Historians and political commentators alike will record August 2021 as a defining moment in American leadership because of its dramatic failure on the world’s stage.
As it was for Dorothy when Toto pulled the curtain back on the Wizard of Oz, U.S. citizens and the world alike have stumbled upon the truly disappointing nature of the American ruling class—a group of narcissistic, self-serving, and self-promoting politicians, bureaucrats, and generals.
Their leadership during the Afghanistan withdrawal could be described as:
Incompetent: witness the “unforeseen” fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban
Ineffective: witness the military leadership’s inability to secure an exit for all U.S. citizens
Callous: witness the Biden Administration’s desertion of its own citizens
Ambivalent: witness the careless disregard for billions in military equipment.
The last time Americans witnessed such a terrible failure of our political and military leadership was during the Vietnam war, with the despicable lies and decisions of the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon Administrations which mired the nation in an unpopular, costly, and bloody conflict.
History apparently does repeat itself.
The similarities between Vietnam and Afghanistan are numerous, but the most striking one to me is the callousness and ambivalence with which our ruling elites sent our young men and women into harm’s way in order to foster some imagined social change.
Interestingly, not many Americans, other than the ruling elites, supported this change or could find in it some compelling national interest.
It is hard to imagine one U.S. soldier joining after 9-11 with the hope of dying so that an Afghan child could one day study in a university. Instead our young people joined to kill terrorists and protect the homeland. Yet shortly after reaching Afghanistan the military segued into nation building and social change—an impossible task, as the Soviets taught us.
American leadership, instead of focusing solely on protecting and bettering the lives of its own citizenry, has been in the business of social change in Afghanistan for nearly 20 years.
Instead of utilizing a small force to destroy terrorist capabilities, the government utilized the military to prop up an ineffectual Afghan military and presidency. All of which folded like a cheap deck of cards after the U.S. departure. $83 billion down the drain.
Despite this stunning loss, Biden, Austin, and Milley continue to paint a rosy picture about an historic airlift, as if this political talking point makes up for the catastrophe in Kabul.
The administration is desperately seeking to brush aside the political and military defeat, the Taliban’s takeover and the presence of ISIS-K, and most damning, the U.S. citizens left behind—the very people the administration swore to protect.
Here lies the crux of our current dilemma: our leaders are self-serving and power hungry. Their lives depend on the power they wield, and the positions they gain. Their goal is to be reelected, assigned to prestigious positions, and promoted. That is why we will not see a single actor in this tragedy resign or be fired for his or her incompetence—such moral responsibility goes against the very nature of our entitled ruling class.
But this is not what leadership is meant to be. True leaders care first and foremost for the people they lead. They’re not called to line their own pockets, but to protect the least among them.
True leaders own their problems and seek to fix them. Leadership, by definition, is about positive change that will improve the lives of those they lead and solve the problems which hold back their constituents.
It may seem a novel idea, but our leaders should solve problems, not create them. They should communicate with their constituents. They should champion their own citizens, protect them, and secure their rights. Leaders should enforce the rule of law, and shield the victims of the law’s violation.
Yet all of this has been turned on its head, and with it we watch the decline of an egotistical empire that has become so self-centered with its own importance that it has lost sight of its true role.
That role is to provide security for its own citizens. If the government can’t do that, then that government has failed. It’s leadership has failed.
This is a clarion call for real people: teachers, business leaders, clergy, doctors, to stand up and lead. We must push back against the political nepotism that has created a failed ruling class. Ours should be a society built upon meritocracy and patriotism.
May the best leaders rise to the top and secure our future.