In approximately three weeks, our nation will recognize the 20th anniversary of 9/11, that infamous day when nearly 3,000 Americans lost their lives to terrorist attacks.
Indelible images were seared in the minds of those who saw the news coverage of events. For me, that included people choosing to jump from windows of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers to certain death rather than be consumed in the raging fires.
Events of the past week have rekinzdled visceral responses in me when viewing Afghan citizens desperate enough to attach themselves to the exterior of a cargo jet departing Kabul’s airport rather than succumb to the predictable brutality of the Taliban.
As the world takes note of the chaos emerging from seemingly botched planning involving an unrealistic timetable of U.S. troop withdrawal contributing to a loss of assets, intelligence, and strategic interests and to an unfolding humanitarian crisis and worldwide repercussions, U.S. government officials have cast blame on the Afghan government and pointed to failure of Afghan security forces.
The fact is that for 20 years, the Afghans have cooperated with the U.S. to establish a local counterterrorism presence. Afghan security forces fought alongside American servicemen to help degrade Al-Qaeda. They sought to move centuries beyond their former draconian fundamentalist state in search of a democracy allowing for education of men and women, attainment of professions, and acknowledgement of human rights.
With the elimination of the provision of U.S. air support in conjunction with plans for rapid and total withdrawal of U.S. troops, is it any wonder that Afghan security forces facing the threat of punishing repercussions by the Taliban lost their will to fight?
Rather than criticize those Afghans who allied with us — who served, sacrificed and died — we should be thanking them for their cooperative efforts. We need to now recognize that the people suffering most immediately are the innocent civilians of Afghanistan and accept responsibility for creating this crisis.
As the world watches all that is unfolding, it sees America in retreat. It is time for our country to look into the mirror and realize, however dire the situation, we always have a choice even if it is simply the matter of principle underlying what we choose to do.
Right now, America needs to not only extract remaining American citizens and allied nationals but also provide refuge to vetted Afghans that still believe in us. America needs to show the world that we still care.
And pragmatically, if we find the means to act with compassion and honor, perhaps we can still prove ourselves worthy enough to reinforce our commitments made to peoples in places like Taiwan, Ukraine and Iraq.