By Jessie Seigel / Washington, D.C.
Less than a week ago (though it feels like eons ago), President Biden’s approval ratings were rocked by an event 7,000 miles from the White House. On August 26, Isis-K (the Islamic State Khorasan) terrorists attacked the U.S. Afghan evacuation site in Kabul. An Isis-K suicide bomber detonated an explosive device among crowds at the Abbey Gate entrance to the Kabul Airport, while a second bomb exploded close to the Barron Hotel nearby. Thirteen U.S. servicemen were killed and 18 were wounded. According to Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health, more than 170 people were killed and at least 200 were wounded.
Rather than acknowledging the dangerously complex situation the Biden Administration has been facing, we got instant analysis from all quarters. Immediately, everybody and his sister had an opinion. This included know-it-alls on the boob tube, congressional armchair warriors ready to send others back to an eternal war, and those who years ago set the stage for the current dire dilemma concerning the timing and manner of our exit.
On the day of the attacks, General H. R. McMaster plastered himself all over Fox News and MSNBC, calling on Biden to scrap his troop withdrawal and renew the Afghanistan war. McMaster called the withdrawal “surrender.”
But how dare McMaster even open his mouth when the man he had worked for—DONALD J. TRUMP—brokered that surrender in February, 2020, generating the recent near-impossibly chaotic situation? Since McMaster left the Trump Administration in 2018, he certainly was free to comment on that deal when it was made, so why didn’t he rant on multiple TV networks then?
The day after the attack, some 18 Republican senators and representatives had the gall to call for President Biden’s resignation. But where were those hypocrites’ voices when Trump made his deal with the Taliban to leave Afghanistan on May 1, 2021? Where was their outrage when Trump excluded the Afghan government from those negotiations? Or when he reduced our troops to 2,500 vulnerable souls? Where was their concern for our Afghan allies when, according to Afghan war veteran and former CIA analyst Matt Zeller, the Trump Administration deliberately shut down the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program for four years?
Given how few SIVs were processed during Biden’s first seven months in office, one must wonder whether there were Trump holdovers at the State Department who continued their sabotage of the SIV program. And if so, whether the Biden Administration’s failure was in not ferreting out those Trump moles, replacing them, and adding personnel to handle SIV applications? Of course, we are still left with the question of whether—after the Trump-created obstacles—even a change of personnel would have been sufficient to permit a more timely exit of eligible Afghans and their families.
If I’m going to give consideration to anyone official’s opinion, it won’t be McMaster or right-wing Republicans who never serve anyone but themselves. It will be someone like Democratic Rep. Jason Crow of Colorado, who served one tour in Iraq and two in Afghanistan. Crow serves on the Armed Services Committee and two of its subcommittees, overseeing military readiness, ongoing military operations, military intelligence, emerging threats, capabilities, special forces operations, and terrorism.
You may also remember Crow as the former Ranger who kept his head during the January 6 insurrection, and “got into Ranger mode a little bit,” as he put it, helping other members use emergency masks, moving lawmakers away from House chamber doors, directing them to remove their pins so they weren’t identifiable if the mob broke through, and taking the hand of Rep. Susan Wild to comfort her.
Crow was relying on his military training. After the 9/11 attacks, he had served in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, leading a paratrooper platoon and earning a Bronze Star for combat action during the invasion of Iraq. Later, he joined the Army’s 75th Ranger regiment and served two tours in Afghanistan as part of the Joint Special Operations Task Force.
Other feathers in Crow’s hat: He refused corporate PAC money during his campaign, was a sponsor of the For the People Act of 2019, and introduced the End Dark Money Act which would close a campaign finance loophole permitting dark money to be funneled into elections. Crow also was one of the managers of former President Trump’s first impeachment.
For these reasons, Rep. Crow’s views carry more weight with me than most who are currently shooting off their mouths to further their own agendas or fill air time.
From the beginning, Crow parted ways with the official line. In an August 19 New Yorker interview, Crow expressed the view that if evacuations had occurred concurrently and in parallel with military drawdowns starting in April when Biden announced the August 31 deadline, we would have been able to get tens of thousands out, and “would be in a very different situation than we are today.” Crow told the Denver Post, “It could have been done deliberately and methodically. It was a missed opportunity.”
During those five months from April through August, could we have evacuated deliberately and methodically as Crow suggested? Would that have prevented the crush to leave that we see now? Or would evacuating people have created the “crisis of confidence” the Afghan government feared, resulting in an earlier collapse with the same scenes of panicked civilians descending on Kabul airport? We’ll never know what this path untaken would have yielded.
However, as Crow reasonably stated, “There will be time to debate the failures, missteps, and lost opportunities of the past 20 years, but today our mission is clear: hold the Kabul airport as long as possible and get all U.S. citizens and as many Afghan partners out as possible…That is our only task right now; we will debate the rest later.”
Crow sees the Afghans who worked with us “as friends who protected our soldiers and are entitled to the same treatment and protection.” He shared with The New Yorker his strong conviction that President Biden feels the same, but added, “Now, he is Commander-in-Chief, and has a lot of competing interests and things he has to balance. It is a very difficult situation, as it always is for the President. But there is no doubt in my mind that the President is a man of compassion and integrity and will always try to do the right thing.”
While recognizing what the President must balance, Crow nevertheless has been consistent in maintaining that the August 31 deadline for ending the evacuation must be extended. Last week, he told Fox News, "We’re in a different world now than we were in when that date was originally set. We have to respond to that different world, and we have to get the mission done."
Crow said that the evacuation could be completed in a matter of weeks, by August 31, and, as President Biden said—and the bombing demonstrated—not without risk.
The August 26 bombing did not change Crow’s mind. On MSNBC that evening, he told Rachel Maddow that more than 2,400 troops were killed over the last 20 years, but we were on a mission and never once allowed terrorists to stop a mission. Now, our mission is to get out our citizens and Afghan allies. Crow maintained that there still should not be a calendar deadline, that we should hold out until we accomplish that mission.
I don’t hold myself out as a military expert when it comes to the strategy and tactics of wars and withdrawals. I cannot begin to feel the weight President Biden must have felt in balancing the increasing dangers to our personnel if we stayed against the humanitarian disaster that would likely befall if we left before finishing our task. But surely, last week’s bombing and the Biden Administration’s swift response to it—hunting and killing one of the planners within a day—should make us all appreciate the gravity of the various scenarios he must consider in making his decisions, many of them not yet known to us.
We have now left Afghanistan on President Biden's schedule. Attempting to get remaining Americans and Afghan allies out by diplomatic means is the next uncertain chapter in this saga. But the choice of whether to leave by August 31 or stay longer to accomplish further evacuations was, from the beginning, a choice between a rock and a hard place. As we go forward into this next phase, everyone needs to take a deep breath, and not allow either approbation or condemnation to be driven by transitory reports in any one news cycle.
Political columnist Jessie Seigel had a long career as a government attorney in which she honed her analytic skills. She has also twice received an Artist’s Fellowship from the Washington, D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities for her fiction, and has been a finalist for a number of literary awards. In addition, Seigel is an associate editor at the Potomac Review, a reviewer for The Washington Independent Review of Books, and a dabbler in political cartoons at Daily Kos. Of this balance in her work between the analytic and the imaginative, Seigel jokes, “I guess my right and left brains are well-balanced.” More on and from Seigel can be found at The Adventurous Writer, https://www.jessieseigel.com.