First end mission, then criticize

York Dispatch editorial board
In this image made through a night vision scope and provided by the U.S. Army, Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, commander of the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division, XVIII Airborne Corps, prepares to board a C-17 cargo plane at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug. 30, 2021, as the final American service member to depart Afghanistan. (Master Sgt. Alexander Burnett/U.S. Army via AP)

Remember, in the days following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, how Democrats hurriedly took to social media to blame Republican President George W. Bush? How they argued that the failure to keep the homeland safe was proof that he could not fill the duties of his office? How he should be impeached?

Of course you don’t, because no such criticism took place.

Both parties rallied behind the president in the days following the coordinated assaults of 20 years ago. Members of Congress gathered on the steps of the U.S. Capitol to sing “God Bless America” on the evening of the attacks in a bipartisan display of unity. Public support followed, with Bush’s approval ratings soaring to 90 percent, the highest in Gallup history.

Those days contrast sharply with recent events.

The Biden administration’s flawed disengagement from the war in Afghanistan — a war launched in response to the 9/11 attacks — unleashed a barrage of hair-trigger partisanship. The torrent was magnified exponentially following a suicide bombing outside the airport in Kabul that left more than 170 dead, including 13 American service members.

The loss is staggering and the hasty and disorganized retreat not how anyone envisioned the United States’ 20-year occupation ending. But with more than a dozen young Americans killed and thousands more left trying to keep a fragile order in what was for all intents and purposes an active war zone — while executing one of the largest airlifts in military history — partisan potshots should not have been our first priority.

Alas, for too many, it was. Pennsylvania’s Republican Rep. Fred Keller is one example.

“Responsibility for the chaos currently unfolding in Afghanistan rests squarely with President Biden,” he said in a statement that also praised the bravery of American troops. “President Biden’s weak leadership and misguided efforts to negotiate with terrorists contributed to the loss of American life. This catastrophe was entirely avoidable and President Biden must be held accountable.”

Well, Biden didn’t do much negotiating with the Taliban — at least not before the pullout began. That was his predecessor. Still, Keller was far from alone among Republican critics.

Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri demanded Biden resign.

Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina wants the Biden Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove the president from office.

And scruple-free Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who vocally defended President Donald Trump during two much-deserved impeachment attempts, thinks Biden — you guessed it — should be impeached.

All of these calls came even before our fallen troops were returned to U.S. soil. Those troops, it is worth noting, were for the most part no more than toddlers when the war began. It’s a horrific irony that finally ending the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan (something most Republicans have long demanded) has resulted in yet more bloodshed.

Is criticism off limits? Of course not. Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey offered an appropriate example of constructive criticism over hyper-partisan histrionics.

“My prayers are with our troops, our fellow citizens, and innocent Afghans on the ground,” he posted on Twitter. “This must be a wakeup call for the administration to lift its arbitrary deadline and take every step necessary to ensure we leave no American or deserving Afghan behind.”

This nation once rallied when U.S. troops were lost or it was otherwise under attack. But this leap to tar Biden disrespectfully politicized the loss of fallen troops for political gain. It was a sad and shoddy display.