[OPINION] The price of leadership and freedom 

“Failure is an orphan while success has many fathers.”

The blame for what’s happening in Afghanistan is being heaped on President Joe Biden. He has taken responsibility for it, declaring, “I am president of the United States and I accept full responsibility and stand by my decision.”

In fact, the decision to get the U.S. involved in Afghanistan was made by President George W. Bush, the promise to bring American troops home was made by President Barack Obama, and the firm commitment for U.S. withdrawal was forged with the Taliban by President Donald Trump.

It was Biden who made good on the commitment, although he delayed the actual troop pull-out by a few months.

He said that he did not want to pass on that responsibility to a fifth president. Echoing the words of President Harry Truman, Biden said, “The buck stops with me!”

Such is the price of leadership.

I recall the time we faced a financial crisis during my tenure as CEO of a Manila ad agency and we had to lay off people. None of my division managers were willing to draw up a short list of personnel who could be laid off. I had to take on the painful task of making the list and talking to each person about to face the chopping block. My division heads could disclaim responsibility. But I could not. The buck stopped with me.

For sure, during the 20 years of America’s involvement in Afghanistan, there were flawed decisions made by each president. Blame can be assigned and reasonable questions asked. But I think that the decision to withdraw U.S. troops was good for America, although we cannot close our eyes to the horrible consequences.

Critics have asked: Why did America leave with such haste and finality? Couldn’t the troop pull-out have been programmed over a longer period to give the Afghan government and the military enough time to prepare for it, to strengthen their defensive and fighting capability? And couldn’t the final withdrawal have been made contingent on ‘good behavior’ on the part of the Taliban?

The response to this is: What is “enough time”? Didn’t the Afghans have enough time to strengthen themselves over the 20 years of U.S. presence, with billions in aid and training resources, equipment and arms poured into the country?

The Afghan military far outnumbered the Taliban, with superior fire power plus direct U.S. involvement by way of air strikes. Didn’t that give the Afghan government and the military a major advantage?

But numbers alone are only one factor for victory. Even more important is fighting spirit and the will to win — on top of a cause for which a warrior is willing to give his life.

It is said that the Afghan foot soldiers were not motivated and were, in fact, disgusted with the way their superior officers were enriching themselves on funds intended for their wages and food.

The Afghan civil government, according to senior U.S. officials, was riddled with corruption, with those in high office more concerned with preparing for a life of wealth and comfort than for the defense of their country. The fact that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani abandoned his office and his country, reportedly with plenty of cash confirms this.

It has also been reported that the Taliban softened the will of the Afghan defense forces by offering them money and the promise of leniency if they offered no resistance. This appears to be true. Afghanistan, including Kabul, was taken over by the Taliban rapidly and with minimal bloodshed.

Biden and other U.S. officials have put it bluntly: Why should American lives be put at risk for a cause that the Afghans themselves were not willing to fight for?

The lesson of Afghanistan should hold special significance for the Filipino people in the context of a possible confrontation between the U.S. and China over the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea.

Will the Pinoy soldiers still have the will to fight on if caught in a war between the two giants, America and China?

During World War II, when the Japanese overran the Philippines, Filipino and U.S. soldiers fought bravely against the enemy until Bataan fell. Thousands withstood the Death March while others fought a guerilla war.

President Manuel Quezon and Vice President Sergio Osmena escaped from Corregidor to set up a government in exile in the U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur also fled Corregidor but vowed to return. The Filipino guerillas provided the intelligence that facilitated MacArthur’s return.

The Filipinos fought for a cause and were willing to die for it. And for this, our warriors, living and dead, received the Congressional Gold Medal (although it took many frustrating years for this recognition, veterans’ benefits and a modest compensation to be granted — but that’s another story that needs retelling).

Fast forward to the present.

How do our fighting men feel about the seeming helplessness of President Rodrigo Duterte in the face of China’s territorial bullying?

What about reports of rampant corruption in government and among the military brass?

And what if the Chinese were to offer fat financial incentives to those concerned so that they will give up without a fight?

Like leadership, Freedom has a price to be paid. Is the Filipino willing to pay that price?

Remember the final words of our National Anthem: “Ang mamatay nang dahil sa iyo!”

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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.

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(gregmacabenta@hotmail.com)

 

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