The criticisms against Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan are coming from all corners. But most are missing the point.
By Sonali Kolhatkar
President Joe Biden is under a tremendous amount of pressure from his own Democratic Party and the liberal media establishment for daring to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan and allowing the country to fall back into the hands of the fundamentalist Taliban regime. Biden, in a statement on August 14, said, “One more year, or five more years, of U.S. military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country.” Just two days later, after the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled and the Taliban stormed into the capital, Kabul, President Biden in a speech from the White House defiantly maintained that “there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces,” but was forced to admit that the Taliban resumed control of Afghanistan “more quickly than we had anticipated.”
Republicans predictably jumped on this demonstrable foreign policy failure, neglecting to mention that it was Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump who laid the groundwork for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and worked with the Taliban to do so. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) expostulated, “This debacle was not only foreseeable, it was foreseen,” as if Trump would have done any better as a second-term president. Trump’s former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in an interview on Fox News with Chris Wallace chimed in, saying, “It looks like the Biden administration has just failed in its execution of its own plan,” even though of course the Democratic president was essentially carrying out Trump’s plan. The Republican National Committee has now deleted a page on its website that had celebrated Trump’s dealings with the Taliban, perhaps hoping no one would notice.
The corporate media was equally unforgiving of Biden. The Washington Post’s editorial board issued a scathing opinion blaming Biden for any future deaths, saying that the U.S. “assumed at least partial responsibility for all Afghans. Leaving them now means walking away from that responsibility.” The Post also worried about America’s global prestige, saying, “at risk is the United States’ reputation as a partner, as would-be allies around the world watch and calculate the value of an American commitment.”
In a similar vein, the New York Times’ Bret Stephens demanded to know, “What on earth was Joe Biden thinking—if, that is, he was thinking?” Like the Post, Stephens was deeply concerned about the nation’s reputation, asking, “What kind of ally is the United States?”
Such criticisms miss several glaring points. First, if a foreign military occupation made no progress toward democracy and human rights in 20 years, it is unlikely to do so in 20 more. Second, they are more concerned about the U.S.’s reputation as a global superpower (which is what the term “ally” really implies) than human lives. And third, although a majority of Americans once supported the Afghanistan War and occupation, today most Americans want the occupation to end.
Moreover, most critics of Biden’s botched exit from Afghanistan appear to have missed the fact that the entirety of the occupation has been flawed and led to the debacle of the Taliban’s resurgence. Biden’s missteps were apropos of the entire occupation. Every step of the way, the United States made the wrong choice, regardless of which president, Republican or Democrat, was in power, from George W. Bush’s decision to work with corrupt and violent warlords, to Barack Obama’s choice to validate the Taliban by being the first to engage in peace talks with the ostensible enemy forces.
Biden’s fellow Democrats also joined in the criticism against him but got much closer to the questions that really need to be asked about the disastrous turn of events in Afghanistan. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said, “I am disappointed that the Biden administration clearly did not accurately assess the implications of a rapid U.S. withdrawal.” More importantly, he made the astute observation that “We are now witnessing the horrifying results of many years of policy and intelligence failures.”
Even though the U.S.-backed Afghan government has been ineffectual and corrupt directly as a result of choices that successive administrations made over the years, the Biden administration could have chosen to coordinate more closely with the institution if only to ensure that billions of dollars of U.S.-bought weapons would not fall into Taliban hands. Instead, according to Associated Press, “the ultimate beneficiary of the American investment [in Afghanistan’s military] turned out to be the Taliban,” who “grabbed not only political power but also U.S.-supplied firepower—guns, ammunition, helicopters and more.”
To summarize, the U.S. went to war against Afghanistan in October 2001 in order to punish the Taliban and Al Qaeda for the September 11 terrorist attacks, spent nearly two decades fighting a “war on terror,” and ended up leaving its ostensible enemy empowered both politically and militarily. American taxpayers, who naively backed the invasion and occupation, spent trillions of dollars in a brutal decades-long exercise in futility that resulted in lost lives, a traumatized Afghan population and a renewal of the forces that terrorized them.
The Taliban couldn’t have asked for a better war.
It may be hard to believe that things could have been even worse under Trump. But if the former Republican president were in power now, it is likely we would be witnessing a similar situation but with even more violence. Former Secretary of State Pompeo in his Fox interview advised the Biden administration to “crush these Taliban who are surrounding Kabul,” adding, “We should do it with American airpower, we should put pressure on them, we should inflict cost and pain on them.” Past wars have demonstrated with striking reliability that such infliction of pain is never precise and always results in so-called “collateral damage,” a euphemism for civilian casualties. Trump had a proven penchant for using massive firepower with no regard for civilians, and with Pompeo offering him advice, we would likely have seen the same situation as we are seeing today but with the added horror of bombs falling on people attempting to flee the Taliban.
The Taliban’s takeover of Kabul is being likened by many to the fall of Saigon. Before the Afghanistan War, there was the Vietnam War. And there were many other wars during and before Vietnam and Afghanistan that garnered less attention. If there is a lesson that Americans as a nation ought to take away from these devastating militaristic exercises that consistently do more harm than good, it is to ensure we never again rally behind a desire to bomb, raid, occupy and militarily strike another nation. This means standing up to the liberal and conservative establishments that find a detached comfort in the cold calculus of warfare with no concern for life, safety, or democracy.
This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for Allproject at the Independent Media Institute.