The Biden-apologist company line on his disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan goes like this. It was inevitable. This is what an exit from a war we didn’t win looks like.
But that’s simply not true. Leaving aside the argument that we should not have left in the first place (which is my position), the fundamental problem was Biden’s impatience. As Ryan Crocker, Barack Obama’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, put it recently, “There is one overarching answer (to why we didn’t leave in a less chaotic way): our lack of strategic patience at critical moments, including from President Biden. It has damaged our alliances, emboldened our adversaries and increased the risk to our own security. It has also flouted 20 years of work and sacrifice.”
Here are important things we could and should have done differently.
Delayed the withdrawal until the fighting season was over. For some unfathomable reason Biden picked September 11th as his withdrawal date. Why he would want to pick the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks to underscore his administration’s retreat from fighting the very terrorist groups who planned it and carried it out is beyond me. But more importantly, Biden decided to carry out the withdrawal in a season when fighting is the easiest, before the Taliban traditionally retreats to wait out the winter. Biden’s timing was awful in both a symbolic and strategic sense. The only plausible explanation was that he simply wanted to get Afghanistan out of his in box. He didn’t even accomplish that.
Not announced a firm date for leaving at all. By giving the Taliban the main thing they wanted from the start — whether that was Donald Trump’s May 1st date or Biden’s 9/11 and later August 31st date — we lost all leverage with them. Had Biden told the Taliban that we would withdraw “at a time and way of our own choosing” he wouldn’t have had to say the same thing with regard to our response to the killing of 13 American soldiers at the Kabul airport.
Demanded concessions from the Taliban before committing to a withdrawal. Had Biden not given away the store from the start, he could have carried on negotiations involving not just the Taliban, but the government in Kabul and our allies to withdraw in exchange for solid and enforceable concessions. These should have included safe passage for Americans and our Afghan allies, no reprisals for those who remain, a guarantee that the rights of women would be respected, a promise to help us in the fight against IS and other international terrorist groups and a negotiated peace agreement that left the Kabul government in place. You might argue that those things would have delayed our withdrawal indefinitely. Yes, I would have accepted that. As I said earlier, I thought it was a mistake to leave at all.
Kept Bagram Air Base open. Shutting down the big, secure military base before everyone had been evacuated was a mistake. Now, all those who wish to leave have to go through one chaotic airport in Kabul. And to make things worse, the airfield was abandoned literally in the dead of night, and without even informing our Afghan allies. That only led to a further loss of Afghan morale.
Started an evacuation of Americans and Afghans who supported us much earlier. The non-profit No One Left Behind has been urging the Biden Administration to start getting our Afghan allies out of the country for months. Their pleas fell on deaf ears.
As I wrote a couple of days ago, while this disaster shakes my confidence in Biden, I continue to support him overall because he is a vast improvement over Trump and because I believe he’s been effective in restoring norms of liberal democracy.
But unless you’re a dyed-in-the-wool partisan, blinded by your loyalty, the mistakes are clear. And they all spring from the impatience of one man — and, in fairness, perhaps from the impatience of the nation he leads.
Welcome to the 193rd day of consecutive posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading.