President Joe Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan is the right thing to do –- but the way it is being done is painful.
Joe Biden remained true to himself. Nobody will claim that he changed course in response to pressure from his critics. Two days after the Taliban’s complete seizure of power, he presented compelling arguments for the withdrawal of U.S. forces 20 years after the invasion.
Biden is correct when he says that no foreign army could defend a country whose own forces cannot or will not defend it. He is correct when he argues that he can’t, with a clear conscience, order American soldiers to wreak havoc in a civil war far away from home. He is correct when he points out that it is not the Western world’s responsibility to build a centralized democracy in the Hindu Kush. The last point is, in a nutshell, an answer to the hubris of one George W. Bush, who saw things differently at the time.
One cannot blame Biden of coming to these conclusions too late. He was among the skeptics in 2009, when his boss, President Barack Obama, ordered an increase in the number of troops. An end date had already been assigned, so it appeared to be an inconvenient compulsory exercise back then.
Obama, who justified the operation in Afghanistan during his presidential campaign while criticizing the operation in Iraq, was motivated mainly by domestic political reasons. Under attack from Republicans, he didn’t want to be called a pacifist and categorically reject a military resolution.. Biden, the Senate veteran who had not had to face this kind of criticism, lost the strategy debate in the White House, a fact which made no secret about.
Afghanistan Handed Over on a Plate
That Biden was overruled then gives him credibility now. He can rightfully claim to have made his decision based on beliefs shaped by painful experience. And the fact that it was Donald Trump who made the deal with the Taliban? Who handed the Islamists their victory on a plate because he didn’t ask for anything significant in return and never really involved the government in Kabul in the negotiations? That didn’t stop Biden from sticking to the agreement. That is simply because he agrees with his predecessor, whom he often railed loudly against, on this point: that America is done with endless wars, as he and Trump both put it.
No U.S. president who orders the withdrawal of troops will be punished for that by the voters. One could call this “America First” or the new modesty of a disillusioned superpower. The overall political climate in the U.S. will probably not change any time soon. The images of an embarrassingly organized retreat won’t make a difference.
Biden’s hope for a reasonably orderly departure from Afghanistan has not been fulfilled, on the contrary. The horrible footage from Kabul makes one doubt the competency of the Pentagon, the State Department, the intelligence agencies and the Biden administration, in general. As the commander in chief, Biden must take responsibility for this. At best, Biden is doing this halfheartedly, without fully admitting his mistakes, something which makes him seem strangely unreasonable, almost divorced from reality. Of course, he isn’t the only one to blame for this debacle. A little more humility would really be appropriate, though.