Kabul Falls: Who Is Responsible for the Catastrophe in Afghanistan? Everyone.

Ty Wycoff
7 min readAug 18, 2021
Photo by Darren Halstead on Unsplash

While the end result is not surprising, the speed at which the Taliban has taken control of Afghanistan caught the Biden administration by surprise. The question is not should the U.S. have pulled out of Afghanistan? After two decades, $2 trillion spent, and more than 6,000 American lives lost, the majority of Americans support a resounding Yes to that question.

The real question is whether the withdrawal going down like this was inevitable. Thus, try as they may, the Biden administration’s attempt to reframe the fall of Kabul as a question of whether to withdrawal or not falls dramatically short of satisfactory.

It will be sometime before we know the full story, but numerous reports lead to no other conclusion than those on the ground who saw the red flags and shouted for the administration’s ear were ignored. A severe miscalculation at best or disturbing negligence at worst is clear in the stark contrast between the State Department’s prediction that the Taliban would become a threat to Kabul no earlier than 90 days and the devastating reality that the capitol city was taken in only 10.

All said, a massive intelligence failure occurred and as I have written in the past here as well as discussed on my podcast in regards to Donald Trump, this reality of the Executive Office is always true and holds for Joe Biden no less: The President owns the crisis.

But the President is only one part. Because the American public enjoys simplicity and narrative over complexity and contingency, we are blitzing to our partisan forts and blaming either President Biden or former President Trump when the reality is closer to both/and. Alongside decades of inadequate U.S. policy is a mixed bag of flawed negotiations, intelligence failures, and betrayal of the Afghan people by their government.

But our partisanship is doing its job as good as always — deflecting responsibility from the last place we want to put it:


Everyone Is Wrong

From Former President Trump’s “peace deal” which left the Afghan government out of the picture and contained only unenforcible consequences for any Taliban reneging; the massive intelligence failure and inter-agency finger pointing on President Biden’s watch; to corruption throughout the Afghan government and lack of confidence in Kabul to be at the back of the nation’s fighters (one of several factors leading to the military’s collapse); partisan slashing is useless here.

The Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, bailed at the midnight hour and currently enjoys political asylum in the UAE. To avoid further “bloodshed” — in his own words — Ghani left his own people to a devastating future now crystalizing in the wake of Taliban destruction.

Donald Trump blames Joe Biden and Joe Biden blames Donald Trump, even though to one degree or another, they are both right. Congressional Republicans will continue the onslaught of what the Biden administration has “done to our allies,” how he ignored his advisors, and how we have now “lost every inch of ground” our troops fought for in Afghanistan. They will do so while being all too quick to forget the spines they shed when the U.S. abandoned our Kurdish allies under Trump’s direction and against all counsel.

Democratic elites will be no different. After months of criticizing and pressuring the Biden administration to move faster on the withdrawal, the fallout now forces congressional Democrats to attack the administration for moving too fast, suddenly victims of a wild amnesia no different than that of their Republican colleagues (though, one might find some reprieve in that at least the Democratic Party is actually criticizing their President).

The point? Not the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, the Trump administration, the Biden administration, or anyone or anywhere the blame falls at least in some part will take even a modicum of responsibility.

And that includes the American public.

We The People

Politicians are reactive; they do not act in a vacuum. While the cynicism we hold in our political system holds some roots in reality, the full picture is that our politicians are not only elected by us, but they are also shaped by public opinion. It was us who supported a blitz into two countries even as one of those efforts was built on distorted intelligence. Longing for justice following 9/11 was not wrong. Justice, in many ways, prevailed: the fall of both Hussein and bin Laden cannot be discounted, nor the largely successful efforts of the U.S. military in degrading terrorist organizing in Afghanistan — that of which we will now have to contend with in the future.

But it was us that supported the U.S. government blazing ahead into a world we did not fully understand, with little regard to geopolitics, culture, and unintended consequences. It was us who pushed our politicians to vote for Presidential power unchecked when all but 1 Representative voted for open-ended military authorization, just 3 days following 9/11.

After giving that support, we revoked it. We blamed the administration that took us there, and suddenly it was every Presidential candidate’s prerogative to run on ending both wars because any other position was electorally untenable. Both Democratic and Republican Presidents alike since the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan have promised to end these conflicts, only to be paralyzed by the harsh, unforgiving reality that is our entanglement in the mid east. We then punish them for not acting swiftly enough.

That doesn’t leave the failures of our Presidents without blame; leadership matters. But it does and should call into question our quick-to-heat judgments in an untempered pursuit of justice, right or wrong.

Nonetheless, it was we, the People, who were willing to play an Opening without considering the challenges of the Endgame, and we wagered our service men and women to play it for us.

The Gap

At what point will this country confront the shameful, glaring gap between the lip service we pay to our troops and the way we actually treat them? It isn’t unlike us to turn a blind eye to those who give so much for us. After all, in a slightly different example, for two decades we praised 9/11 First Responders while at the same failing to reauthorize the bill that funded their healthcare. Permanent funding failed in 2005. Even just reauthorizing the bill was blocked in 2010 because of partisan fires, and nearly a decade passed before permanent funding finally succeeded in 2019 — that is, after Republican Senators Rand Paul and Mike Lee initially blocked it. It took a television spectacle of Jon Stewart tearing Congress to pieces before Paul and Lee were finally defeated.

As for our troops? In 2014, an effort led by Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders and endorsed by The American Legion to massively expand health benefits for veterans was blocked by Republicans worried the $24b bill would “bust the budget.” Among other things, the bill aimed to add several new medical facilities, particularly because vets of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were straining the system. While all gave some and some gave all, we couldn’t be bothered to give $24b — a far cry from the $2.3 trillion we happily spent to cut taxes for the wealthy.

And that’s only one example of our failure to defend those who defend us. The list goes on.

The Luxury of Forgetting

We were all too happy to ask our veterans to carry the burden of the last two decades to satisfy our rage. They took on that burden, did what they were ordered to do, and did so willingly and bravely. But too many Americans right now have the luxury of spilling their ire behind their screens about the events unfolding and will return to blissful ignorance about Afghanistan once the acute horror resides — as they have for the last 20 years.

But for the many Americans who served and their families — including my own family — Afghanistan has always existed, an unsettling reality always breathing in the periphery. Today, most are (rightfully) worried about what is happening in the country — I have been since my brother first went there. Today, some are angry and wondering if the sacrifice was worth it — I’ve been questioning it since 2011, eagle-eyed and scanning U.S. policy for any hope for change.

I don’t have all the answers. None of us do. I’m angry at the Biden administration and call on all of us to demand that ownership over the intelligence breakdown be taken. I’m angry at both Republicans and Democrats for their political expediency. I’m angry the lip service they and we as citizens pay to our service men and women without ever wanting to bear the real cost. I’m angry at the “i’M gOnNa dO pOliTicS tOdaY” social media posts with no regard to the fact that our political choices and attitudes always matter, not just when we want to be outraged for a moment.

I am heartbroken for the Afghan people, and the allies we found in them. I wish I had more than thoughts and prayers to offer; but all I have is a deep, tragic, and unbearable sense of fatalism.

I am heartbroken for the American soldiers who have been lost to this conflict, and for the wounds both flesh deep and invisible in those who made it home. The mixed bag this historic moment is for many of our troops cannot be neglected by us. We owe them, at the very minimum, to look at this crisis with sober eyes, putting partisan and other unimportant concerns aside.

For those Americans who, like me, are uninterested in the partisan pandering and bickering, I offer an alternative:

Let us, for once, take responsibility for our country.

Let’s start by taking responsibility for those who serve, committing our money and resources to treating their wounds, both flesh deep and invisible.

Let’s take responsibility for educating ourselves about international politics, attempting to understand the real complexities instead of regurgitating our parties and their pundits.

Let’s take our job as citizens seriously, putting candidates to the flame on how they will actually solve problems instead of passionately accepting or rejecting them on empty platitudes and party identity.

And finally, let us take responsibility for how we as a nation act in the world. Let us take seriously the thread between our own beliefs, how they shape who we elect, and how our political engagement, or lack thereof, ripples across the ocean.

Because whatever you believe is the cause for the dark night the Afghan people are about to endure, there is one truth to be read from it we can no longer afford to ignore:

That our beliefs have consequences.