Afghanistan, Covid, and Political Prices

I like Josh Marshall’s take on Afghanistan news coverage.

If nothing else for media watchers there’s a fascinating dynamic developing over the last day or so in trying to define the US exit from Afghanistan. It’s not a new dynamic. In fact, it’s one I first saw a quarter century ago when DC’s establishment press got really, really upset that not only Bill Clinton but more importantly most of the country didn’t agree with their take on impeachment in 1998. Official DC was baffled when Democrats actually managed to pick up a few seats in the 1998 midterm that was entirely about impeachment. The specifics of the case are of course pretty radically different. But the dynamic of establishment DC press escalation is not. Politico’s morning newsletter this morning captures the dynamic. It starts quoting David Axelrod making clear that Biden messed up and has to admit he messed up but then notes that Biden didn’t get the message and said he had made the right decision. A sort of primal scream of “WTF, JOE BIDEN?!?!?!!?!” virtually bleeds through the copy.

I’m still where I was last week. Withdrawing from Afghanistan could have been done better, and it should have been done a long time ago by any of the past three presidents before Biden. But better now than later. And it was never going to be pretty.

As I’ve made clear repeatedly, it’s not like this is a big win for Biden, at least in the near term. American public opinion is never going to like seeing the people we spent twenty years and a trillion dollars fighting getting comfy in the presidential palace after the US-backed President hopped the first plane out of Kabul. That stings no matter what the backstory. But there’s also little question that the very strong consensus among establishment DC press opinion-makers is not in line with the mood or opinion of most of the country.

The MAGA crowd is no doubt delighted to see Biden perceived as failing at something, never mind that the MAGA-god himself left his own mess in Afghanistan. See, for example, Republicans delete webpage celebrating Trump’s deal with Taliban and Trump’s deal with the Taliban set the stage for the Afghan collapse.

However, I think the rest of the nation will shove Afghanistan aside relatively quickly once the nation’s schools open for fall for children and the Delta variant. We’re in for a rough winter. By politicizing masks and vaccines with their usual over-the-top screeching rhetoric, Republicans are gambling with the lives of children, and others. I don’t see them winning. If parents find themselves stuck back with virtual school, or worse — their children on ventilators — Afghanistan will not be a big concern.

I’m seeing a lot of commentary saying that Kabul 2021 is not Saigon 1975, and of course it isn’t, even though there are a damn lot of parallels. But one comment I keep reading is that poor Gerald Ford paid a terrible political price for Saigon. That’s not what I remember, and I remember the 1976 presidential election pretty darn well. Washington may still have been roiling over Saigon in 1976, but I don’t recall people beyond the Beltway being too wrapped up in it. Everyone wanted to forget about Vietnam. Frankly, had the Democrats not nominated a white southern evangelical, I bet Ford would have won another term. Carter won by only 2 percentage points over Ford, and he swept the Deep South (except for Virginia) as no Democrat has done since.

Many of the Kabul-is-not-Saigon coverage also insists that the U.S. did a much better job of evacuating vulnerable Vietnamese in 1975. Then why do I remember the boat people?

Anyway — it’s still possible Democrats will pay a price for Kabul, but I’m guessing not that much. We’ll see.

So what will drive the 2022 elections? If Democrats are worried about Kabul, they had damn well better pass both infrastructure bills. Nancy Pelosi is now engaged in an epic struggle with the Nine Moderate Democrats to accomplish this. They had also damn well pass a voting rights bill that blocks political gerrymandering, at least. That won’t be easy.

But Republicans could still screw the pooch. GOP anti-mask nonsense is stirring a backclash. We probably will still be fighting about covid and masks and vaccines and schools through the next few months.It’s too soon to say what’s going to shape the 2022 elections, but I don’t believe Afghanistan will be the most critical issue.

18 thoughts on “Afghanistan, Covid, and Political Prices

  1. I worked the Carter campaign as a volunteer in Chicago in '76. I remember that election quite well. And if there's one thing I don't remember is anyone blaming Ford for Saigon. I don't know what that writer is on about, but I can tell you only someone who didn't live through that election would suggest what this writer suggests here. Saigon was not an issue that stuck to Ford, nor should it have.

    I agree with you that this is likely a non-issue. This is the way it was going to end all along. Once Bush decided to turn the mission into a nation building exercise, we were screwed. The mission should have involved sending a strike force into Afghanistan solely to find and kill bin Laden and his crew. Once that was done, we could simply extricate the strike force and leave. If that mission failed, we could still keep up the hunt. Bush still had plenty of goodwill at that point.

  2. One of the 'experts' this morning on either CNN or MSNBC said that in July the CIA told Biden that Afghanistan would collapse immediately AND the DOD told Biden that they had 2 months before the Afghan government would implode.  I don't remember which channel I was listening to at the time, but in the rush for the reich-wing and media to condemn Biden I have not been able to find a Google reference. 

    I have seen estimates as high as $2.3 TRILLION of the U.S. expenditures in Afghanistan.  As of November 2019, the U.S. had spent $6.4 TRILLION on wars in the Middle East and Asia since 9/11.  

    I spent 2 hours at the dentist this afternoon.  They sent an email reminding that wearing a mask in other than the procedure rooms was required.  There were 4 other people in the waiting room with only myself and one other wearing a mask.  I loudly asked the receptionist if she had masks available for the sociopaths without one.  Then I had a discussion with the dentist about whether his staff was 100% vaccinated.  I have been asking for the last 2 weeks whether restaurants have 100% vaccinations of their staff.  I will NOT be giving my money to businesses that cater to the loud, angry minority and neglect the health of their staff and customers.

    • I spent four hours trying to get to my dentist last week only to find a sign on the door saying they were closed due to unforeseen circumstances.  I suspect the COVID.

      As always good input.

  3. I was offshore for the evacuation of Saigon on an aircraft carrier. A few days later, all the evacuees were on an island in the harbor at Subic Bay, Philippines. Under Marine guard, 24 hours, and the guards had rifles to defend against attack. Rumor isn't always true but I believe the one that the evacuees had one thing in common, loot. They got away with either cash, gold or precious stones. 

    The evac was a fisaco. They were dumping helicopters into the sea to clear deck space for choppers running on fumes. There was a bloodbath in South Vietnam after we left. Organized my ass. 

    Could the withdrawal have been better organized. Always, in hindsight. Nobody knew that the three to six-month projection would turn into three to six days. A lot of foreign nationals didn't want to bug out at first. There still might be money to be made. So hundreds, if not thousands, of contractors and foreign nationals had to be extracted simultaneously. Completely blows the planning on the erroneous assumption a planned withdrawal was an option.

    Last, anyone in Afghanistan who cooperated with the more liberal rules that allowed women to show their faces or be educated or cooperated with foreigners is/was at risk. The flood of people isn't all translators who worked intimately with the US Army. This is WAY more people than the US ever considered would need to leave. 

    I think there were plans for bringing a limited number of translators and other Afghan citizens who made material contributions to the US. There was never a plan to extract every Tom, Dick, and Harry who fears living under the Taliban. Nor could we protect everyone who liked the "new" rules unless we stayed forever. 

    So the cluster flock was inevitable and turned out worse than we anticipated. And we're out. (Or nearly so.) Biden will get blamed, but they blame Biden for the sun setting. Will it change any votes in three years? No. Will it make a difference in the 2022 elections? I don't see why.


    • I agree. We are about to undergo a flood of "inside stories" and changing opinions on how the withdrawal went as more facts surface, and the whole thing will get grayer and  grayer.

      But I think in 2022, Biden will be seen as having done the right, and only rational, thing.

  4. The Taliban:  This is what hyper-religious, small-peckered "incels" act like when you feed them hateful misogyny backed-up by a religious book, and allow them to become armed like it's "The End Times."

    They can hardly wait 'til they're finally in charge, and can physically beat any woman who shows even  a hint of skin.  And many who don't.

    Religion, too often, is a terminal illness.

    • This is what hyper-religious, small-peckered “incels” act like when you feed them hateful misogyny backed-up by a religious book, and allow them to become armed like it’s “The End Times.”

      Our mirror of this is the Christian right. Fundamentalism is a trap of the human mind, isn’t specific to any particular belief system.

  5. moonbat,

    Yeah, and that's what I was implying.

    Our super/uber "Christian" Evangelicals wouldn't mind acting in exactly the same way.

  6. One of the infuriating things about the world is how a lot of things are *really* simple, but they're not getting said.

    Abbot and Desantis are not merely giving up on protecting their people from a deadly pandemic; they're saying no one smarter, or with better understanding of public health, or more aware of the situation on the ground, can try to protect people either. That means more people will die. Did they show economic analysis saying more people will die due to lockdowns? No. Did they follow any form of science in forbidding mask mandates?

    No. And they're not just guilty of gross negligence here. If they simply did nothing to protect the people of Florida or Texas, that would be gross negligence. (Well: assuming we agree that a governor is supposed to protect the people of his state from a clear and present danger. With Republicans, we can't accept that as a given.)

    They're going beyond that, demanding gross negligence all the way down the line.

    And I just wonder. Do they ever think about how historians will write about this? Do they ever imagine telling their grandchildren "well, yes, hundreds of thousands of Americans died needlessly, and sure, we didn't even win the election we wanted to win, and sure, we continued to support more Americans deaths even after that assclown was out of office, in order to own the libs, but… well, we had to own the libs, don't you get it?"

    Do they ever so much as stop and think about what they're doing at all?

    I've referenced a legend I heard, of the announcement of Hitler's final solution. Legend has it, lots of jaws dropped. But then a horrible realization set it. No one could deny that this is where their own actions were leading.

    I wonder how many of today's Republicans realize that, if they'd been Germans of that time, they'd have been in that room, realizing that, while it was a horrifying shock, it was clear they'd been setting up the Holocaust.

    • I don't think they care about their future reputation or place in history. It's all id with these guys – instant gratification. History's for suckers, it's what your buddies think of you now that matters. And what you make and who you pimped.

      If you asked them how they'd like to be remembered by history they'd look at you as if you were speaking Estonian. Then they'd get their  friends to point and laugh at you.

      Basically, a really bad college fraternity filled with rapists and grifters. Scum.

  7. I can't even pretend to match the quality of the comments given above.

    My thought of the day was If you or your children cannot achieve an average score of 50% on a True False test then your family might have a problem.  Don't blame the educators  Think before you critique.  

    Your only chance you have is to vote Dem.   The ass you save WILL be your own.

  8. Gerry Ford had a rare quality for a republican – he did the job he was hired to do for Nixon.

    Is Afghanistan still where empires go to die?  Luckily we'll be ready to sell weapons to the next batch of fools.

    • Taliban-run Afghanistan will probably be buying weapons from Russia, using loans from China.  The SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Agreement?) has just accepted Iran as a Full Member, and Afghanistan will probably join before too long.  China will pour gobs of money into Afghanistan to build their New Silk Road (some countries understand the strategic importance of Infrastructure…).  It's a win-win-win for all of them, and really, for most of Asia.  Postponing this has been the only US National Interest reason keeping the USA in Afghanistan this long (though, IMO, domestic politics has been the real driver of most US Foreign Policy for decades).

      But China & Russia will use that carrot to force Taliban toward more moderate policies, or at least to studiously avoid exporting jihad.  Both China & (especially) Russia are far more paranoid about Islamic extremists than we are, for many good reasons. 

      • So China and Russia will swoop in to fill a (mostly nonexistent) void and somehow unlock the mystery of controlling Afghanistan?


        Sure. That'll work.


        • China will fill Financial vacuum and employ a million young Afghan men to build New Silk Road, and maybe ways to supply water & power to rural Afghanistan.  A million young families from tribes of subsistence herders will become middle-class.

          China & Russia won't try to "control" Afghanistan; we should have known better than to try.

  9. So many good comments.  Completely agree with Maha.  Had friends hyperventilating, following cable news. Kabul fell, it was chaotic, but I kept saying Biden made the right call.  To hold Kabul would've meant a large, potentially inter-city conflict just to exit the country.  Sometimes you have bad and less bad decisions in front of you, and Biden chose the latter.  

  10. As to if covid will be the driving issue of the next year, I'm pretty sure it will be. Even where I live in librul New England, people seem to be really letting their guards down. Well, to be fair, I live in the slightly right leaning anomaly that is New Hampshire but still, up until a couple or three weeks ago, we were all pretty much in line with our more librul neighbors in that we were taking covid seriously and masking and vaxxing. At least most of us were. (lowest vax rate in NE but still high).

    But over the last week or two I've noticed a change. A lot less people are masking, even indoors. I's noticeable in the stores.  I got a haircut today and out of the ten or so people in the shop only myself and my daughter were masked. This was a new barbershop for me as I have already lost 2 hair stylists to covid over the last year. So I was pretty shocked to see how lax they were.  Same for the restaurant I went into later, even the staff were not masked. This as delta cases are on the rise and the media is going on fairly relentlessly about "breakthrough cases".

    I don't know if I'm just more3 aware of it because I work in a hospital and we're back up to 12 covid patients in house? That's up from the 1 or 2 we were seeing over the early Summer. (at the peak we had 50 or 60 but 12 is still seems like a lot more than 2. It's a significant spike).

    It's frustrating to say the least. My mood wasn't helped by the crowd outside the hospital protesting vaccine mandates for healthcare workers (that don't even exist at our facility yet). Or by the lame joke one of the cleaning staff made "Biden made masks not work, vaccines not work and people not work". And then his buddy chimed in about "socialism".
    So yeah. God help us.

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