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Meet You in the Middle: Take a hard look: What have we become as a nation?

By Shay McNeal

Shay McNeal. Image provided.

My last column was inspired as a result of a cross-country trip I made just before deadline. During my travels, I asked liberals, conservatives and independents from the South, the Midwest and Western sectors of the United States to be interviewed in an open-ended fashion about how they perceived the overall state of the nation. As a review:

Upon encountering these mostly cooperative individuals all along the way who were willing to spend a few minutes out of their busy day indulging a stranger with some penetrating questions, I ultimately was left with two words — so many are feeling abandoned and lost. What became abundantly clear is that my questions were striking a chord within them that needed plucking.

At that moment in time, I found the words “abandoned” and “lost” a stinging realization that so many from whom we hear so little found themselves somewhat confused and bewildered about the direction of the country. What it indicated to me was the need for a strong, decisive, if not comforting message from our leadership about where we are headed for the good of all our citizens and that political decisions are not resonating among Susie and Johnny, Marco and Sofia, Keysha and Elijah or Rodrigo and Diwater. Our nation is badly out of tune.

Yesterday, we brought home 13 dead bodies who were received at Dover Air Force Base in a silent and dignified transfer. They were the sons and daughters from all ethnic backgrounds and from families who gave their most precious commodity to our country. Almost all were in their early 20s with the exception of one 31-year-old. Fighting back tears as I watched the transfers, I also fought back emotions and, as the administration likes to say, “clear-eyed” thoughts about what brought us to this needless loss of life. What follows is not the finger-pointing we have been preemptively chastised not to discuss at this time but instead a fact-laden conclusion I have come to that I adamantly feel must be examined. “Mixed messaged,” “spin” and “damage control” must be out the window to die a brutal death as they strike unforgiving rock-hard earth. Enough is enough.

There is so much to say about the conditioned Doha Agreement signed by the Trump administration beginning with this: Was it the way to extract us from “America’s longest war”? The conditions insisted that the Afghanistan government and the Taliban should engage in peace talks and come to a working agreement; it also called for no attacks on American forces unless the Taliban wanted to suffer swift and unforgiving punishment as retribution, to name a few conditions. At the time, the administration must have felt they would be reelected to fulfil the watchdog role for a positive conclusion. Among other conditions was one very powerful one — that the U.S. could withdraw from the agreement if the peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government failed.

The agreement had difficulty getting its foothold, but the talks did continue to sputter and were continued, albeit not concluded, before Trump left the White House. There were no Americans killed in the 18 months that followed the agreement. The fall — or a better word for it is cascading collapse — of the Afghan government has led to President Ashraf Ghani fleeing to the United Arab Emirates while the Vice President Amrullah Saleh, the former head of their CIA-like component, is now the acting president and leading the resistance in the Panjshir region. He, in conjunction with the son of Ahmad Shah Massoud, Ahmad Massoud, who is only 32 years old, have made bold and daring attempts to lead the resistance. What legitimacy supports their actions?

If the Doha Agreement was made inert as the peace talks between the two factions failed, then this is the end of the agreement; consequently, why are we using it to enforce absurd dates, supposedly mandated by the Doha Agreement that now should lack legitimacy? It is the world upside down. The withdrawal was to be in May and then the Biden administration moved it to September. Really, the spin queens and kings were working overtime. Were we to pull out symbolically on the anniversary of 9/11? How infantile. Now we’ve paid the piper.

Here are a few things to consider: We went in in the first place to make certain that we had eyes and ears on the ground to fight radical Islamism to keep our country safe. We have, to date, avoided the 9/11-type horrific attack here in our homeland. We accomplished the objective. However, we must consider that unlike when we left Germany and Japan, where we have secured a peace and left behind eyes and ears, this is different. The chance of either of those nations seeking to administer a crushing attack on this country is nil. Now that we have taken our eyes and ears out of Afghanistan, who will assure us of our security from this terrorist faction? We should have canceled the agreement and continued until we knew we could protect our interests. We could have secured safe passage for all our citizens, those Afghan citizens who supported us, our military personnel and lastly our material treasure in the form of our most advanced military equipment.

The Washington Post reports today that we had talks with the Taliban regarding our departure, and someone in the administration told them we only needed the airport in Kabul, not the city they offered for the U.S. to secure. We did not take the deal. The Taliban waltzed right in and now we answer to them for the protection of our citizens and those who gave so much to us — including potentially their lives. As of a few minutes ago, a member of the administration says they still believe they made the right decision. How could anyone make a statement like that in the full light of where we are today? Ask the Gold Star mother who through her anger blamed this administration for the unnecessary death of her son.

Next, we turned out the lights at Bagram Air Force Base in the middle of the night, not informing our allies. Who do we think we are? Callous, unthinking, unfeeling — that is not the America I know. Now add to this that our “over the horizon” ability to proactively protect our interest is off at the knee. Afghanistan shares a border with Iran, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Vakhan leading to China and the Xinjiang Uyghur zone and part of the Silk Road. And we don’t need Afghanistan? We had this country in hand, and a real exit plan would have had the outcome we so badly needed.

We would have secured a different outcome in protecting our interests and the lives of those who had to experience such horror and fear during the last two weeks with a small contingent, as we have done during the last seven months or so. Who made this happen? General Milley, who publicly said we did not need Bagram? Putin, who told our president we could not keep any presence in Afghanistan? What did Biden say to him then? Did he not question Russia’s motive for that position?

How about China, which backs Pakistan, and how about the weapons (until we handed them to the Taliban) that bear the signature of Russia? Yes, we need and must demand explanations of how and why we find ourselves in this position where a known terrorist group, led in part by a man on whose head the FBI has a $5 million bounty, now leads a nation that we defer to regarding the potential welfare of our left-behind citizens and those to whom we made a commitment. Do not tell me about “nation building” nonsense.

We, America, watched over a country where we had self-interest indeed. But the by-product was our powerful impact on a nation where the median age is just over 18 years old. They do not understand a Taliban presence without a constitutional government sharing power — which was the hope many learned about in the schooling they received for the first time. They are scared, you bet. What in God’s name have we done? Isn’t it great we got out early? I was just notified the last plane departed at 4:34 p.m. Monday, August 30.

Let us meet in the middle and examine whom we have become.

Shay McNeal is assistant publisher and editor at large of the Charleston Mercury; she divides her time between Northern Virginia and Charleston and may be reached at


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