This has been a hard month for the United States and our allies. It has been particularly brutal for the Afghans as the crisis in their country rages on and does not promise a happy ending.
President Joseph Biden, who I voted for and still strongly support, has made what seem to be tragic strategic errors as he winds down the American commitment in Afghanistan. But one of the lessons I learned during my years of leading comparatively small government agencies is that in times of multi-dimensional crises––times where manifold forces rush in from different directions––the full story will not be known until the smoke clears. Then, calm minds can think and analyze together.
It is clear that mistakes were made, beginning with the U.S invasion of the country 20 years ago and continuing through today. We need to learn from those mistakes. The goal, therefore, should be to seek the facts and the truth, identify the missteps, and enact policies to ensure they never occur again. It is then that those who were leaders throughout the years of compounding errors can be held to account.
That is what a competent government would do. However, we Americans instead seek partisan advantage in the chaos. My knowledge about Afghanistan and the war is limited to what I pick up in the news, and my guess is that the same goes for most Americans. As time progresses, we will learn more, and I am holding my final judgement until such a time.
Domestic Issues are Obscured
In the meantime, there are domestic issues that have been obscured by the unfolding tragedies of war. The biggest of these is our dysfunctional politics and the damage being inflicted on our democratic system of governance by a divisive brand of partisanship. The work of our government is being compromised by America’s increasingly hostile politics. We are no longer a nation united around common principles, but a nation divided into factions and competing interest groups.
This is not new. I wrote about the same issue in my book a decade ago: “When our union’s founders turned from fighting an oppressor to forming a nation, they were not of one mind, but they held a common vision: the idea of a democratic form of government that was committed to ensuring justice and domestic tranquility, promoting the general welfare and securing the ‘blessings of liberty’ for their generation and generations to come…
“Moving from the generalities of a shared vision to the particulars of a new government required ongoing and thoughtful debate, careful listening and constant compromise. In the process they found that the tensile strength of the infant nation’s fabric increased as pieces of competing arguments were woven into a whole cloth that has held the country together for more than two centuries: the Constitution of the United States of America.
Shared Vision and Willing Engagement
“What continues to give the Constitution life and power through more than two centuries of changing times are the initial ingredients of a shared vision and a willingness to engage one another in a mutual search for the common good. Today, however, the vision has fractured and engagement has become an ideological battle in service of one’s political party rather than the national interest.
“The founders promised that the blessings of the new nation would last for posterity. I fear that my generation is on the verge of becoming the first to break that promise… Today’s ‘my way or the highway’ debating has created a ‘new normal,’ leaving a non-collaborative form of governance at the epicenter of our national crisis. The best gift my generation can give to (our) grandchildren, is to rebel against the entrenched ideologues. We need to lead the way back to the future…and recover the quest for a society that aspires to rebuild that shared vision. It is time to reignite the founders’ spirit of engaging one another as we launch a mutual search for a 21st-century America.”
Remember, the last four paragraphs above were written in 2011. The only change in our political climate since then is that it has gotten worse. While there is not much we citizens can do about Afghanistan in the moment, we do have the power to begin changing our politics. It is up to us—the voters— to reverse the trend. Elected leaders will continue to listen to and repeat nonsense as long as they think that bizarre belligerence, big lies and “alternative facts” motivate us.
Stand Up, Speak Out!
Stand up and speak out against the absurdity of QAnon. Stand up and repudiate violent hate groups like the Proud Boys, Boogalo Bois, Oath Keepers, Three Percenters, and Antifa. Stand up and speak out, because they are “standing by,” and in the absence of our voices and our actions they will prevail.
Bill Jamieson’s career has included leadership positions in business, government, and education. He was also an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church and his ministry centered around advocacy for low-income families and children.