August 17, 2021

Chaos in Afghanistan

“Thousands of Afghans rushed into Kabul’s main airport Monday, some so desperate to escape the Taliban that they held onto a military jet as it took off and plunged to their deaths… A resolute U.S. President Joe Biden said he stood ‘squarely behind’ his decision to withdraw American forces and acknowledged the ‘gut-wrenching’ images unfolding in Kabul.” AP News

Both sides are critical of Biden’s speech and condemn his attempts to shift the blame elsewhere for the current situation:

“[What was] missing from Biden’s speech was an honest explanation of the colossal intelligence failure that left the White House reeling from the speed of the Taliban’s triumph. There was no admission of American strategic misjudgment beyond Biden’s weaselly worded admission, ‘The truth is, this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated.’ Then Biden indulged himself with a litany of well-justified complaints about the rush-for-the-exits Afghan government. As Biden put it, ‘Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country. The Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight.’ All true, but insufficient…

“Just as the CIA and all the other expensively intrusive U.S. spy agencies missed the collapse of the Soviet Union, so did America’s intelligence community blunder again over the pace of the fall of Kabul… In the days ahead, the [desperate] deployment of 6,000 American military forces to Kabul may belatedly organize a much more orderly finale to the nation’s longest war. While nothing can repair the damage from the chaos—and, yes, callousness—of the last week, a sustained drive to evacuate all the Afghans who worked for Americans in Kabul, plus all the beleaguered journalists and humanitarian workers, might salvage a smidge of national honor.”
Walter Shapiro, New Republic

Biden’s political brand is empathy. If ever there was a moment that called for that it was this one, with terrified Afghans desperately looking for a way out of their country to avoid being murdered. I guess Biden calculated that if he showed too much rhetorical compassion, it would have sounded hollow in light of his decision to withdraw. ‘How can you say you sympathize with them when you knew this would be the inevitable consequences of your policy, Mr. President?’ He couldn’t.”
Allahpundit, Hot Air

“The pullout need not have degenerated into catastrophic spectacle. He could have planned to leave maintenance contractors, who kept the Afghan military’s medevac helicopters and other crucial aircraft in flying shape, knowing that air support was critical to that army’s ability and willingness to fight. He could have foreseen the need to maintain some presence until Americans and allies had left the country…

“Yes, the Afghan military’s demoralization and failure to fight came as a rude disappointment, as the president emphasized, but it’s fair to ask why, if he was sure the cause was lost, their quick surrender came as such a surprise to him. The blame-shifting is especially unseemly given that some 66,000 Afghan fighters have given their lives in this war during the past 20 years, alongside 2,448 U.S. service members.”
Editorial Board, Washington Post

The president is blaming everyone but himself. He argues that he had no choice because of the withdrawal agreement President Donald Trump signed with the Taliban. First of all, the Taliban violated that agreement, so the United States was under no obligation to follow it. Second, Biden has spent the past seven months reversing almost every Trump policy, from border security to the Keystone XL pipeline, sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal. But his hands were tied in Afghanistan?…

“When Biden is not blaming Trump, he is blaming the Afghan army… [But] In January 2015, Afghan forces assumed full responsibility for combat operations against the Taliban. Since that time, the State Department reports that U.S. combat deaths in Afghanistan ‘dropped sharply to an average of about 17 per year’ while during that same period between 53,000 and 57,000 Afghan soldiers were killed in action fighting the Taliban — including about 2,600 [through] Aug. 5 this year. To say Afghans were not willing to fight is libelous.”
Marc A. Thiessen, Washington Post

Other opinions below.

See past issues

From the Left

This debacle will have profound and destabilising consequences for the region. It has undermined Mr Biden’s desire to rehabilitate America’s reputation as a global humanitarian force, following the Trump presidency. A humiliating setback for the west will encourage Islamist terrorist groups around the world. But most directly and immediately, the desire to close the book on Afghanistan and move on has failed a people. After two decades of a western presence in their country, Afghans who had come to enjoy greater freedoms had a right to expect more care and attention to be paid to their fragile situation. Mr Biden, focused on consigning the 9/11 era of US foreign policy to history, has badly let them down.”
Editorial Board, The Guardian

“For years, commanders of the Afghan National Army and National Police — the elements most critical to securing the country — failed to lead, often stealing the salaries and fuel that their forces needed to be effective, and more recently failing to even provide their forces with edible food…

“When American officials in Kabul were asked [in 2016 what Afghanistan’s military was missing], almost to a tee, their answer was ‘leadership.’ But officially, poor leadership is not a ‘capability gap.’ DOD draws a distinction between military capabilities — like education, force protection and training — and intangible qualities like leadership, that are specific to individuals… The hoped-for legion of leaders never materialized because America’s fixation on tangible capabilities and individual mentorship meant it never built the institutions to produce it.”
Jonathan Schroden, Politico

Some argue that “The attacks on Biden reveal a deep imperial chauvinism, and either a childlike naivete about the character of American empire or outright dishonesty. These folks insist that America could have done the withdrawal better, imagining a capacity for competent governance that could not possibly be less in evidence. Of course the U.S. screwed up the situation — it has done literally nothing else for two decades straight…

Biden should face facts and negotiate: offer sanctions relief, diplomatic recognition, or other concessions if the Taliban will agree to give the U.S. another month to get people out (and perhaps hold to their previous agreement not to harbor terrorist groups).”
Ryan Cooper, The Week

From the Right

“Apparently not making a dark joke, Biden insisted that human rights remain a centerpiece of his administration's foreign policy. This will be news to those Americans watching their televisions. It will also be news to those Afghans now watching their friends and family plummet off of the aircraft now speeding out of Kabul…

“Most of all, the president seemed angry. Angry at those who believed withdrawal could have been effected more successfully than via the school of bloody shambles. Angry at those who suggested a residual force of 2,500 Americans, not taking active casualties, might be preferable to turning over a nation to medieval Islamists who worship fanaticism and exist in ideological kinship to the authors of 9/11. Angry at those who suggest the president bears any blame for the policy he has enacted.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

“Despite Biden’s claims that he wanted to exit Afghanistan in part to rebalance resources towards China, the loss of Afghanistan hurts the American posture in our competition with China… it deprives us of the only airbase (Bagram) and military presence we had in a nation bordering China, and also of our intelligence collection capabilities based in Afghanistan targeting western China—where Beijing is currently building a massive array of nuclear missile silos… China’s gleeful state media is already using Afghanistan to troll Hong Kong democracy activists about American unreliability.”
William Inboden, The Bulwark

“The fall of Kabul has been heard around the world… China, Russia and Iran surely interpret this shambolic performance as a sign of exploitable weakness and poor judgment. From the peaks of Pakistan to the sands of the Sahel, fanatical jihadists discouraged by the failure of ISIS sense a fresh and favorable turn of events with the arrival of their greatest victory since 9/11. Recruitment will prosper and resources will flow—fed by the sophisticated weapons and tech we left in the field. The president may be finished with Afghanistan, but Afghanistan may not be finished with him…

“Perhaps the biggest winner in this dismal week was former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who wrote in his 2014 memoir that then Vice President Biden ‘has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.’”
Walter Russell Mead, Wall Street Journal

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