John F. Kennedy said, “Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.”
In the long view, military historians will study the United States’ 20 year commitment in Afghanistan and analyze whether it was a success or a failure. The fog of war is still dense, so that determination is still elusive.
However, in the short term we have this—violent, chaotic and heart-wrenching images from Kabul. American soldiers and would-be Afghan refugees dead and bloodied from terrorist attacks.
There is the video of a crying baby being handed over barbed wire to a U.S. Soldier, desperate Afghans running alongside a U.S. Military plane on the tarmac of the Kabul airport, the 17-year-old soccer player who stowed away on a military plane only to fall to his death.
The abandonment of the Bagram Airfield–the timing of which was kept secret for security reasons–but the overnight departure still surprised Afghan officials. The base quickly game under Taliban control and Taliban prisoners being held there were set free.
Reports of young Afghan girls, who were growing up thinking they could have some control over their destiny, being forced into marriages with Taliban fighters.
The Afghan army, which the U.S. has been training and equipping for two decades, collapses within days as the Taliban rearms itself with abandoned military assets. The United States attempts to coordinate with the Taliban, the very entity our country his been fighting for two decades, for safety and security during evacuations.
The priority is getting Americans out, followed by Afghans who assisted our country. However, the August 31 deadline means thousands of individuals who sided with the U.S. now find their lives, as well as the lives of their families, at risk.
The United States is a nation of unparalleled power and capabilities. Our dynamism is such that we believe all things are possible. That kind of optimism often serves us well. However, it also inspires hubristic enterprises.
The U.S. went into Afghanistan in 2001 to find and destroy the terrorists responsible for 9/11. That was an essential mission, and perhaps if we had captured or killed Osama bin Laden more quickly, we would not be where we are today.
But who knows? Again, that is for the long view people to ponder.
For now, we have desperate crowds, rushed evacuations, bloodshed and a ticking clock that communicates the message that we are getting the hell out of Afghanistan.
This is what defeat looks like.