August changed things; it wasn’t just a bad month. It left a lingering, still head-shaking sense of “This isn’t how we do things.”
We don’t make up withdrawal dates that will have symbolism for photo-ops with the flinty, determined president looking flinty and determined on the 20th anniversary of 9/11; we don’t time epic strategic decisions around showbiz exigencies. We wait for the summer fighting season to pass; we withdraw in the winter when Taliban warriors are shivering in their caves. We don’t leave our major air base in the middle of the night—in the middle of the night—without even telling the Afghan military. We don’t leave our weapons behind so 20-year-old enemies can don them for military playacting and drive up and down with the guns and helmets. We don’t fail to tell our allies exactly what we’re doing and how we’re doing it—they followed us there and paid a price for it. We don’t see signs of an overwhelming enemy advance and treat it merely as a perception problem, as opposed to a reality problem. You don’t get the U.S. military out before the U.S. citizens and our friends. Who will protect them if you do that?