Watching the videos coming out of Afghanistan evokes both outrage and despair. After 20 years making sure that Afghanistan would not become a safe haven for terrorists who would plot another 9/11, President Joe Biden turned an ill-advised withdrawal into a debacle. He betrayed the American people who spent blood and treasure there. He betrayed the Afghan people. And he has made the world a much more dangerous place.
Let's get this out of the way first.
Former President Donald Trump had negotiated a "peace deal" with the Taliban that included a May 1, 2021, deadline for the removal of U.S. troops. Like his outreach to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, Trump's negotiations with the Taliban were done through rose-colored glasses and seemed to betray a serious misunderstanding of what the Taliban is.
The deal was little more than an effort to end a so-called "forever war" and allow the U.S. to leave Afghanistan with a codpiece of dignity intact. In the months that followed the Feb. 29, 2020 announcement of the peace deal, it became clear that the Taliban wasn't interested in holding up its end of the bargain. They continued to battle the U.S.-backed Afghan government, rather than sitting down to negotiate, and there was no evidence that they had cut ties with al Qaeda terrorists.
No matter whether you thought going into Afghanistan after 9/11 was a mistake, or that we should've gotten out after Osama bin Laden was delivered to Hades' gates, or that maybe it was a good idea to leave a small American force in the country to ensure it did not, once again, become a terrorist training camp, it should be clear that Biden's withdrawal has become a clusterf***.
Scenes like this one where Afghans were pulling a Tom Cruise and clinging to the outside of U.S. military transport planes in an effort to flee the country are horrifying.
Watch: A video shows the moment Afghan citizens dropped from an aircraft near #Kabul airport after clinging on to a US Air Force plane in an attempt to flee the country amid the #Taliban takeover. #Afghanistan https://t.co/2vc7iuFmgj pic.twitter.com/MdrNlasobn
— Al Arabiya English (@AlArabiya_Eng) August 16, 2021
It doesn't take much to look at that and see the historical echoes to the fall of Saigon in 1975. Or, for those who only saw those images in their high school history class, the images of people jumping from the Twin Towers before they collapsed on 9/11 may seem most apt.
Like those unknown people who jumped from such a height on 9/11, think about those men who clung to the U.S. transport jet in a desperate effort to flee the Taliban. How bleak must they have thought their futures would be under Taliban rule that clinging to a jet was the better option?
With the images coming out of Afghanistan eliciting some outrage in even the most Biden-friendly reporters, President Biden finally relented and came back to the White House from his vacation in Camp David to give a 20-minute speech that contained about 15 minutes of blaming everyone else but himself.
Most laughable is Biden's claim that his predecessor, Trump, committed him to this course of action. This is a lie. In wanting to pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, the two were in rare agreement.
It also beggars belief that as Biden moved swiftly to re-commit the United States to the Paris Climate Accord and renegotiate a nuclear deal with Iran, that Trump's deal in Afghanistan was somehow sacrosanct. Most will have a hard time identifying any Trump policy that Biden disagrees with that he left in place because Orange Man Bad forced him to do it.
Then he got around to blaming the Afghan military.
So what’s happened? Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country. The Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight.
If anything, the developments of the past week reinforced that ending U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan now was the right decision.
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. We spent over a trillion dollars. We trained and equipped an Afghan military force of some 300,000 strong — incredibly well equipped — a force larger in size than the militaries of many of our NATO allies.
We gave them every tool they could need. We paid their salaries, provided for the maintenance of their air force — something the Taliban doesn’t have. Taliban does not have an air force. We provided close air support.
We gave them every chance to determine their own future. What we could not provide them was the will to fight for that future.
There’s some very brave and capable Afghan special forces units and soldiers, but if Afghanistan is unable to mount any real resistance to the Taliban now, there is no chance that 1 year — 1 more year, 5 more years, or 20 more years of U.S. military boots on the ground would’ve made any difference.
This part of the speech was interesting, because just a month ago, some guy that looks a lot like President Biden was telling reporters this:
This may become the most infamous — and devastating — press conference ever held by an American President. pic.twitter.com/j4kKwyPDVm
— BDW (@BryanDeanWright) August 15, 2021
For what it's worth, some of the analysis I've been listening to suggests that a big part of the collapse of the Afghan military is the result of the decision to pull out military personnel and contractors who were involved with running and maintaining those planes and helicopters. We trained the Afghan military to operate with close air support and when that disappeared almost overnight, that method of fighting no longer worked.
Whatever the real explanation is, one thing is certain: we've got a case of severe incompetence somewhere in the chain of command. Biden can't pull a 180 on the quality of the Afghan military that we've spent nearly two decades training and have any credibility left.
After Biden's speech, the State Department had its daily press briefing, and the following words were uttered by spokesman Ned Price.
We’ve been engaging tirelessly with our partners and the international community. You may have seen last night the United States organized a joint statement with 98 signatories, calling on all parties to respect and facilitate the safe and orderly departure of foreign nationals and Afghans who wish to leave the country.
Additionally, the UN Security Council issued a joint press statement earlier today calling for a new government that is united, inclusive, and representative – including with the full and meaningful participation of women. The council spoke with one voice to underscore that Afghanistan must abide by its international obligations – including to international humanitarian law – and ensure the safety and security of all Afghans and international citizens.
It was unclear if a huge portion of the rear of Mr. Price's skull had been caved in while he spoke these words. We've seen how the Taliban treats women. We've seen how they treat men without beards. Who in their right mind thinks that these empty, foolish words are even worth the effort to say?
Of course, this comes as no surprise to those who saw this last week from the White House briefing room and spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
.@PressSec: “The Taliban also has to make an assessment about what they want their role to be in the international community.”
— Daily Caller (@DailyCaller) August 11, 2021
What has given anyone any indication over the past two decades that the Taliban gives a rat's ass about what the "international community" thinks of them?
Perhaps the most damning indictment of Biden's handling of the withdrawal came from Matt Zeller, a former Afghanistan war veteran and CIA analyst.
Zeller points out that, despite Biden's dismissive attacks on the Afghan military, that far more of them died fighting the Taliban than did Americans.
From the Brookings Institution's Afghanistan Index:
In 2020, nearly 11,000 of our Afghan allies died fighting the Taliban. How many U.S. troops died in Afghanistan in 2020?
Eight. And two of those were listed as dying from "Non-hostile causes."
I'm surely part of the minority in believing that the best of all of the bad options was the U.S. keeping some forces in Afghanistan in order to support its government against the Taliban, make sure the country doesn't become a base for terrorist training camps, and ensure that millions of women aren't treated like property to be bought, sold, and kept ignorant and in the dark.
More than 80 years later, we still have troops in Germany and Japan. More than 70 years later we still have troops in South Korea. Are these too "forever wars"?
Aside from a handful of extremists on both ends of the political spectrum, no one cares that we still have troops in Germany, Japan, and South Korea. Why? Because there are no troop casualties there.
According to the Afghanistan index, a total of 2,445 U.S. servicemen and women have lost their lives in the 20 years we've been in Afghanistan. In 2017, there were 11 killed. In 2018, 14. In 2019, 24. In 2020, eight.
I'm sure there are plenty that will call me all sorts of names for saying this, and I mourn the loss of each of those patriots, but I think those low levels of U.S. casualties weighed against the gains made in Afghanistan is worth it. I think those tragic U.S. deaths will pale in comparison to the slaughter that will soon occur.
But whatever your view, we should have kept the faith and the agreements we made with those translators and other allies who helped and supported our troops.
There is no excuse for the betrayal, the abandonment of our allies. This will hurt American credibility across the globe for decades to come, and may embolden our foes in the short term.
Does China see this debacle and think that maybe now would be a good time to reclaim Taiwan? Do the Russians get froggy in the Baltics, or decide that maybe they want just a little bit more of Ukraine? Will President Biden stand behind NATO's Article 5 if Russia invades Estonia? Would we come to Taiwan's aid should China invade?
Biden should be ashamed of himself. His speech today was full of excuse-making, blame-shifting, and butt-covering. We're seven months in, and the return to competency is gone. Calling on Biden to resign is useless and foolish. Kamala Harris would be no better, and would probably be far worse on just about every subject.
However, the generals, diplomats, and any other officials that allowed this debacle to happen should resign. They likely won't, because it seems like a screwup like this one isn't the career-ender that forgetting someone's pronouns is.