Before it began, the United States exit from Afghanistan was supported by almost 80 percent of the American people. But in its execution, our exit has been one of the most disastrous events in the history of the United States. When one is looking at who is fully or partially responsible for this debacle, there is no one to take the blame.
There must be a school somewhere that grants degrees in avoiding giving answers to direct questions. I listened to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken talk about the situation and after a while, I got tired of his avoidance. There is very little one can learn from these briefings about our pullout from Afghanistan, even after two days of Blinken being questioned by the senators. Bob Woodward and Robert Costa’s recent book Peril reveals the actions of many people in the Trump and Biden administrations, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley. He was being questioned about talking to a Chinese counterpart without President Trump’s presidential approval or knowledge. He was immediately defended by the White House, but someone asked if President Biden would appreciate it if General Milley did that to him while he is in charge. General Milley, General Kenneth McKenzie, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin all appeared before the Senate this week. The senators and the American people know now that there were disagreements between President Biden and his advisors, but no one is willing to take responsibility. Things did not go well, but no one is responsible.
In a similar way, as the White House is defending its position on abortion, it was impressive that three Catholic leaders—the former Pope Bernardin, the current Pope Francis, and the Cardinal of Washington, DC—all spoke out to say that abortion is considered a sin by the Roman Catholic Church and people who encourage, enable, or assist in abortion cannot partake in the Eucharist. Yet Biden, who claims to be a practicing Catholic, cannot see that he is against the Catholic teachings. President Bill Clinton struggled to define abortion narrowly, but President Biden and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi see no conflict between their Catholic faith and opening the widest gate in support of abortion.
The Republicans are not any better. When President Donald Trump was asked if he ever asks for forgiveness, he stated that he could not remember doing anything wrong to require asking for forgiveness. Vice President Mike Pence participated in the ceremony where the Electoral College recorded their votes and declared President Biden duly elected, but neither President Trump nor the collective GOP have acknowledged the results yet. (It is also true that Stacey Abrams, who justifiably asked for Trump to recognize defeat, has not herself conceded after running for the position of the governor of Georgia.)
A couple of weeks ago I watched a video podcast about the gulags of Russia.They are closing the gulags one by one, but they are leaving one as a museum to teach about the horrors of communism. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote about the gulags in both large volumes and in one small book called A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. The title of this article comes from a section of that book, in which a commissar tells Ivan that the Party never makes mistakes. One cannot criticize the Party without being imprisoned in the gulag and once in the gulag, imprisoned people have no right to ask questions or think that they may have been right, because this would imply that the Party is wrong. And the Party is never wrong!
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In the United States, the people in both parties, the President, and his Cabinet seem to have taken the posture of the Russian Party. We make no mistakes, and we stonewall when anyone implies a need for accountability or even worse, admission of guilt. But in the Lord’s Prayer, we are told to forgive our debtors as God forgives us. In his book Whatever Became of Sin? Karl Menninger wrote that the concept of sin was eliminated in the 1960s because the word reminded people of the responsibility they had before God. We have also been encouraged to lawyer up when things go wrong and never admit that we are guilty.
God knows that each of us is guilty of small things and big things, and the Bible tells us to confess to one another. While confessional wisdom says that private sins should be confessed to the person who was sinned against and public sins should be confessed publicly, perhaps we can all start the practice of confession on a small scale. Maybe the Secretary of State could not speak candidly on TV, but he could admit during a closed session that the government made mistakes. After President Biden heard two popes and one cardinal state an opposite view, perhaps he could tell some of his friends that he might have been wrong. Former President Trump could recognize that he has made some horrible mistakes in regard to his infidelities, disparaging his allies in public, and refusing to take responsibility when his followers act on things he has said. Maybe we all need the humility of President Abraham Lincoln, who was brave enough to admit that he was wrong many times and was willing to accept correction.