President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the crisis in Afghanistan in Washington, August 16, 2021. (Leah Millis/Reuters )
Joe Biden may be the first U.S. president to argue that if a decision leads to disastrous consequences, it must be the correct one.
In his speech on the meltdown in Afghanistan, the president said that the rapid collapse of government forces “reinforced that ending U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan now was the right decision.”
This is bizarre, since not too long ago Biden was insisting that we could withdraw because the Afghan military would be perfectly capable of carrying on without us.
What’s clear is that Biden was absolutely committed to exiting Afghanistan no matter what. He expressed no regrets yesterday, even as the worst case unspooled in Afghanistan, including unforgettable images of terrified Afghans clinging to a U.S. transport plane as it took off from Kabul’s international airport, with some falling to their deaths.
Biden dwelt on how quickly the Afghan military melted away as the Taliban swept toward Kabul. This was indeed a symptom of corruption and poor leadership, but the Afghan army had fought and bled for years when the U.S. had stepped back into a support role. Biden emphasized how much assistance we’ve given the Afghan army, including crucial air and logistical support. Once we pulled those away with no viable substitutes, though, it was going to be difficult for the Afghan army to continue to operate in the best of circumstances, let alone in the face of a sweeping Taliban offensive with the U.S. washing its hands of the conflict.
Biden, of course, never acknowledged that we had denied these things to the Afghan army and the role that played in its calamitous defeat.
Shamefully, Biden blamed the Afghan government for not being able to negotiate with the Taliban “when the chips were down,” meaning as the group was certain of victory and bearing down on Kabul. This is also rich coming from a U.S. president after we cut the Afghan government out of our own foolhardy deal with the Taliban under President Trump (who continued in President Obama’s tradition of empowering the Taliban through negotiations and prisoner releases).
Biden correctly noted the flaws in Trump’s agreement and insisted his choices were either to follow through on the deal or escalate the conflict with thousands more U.S. troops. It’s certainly true that by the end Trump had taken troop levels too low — down to 2,500 — but bumping that up by several thousand, as Biden’s military officials recommended when pushing back against his reckless drawdown, would have been easily achievable and wouldn’t have meant a return to a combat role.
The only hint of regret in Biden’s speech was his admission that “this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated,” a euphemistic way of saying that his administration was utterly shocked by and unprepared for the Taliban’s rapid takeover. If anyone had any doubt about that, all they had to do was look at the scenes at the Kabul airport with panicked Afghans swarming the tarmac, as we scrambled to evacuate our own personnel. These are precisely the Saigon-like images that Biden confidently predicted we’d never see. The next time a U.S. president makes the case for bugging out of a foreign conflict, he’ll have to promise it won’t be “another Kabul.”
Biden made much of not passing along the Afghan war to a fifth American president. No, instead, he will pass along an Afghanistan dominated by the Islamic radicals who hosted the September 11 plotters, who still work hand-in-glove with terrorists, who have killed and maimed Americans for 20 years, who blatantly lied to us in negotiations and instantly violated their agreement with us, and who have humiliated the world’s greatest power.
It is beyond belief that Biden surveys all this and sees only evidence that he was right all along.