Joe Biden delivered brief remarks on his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan Monday, a decision that has quickly resulted in the Taliban taking control of the country. He followed the talking points, saying both “the buck stops with me” and that the collapse is Donald Trump’s and Afghanistan’s fault.
He also turned to the timing of the decision to withdraw, as he has before, arguing that he did not want to turn Afghanistan over to a fifth president to handle it. That’s fine, and it’s a sentiment most Americans probably support.
But the timing should raise questions.
Joe Biden is not nearing the end of his first or second term, so no handover to another president is in the cards anytime soon. He is in his eighth month of a four-year term.
This being the case, he has more than three years to work on a better outcome for Afghanistan, the United States, and our allies.
But he chose to withdraw now with the rationale of not handing the war over to another president.
In withdrawing now, not only is Biden withdrawing U.S. military forces from Afghanistan relatively early in his presidency, he’s withdrawing during the country’s well-known fighting season. Withdrawing in winter, instead of summer, would likely have led to a different outcome, especially if the withdrawal had been planned well and that plan executed in concert with our NATO allies.
Despite his and his Pentagon’s claims, there appears to have been little in the way of planning and the administration was surprised at the speed with which the Taliban swept into power.
Additionally, Biden reportedly left the Afghan army and air force unable to fight. The Daily Beast reported over the weekend that Biden essentially sabotaged both forces, by withdrawing U.S. intelligence assistance and by withdrawing aircraft maintenance contractors from assisting the Afghan air force.
The Afghan Air Force didn’t take flight because — God help us — Joe Biden refused to let outside maintenance crews into Afghanistan, effectively grounding the fleet. pic.twitter.com/0L1wNSqGPa
— BDW (@BryanDeanWright) August 15, 2021
Then in his brief address, Biden blamed the Afghan military for failing to fight for their country. Most Americans might agree with that, too. Over 20 years of war we’ve learned quite a bit about Afghanistan, and most of what we’ve learned is not good. The country is barely a country and is endemically corrupt. Alliances shift and change constantly. The majority of Afghans are illiterate and far from the 21st century in their understanding of the world. Afghanistan’s issues are deep and all but impossible to fix. But the rapid withdrawal will create massive suffering there and ripple effects worldwide. But blaming the Afghan military loses its steam when the withdrawal of intelligence and aircraft maintenance are factored in. Even those who wanted to fight were probably unable to. The Taliban has now captured billions of dollars worth of modern U.S. military equipment.
Biden also, inexplicably, said he did not want to hand Afghanistan off to another president, despite the fact that he presumably has years in office ahead.
Biden would have been better advised to not mention future presidents at all but focus on not letting another American die in Afghanistan for what Biden sees as a lost cause. Most Americans would agree with that. But that would have opened him up to questions about casualties, as no American has died in Afghanistan for more than a year. Why the rush, why now?
So he suggests he had no choice but to act now, which is clearly false. The timing Biden chose to withdraw from Afghanistan could not have been worse from a battlefield point of view, but may have the virtue of happening more than a year ahead of midterm elections, which already pose problems for Biden and his fragile congressional majorities.
After delivering his speech, Biden left to return to Camp David, leaving his staff at the Pentagon and Department of State to answer the world’s questions. American personnel are holed up at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, with thousands of U.S. troops Biden ordered into the country trying to secure and protect them as they try to evacuate. They are surrounded by a country now under the control of a brutal, hostile, extremist regime.