The conversations I have been having recently about the end of America’s 20-year war in Afghanistan have essentially boiled down to two sides. One is that the exit from a country we have destroyed and clumsily rebuilt and then propped up and destroyed multiple times over was never going to be clean, that all of this was always meant to end in death and tragedy. The other is that the current evacuation crisis at Hamid Karzai International Airport is the product of profound mismanagement and neglect by the Biden administration’s State Department and the Pentagon, which has and will contribute to the violent deaths of thousands of innocent people.
These are not mutually exclusive positions, though often they are being argued as such, because the latter point easily lends itself to a justification for prolonging the conflict, as David Leonhardt explained in a New York Times newsletter this morning:
Some former U.S. officials have suggested that staying in Afghanistan indefinitely was worth these costs. On the other hand, these tend to be the same officials whose previous optimistic promises have repeatedly proven false.
The officials that Leonhardt speaks of are often those who belong to a category of people that do not interact with the world in the way that you and I do. Most of us, I think, are trying to reconcile our relief at the end of a war with the outrage and shame sparked by stories of refugees waving U.S. passports being turned away by soldiers waving U.S. guns and the betrayal of thousands of non-citizens whose only sin was believing that America had a better future to offer them. But the “officials,” the cable news anchors, the war profiteers—they see this monumental capstone of sorrow as an attempt to gain something.
These people work in many industries. As my colleague Jack Mirkinson has repeatedly written over the past few weeks, various factions of the media have spent days cynically weaponizing the pain of innocent people to suit whatever narrative they desire (more war, weird cultural grievances, xenophobia, etc). This isn’t to say that the war should not be covered, of course, but more to point out that the easiest editorial decision in a time like this is to say no when Henry Kissinger or John Bolton sends you a pitch.
Meanwhile, in Washington, the Senate and House are a cacophony of voices squalling to have their opinion on this war heard. Earlier this week, two congressmen went one step further to distinguish themselves, by flying directly to Kabul to gawk at the sites. Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton and Republican Peter Meijer’s vanity trip to HKIA taught the American people little that they didn’t already know — that there is no way to complete the evacuation of all those who deserve it by the Biden administration’s August 31 deadline — but it did immediately land them cushy spots on tonight’s primetime news hours.
And then there are ghouls of a more straightforward nature, like Erik Prince, who is selling seats on a chartered plane out of Kabul for $6,500 per person. The best thing you can say about Prince is that he has never lied in earnest about what he wants from any given conflict: a chance to make money by force.
It’s important to know who these people are, and see what they are doing now, because they will do it again. When the time comes to pitch the next war or intervention I would not be surprised to see Seth Moulton back on your television, even if he doesn’t manage to hang on to his House seat for the next few election cycles. Erik Prince spent the entire Trump administration pitching the privatization of one war after another; John Bolton has never seen a country he doesn’t want to invade; Jake Tapper has never met a troop he didn’t want to embed with. These are people who gorged themselves on the financial and reputational spoils of a 20-year parade of death in service of ideals they can barely name. The least we can do now is refuse to set the table for their next meal.