When I was deployed to Afghanistan in 2001 it was clear to me that the cultural gap between America and Afghanistan was as deep as the English channel.
So it’s no surprise to me that 20 years later the Taliban are more powerful than ever and the American and Allied house of cards has come tumbling down like a sandcastle washed away by the rising tide.
I’ve been writing about this for years now.
Who’s to blame?
Plenty of Blame to Go Around
Ultimately, the president is responsible but it’s easy to just blame him. This is especially true if you’re making an emotionally charged decision which is understandable given the current fiasco: 12 dead Marines and one Navy Corpsman, and our political duopoly that has us equally divided into two teams in America.
However, it’s not that simple.
U.S. military leadership at the top shares a large part, if not most of, the blame for decades of poor decision-making.
The highest-ranking military officer that advises the president and the secretary of defense on military affairs is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) Army General Mark Milley.
General Milley and the rest of the JCS staff are responsible for advising the president and his senior staff on Afghanistan, and I think it’s a fair assumption that their advice has been terrible given what’s unfolding in front of us right now.
President Biden at his press conference yesterday said, “There has been complete unanimity from every commander on the objectives of this mission and the best way to achieve those objectives.”
This is a stunning admission. There wasn’t a single commander who voiced a different opinion? Not one? The best military decisions tend to be those where dissenting views are sought out and considered carefully. If no one disagrees, something is often wrong with the way you picked people to advise you. Say what you will about President Trump, but he appeared to pick people who often disagreed with him. In public even. Where are all the open letters, resignations, and leaks to the press from national security and military professionals that decorated the pages of newspapers the last four years?
Did these same military leaders unanimously approve the decision to provide a complete list of American citizens Afghans who cooperated with the U.S. to the Taliban? You would think it would be impossible for a group of people to collectively do something this stupid and deadly dangerous, but it happened.
The most powerful military fighting force the world has ever seen is not capable of pulling out Americans and Afghan loyalists in a dignified and orderly manner?
Shame on the Joint Chiefs for the current debacle. And shame on you Mr. President for burying your head in your notebook in what was anything but an act of leadership. The leader of the free world can never look this weak, shaken, and dispairing in front of our enemies, let alone the entire planet.
Who Is General Mark Milley?
As his bio says,
“Before becoming the 20th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Mark A. Milley served as chief of staff of the Army. He has held multiple staff and command positions, including serving as the commanding general of the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command and deputy commanding general of U.S. Forces Afghanistan. A native of Massachusetts, Milley graduated from Princeton University in 1980, where he received his commission from Army ROTC. He has two master’s degrees: in international relations from Columbia University and in national security and strategic studies from the U.S. Naval War College.”
The Joint Chiefs of Staff consist of the chairman, the vice-chairman, the chief of staff of the Army, the chief of naval operations, the chief of staff of the Air Force, the commandant of the Marine Corps, the chief of the National Guard Bureau and the chief of Space Operations.
The other currently serving Joint Chiefs of Staff are: USAF General John E. Hyten, Chief of Staff of the Army James C. McConville, Commandant of the Marine Corps General H. Berger, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael M. Gilday, Chief of Staff of the Air Force Charles Q. Brown Jr., Chief of Space Operations General John W. Raymond, and Chief of the National Guard Bureau General Daniel R. Hokanson.
How Did We Get Here?
Over 20 years, two trillion dollars and thousands of American lives were sacrificed, and now 13 more names are added to a long list of U.S. warfighters lost to the Afghanistan meat grinder.
I find it hard to believe that President Biden is not doing what his military leadership, especially Chairman Milley, no stranger to Afghanistan, and the CIA Director (who apparently met with the Taliban in secret) are recommending to him.
In the video above General Milley says, “There is a possibility of a complete Taliban take over or a possibility of any number of other scenarios, breakdowns, warlordism, all kinds of other scenarios.”
Were the Joint Chiefs unable to pick the most likely scenario as the Taliban were advancing on Kabul at highway speeds or did they give that “scenario” equal weight to another possible “scenario” like an alien invasion from the Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy landing in Kabul? The Joint Chiefs are supposed to assess the most likely scenario and advise the president on that, not just dream up endless scenarios to consider.
The president isn’t up all night moving pieces around on the Afghanistan chessboard and planning a withdrawal on his own. He has to rely on the advice of his senior military leadership on the best course of action, something they clearly failed to do in this case.
The same military leadership that has mistakenly advocated to stay in Afghanistan is still making the same poor decisions (now proven deadly) as we are just about how to leave.
If the JCS were a public company the leadership would be fired, and the business would be bankrupt and investigated by the SEC like ENRON.
So let’s try and keep things in perspective as the Afghanistan fiasco continues and the end game is now etched in stone contrary to General Milley’s statements in the YouTube video above.
Thinking lucidly about the root cause of what got us here in the first place and who did it will help hold the right people accountable and ensure Americans make better decisions. Especially when choosing who we elect in the future and choose to promote up the military chain of command.
There is room to find fault with President Biden for taking horrible advice from the Joint Chiefs, but that, “Buck That Stops Here” also crossed the desks of the Joint Chiefs, who gave him that advice.