Larry and Phil Peters don’t agree on much. Larry’s a Democrat, and his brother is a Republican. But over lunch at Harvest Moon Craft Kitchen in Canal Winchester, Ohio, outside Columbus, they found common ground on the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan after two decades of war: It was past time to get out.

The brothers believe the United States stayed too long, spent too much and has now left an ugly mess.

Americans don’t share many positions these days, but in polling and dozens of interviews across the country, they mostly come together about U.S. involvement in a divided, war-scarred country. President Biden, they say, was right to pull out U.S. troops — though they don’t like the violent scene left behind.

“It’s sad as hell,” said Larry, 71, a semiretired psychologist from Connecticut. He feels sorry for the Afghan people, but “after all the blood and money we poured in, it’s pretty clear, in retrospect: We didn’t get anything done.”

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The failure to plan for an orderly escape of Afghans who helped U.S. forces has created “a terrible, awful situation,” agreed Phil, 64, a retired high school teacher in Ohio.

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This past week, as troubling scenes of panicked Afghans rushing to escape their country played almost constantly on cable TV news and online, early polling and interviews indicate that the chaotic withdrawal has damaged confidence in Biden’s foreign policy acumen and bolstered many Americans’ sense that the country’s stature in the world is diminished.

But despite wall-to-wall news coverage, many Americans see little reason to pay much attention. They concluded long ago that Afghanistan was not their — or their country’s — business.

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“We shouldn’t ever have been there — we were just wasting troops,” said Gil Santiago, 21, a freelance writer in Waterford, Mich., 30 miles northwest of Detroit.

Watching throngs of Afghans desperately trying to get out leaves him flat, he said: “I don’t really care about them, so I think we handled it right. It’s like Vietnam; it’s not our fight.” Santiago, who voted for Biden last year, said he credits the president with “sticking to his word to get out,” but he blames both parties for having stayed in Afghanistan for so long.

“These wars never really worked out for the U.S., in all honesty,” he said.

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Popular exhaustion with the conflict in Afghanistan may have strengthened Biden’s resolve to finish the job — something his two predecessors promised but never achieved. Large majorities of Americans told pollsters this year, as they have for a long time, that they supported pulling out of Afghanistan.

In the first years after the 9/11 terrorist assault on New York and Washington, D.C., a majority of Americans consistently said that U.S. military moves in Afghanistan were a worthy effort to prevent further attacks on the United States. But starting in the Obama administration, an anti-war majority developed and has remained consistent for more than a decade.

This May, a Quinnipiac College poll found that 62% of Americans approved of Biden’s decision to pull all the troops out. Last month, that number jumped to 70% in a poll by the Chicago Council for Global Affairs.

But when a Fox News poll asked people in April to choose between bringing all U.S. troops home and keeping some there to protect against terrorist operations, half of those responding opted to keep a small contingent in Afghanistan.

This month, after the Afghan government and military collapsed and the Taliban took over in a stunning blitz, support for withdrawing U.S. forces dropped from 50% to 40%, according to a survey by Yahoo News/YouGov. Still, even now, just 28% of Americans oppose withdrawal.

That leaves many Americans uncertain — even in a media environment saturated with sharp rhetoric about incompetence and poor planning in the military, intelligence agencies and the Oval Office.

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Gianna Crandell didn’t know much about the war in Afghanistan until the news about the Taliban taking Kabul filled up her “For You” feed on TikTok. Images of families scrambling to get inside the airport and video of Afghans clinging to a U.S. military plane left her torn about Biden’s decision.

Crandell, 22, doesn’t want endless fighting, but she believes America has an obligation to help innocent people struggling in the region.

“It’s sad to watch helpless people holding onto an airplane as it’s taking off,” said Crandell, a bartender at the Root Kava in Boulder, Colorado. Still, “there are so many families that have died — our families — and it’s not even our fight. But it does affect the world. It affects us too.”

She’s just not sure what to believe, in part because she lost her trust in the mainstream media during President Donald Trump’s term because she thought news coverage had become too biased. Crandell, who voted for Biden, mainly stays up to date through viral videos on social media, especially TikTok.

Despite the extensive news coverage, many people are more interested in the latest COVID-19 headlines than in anything about Afghanistan. The “most read” tallies on many news sites this week showed stories about coronavirus booster shots and the ongoing masking debate.

Cable news channels’ ratings were not especially high, though Fox News won strong audiences with coverage emphasizing Biden’s failure to achieve a smooth withdrawal.

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“For the right-wing media, this is Christmas in August, a beautiful pony gift-wrapped and put under the tree,” said Howard Polskin, who monitors conservative news outlets at TheRighting.com. “It’s just being used to bludgeon Biden in the worst way we’ve seen.”

The big themes on right-wing sites recently — Biden is worse than President Jimmy Carter, Kabul is worse than Saigon, the U.S. military has been taken over by woke culture — are now showing up in comments by Republican voters.

The United States needed to bring its troops home, but the way this happened was “a national embarrassment,” said Devin Avery, 31, a salesman in Flower Mound, Texas, north of Dallas. “The Biden administration has never looked more incompetent, weak and careless. If we didn’t have a better plan to exit than this, then we should have stayed until we did.”

Avery, an independent who voted twice for Trump, said that although he blames Biden, he “would be just as critical of any president that showed this level of incompetence.”

What happens in Afghanistan is simply not our problem, say many Americans, whether Republican or Democratic. Anthony Quinn, 67, a retired preschool teacher and chef in San Francisco who consistently votes for Democrats, said that “because it’s so far, it’s hard for me to get emotionally connected. I don’t know anybody [there], and it really is halfway across the world, from my world. It don’t weigh on me.”

Quinn wouldn’t want to be in the refugees’ shoes, but he doesn’t want them coming here. “Where do they go? I don’t know,” he said. “That’s hard. Don’t come here.”

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But there are both Democrats and Republicans who believe the United States had a moral and political obligation to stay in Afghanistan.

“As a megapower in the world, we have a responsibility to the small countries,” said James Godwin, a driver in Selma, Ala., who delivers materials for a government contractor. “We should have stayed there. We stayed in Germany for, what, 40 years? As long as it takes.”

Godwin, 49, who generally votes Republican, believes Biden botched the pullout and Trump would have managed the transition more smoothly, but he breaks with many fellow conservatives on fleeing Afghans.

“The people that worked for the U.S. over there need refuge,” Godwin said, “and they need it more than the people coming into our country on the southern border. They’re in danger — the women are already disappearing from the streets over there — and we owe them.”

The failure to protect Afghans who’d helped U.S. forces has caused some Biden voters to doubt their choice.

Arthur Gibbs, an Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and now lives in Philadelphia, still prefers Biden over Trump, but he would probably vote for a different Democrat if he had the option today.

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“He’s just handed this generation their Saigon,” said Gibbs, 53, acting commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8051. “We were chased out of the country. They talk about Biden being a compassionate guy. But … he seems more concerned about PR now than the humanity. We cannot abandon the people that helped us.”

One of those people, Saeed Rahi, grew up in northern Afghanistan and said he worked for years “to implement the U.S.’s vision in Afghanistan.” Now living in Woodbridge, Virginia, with his wife and four children, Rahi, 43, campaigned for Biden and doesn’t regret it, but is worried sick about what the American withdrawal has done to his homeland and his family there.

“The Taliban tortured my brother, they beat him up when they captured my district last month,” he said. His relatives “lost their jobs, and there is no work and no money and they are facing problems in bringing food to their kids. And security-wise, they are not safe. They spent nights at the airport in Kabul, but they were not able to get help to get out of the country. They call and ask if I can do something for them, but I can’t.”

Rahi, who has written two books in Farsi on conflict resolution, hopes Americans won’t fall for the Taliban’s attempt to portray themselves as having softened their extremist positions. “The Taliban is painting a positive picture of themselves for now, so people will think about them differently,” he said. “You never trust this. Because Taliban ideology is very different, it’s not about politics, it’s their religion.”

For veterans, especially those who served in Afghanistan, these days have been particularly unsettling. Guy Zierk, who retired from the Marines in 2018 after serving as an infantryman in Afghanistan a decade ago, has been consoling his former colleagues, many of whom told him their “good fight” now feels meaningless.

“I’m talking some friends down who are really amped up about what is happening,” said Zierk, 45, who now owns a carpentry and remodeling business in Heath, Ohio. “The bullet is down range. There’s nothing you can do about it. Afghanistan has fallen.”

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Zierk, who was wounded in Afghanistan, doesn’t blame any one president more than the others, but he believes U.S. troops “never controlled the script” and “fought with our hands tied behind our back,” often having their requests for air support and bomb runs denied.

“Mixed emotions are pulling me in different directions,” he said. “Twenty flippin’ years.”

“Everyone cares all of a sudden,” said Jason Gibson, 35, who lost both legs at the hips in Afghanistan in 2012 when he triggered a buried explosive device while sweeping a road to ensure safe passage for troops. “All the armchair generals giving their opinions is one thing that is irking me.”

Now living in rural Marysville, Ohio, the retired Army staff sergeant knows he and his fellow soldiers did what they could. “I don’t have the greatest respect for the politicians,” he said. “We stabilized the place. I don’t know what more we could have done. I just know we did good stuff there.”

Over the course of the 20-year U.S. involvement, even those who viscerally understood why Americans first went to Afghanistan soured on the venture. Alison Crowther, a Realtor in Upper Nyack, N.Y., lost her son, Welles, on Sept. 11, 2001, when he was a rookie equities trader on the 104th floor in the South Tower of the World Trade Center. He was 24.

Back then, Crowther supported sending troops into Afghanistan to stop extremists from further attacks on the United States, but on the eve of the 20th anniversary of her son’s death, she wonders, “How long do we have to keep fighting other people’s battles?”

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Now a 72-year-old grandmother of four, Crowther, who voted for Biden, wishes the withdrawal had been smoother and worries about new oppression of Afghan women. She’s glad Americans are finally out, but she’s not sure the U.S. role there is over.

“If any trouble starts brewing again over there, we need to knock the you-know-what out of them,” she said.

Celeste Zappala is 74, mother of a son who was killed while serving in Iraq in 2004. She’s been marching for peace since she was a teenager.

“It’s the end of my life, and I’m saying the same arguments I said when I was 19 years old,” said Zappala, who lives in Philadelphia. “We destroyed Vietnam. We were shocked when that corrupt government fell and we left behind people who had consequences to pay. And we didn’t learn. We tell people we’re their allies, that we’ll stand with them. But when push comes to shove, you’re not necessary, you’re expendable.”

Zappala doesn’t understand why she could see that the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan was imminent when American leaders apparently did not. “They knew this catastrophe was coming, and then they act shocked,” she said. “That’s what stuns me. How can you pretend you didn’t know what was coming?”

A lifelong Democrat, she is extremely disappointed in Biden, though she puts more blame on President George W. Bush, who sent U.S. forces into Afghanistan in 2001.

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“I would have expected better from a Democratic State Department and president,” she said. “They’ve handed the Republicans the perfect case to go against Biden with. That hurts everything we want to see happen politically.”

But some Biden supporters excused the clumsy withdrawal as a sign that the president is committed to an overdue domestic focus.

“We need to just come on home and let them figure it out,” said Hugette Brooks, a lifelong Democrat in Philadelphia. “We’ve been there years and years and years … and it seems like it not going anywhere. We got a lot going on here.”

She’s seen the footage of desperate people trying to board departing aircraft in Kabul, but Brooks, 60, holds to her view that Biden “has more empathy and compassion for people and people’s living situations and for people, period. He’ll get it together.”

Michael Murphy, 67, has come to see many political issues as more complicated than he once did. A pacifist for much of his life, he initially opposed the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, but “things aren’t as simple now as they were to me then,” he said. “I don’t know how you avoid violence, and this is an example of it.”

From his home in Columbus, Mississippi, Murphy has been watching the situation in Kabul closely, on TV and in national and local newspapers. When he heard the story of an Afghan man who had helped the United States as an interpreter and was now stuck at the Kabul airport with his family, desperate to escape, “that really hit me,” Murphy said.

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Some would argue that ” ‘We can’t help all of them,’ ” he said. “There’s a lot of truth to that. But I would say that we have to help every one of them that we can.”

“It irks me that there are people who resent bringing them here,” Murphy said. “We certainly have special obligations to these people because they helped us, they were trusting us.”

Murphy, who voted for Biden, said the president’s decision to withdraw troops wasn’t easy, and the way it worked out looked “sloppy.”

“I feel for President Biden, and I think he’s trying to do what he thinks is best, but I do think it’s not going well at all,” he said.

That said, Murphy has come to believe there are few black-and-white issues in life. Most things are shades of gray. “At one time, I would have said that good always wins out and right always overcomes might,” he said. “I’m not so sure now. Sometimes, I think we just have to try to get the best that we can.”

Fisher reported from Washington, Pompilio from Philadelphia and Ludlow from Columbus, Ohio. The Washington Post’s Kevin Armstrong in Tappan, N.Y.; Scott Clement, Emily Guskin and Laura Reiley in Washington; Sarah Fowler in Ridgeland, Mississippi; Mary Beth Gahan in Flower Mound, Texas; Ari Schneider in Boulder, Colorado; and Zara Stone in San Francisco contributed to this report.