The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump & Co. engineered the pullout from Afghanistan. Now they criticize it.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Abdul Ghani Baradar, head of the Taliban's peace negotiation team, in Doha, Qatar, on Nov. 21, 2020. (Patrick Semansky/AP)
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The Biden administration, as I’ve argued, deserves plenty of blame for its precipitous and ill-planned exit from Afghanistan. Naturally, a sense of decency and consistency has not prevented former president Donald Trump and his minions from adding their voices to the chorus of criticism, even though they themselves designed this exit strategy and lauded it until the last moment. We are now being treated to the contemptible spectacle of people who sent the airplane into a nosedive complaining about the resulting crash.

As recently as April 18, Trump said: “Getting out of Afghanistan is a wonderful and positive thing to do. I planned to withdraw on May 1st, and we should keep as close to that schedule as possible.” On June 26, he bragged: “I started the process. All the troops are coming back home. They couldn’t stop the process. Twenty-one years is enough, don’t we think?”

Now he is calling the situation “not acceptable” and saying that the troop withdrawal should have been “conditions based” — which wasn’t part of the deal he struck with the Taliban. He is demanding that Biden “resign in disgrace for what he has allowed to happen to Afghanistan,” i.e., for carrying out Trump’s policy. Bizarrely, Trump is even castigating Biden for failing to “blow up all the forts,” as if U.S. forces were fighting in the Middle Ages.

Trump’s partner in hypocrisy, as in misgovernment, is former secretary of state Mike Pompeo. Not only did he oversee the negotiations with the Taliban, Pompeo convinced Pakistan to release from prison Abdul Ghani Baradar, Afghanistan’s new president, to serve as an interlocutor. Pompeo met with Baradar last year and bragged about it on his Twitter feed, thereby legitimating the Taliban and disheartening the Afghan military.

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As recently as July, Pompeo was eager to “applaud” the withdrawal, saying he wanted “the Afghans to take up the fight for themselves.” On Sunday, by contrast, he was fulminating that “weak American leadership always harms American security.” He went on to ludicrously accuse the Biden administration of being “focused on critical race theory while the embassy is at risk.”

Hold my nonalcoholic beer, says former vice president Mike Pence. On Tuesday in the Wall Street Journal, he offered a master class in blame-shifting and buck-passing. “The Biden administration’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan is a foreign-policy humiliation,” he thundered, “unlike anything our country has endured since the Iran hostage crisis.”

In Pence’s alternative universe, the reason the Taliban won was because Biden extended the Trump deadline for withdrawal by a few months: “Once Mr. Biden broke the deal, the Taliban launched a major offensive against the Afghan government and seized Kabul. They knew there was no credible threat of force under this president.” You would never know from reading this mendacious twaddle that the Taliban never agreed to a lasting cease-fire and never stopped attacking even when Trump and Pence were in office. (More than 3,000 Afghan civilians were killed in 2020.)

Let’s get real. When it comes to Afghanistan, Trump and Biden are, as Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton said on Wednesday, “like Tweedledee and Tweedledum.” “While Biden bears responsibly for bungling the implementation,” Bolton said, “I have no confidence Trump would have executed it any more competently.”

Indeed, given how many other policies Trump bungled, from the pandemic to migrant children, there is every reason to expect that he would have found some way to outdo Biden in mismanaging Afghanistan. At least Biden is now trying to airlift U.S. allies out of Afghanistan. Better late than never. It’s hard to imagine Trump doing even that much given the anti-immigrant animus of his base.

Charlie Kirk, head of the pro-Trump group Turning Point USA, set the tenor by accusing Biden of wanting Afghanistan to fall because he “wants a couple hundred thousand more Ilhan Omars to come into America to change the body politic permanently.” In a similarly odious vein, Fox “News” host Tucker Carlson warned of millions of Afghan refugees coming to the United States: “So first we invade, and then we are invaded.”

Of course, given the opportunistic inconsistency of the Trumpkins, it would not surprise me to see these very same people who now warn of resettling Afghan refugees turn around tomorrow to criticize Biden for abandoning U.S. allies. In fact, Trump already did just that before reverting to his trademark nativism. (“This plane should have been full of Americans,” he complained on Wednesday of an Air Force aircraft carrying Afghan refugees. “America First!”) Logic be damned. The only thing that matters is “owning the libs.”

What’s maddening is that the disingenuous Trump media strategy could work. The bungled exit from Afghanistan does serve to discredit Biden and seemingly confirms Trump’s criticisms — hitherto limited to the right-wing bubble — that the president is weak and ineffectual. Biden’s approval rating is dropping — along with support for the withdrawal. The irony that Biden could be punished for implementing Trump’s strategy will be utterly lost on Trump supporters.