The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Yes, the Kabul withdrawal is a disaster. But Biden made the right decision on Afghanistan.

President Biden delivers remarks on the U.S. military’s ongoing evacuation efforts in Afghanistan while flanked by Vice President Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the White House on Aug. 20. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Placeholder while article actions load

Not even President Biden denies that the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is a mess that could endanger the lives of American citizens and our Afghan allies. As he said in the East Room of the White House on Friday afternoon, “If we continued the war for another decade and tried to leave, there’s no way in which you’d be able to leave Afghanistan without there being some of what you’re seeing now.”

What we’re seeing is as heartbreaking as it is tragic. And the administration is right to be slammed for the missteps, bungling and bureaucracy adding to the chaos at Kabul’s airport. But the president made the right decision to withdraw.

Follow Jonathan Capehart's opinionsFollow

First, Biden made a call that puts him squarely in step with the American people. In May, 62 percent of respondents to a Quinnipiac University poll said they approved of Biden’s decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, 2021. A new poll from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research released Thursday showed 62 percent of the American people say “the war in Afghanistan was not worth fighting.” That view is shared by 57 percent of Republicans and 67 percent of Democrats surveyed.

Many stories have noted how a man who wears his heart on his sleeve was void of empathy when it came to talking about the situation in Afghanistan last Monday and Friday. Though I get where the stories are coming from, I saw something different. What struck me about Biden’s remarks over the past week was how resolute he sounded. Not since his campaign mantra of fighting for the soul of America against the civic and moral rot of the Trump administration had I seen the president as confident in his position and his expression of it.

When Biden said last Monday, “I stand squarely behind my decision,” I not only heard a commander in chief making a tough decision; I also heard the father of a service member. Biden was vice president when his son Beau, then serving as the Delaware attorney general, was deployed to Iraq in 2008 as a member of the Delaware Army National Guard. The photo of father and son meeting in Iraq on July 4, 2009, speaks volumes. Beau Biden died of brain cancer in 2015.

This makes the Bidens part of a very small club. Beau’s service in the reserves made him among the less than 1 percent of adult Americans to serve in active duty in our nation’s all-volunteer military. And the president is the first commander in chief to have watched a child go to combat since Dwight D. Eisenhower. That means an overwhelming majority of the nation has no idea what members of the military and their families endure to serve their country. And this puts Biden’s bracing remarks on his Afghanistan decision into much-needed context.

“So I’m left again to ask of those who argue that we should stay,” Biden said in his Aug. 16 remarks. “How many more generations of America’s daughters and sons would you have me send to fight … Afghanistan’s civil war when Afghan troops will not? How many more lives — American lives — is it worth?” After 20 years, more than $2 trillion and the deaths of 2,448 U.S. service members and thousands of Afghan civilians, the president wisely decided “no more.”

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj. Subscribe to Cape Up, Jonathan Capehart’s weekly podcast.

Loading...