The lesson of the president’s power is not drawn from how it is wielded in the best of times, but from how it manifests itself in crisis. Mistakes arise in a crisis and hopefully mistakes become knowledge to improve future decisions.
A long list of the president’s foreign policy misjudgments has defined the government’s legacy, reshaping leadership for an incumbent president and sometimes for future inmates of the Oval Office.
In 1961, John F. Kennedy launched the Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba, a covert operation to overthrow Fidel Castro. From the start, an unsound strategy, pathetic tactics, and an abundance of intelligence errors failed. Out of this crisis, JFK accepted the guilt and reorganized its advisors and decision-making processes. When faced with the Cuban Missile Crisis a year later, Kennedy asked the right questions and led the nation on the other side of a nuclear threat that could have killed 80 million Americans in a matter of moments.
President Joe Biden has already announced that he will not call for resignation for the deaths of 13 soldiers and countless Afghans by a suicide bomber in the last days of the Airlift. This week, Biden described the evacuation as an “extraordinary success”, although Americans and Afghans who wanted to leave the country stayed when the last plane departed without them.
Nonetheless, questions must be answered, both internally and externally, about the decisions and tactics that lead to and through the United States’ last moment in Afghanistan. Historians and experts will debate whether the die of inevitability was cast years ago, but leaving Kabul is undeniable, while historical and massive, heroic and tragic also represented a failure of the imagination.
We have heard this criticism before in the history of the President. Yale psychologist Irving Janis called the Bay of Pigs’ decision-making mistakes “groupthink,” which describes the pursuit of consensus in a way that prevents alternatives from being properly considered. According to a Harvard Business Review case study, historian Arthur Schlesinger later wrote that “our meetings were held in a strange atmosphere of supposed consensus. [and] nobody spoke against it. “
The nation has to go down the path of difficult issues regarding Afghanistan. The follow-up investigation by the 9/11 Commission, an independent, bipartisan body, identified missed signs, unresolved conflicting intelligence and information silos that were gathering vital information but unable or unwilling to link to threat advisories in other parts of government. The Commission’s overall conclusion was that coordination and information sharing could have provided a clearer and potentially workable warning of the impending terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.
Right now, we urge Congress to empower an independent, bipartisan commission to review the final stages of the end of the American presence in Afghanistan – from the Trump administration’s ill-considered unilateral peace deal with the Taliban to the chaotic evacuation of the Biden. Administration.
This commission must have credible leadership, similar to what Republican Tom Kean, a former governor, and Democrat Lee Hamilton, a former US Congressman, gave the nation after the 9/11 attacks.
The commission, established by Congress and signed by President George W. Bush, had the authority to summon witnesses and the credibility to maneuver the minefields of executive privilege and segregation of power. Above all, however, it was not an effort to assign blame, but to find out why, in retrospect, such obvious indications that could have prevented the deadly attacks on US soil escaped analysis.
There are many Americans who can jointly conduct a fair investigation, such as former US Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican from Texas, and former US Senator Bob Kerrey, a Democrat from Nebraska, also on the 9/11 commission.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, former CIA director and retired Army General David Petraeus, former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, former US MP Jane Harman and Leon Panetta who served as White House Chief of Staff, The CIA director and secretary of defense would also be good choices. These individuals and other men and women of goodwill would bring insights from their administration during the Bush and Obama years, but they were either outside the administration or not part of the inner circles of the Trump and Biden administrations when politics was on clearest was shifted towards retreat.
We cannot stress enough that this commission must look beyond partisanship and be an honest broker. The commission cannot be a replica of the GOP partisan attack on the September 11, 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi that killed four brave Americans – Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty. Nor should the Democrats oppose an investigation into any administration of their party, as the Republicans did when they overwhelmingly voted against an independent commission and a select congressional committee to review the January 6 insurrection.
There are many lessons to be learned from 20 years of war in Afghanistan, including missed opportunities, a shifting mission, the lack of a stable central government, and interference from regional neighbors like Pakistan. But the past two years, including the first eight months of the Biden administration when the withdrawal became a reality, deserve additional scrutiny and insight that only a substantial commission and fair approach can provide.
The war in Afghanistan and how that war ended will reverberate in American political circles for at least a generation. The light footprint that marked the beginning of the war was likely the result of a reluctance to deploy American troops, a reluctance that had persisted since the Vietnam era. It is therefore vital that a commission document all the facts and the context in which decisions were made. This will give us valuable insights and material lessons from this chapter of our history.