The United States still faces two major problems in Afghanistan. The first is how to rescue vulnerable Afghans who wish to leave their country and settle in the United States or elsewhere. The second is how to drive a wedge between Afghanistan’s new government and al-Qaeda so as to prevent terrorist attacks on the United States. These are significant challenges, but they do not diminish the decision to withdraw.
For Americans, a third challenge may prove most important of all: coming to terms with defeat instead of indulging the fantasy that somehow, in some way, an unwinnable war could have been won.
As a Vietnamese refugee, Viet Thanh Nguyen makes the connection with the fall of Saigon in 1975, while Robin Wright wonders if it will serve as a ‘bookend for the era of U.S. global power’, an end of an era?
The fall of Kabul may serve as a bookend for the era of U.S. global power. In the nineteen-forties, the United States launched the Great Rescue to help liberate Western Europe from the powerful Nazi war machine. It then used its vast land, sea, and air power to defeat the formidable Japanese empire in East Asia. Eighty years later, the U.S. is engaged in what historians may someday call a Great Retreat from a ragtag militia that has no air power or significant armor and artillery, in one of the poorest countries in the world.
I cannot be helped but be reminded of the Old Italian Man speaking with Nately in Catch-22:
The old man laughed indulgently, holding in check a deeper, more explosive delight. His goading remained gentle. “Rome was destroyed, Greece was destroyed, Persia was destroyed, Spain was destroyed. All great countries are destroyed. Why not yours? How much longer do you really think your own country will last? Forever? Keep in mind that the earth itself is destined to be destroyed by the sun in twenty-five million years or so.”
Nately squirmed uncomfortably. “Well, forever is a long time, I guess.”