What Will Voters Say About Afghanistan?

Some Spirited Reasoners might be wondering whether the messiness of our military exit from Afghanistan could be serious enough to cost Joe Biden his chance of reelection in 2024. Or cost him, perhaps, the loss of a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives and/or Senate.

What does history teach us?

The messy end of the Vietnam War took place in 1975, during the administration of Gerald Ford. One would think, therefore, that such a momentous event would have played a major role during the election campaign of 1976.

Not so. The major issues—at least those garnering all the media attention—included Carter’s promise to be “truthful” to Americans after the many allegations of untruthfulness leveled against the Nixon administration during the Watergate scandal. In fact, Carter decided that truthfulness involved admitting in a Playboy interview that he had “lusted in his heart” for other women, an interview which created a scandal in itself. But before his sizeable lead in the polls could evaporate entirely, his opponent, Gerald Ford, threw away his momentum by declaring, during the televised presidential debates, that there was no Soviet domination of Poland.

(See, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1976_United_States_presidential_election#Fall_campaign )

In other words, it seems that the American people had forgotten all about the messy ending of the Vietnam War in less than a year.

What about the loss of American lives this time? Won’t those deaths come back to haunt Joe Biden?

In October of 1983, two suicide truck bombs slammed into American army barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, killing 241 U. S. troops, not to mention French allies and civilians. The instigators of the attack were never caught or even identified for certain.

(See, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1983_Beirut_barracks_bombings )

Did that attack, which completely blindsided U. S. forces, come back to haunt Ronald Reagan in the 1984 presidential election? On the contrary, President Reagan won the electoral votes of 49 out of 50 states in one of the biggest landslides in history.   

(See, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1984_United_States_presidential_election )

We could add to these two historical events the reelection of George W. Bush after the loss of American lives on 9/11. And the reelection of Barack Obama after the loss of American lives in Benghazi.

Conclusion?

Regardless of what voters are thinking this week about events in Afghanistan in 2021, history teaches us that by the time of next year’s midterm elections in November of 2022, we can expect American voters to be thoroughly distracted by a totally new set of issues. That’s not a pleasant thought for those of who think history ought to matter. But, ironically, our collective preference to forget history has become a historical fact.