America's foreign policy establishment, aka the Blob, has led the United States to one overseas disaster after another in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Vietnam, to name just a few. But now those elites -- and even a portion of the mainstream media tightly coupled to them, like the New York Times and CNN -- are apoplectic over President Joe Biden's decision to finally pull the plug on the deadly, multi-generational, multi-trillion-dollar debacle otherwise known as the war in Afghanistan.
The country, whose military collapsed within weeks and government was a hotbed of corruption, can hardly be described as a functioning nation-state in the traditional sense, with its boundaries arbitrarily set in the 19th century during the British-Russian "Great Game" and beset by many rival tribes and warlords. One Army Ranger, deployed there in 2002, described Afghanistan as the "place where the world saw fit to stash all the tribes it could not handle elsewhere." Remember too, the Taliban received safe harbor and support from neighboring Pakistan, making it impossible to contain the group without expanding the war and it possible to outlast U.S. patience.
While the U.S. departure set by predecessor Donald Trump in a February 2020 agreement with the Taliban gave up much, including releasing 5,000 of its fighters from prison, with little in return, Biden is responsible for the deadly and disastrous evacuation. The two decades of failed policy, however, started with the decision in 2002 to expand the mission from one to just punish al-Qaida for the 9/11 terror attacks and the Taliban for harboring them, into a nation-building exercise, and continued under administrations of both parties.
The lies, by commission and omission, continued too, like the reassurances from the heavily credentialed and bemedaled that the Afghan military was capable and the fact that the U.S. footprint there and its costs were obfuscated. Of course, the biggest lies stemming from 9/11 were the reasons for invading Iraq, e.g. nonexistent weapons of mass destruction and links between Iraq and al-Qaida and the attacks. In Afghanistan, over 2,300 U.S. service members died, while some 3,900 U.S. contractors died working for logistics and security training corporations that made billions of dollars. In addition to the long-term financial cost of $3.4 trillion, according to Brown University, tens of thousands that served will bear mental and physical scars for the rest of their lives.
For Biden, the Aug. 26 Kabul airport bombing, which killed 13 U.S. military personnel and hundreds of civilians, and other chaotic scenes have weakened his public support. Potentially, that could hurt his domestic agenda, like the $3.5 trillion education, health and welfare plan and voting rights bill, and his Democratic Party's chances in mid-term elections next November. The party controlling the White House, historically, loses House seats, something that his party can ill afford now with its slim majority. A loss would equal legislative gridlock.
But the likely saving grace is that 70 percent of the U.S. public supports withdrawing from the "never-ending war" in Afghanistan. As memories tend to fade and the media, even the Blob-aligned, will move on to the next big thing, Biden and the Democrats' fortunes may be more closely tied to the economy, including whether inflation continues to spike, and getting the pandemic under control, as COVID-19 cases again jump nationwide.
What's clear: Americans want the government to focus on solving the nation's domestic problems, ranging from gaping income inequalities to crumbling infrastructure, and core foreign policy interests -- not nation-building, spreading democracy or tilting at windmills. Biden gets that. That's nothing new, as calling to stop endless wars and to put America first helped get Trump elected in 2016.
That doesn't mean that the United States will abandon its European and East Asian allies, industrial countries sharing common democratic values. But it does mean that the pressure likely will increase on countries like Japan, South Korea and Germany to shoulder more of their own security burden and, as necessary, in other parts of the world, especially with the rise of China.
More closely following the domestic wishes and needs of U.S. voters -- not those of the Blob -- will lead to a healthier focus. That might be the only good thing to come out of this deadly, decades-long nightmare.
(James Simms is a Forbes contributor, freelance reporter and television and radio commentator in Tokyo and is a former Wall Street Journal columnist and former Scripps Journalism Fellow at the University of Colorado.)