The move by President Joe Biden to not only continue the pullout coordinated by outgoing President Donald Trump, but to accelerate it, was not the best move. We didn’t even need the benefit of hindsight to see it was the wrong move. We could see it was the wrong move in real time, as it played out and the Taliban retook control of the nation as quickly as America withdrew.
And, now, despite their promises to the Trump administration, the Taliban appears to be again limiting the freedom of women and those who don’t subscribe to their brand of conservative religious ideology.
The move to leave Afghanistan the way we did was wrong. It was wrong of the Trump administration to trust the Taliban. It was wrong of the Biden administration to continue with that plan knowing the Taliban couldn’t be trusted.
And it was practically criminal to accelerate the withdrawal when we didn’t have a solid plan in place to help every Afghan who put their lives on the line to help our men and women in uniform achieve their mission.
That is a legacy that Biden will have to live with. Being commander-in-chief doesn’t absolve him of the criticism of or the responsibility for his actions.
But it shouldn’t come as any surprise.
Joe Biden has always felt the mission in Afghanistan should have been a limited one.
He was one of the few members of the Obama administration who openly disagreed with the President’s plans for nation building, holding that America’s only goal in Afghanistan should be to root out al Qaeda and bring Osama bin Laden to justice.
Once that goal was accomplished, the then Vice President believed, Americans had no business staying in Afghanistan.
But he didn’t have the power to make that decision as Vice President.
As President, he does.
So, we find ourselves where we are today. The Taliban are back in control of the nation. Many of our allies have shamefully been left behind and face the possibility of death, or imprisonment, or worse.
And, ironically, all the conditions are met for Afghanistan to once again become a safe haven for groups like al Qaeda. There is the possibility, and the hope, that international pressure and a desire for some sort of legitimacy can keep the Taliban from allowing that to happen again. But if that happens, it won’t be due to the actions of the Biden administration. It will be thanks to our European and Asian allies, and their hard work and diplomacy.
The Biden administration still has the opportunity to do good work. The infrastructure plan his administration has championed promises to help revitalize American communities, and make them safer. He still has three years to make significant impacts to climate policy, and he’s already begun repairing overseas relationships strained by four years of Trump policy.
But the Afghanistan fiasco could very well be the defining moment of his presidency.
We’re not international policy experts. Maybe what Biden did is the best option, and America shouldn’t be in the business of nation building. There was undoubtedly corruption in the Afghan government, after all. Maybe we shouldn’t have propped it up.
But America need not “nation build” to maintain a presence and provide stability. World War II ended more than 75 years ago, yet America still has military bases in both Germany and Japan. The Korean War ended 68 years ago, but America still has a presence there as well.
An enduring American presence isn’t unheard of, and a remnant of American forces – even a small one – stationed in Afghanistan at the end of formal conflict might have made the difference between Afghan forces maintaining control of the nation or laying down their arms and walking away as they did.
Or, maybe not. We can’t say for sure.
What we can say is the pullout led to Taliban control, and the timetable that Biden committed to made it impossible to do right by our allies in country.
That was wrong, and the President will have to own that, no matter what the future ultimately holds for Afghanistan and her people.