Tom Friedman, the genuinely wise New York Times columnist who actually spent time in Afghanistan, told CNN the other night that many commentators have been embarrassed to predict events in this vast and enigmatic nation.
He was being interviewed about his column that day, which claimed that the situation the next morning sometimes turns out to be less relevant than the way things look the next morning.
He meant that in a general sense, but he also meant it especially in relation to the current debacle in Afghanistan. And he didn’t mean literally the first and second morning. It was metaphorical.
“Morning after” meant the immediate next day. “The next morning after” meant the period of stocktaking that follows. Both are imprecise periods, although it is clear that we are still in the original “morning after”.
America is always trying to get people out. Afghans trained to provide vital public services are still hiding in their homes, putting functional infrastructure at risk. The Taliban always promise more tolerance by clubbing street demonstrators. Some continue to say that the Taliban cannot manage this vast land without foreign aid, while others say that the poppy economy which supplies heroin and morphine to much of the world is something that even the US military could not eliminate, let alone the fact that Afghanistan’s “informal economy” in consumer goods is large and potentially useful to an extremist outlaw government regime.
In other words, hold onto your horses, experts and commentators.
The American political effect is something I would be more willing to anticipate, but only after we get to the next morning.
President Biden’s approval rating fell from more than 50% the week before to less than 50 last week. And it should have.
It is one thing – the right thing – to withdraw from Afghanistan. Maybe we’ve learned a lesson about trying to tame and recreate alien lands.
It is a whole other matter to have withdrawn in such a way as to indicate complete ignorance and to leave a complete mess of human despair and American ignominy.
Yes, Donald Trump favored the American exit, negotiated with the Taliban for it and freed Taliban prisoners.
So what? Joe Biden is the president.
The effect of the debacle is largely tragic, at least for the time being, including for American domestic politics and life.
Many Americans don’t get a safe and effective vaccine against a potentially deadly virus, at least in part because they don’t believe their government is fair or competent enough to be trusted. That America looks like a fool in the eyes of the world – and being made to look like that by religious freaks in Afghanistan – does not help restore faith.
Democratic thinkers profess to believe – and they at least hope – that, hard-heartedness aside, these horrific images will fade.
They calculate that the Americans will be satisfied with the judgment, quite possibly rightly so, that Afghanistan was an American blunder from the start; that Biden had been right to get us out, and that the next morning would probably have been a debacle no matter when and on whose orders.
Consider Peter Baker’s Twitter post Thursday, noted political reporter and New York Times author: “Team Biden’s cold political calculation is that Americans won’t care what happens in Afghanistan as long as Americans are safe. At their point, today there are no front page stories about Afghanistan in cities like Boston, Austin, Chicago, Atlanta, Indianapolis, Fresno, or Miami. “
It is indeed cold to make such a calculation. But US policy is cold, and the math may be right.
No one else has been able to do anything with Afghanistan, and in a broader perspective, the product may matter more than the process – the product being our exit from there, and the process. being the idiots that we seemed to be in there and going.
But here, the next morning, another possible American political judgment is pending for the next morning.
It was because Biden’s only political motto was that he was not Donald Trump, but delightfully calmer. It was that his only job was to be better than Trump. It is that the currency could be lost in lingering images of bodies falling from American planes, less in the human tragedy of that than in the retreat of Americans that even the Trump administration could not have made a greater mess. .
In that calculation, Biden’s approval rating remains below 50% and the next Republican presidential candidate – and let’s stay perfectly generic for now – is more in the game than he was before the story. from Afghanistan.
I’m probably rushing too fast to the next morning after the next morning.
In current American politics (and column writing), short memoirs are the cornerstone.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected] Read his Twitter feed @johnbrummett.