Maureen Dowd: Goldfish memory America keeps circling bowl

Afghanistan horror exemplifies climate-damaged, rights-opposing land of dread

US president Joe Biden: The enablers of the misbegotten occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq have been shrieking like banshees, trying to manacle him to their own past mistakes. Photograph: Sarahbeth Maney/New York Times

It isn’t a pretty picture. One coast is burning. The other is under water. In between, anti-abortion vigilantes may soon rampage across gunslinging territory. What has happened to this country?

America is reeling backward, strangled by the past, nasty and uncaring, with everyone at one another’s throats. Post-Trump, we let ourselves hope that the new president could heal and soothe, restore a sense of rationality, decency and sanity. But the light at the end of the tunnel turned out to be just a firefly.

We feel the return of dread: we're rattled by the catastrophic exit from Afghanistan; the coming abortion war sparked by Texas; the Trumpian supreme court dragging us into the past; the confounding nature of this plague; the way Mother Nature is throttling us, leaving New Yorkers to drown in their basements. And now comes Donald Trump, tromping toward another presidential run. It feels as if nothing can be overcome.

Everything is being relitigated. We’re choking on enlightened climate proposals but the disparity between the disasters we see and what’s being done in Washington makes it feel as if nothing is happening except climate change. We’re so far from getting a handle on the problem, the discussions around it seem almost theoretical.


Senator Joe Manchin, tied to the energy industry, balks at climate change provisions in the reconciliation Bill. He should be looking for ways to get West Virginia in touch with reality rather than living in the past. "Manchin's claim that climate pollution would be worsened by the elimination of fossil fuels – or by the resolution's actual, more incremental climate provisions – is highly dubious, if not outright false," the Intercept reported, noting that the truth is that Manchin's personal wealth would "be impacted". Since he joined the Senate, the Intercept said, he has grossed some $4.5 million from coal companies he founded.

Back alley

With its new abortion law, sending women back to the back alley and encouraging Stasi-like participation from the citizenry, Texas now becomes the capital of American unreason. The law "essentially delegated enforcement of that prohibition to the populace at large", wrote chief justice John Roberts.

There were medieval fiefs more enlightened than the Lone Star GOP. Between putting women in danger by pushing that law and putting children in danger by imposing his anti-mask mania on school districts that want to mask up, governor Greg Abbott of Texas has become a scourge of the first rank.

A cynical slice of the Republican Party – and this includes Trump – privately denigrates anti-abortion activists as wackos, but publicly moves in lock-step with them in order to cling to that base and keep power. But the anti-abortion forces were somehow clever enough to hijack the supreme court and Republicans will have to contend with the backlash when the court tosses Roe v Wade aside.

As botched as the withdrawal from Afghanistan was, at least Joe Biden was trying to move into the future and do triage on one of America's worst mistakes. And unlike other presidents – JFK with the Bay of Pigs, LBJ with the Vietnam War and Barack Obama with the Afghanistan surge – Biden did not allow himself to be suckered by the generals, the overweening Ivy Leaguers and the Blob, the expense account monsters who keep this town whirring and always have a seat at the table, no matter how wrong they were, and are.

Past mistakes

The Afghanistan tragedy, as James Risen wrote in the Intercept, was just two decades of Americans lying to one another, and it "brought out in Americans the same imperial arrogance that doomed the US involvement in Vietnam".

Unlike his three predecessors, Biden risked Saudi ire by directing the justice department and other agencies on Friday to review and declassify documents related to the FBI’s investigation into 9/11. Families of 9/11 victims had been pushing for the release of the secret files to learn more about the role the Saudis played in the attacks.

The enablers of our misbegotten occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq have been shrieking like banshees at Biden, trying to manacle him to their own past mistakes as he attempts to lift off. With peerless chutzpah, Tony Blair called Biden's decision to depart cynical and driven by an "imbecilic political slogan about ending 'the forever wars'".

But Biden knew enough not to spend more lives and treasure to prop up a kleptocracy. He oversaw some bad weeks in Afghanistan but George W Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld should be blamed for 20 bad years. Remarkably, as Jon Allsop pointed out in the Columbia Journalism Review, the word "Bush" was not mentioned once on any of the Sunday news shows the weekend Kabul was falling. "He looks like the Babe Ruth of presidents when you compare him to Trump," Harry Reid, the former Democratic Senate majority leader, told the Washington Post's Ben Terris, for a story this past week on Bush nostalgia.

With a memory like a goldfish, America circles its bowl, returning to where we have been, unable to move forward, condemned to repeat a past we should escape.

This article originally appeared in the New York Times