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Biden Shows Skill and Will to Exit Afghanistan

August 20th, 2021 by dk

It was always going to end this way. Most expected it be slower and less chaotic, but the outcome was all but certain. It’s a thrill to ride a tiger, until you want to get off. Joe Biden warned President Obama in 2009 against sending more troops to Afghanistan. Better to save lives than to save face. Choosing the latter was always easier.

President Biden pledged not to do that. He promised to end America’s Forever War, just as his predecessors did. Unlike them, he sent a son into combat. His long tenure in the Senate inured him to jangly-chested commanders’ dire projections. He vowed to keep his word and he did.

He might wish today he’d managed the calendar differently. Christmas might have been a better homecoming deadline. Winters are brutal in the mountains of Afghanistan. Everything slows down with shorter winter days. Instead, brace yourself for raucous Taliban celebrations on the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11th. They won.

The outcome was almost never in doubt. Build an army for the 21st century for a culture stuck in the 7th century? There was never a happy ending in sight. Biden was right to ask the dispositive question: “If not now, then when?” The answer has been “later” and “soon” — but always, definitely “later.”

Biden knew better. “Later” equals “never.” He showed courage to match his conviction.

It’s a shame the move soured so quickly. Biden had just achieved something that no president in recent memory has accomplished. Nineteen Republican Senators crossed the aisle to vote for a major piece of legislation, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. A second initiative followed, promising to strengthen the social safety net. Biden could tout domestic nation-building not imagined for generations.

Unfortunately, Biden’s FDR moment was cut short by his Harry Truman moment. How long might WWII have continued if Truman hadn’t dropped atomic bombs to end it? Was that the right thing to do? Or was it the only thing that could be done?

Truman was expected to lose the 1948 presidential election after taking such decisive action to end the war he inherited. Biden surely understands his electoral prospects will be dimmed by the television coverage that blankets rough transitions like this one. LBJ couldn’t win reelection after biting the bullet and passing civil rights reform. Maybe Biden knows that will be his fate too.

If so, he should be asking himself, “What else have Americans endured for too long because the ending is sure to be ugly?” Are there any other public policy grenades he can throw himself on before leaving the Oval Office? He’d be a hero to end some of America’s never-ending controversies.

Modernizing the filibuster? Curbing the defense budget? Legalizing marijuana? Demanding more accountability from police and teachers, angering their unions? Paying reparations? Nationalizing the power grid and adding Internet service? Strengthening voting standards and women’s reproductive rights?

It was our last president who promised to shake things up and deliver more than incremental change. It’s our current president who demonstrates the skill and the will to do it.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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