‘It’s not our fight’ vs. ‘We owe them’: Americans debate what’s right in Afghanistan

Larry and Phil Peters don’t agree on much. Larry’s a Democrat, and his brother is a Republican. But over lunch at Harvest Moon Craft Kitchen in Canal Winchester, Ohio, outside Columbus, they found common ground on the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan after two decades of war: It was past time to get out.

The brothers believe the United States stayed too long, spent too much and has now left an ugly mess.

Americans don’t share many positions these days, but in polling and dozens of interviews across the country, they mostly come together about U.S. involvement in a divided, war-scarred country. President Biden, they say, was right to pull out U.S. troops — though they don’t like the violent scene left behind.

It’s sad as hell, said Larry, 71, a semiretired psychologist from Connecticut. He feels sorry for the Afghan people, but after all the blood and money we poured in, it’s pretty clear, in retrospect: We didn’t get anything done.

The failure to plan for an orderly escape of Afghans who helped U.S. forces has created a terrible, awful situation, agreed Phil, 64, a retired high school teacher in Ohio.

This week, as troubling scenes of panicked Afghans rushing to escape their country played almost constantly on cable TV news and online, early polling and interviews indicate that the chaotic withdrawal has damaged confidence in Biden’s foreign policy acumen and bolstered many Americans’ sense that the country’s stature in the world is diminished.

But despite wall-to-wall news coverage, many Americans see little reason to pay much attention. They concluded long ago that Afghanistan was not their — or their country’s — business.

We shouldn’t ever have been there — we were just wasting troops, said Gil Santiago, 21, a freelance writer in Waterford, Mich., 30 miles northwest of Detroit.

Watching throngs of Afghans desperately trying to get out leaves him flat, he said: I don’t really care about them, so I think we handled it right. It’s like Vietnam; it’s not our fight. Santiago, who voted for Biden last year, said he credits the president with sticking to his word to get out, but he blames both parties for having stayed in Afghanistan for so long.

These wars never really worked out for the U.S., in all honesty, he said.

The treacherous journey into Kabul airport to escape Taliban-controlled Afghanistan

Popular exhaustion with the conflict in Afghanistan may have strengthened Biden’s resolve to finish the job — something his two predecessors promised but never achieved. Large majorities of Americans told pollsters this year, as they have for a long time, that they supported pulling out of Afghanistan.

In the first years after the 9/11 terrorist assault on New York and Washington, a majority of Americans consistently said that U.S. military moves in Afghanistan were a worthy effort to prevent further attacks on the United States. But starting in the Obama administration, an antiwar majority developed and has remained consistent for more than a decade.
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