Everything is going wrong.
Who would have thought that withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan would prove to be more bloody than maintaining the difficult status quo there?
Yet all one needs do to confirm that skewed perspective is to examine the casualty lists since President Joe Biden recently ordered what has proved to be a poorly planned withdrawal.
Thirteen American soldiers were killed and another 15 were wounded on Thursday in suicide bombing attacks at a Kabul airport. News reports indicated that at least 90 Afghanis were killed and dozens more were wounded. The U.S. death total exceeds that of 2020.
U.S. officials claim that ISIS is responsible for the suicide attacks, and they suggest there could be more. Blame for the lapse in security was placed on the Taliban, who supposedly are providing security. For their part, the Taliban reject any responsibility for the bombing, placing all the blame on the U.S.
That back-and-forth reflects the degree to which tragedy has merged with farce in this country’s effort to withdraw from Afghanistan.
The U.S. is relying on the Taliban to provide security for U.S. evacuees? How did circumstances ever devolve into such bloody folly?
That’s just one reason why former British Prime Minister Tony Blair characterized the U.S. withdrawal plan as “imbecilic.” It’s hard to imagine how any major country — let alone a world superpower — could have so misunderstood the facts on the ground and generated this fiasco.
Start with confusion over the battlefield dynamics.
Leading U.S. officials, including the president, dismissed any suggestion that Afghani forces, stripped of military support including vital air power, would be unable to hold off the Taliban. Unfortunately, the Taliban rapidly took over the country.
Follow that miscalculation with the reality that the U.S. apparently had no realistic plan for removing both American and friendly Afghans, a reality that has produced chaotic emergency efforts to get them out.
Thousands have been removed, but thousands more remain.
This is, to be sure, a difficult and deadly business. That’s why it must be addressed in the kind of organization and planning that is obviously lacking.
The question now is how much worse circumstances will get.
The military evacuation certainly could go further south. But it’s hard to imagine that whatever transpires could make the U.S. look even worse in the world community. That damage already has been done, and it is incalculable.
While our international foes — China most of all — exult over this disaster, our allies are looking on with shock and horror.
But both are wondering what this portends for the U.S. role in the world.
Is the U.S. so weakened and irresolute that China will seriously consider moving on its long-standing desire to force Taiwan under its ruthless control?
If so, what will our allies do now that they know U.S. promises of support can be withdrawn as easily as they are proffered?
Questions, questions, questions. There are so many. But there are no obvious answers. The vacuum is filled with the kind of uncertainty that creates a more dangerous world.
In the meantime, the agony of Afghanistan — a circumstance that could have been avoided — will continue on its uncertain and miserable path.