The question for this month has two parts: Was President Biden right to cut off American involvement in Afghanistan (a position also advocated by President Trump)? Or would it have been in the best interests of the United States and the Afghani people to leave a small American or NATO force in the country indefinitely, similar to Korea, to maintain stability?
Regardless of your position on staying or leaving, how would you evaluate the evacuation? Given the circumstances, was it a remarkable achievement or a debacle? If a debacle, what should have been done differently?
I don’t know a single military man who isn’t relieved when the bullets stop, but let’s be clear about this. America didn’t lose the Afghan war, we won it. We and our allies swept into the country in October of 2001 and, in short order, overthrew the government and occupied 100 percent of the landmass.
Our problem in Afghanistan wasn’t the ability to militarily defeat our enemies. It came after we tried to rebuild the nation in our own image. In doing so, we mistakenly believed we could change Afghanistan’s basic culture and love of tribal warfare.
The Afghans didn’t drive us out; we intentionally left. It was our manner of doing so that led to the impression of an ignominious defeat. (But that is the subject of the next question.) My answer as to whether we should have kept a presence in Afghanistan after the evacuation is a clear and resounding “No.”
Let’s say we kept the embassy, or Bagram Air Base. These would be islands at risk in a sea of bloodthirsty Muslim hostility. Remember the embassy at Tehran and Jimmy Carter’s 444 days? Bagram would have faced snipers, suicide bombers, random incoming rocket and mortar fire and incessant guerrilla attacks. Our enemy could have surgically administered death by a thousand cuts.
It’s simply not worth it, especially since America doesn’t covet a single square foot of Afghanistan. Better to have our solders, sailors and marines safe at home than wasting their lives in a country that isn’t worth the blood of even one more of our own. But if we are attacked from Afghanistan again, all bets are off.
As much as I would prefer to see the American military leave Afghanistan in a more stable state, I agree with Steve that even 20 more years and billions more American dollars would have been unlikely to make this goal a reality.
Yes, great strides have been made against the Taliban’s pre-2001 repressive, violent regime. Girls have been educated, women have established careers and urban centers have thrived with commerce, steady services and cultural development. Food, electricity and clean water could be depended on.
But in rural areas, these benefits were never realized, and the moneyed urban elite siphoned off millions into luxuries and accounts in Dubai. Racketeering and tax evasion has run rampant, while Afghans in rural areas have continued to suffer and have turned to the Taliban for help.
Clearly, there is no political will to establish a western-style democracy in Afghanistan. The U.S. attempt to do so has failed. Getting out before more American lives were lost was inevitable. Last Monday, Aug. 30, the last of our military forces left, a day ahead of the deadline.
In the weeks prior to the deadline, more than 120,000 people were airlifted out, only 6,000 of whom were Americans. Most were Afghans who helped in our efforts there—so in spite of the appearance of chaos at the Bagram Air Base, the cooperation between the Taliban and the U.S. forces worked surprisingly well.
In the months ahead, we’ll see whether the “new” Taliban will attempt to govern or revert to their former terrorist tactics, particularly as they cope with ISIS-K, al Qaeda, and other threats.
Alison, President Biden has utterly failed as a military strategist. Only through the Taliban’s self-interest were we able to extract most, but not all, Americans from Afghanistan.
Biden campaigned on getting us out of Afghanistan. Knowing that, why didn’t he call Tony Blinken in on his first day in office and instruct the State Department to immediately start contacting Americans in Afghanistan to tell them to quietly and quickly pack up and get to an airport while access was still open?
We could have airlifted them out without the Taliban even knowing what we were up to, along with all the Afghanis who deserved to leave.
The first rule of strategy is, never tell your enemy what you intend to do or when you intend to do it. Biden publicly announced his intentions and gave the world a date. His announcement panicked the government, prompted the Afghan president to flee, and collapsed the Afghan military just when we needed them most.
Had Biden acted smartly, strategically, on Aug. 31, the Taliban would have been left holding nothing but an empty bag as the last C-17 disappeared into the sunset without the loss of a single drop of American blood.
Make no mistake, the war in Afghanistan is not over. As you alluded, Alison, it will now be fought between the Taliban, ISIS-M, the Haqqani network, al Qaeda, and the warlords whose tribes have been feuding continuously in Afghanistan for more than 2,000 years.
Our war is over, (for now), but we’re still stuck with Biden, who, in my opinion, is strategically inept as commander-in-chief.
It’s easy to blame Biden, Steve, and you can’t assert the outcome would have been perfect had you been in charge.
Remember, he hasn’t been in office a year, and he certainly has engineered this withdrawal with full support from the State Department and the U.S. military.
Yes, it should have begun many months ago. Our government had hoped that the Afghan leadership would hold its ground against the Taliban. Anti-refugee policy has exacerbated the problem—can you imagine what the far-right Republicans would have had to say about 300,000 Muslim immigrants?
Biden had the dirty job of ending 20 years of inconsistent, flawed, poorly executed policy in Afghanistan. When George W. Bush entered this war, he pledged that the U.S. would provide food, medicine and supplies to the Afghan people, and said “We will not waver, we will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail. Peace and freedom will prevail.” These were lofty but unrealistic goals for a land war in Asia.
Obama also tried to continue the progress there, and dramatic improvements were made in literacy, health care and education for girls. A whole generation of young urban Afghans has embraced modernity.
Remember that Biden has simply honored the treaty that the former president negotiated. For 20 years, U.S. policymakers have tried their best to “carrot and stick” their way to safety from terrorists in this chaotic area of the world—and if anything, we’re not one bit closer to it than we were on 9/11. Biden cannot be blamed for all of this.