Last April, I wrote a piece for this website arguing that a full withdrawal from Afghanistan would be a terrible, costly mistake. I described how the “endless war” mantra, originated and popularized by the left (including President Biden) and later adopted by much of the right (including President Trump), was neither a rational nor serious reason for abandoning our hard-earned progress, national security advantages, and relative stability in the country.
Of course, I knew those arguments wouldn’t change anyone’s mind. Others with much bigger soapboxes had been making them for some time, including military experts and advisors, and a relative handful of conservative commentators and Republican leaders (who were mocked as “neocons” and “war mongers” by both sides). I knew the withdrawal was coming. The facts on the ground didn’t matter one bit.
It didn’t matter that the U.S. had formally ended combat missions in Afghanistan almost seven years earlier.
It didn’t matter that our presence in the country had been reduced to a small, relatively inexpensive footprint. Only 2,500 U.S. troops were stationed there, acting purely in a supporting role to the Afghan army, mostly from within well-protected U.S. facilities. The mission was serving as a successful deterrent to Taliban aggression, and there hadn’t been a U.S. combat-related death in well over a year.
It didn’t matter that staying in Afghanistan provided enormous strategic advantages in the collection of vital intelligence on terrorist groups, and going after bad actors in neighboring regions.
It didn’t matter that our presence in Afghanistan was now welcomed by the vast majority of the country’s citizens, including a generation of women who’d risen from unspeakable oppression and torture, and enjoyed freedoms they’d never thought possible. Unfortunately, the pain, suffering, and death they’ve faced in recent days is only the beginning.
No, all that really mattered (and purely for political and presidential legacy reasons) was that we get the heck out of there… and do so ASAP.
The previous administration had wanted us out of Afghanistan by last May, and as with Biden, Trump’s withdrawal plan was not conditions-based. Furthermore, it included the asinine proclamation that the Taliban had actually become a counter-terrorism partner to the United States, and that they would be helping us by “killing terrorists” after we left.
Of course, we also all remember Trump’s obscene plan to invite Taliban leaders to Camp David for a good-ol’-boy sit-down on the anniversary of 9/11, in hopes of schmoozing them into giving up their jihad. It was ultimately called off, but the administration’s negotiations did lead to 5,000 Taliban prisoners being released, many of whom are now serving as battlefield reinforcements as the group takes back over Afghanistan.
But Trump’s no longer our president. He may have started this harebrained initiative, and compelled much of the modern right to either support it or keep their reservations silent, but Biden (despite his statements to the contrary) was under absolutely no obligation to complete it. It was a choice he consciously and decisively made as president.
In other words, Biden owns this.
The horrific, heartbreaking results of his decision are playing out on television right now for the world to see. We have disgraced ourselves as a nation, deeply damaged our credibility and trustworthiness abroad, and are demonstrating to entire world exactly what utter defeat looks like.
The results of our withdrawal:
More war, not less.
More troops in Afghanistan, not fewer.
Less confidence in US leadership, not more.
A growing terror threat, not a receding one.
Emboldened, not cowed, near-peer competitors.
Great job, everyone. https://t.co/8GbOtI8FCo
— Noah Rothman (@NoahCRothman) August 16, 2021
And the most maddening part about all of it is that none of it needed to happen.
People of good faith have been arguing that this was the inevitable outcome of pulling out of Afghanistan, regardless if it had been done today or many years in the future. And you know what? They’re probably right. But that’s a big reason for why we shouldn’t have left.
Today, we have well over 150,000 U.S. troops deployed outside of the United States. That includes about 28,000 in South Korea… because of a war that started over 70 years ago. Should we pick up and leave because it too is an “endless war”? I hear few people making that argument.
People of good faith would perhaps also argue that South Korea is different in that no U.S. soldiers have died there in combat in many many years. It’s a fair point. As mentioned above, we unfortunately lost one of our own in Afghanistan as recently as February of 2020.
But as conservative commentator Noah Rothman points out, “…to call that an unacceptable level of risk calls into question U.S. deployments to places like Kosovo, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain and Kuwait, where U.S. soldiers also lost their lives last year.”
Have you heard anyone calling for us to leave these places? I haven’t.
As I’ve previously written, it’s difficult to see how any serious cost-benefit analysis of the situation in Afghanistan would have favored full withdrawal over even just the status quo of the past few years. People of good faith can argue that the past several administrations made plenty of mistakes in Afghanistan, and they should therefore share some blame for the country’s current condition. That’s fine, but it doesn’t change the reality of what the situation actually was when Biden was elected. Presidents aren’t handed a time-machine to correct past wrongs when they’re sworn into office.
Was the government of Afghanistan, including their military, too dependent on U.S. support? Yes, but it was an effective partnership. And when we severed that partnership, we disabled them:
— Shadi Hamid (@shadihamid) August 15, 2021
Lastly, people of good faith have been arguing that while we still should have left Afghanistan, we should have at least done so with a better plan for first getting out our people, interpreters, and equipment. While I don’t agree with the first point (for the reasons stated above), I can’t believe anyone would argue against that second one. What we’re seeing under Biden is an unforgivable shit show — worse than anything I could have imagined.
President Biden seems to have been in denial throughout this entire process, from the (supposed) planning stage to the rapidly deteriorating situation as we began withdrawing our troops. While I’m not convinced things would have gone any smoother under Trump, that doesn’t really matter.
Biden’s the guy in charge, and his administration should be held accountable for all of it.
Sean Coleman is back in my upcoming thriller novel, “Restitution.” Click here to pre-order.