Oh, Michael Gerson, and you were doing so well!
The former G.W. Bush speech writer and erstwhile advisor, now a twice-a-week Washington Post columnist and frequent commentator on the PBS NewsHour, Michael Gerson was performing wonderfully as an unrelenting, harsh critic of Donald Trump throughout that man’s unfortunate one-term presidency.
Clearly possessing a wordsmithing gift, Gerson found ways of trashing Trump with matchless turns of phrases and eloquent run-on sentences, throwing shade (a contemporary term for scathing criticism) left and right. Gerson is a lifelong conservative Republican, graduate of the notoriously fundamentalist Wheaton College in Illinois (even more that way than my undergraduate school known as “the Wheaton of the West,” Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California, where I went on a baseball scholarship), but when it came to the contemptible Trump, Gerson shined on with stunning word sequences condemning the horrid grifter in every possible way, even to the point of not infrequently finding good things to say about Biden. Gerson became mandatory reading for Trump haters everywhere, even more valued because of his Republican pedigree.
But then, last week came President Biden’s decision to get the heck out of Afghanistan once and for all, and something went snap in Gersonville. His underlying identity as a W. neocon chickenhawk ripped to the surface, his temples pulsed and his eyes bulged, and what had been his lyrical prose took on a dark, brooding demeanor as he felt compelled to defend his former boss’ wickedly-bad decisions to invade Afghanistan and Iraq and to keep U.S. military forces there for what’s now become 20 years.
Wow, the transformation was breathtaking. In his latest take in the Post this week, “Why Tie the Afghanistan Withdrawal to 9/11?,” Gerson calls Biden’s move “one of the most brutal acts of foreign policy cynicism in U.S. history.”
He rants that driven by “selfish and pitiless interests…Biden’s ruthless realism deserves to be buried on some forgotten day,” as now, among other things, “the Taliban pose a massive counterterrorism threat” to the U.S.
His appearance on Judy Woodruff’s PBS news show last Friday drew a huge national outrage because he wasn’t there to talk about the crimes of Trump this time, but suddenly in defense of his former boss’ bad decisions. Indeed, pundits railed against the major media repeatedly “handing the microphone” in the wake of Biden’s decision to those whose mistakes created the problems in that region in the first place. They have no credibility and yet they are being given the mic, contended by David Rothkopf and Faiz Shakir on Ari Melber’s MSNBC show last week. They praised the Biden withdrawal because at that point over 30,000 Americans and American allies had been airlifted out of Kabul without a single life being lost.
Contrary to all the howling, Biden and his team carefully planned the whole operation with a goal of getting as many as 60,000 out by his deadline. Shakir reminded viewers that Biden had promised to do just this repeatedly during his campaign for president. By contrast, when Trump made the rules, he pulled forces partially out of Afghanistan, but tore up the applications of U.S. allies that needed to leave and in exchange, he OK’d the release of 5,000 of the Taliban’s most brutal terrorists.
As with most wars, and especially 20-year ones, the timeless wisdom applies, “In war there are no winners or losers, only widows” (and orphans). Two things demonstrate this in the Afghanistan case most poignantly: First, when bin Laden was finally found after years, it turned out he’d been hiding right under their noses the whole time, within shouting distance of a military base where the U.S. was training forces. Second, when the final U.S. pullout was announced — 20 years of training and supplying a domestic Afghani military force, at a cost of billions and a lot of American lives, went up in smoke instantly. There was absolutely no resistance to the Taliban, whatsoever.
American war profiteers probably knew this would happen but didn’t care. They fed at the trough of U.S. taxpayer dollars as long as they could, then just walked away.