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RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR.: The least Americans can do to honor our fallen troops is tell the truth

President Joe Biden’s Aug. 31 deadline for withdrawing all U.S. military forces from Afghanistan has passed.

“I was not going to extend this forever war, and I was not extending a forever exit,” Biden said Tuesday in an address to the nation.

Now the fog of war has shifted to the home front.

A week after a suicide bombing near Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul killed 13 American military personnel — 11 Marines, an Army soldier, and a Navy corpsman — and at least 169 Afghan civilians, Americans are learning that this particular kind of fog is a trickster.

It disorients. It creates doubt. It spins the truth. The only thing you can see is partisanship.

After school shootings that bring the issue of gun violence to the surface, Democrats jump to conclusions, blame Republicans, and cast the narrative in black and white terms. Now, after the attack in Afghanistan, they warn against jumping to conclusions, attributing blame, and casting the narrative in black and white terms.

After Hurricane Katrina, with former President George W. Bush in the White House, Republicans ducked responsibility, accused Democrats of exploiting tragedy and warned against Monday morning quarterbacking. Now, after the massacre in Kabul, they’re eager to assign responsibility, exploit tragedy, and engage in Monday morning quarterbacking.

In the fog of war, the little things seem bigger. Such as a commander in chief glancing at his watch. Is that a little thing, or a big thing?

It depends — on whether the president who glanced belongs to your party, or the opposing one.

In 1992, Republicans thought it was unfair that Democrats criticized former President George H.W. Bush for looking at his watch during an important presidential debate with Bill Clinton and Ross Perot.

Today, they think it’s completely fair to criticize President Joe Biden for looking at his watch during a ceremony for the fallen military personnel killed in Afghanistan.

Democrats, no doubt, feel the opposite about both incidents of watch glancing.

Then there are the unanswered questions.

Like this one: Did the Taliban — who were responsible for security on the roads leading to the airport — intentionally let pass the suicide bomber that produced so much death and destruction?

If so, they are accomplices to the murder of Americans. They are an enemy of the United States of America, and they should be treated as such. If not, then the Taliban are so inept and so incompetent that these medieval barbarians don’t have a prayer of governing Afghanistan.

Either way, Americans should prepare for the inevitable: We will, sooner rather than later, have to send more troops back to the region to keep terrorism at bay and terrorists away from the U.S. homeland.

Then there is this question: Why do Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan — who bungled the withdrawal of U.S. military personnel, Afghan refugees and American civilians in the winding down of America’s longest war — still have jobs?

And should Biden lose his job? The fish rots from the head, as the saying goes. And that foul odor coming from the West Wing? It’s rotten fish.

Here at home, Americans are wounded and doubled over in pain.

In recent days, I’ve heard from friends I grew up with who joined the Army, Navy or Marines. Some served in Afghanistan. A pal who I’ve known since we were 10 wrote in a text: “My heart breaks, and I have no words.”

It’s my job to find words, even at wretched moments that fill me with sorrow and rage to the point where it feels like I’m going to burst. And the task is not made easier knowing that words are inadequate.

Nevertheless, I found these words: I’ve never been prouder of my friends or more grateful for their service. Along with other veterans, and their families — including those of the 13 warriors who died in Afghanistan last week — they are owed a debt that Americans can never repay.

To honor them, we must clear the fog. That means telling the truth, eschewing inconsistency and reaffirming our identity not as Democrats or Republicans but as Americans.

In politics, sometimes your guy messes up. When that happens, you need to be honest and mature enough to acknowledge it.

Otherwise, the fog will only grow thicker. And, as our common humanity as Americans gets weaker, it will swallow up a nation that was once a pretty special place.

So special that 13 brave Americans didn’t think twice about giving their lives to protect her.

Navarrette’s email address is ruben@rubennavarrette.com. His podcast, “Ruben in the Center,” is available through every podcast app.

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