The debacle President Biden has unleashed in Afghanistan today is the most shameful thing I have witnessed over three decades in Washington. Biden has said it’s not comparable to the U.S. departure from Saigon. That’s true; it’s far worse. As former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker put it, “I’m left with some grave questions in my mind about his ability to lead our nation as commander in chief. To have read this so wrong — or, even worse, to have understood what was likely to happen and not care.” He’s right. Either Biden had no idea this disaster was going to happen, in which case he is incompetent; or he knew that this would be the result but doesn’t care, in which case he is morally complicit in an intentional humanitarian catastrophe.
Yet rather than admit wrongdoing, the president is blaming everyone but himself. He argues that he had no choice because of the withdrawal agreement President Donald Trump signed with the Taliban. First of all, the Taliban violated that agreement, so the United States was under no obligation to follow it. Second, Biden has spent the past seven months reversing almost every Trump policy, from border security to the Keystone XL pipeline, sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal. But his hands were tied in Afghanistan? That’s the one place he had no choice but to carry out the Trump policy?
Trump’s Afghan policy was terrible, and I criticized his outreach to the Taliban. But does anyone really believe he would have let the United States be humiliated in this way? He would have unleashed a bombing campaign the likes of which the Taliban had not seen since 2001. Moreover, Trump promised a withdrawal based on conditions on the ground. Biden explicitly rejected a conditions-based withdrawal, declaring “we cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan, hoping to create ideal conditions for the withdrawal.” By announcing that we were getting out no matter what the Taliban did, Biden gave the Taliban a green light to carry out the murderous offensive we now see unfolding.
When Biden is not blaming Trump, he is blaming the Afghan army. In his address to the nation Monday, Biden accused the Afghan military of collapsing “sometimes without trying to fight” and declared that “American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves.” This is a calumny. In January 2015, Afghan forces assumed full responsibility for combat operations against the Taliban. Since that time, the State Department reports that U.S. combat deaths in Afghanistan “dropped sharply to an average of about 17 per year” while during that same period between 53,000 and 57,000 Afghan soldiers were killed in action fighting the Taliban — including about 2,600 thorough Aug. 5 this year. To say Afghans were not willing to fight is libelous. For more than six years, the Afghan army bore the brunt of the fight — and with U.S. support they succeeded in holding the Taliban at bay. It was only when Biden withdrew the U.S. mission planning, intelligence and air support that had enabled them to succeed that Afghan forces were overwhelmed.
That should come as no surprise. There is not a single U.S. ally in the world that could defend itself without U.S. help. There is a reason we have had American troops deployed in Japan, Germany and South Korea for more than seven decades — and why we have more than 170,000 active-duty troops stationed in over 170 countries around the world today.
The mission in Afghanistan was never to turn that country into a Jeffersonian democracy. It was to ensure that Afghanistan had a government whose leaders did not wake up every morning thinking that America must be destroyed — and did not provide sanctuary for terrorists determined to bring that destruction to the American homeland. That mission was succeeding — until Joe Biden’s misbegotten, incompetent, unconditional retreat handed Afghanistan over to the United States’ enemies, who will turn it into an Islamist militant haven once again.