“Rarely has an American president’s predictions been so wrong, so fast, so convincingly as President Biden on Afghanistan,” begins Mike Allen’s Axios report on the imminent fall of the Afghan national government to the Taliban.
Just five weeks ago, Biden assured Americans that “the likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.” What made that prediction ludicrous even at the time was that his own generals had been telling him that there were very few reliable units in the Afghan army that could resist the Taliban. The endgame was always going to be played out swiftly and with minimum resistance from the Afghan national army.
In April, Biden said: “We will not conduct a hasty rush to the exit. We’ll do it responsibly, deliberately, and safely.” How about now, Joe?
The Biden press is surprisingly harsh. The New York Times headline: “Free Fall in Afghanistan.” The Guardian: “Afghanistan will be seen as Joe Biden’s defeat. And it may come back to haunt him.”
Related: Afghan Meltdown: Afghanistan’s President Flees as the Taliban Swiftly Moves Into Kabul
As late as Saturday evening, Biden insisted the drawdown of US troops would continue. But this wasn’t some calm and orderly retreat. There was a mad dash for the safety of the Kabul airport and Biden was speaking as if he had a choice in how the U.S. was going to leave.
It’s a stunning failure for the West, and an embarrassment for Biden. And it’s a traumatic turn for U.S. veterans who sacrificed in Afghanistan over the past 20 years, the 20,000+ wounded in action, and survivors of the more than 2,300 U.S. military personnel who were killed.
Ryan Crocker, a U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan under President Obama, said last weekend on ABC’s “This Week”: “I think it is already an indelible stain on his presidency.”
Richard Fontaine, head of the Center for a New American Security and former foreign policy adviser to Sen. John McCain, told Axios: “It’s striking that, with 20 years to think it over, the United States withdrew its forces without a plan for the aftermath.
“As the bulk of American troops departed,” Fontaine added, “there was no plan for securing regional base access, for the contractors that maintain the Afghan military, for training that military after the U.S. departure, for evacuating interpreters and helpers.”
There’s no way to put lipstick on this pig, no way to sweeten the bitter medicine. Biden can’t and shouldn’t accept the entire blame for this debacle, but he can own up to what he could have controlled — the final exit.
Critics of the Biden approach tell me it’s not the drawdown per se that they object to. It’s that the U.S. was run out of town, rather than planning a measured and managed departure.
Doug Lute, a retired Army general who directed Afghan strategy at the NSC for Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, told The New York Times that the puzzle for him “is the absence of contingency planning: If everyone knew we were headed for the exits, why did we not have a plan over the past two years for making this work?”
Predictably, instead of accepting responsibility for the manner in which America is leaving Afghanistan, Biden is lashing out at Donald Trump. It’s smart politics because his base of supporters will accept Biden pinning the blame on Trump, and much of the media will echo that explanation.
But the president’s credibility is taking a hit this weekend, and he may never recover from it.