The Best Bad Choice
I like this take from Andrew Sullivan about the reaction to the fall of Afghanistan:
There is something about the unreal huffing and puffing this week from the left-media, the neocon holdouts and the opportunistic Republicans that seems far too cheap and easy. It’s as if they have learned nothing — nothing — from the 21st Century. They are acting now as if we are snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, rather than finally ending the dumbest, longest war this country has ever fought.
I don’t agree that it’s the dumbest war the U.S. has ever fought — that distinction still goes to Iraq — but I do agree that Biden (following Trump) made a tragic but necessary call, the best among bad options. His critics have a point only to the extent the State and Defense Departments could have more punctually evacuated American citizens and the Afghans who helped us. But even that narrow criticism assumes perfect insight into unpredictable personalities and events.
On a much lesser scale, I did comparable work at UC Berkeley, where I served as an ad hoc member of the wryly-acronymed Behavioral Risk Assessment Team. Most of the time we evaluated people euphemistically known as “students of concern,” those who might present a threat to themselves or others.
If indications were that students threatened only themselves, I went along with whatever the counseling and Student Affairs people recommended, just listening to make sure we best covered the campus from a liability perspective.
But if we thought the students presented a threat to others, I advocated intervention. I told my BRAT colleagues multiple times that I would rather pay a small amount to defend a civil rights lawsuit from students we suspended or took into protective custody than to open the checkbook for wrongful death lawsuits from the survivors of their prospective victims.
When students appeared to threaten neither themselves nor others — they were merely decompensating — and we decided to do little beyond monitoring, I left BRAT meetings with gnawing doubt. What if we were wrong? We were making potentially life-and-death decisions going on little more than what few facts we had, a WAVR-21 assessment, and our judgment. Collectively we could have been the shrewdest observers of human behavior in the world yet still made a mistake that ended or ruined someone’s life. And then we’d have been vilified as gross incompetents by the families of the victims, the idiot media, and the general public — even though we’d gotten dozens of previous assessments right.
I understand the wish that government officials get every one of their life-and-death calls correct. But I don’t understand the demand that they do so. That requires a level of omniscience not granted to mortals — and I say that not to excuse hasty or foolish decisions, but to contextualize decisions made with due deliberation amid rampant uncertainty.