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The weekend was filled with harrowing images from Kabul. Taliban soldiers executing Afghan allies, helicopters evacuating US embassy staff, the Kabul Airport overrun by desperate locals trying to escape, refugees falling to their death from wheel-wells of C-17s.
Following days of White House silence, President Biden interrupted his five-day vacation to calm the nation and her nervous allies. The 15-minute speech Monday was as calamitous as Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal.
The Buck Stops with That Other Guy
Biden began his East Room address by blaming President Obama for not leaving Afghanistan ten years ago.
We went to Afghanistan almost 20 years ago with clear goals: get those who attacked us on Sept. 11, 2001, and make sure Al Qaeda could not use Afghanistan as a base from which to attack us again. We did that. We severely degraded Al Qaeda and Afghanistan. We never gave up the hunt for Osama bin Laden and we got him.
That was a decade ago. Our mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to have been nation-building. It was never supposed to be creating a unified, centralized democracy. Our only vital national interest in Afghanistan remains today what it has always been: preventing a terrorist attack on American homeland.
I’ve argued for many years that our mission should be narrowly focused on counterterrorism, not counterinsurgency or nation-building. That’s why I opposed the surge when it was proposed in 2009 when I was vice president. And that’s why as president I’m adamant we focus on the threats we face today, in 2021, not yesterday’s threats.
Though not mentioning Obama by name, that president approved the Afghanistan Surge which sent an additional 17,000 troops to the region in February 2009. On Monday, Biden called that decision a disastrous mistake and claimed he opposed it at the time.
But Biden’s primary scapegoat was Donald Trump:
When I came into office, I inherited a deal that President Trump negotiated with the Taliban. Under his agreement, U.S. forces would be out of Afghanistan by May 1, 2021, just a little over three months after I took office. U.S. forces had already drawn down during the Trump administration from roughly 15,500 American forces to 2,500 troops in country. And the Taliban was at its strongest militarily since 2001.
The choice I had to make as your president was either to follow through on that agreement or be prepared to go back to fighting the Taliban in the middle of the spring fighting season. There would have been no cease-fire after May 1. There was no agreement protecting our forces after May 1. There was no status quo of stability without American casualties after May 1. There was only a cold reality of either following through on the agreement to withdraw our forces or escalating the conflict and sending thousands more American troops back into combat in Afghanistan, and lurching into the third decade of conflict.
Upon entering office, Biden systematically reversed every Trump-era policy, from re-engaging Iran, distancing the US from Israel, even approving a sweetheart pipeline deal for Russia. Yet he claims Trump’s Afghanistan exit was somehow sacrosanct and irreversible. Of course, Biden rejected Trump’s actual plan for withdrawal, but his hands were apparently tied to the general concept.
Obama and Trump failed Biden but our Afghan allies failed him too:
The truth is, this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated. 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.
…When I hosted President Ghani and Chairman Abdullah at the White House in June, and again when I spoke by phone to Ghani in July, we had very frank conversations. We talked about how Afghanistan should prepare to fight their civil wars after the U.S. military departed. To clean up the corruption in government so the government could function for the Afghan people. We talked extensively about the need for Afghan leaders to unite politically. They failed to do any of that. I also urged them to engage in diplomacy, to seek a political settlement with the Taliban. This advice was flatly refused. Mr. Ghani insisted the Afghan forces would fight, but obviously he was wrong.
The withdrawal plan, or lack thereof, was created and implemented by the Biden Administration. Without warning, they shut down the Bagram Airbase, the only secure facility to ship people and materiel out of the collapsing nation. They relied instead on the civilian Kabul airport, which is not under U.S. military control. They slow-tracked applications of interpreters and other Afghan allies, leaving even American citizens to wait for the Taliban invasion. They offered happy talk to the media, assuring them that Kabul was in no danger for the next several months.
The failed withdrawal was all Biden’s doing, but Monday he insisted everyone else was to blame.
Insincere Promises Soon to Be Broken
Biden briefly acknowledged the painful images coming out of Kabul.
I also want to acknowledge how painful this is to so many of us. The scenes that we’re seeing in Afghanistan, they’re gut-wrenching, particularly for our veterans, our diplomats, humanitarian workers — for anyone who has spent time on the ground working to support the Afghan people. For those who have lost loved ones in Afghanistan, and for Americans who have fought and served our country in Afghanistan, this is deeply, deeply personal. It is for me as well.
I’ve worked on these issues as long as anyone. I’ve been throughout Afghanistan during this war, while the war was going on, from Kabul to Kandahar, to the Kunar Valley. I’ve traveled there on four different occasions. I’ve met with the people. I’ve spoken with the leaders. I spent time with our troops, and I came to understand firsthand what was and was not possible in Afghanistan.
This is tough on me too, you know. He then offered false hope to desperate Afghans and NGO staff that will never materialize.
We will continue to support the Afghan people. We will lead with our diplomacy, our international influence and our humanitarian aid. We’ll continue to push for regional diplomacy and engagement to prevent violence and instability. We’ll continue to speak out for the basic rights of the Afghan people, of women and girls, just as we speak out all over the world.
I’ve been clear, the human rights must be the center of our foreign policy, not the periphery. But the way to do it is not through endless military deployments. It’s with our diplomacy, our economic tools and rallying the world to join us.
In other words, you’re on your own, Afghanistan.
Let me lay out the current mission in Afghanistan: I was asked to authorize, and I did, 6,000 U.S. troops to deploy to Afghanistan for the purpose of assisting in the departure of U.S. and allied civilian personnel from Afghanistan, and to evacuate our Afghan allies and vulnerable Afghans to safety outside of Afghanistan. Our troops are working to secure the airfield and ensure continued operation on both the civilian and military flights. We’re taking over air traffic control. We have safely shut down our embassy and transferred our diplomats. Our diplomatic presence is now consolidated at the airport as well.
Over the coming days we intend to transport out thousands of American citizens who have been living and working in Afghanistan. We’ll also continue to support the safe departure of civilian personnel — the civilian personnel of our allies who are still serving in Afghanistan. Operation Allies Refuge, which I announced back in July, has already moved 2,000 Afghans who are eligible for special immigration visas and their families to the United States. In the coming days, the U.S. military will provide assistance to move more S.I.V.-eligible Afghans and their families out of Afghanistan.
The spin doctors made sure to include many weasel words. “[W]e intend to transport out thousands of American citizens.” “We’ll also continue to support the safe departure of civilian personnel.” It is reminiscent of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Sunday tweet that “The President is to be commended for the clarity of purpose of his statement on Afghanistan.” Nervous Taiwanese watching China’s massive military buildup might not be reassured by Biden’s clarity of purpose of statements about reports.
The reality is that American citizens and Afghan allies cannot even get to Kabul’s airport without going through multiple Taliban checkpoints where they likely will be seized if not summarily executed.
We’re also expanding refugee access to cover other vulnerable Afghans who work for our embassy. U.S. nongovernmental organizations and Afghans who otherwise are a great risk in U.S. news agencies — I know there are concerns about why we did not begin evacuating Afghan civilians sooner. Part of the answer is some of the Afghans did not want to leave earlier, still hopeful for their country. And part of it because the Afghan government and its supporters discouraged us from organizing a mass exodus to avoid triggering, as they said, a crisis of confidence.
Again, the Afghans are to blame. Biden didn’t mention the thousands who have begged to get out for months but were mired in bureaucratic inertia.
Changing the Subject
The goal of Biden’s speech was to explain his disastrous implementation of the withdrawal and to reassure America and her allies that the multiple failures have been fixed. Instead, he fled from the motte to the bailey, focusing on the easy defense of not staying in Afghanistan forever. The majority of Americans want to leave Afghanistan but none asked to do so with maximum loss of life and a national black eye.
If a wife tells her husband she wants to leave a party, the husband shouldn’t flip the table, punch the host, and get the couple tossed out of a back window by an angry mob. Then the husband certainly shouldn’t blame his wife, saying, “well, you wanted to leave the party didn’t you?” That’s essentially Biden’s play; of course, it won’t work.
The events we’re seeing now are sadly proof that no amount of military force would ever deliver a stable, united, secure Afghanistan, as known in history as the graveyard of empires. What’s happening now could just as easily happen five years ago or 15 years in the future. We have to be honest, our mission in Afghanistan made many missteps over the past two decades.
I’m now the fourth American president to preside over war in Afghanistan. Two Democrats and two Republicans. I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth president.
Yes, you got us out of the party, dear. But maybe we should have used the front door.
If You Think About It, I’m the Hero
After spending an entire speech blaming others and avoiding the main subject, Biden recasts himself as the tough, truth-telling hero even laughably claiming, “the buck stops with me.”
I will not mislead the American people by claiming that just a little more time in Afghanistan will make all the difference. Nor will I shrink from my share of responsibility for where we are today and how we must move forward from here. I am president of the United States of America, and the buck stops with me.
I’m deeply saddened by the facts we now face. But I do not regret my decision to end America’s war-fighting in Afghanistan and maintain a laser focus on our counterterrorism mission, there and other parts of the world. Our mission to degrade the terrorist threat of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and kill Osama bin Laden was a success. Our decades-long effort to overcome centuries of history and permanently change and remake Afghanistan was not, and I wrote and believed it never could be.
I cannot and will not ask our troops to fight on endlessly in another country’s civil war, taking casualties, suffering life-shattering injuries, leaving families broken by grief and loss. This is not in our national security interest. It is not what the American people want. It is not what our troops who have sacrificed so much over the past two decades deserve. I made a commitment to the American people when I ran for president that I would bring America’s military involvement in Afghanistan to an end. While it’s been hard and messy and, yes, far from perfect, I’ve honored that commitment.
More importantly, I made a commitment to the brave men and women who serve this nation that I wasn’t going to ask them to continue to risk their lives in a military action that should’ve ended long ago. Our leader did that in Vietnam when I got here as a young man. I will not do it in Afghanistan.
I know my decision will be criticized. But I would rather take all that criticism than pass this decision on to another president of the United States, yet another one, a fifth one. Because it’s the right one, it’s the right decision for our people. The right one for our brave service members who risked their lives serving our nation. And it’s the right one for America.
Thank you. May God protect our troops, our diplomats and all brave Americans serving in harm’s way.
Let’s pray that God does protect us. He might not get a lot of help from Joe Biden.
Following the speech, the president refused to answer questions and fled back to his vacation at Camp David. His press secretary, Jen Psaki, remains on vacation and is sending all inquiries to her voice mail. Perhaps she’ll circle back once the Taliban control Kabul airport entirely.Published in