Department and military must answer the question when, if ever, is nation building a viable strategy. But all this is for down the road. The immediate concern is to get our people safely out of Afghanistan. Unfortunately, President Joe Biden is not up to the job. His leadership in planning and executing the withdrawal from Afghanistan has been, by any set of metrics, a complete disaster.

President Biden said that the war was not winnable. He could be right, but his statement begs the question, “Mr. President what realities on the ground made you reach that conclusion and when did you reach that conclusion?” After all, Biden was the vice president for eight years with access to the best minds in the intelligence community. Did he reach that conclusion then? If so, why didn’t he tell us that the war was unwinnable? Why did he stand by with this knowledge and allow for money to be wasted and lives to be lost for political and military objectives that he knew could not be achieved?

History has shown that most all military withdrawals are messy and chaotic, especially if a stronger army is breathing down your neck, but this debacle was self-induced. This was a self-inflicted wound. A safe withdrawal could have been conducted. Biden told George Stephanopoulos that his careful planning took into account the chaos that would occur. He said he planned for it. Can anyone seriously believe this nonsense? The military plans for contingencies. What was the contingency plan to control the chaos caused by the Taliban’s seizure of Kabul? There wasn’t one or we would see it in action. This chaos was unforeseen and, thus, there was no plan.

One doesn’t need to be a student of the military strategist Clausewitz to know that the U.S. had the time and space to get Americans and loyal Afghan civilians out and then the military could have conducted an orderly withdrawal spaced out over time. Biden controlled the timeline, not the Taliban. Some are arguing that Biden should push back the timeline to give the military the needed time. Seems reasonable, but would pushing back the arbitrary timeline that Biden has flouted cause the Taliban to start killing Americans? This nation is facing a catastrophe of Biden’s own making.

There is no getting around it. President Biden has shown himself to be incompetent and after his speeches to the American people on his thinking, he now has zero credibility. The irony is he ran on being a wise, experienced expert on foreign affairs and, above all, a straight shooter. He was to be the needed adult. His mantra to the Europeans was that under his realistic and tough leadership, America was back. They would now respect the U.S. once again. All just noise coming from the lips of a man far past his prime and one incapable of recognizing reality and lacking the candor and capability to articulate this reality to the American people. His speeches and press conferences, if they can be called that, show he has an inaccurate version of reality – a reality as he wishes it were, not as it is. Two of his statements are indicators of his failure to recognize reality. He proclaimed that there is no al-Qaeda presence in Afghanistan and that those Americans trapped behind enemy lines are being given safe passage by the Taliban. We know these two statements are not reality. Was Biden duped by his advisors by being given false information? Not likely, since his advisors quickly countered what their boss said. Thus, the only rational conclusion is Biden is incapable of recognizing the facts, or he is incapable of remembering the facts he is provided moments before going on stage, or that he ignores the facts and simply responds with answers that, if true, would be reassuring to his audience. Neither of these is very reassuring.

The Taliban now has control over American lives. This situation was avoidable. Unlike the United Kingdom, our country does not have a tradition of members of the political class resigning over failures. However, Richard Nixon resigned. Thus, resigning is not unprecedented. What is a more egregious failure in presidential leadership – Watergate or the “Afghanistan Withdrawal”?

Craig Jones is a retired Army officer living in Nags Head.

Editor’s Note: This opinion piece was written prior to Thursday’s attacks in Kabul, Afghanistan.

FOR MORE COLUMNS AND LETTERS TO THE EDITOR, CHECK OUT OUR OPINION SECTION HERE.

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