President Biden Sets Afghanistan Exit, For Real This Time, Supposedly
We’ve heard it through three different administrations, but President Biden says he means it: America is getting out of Afghanistan
We’ve heard it before, throughout three different administrations, but this time President Biden says he really means it: America is getting out of Afghanistan:
President Biden has watched a parade of presidents set sweeping goals for the United States overseas, only to become entangled in long-running, slow-bleeding problems. Now that he has the job himself, Biden is determined to avoid the same fate.
His pledge to end the two-decade U.S. war in Afghanistan is the best example so far.
Biden sees the war against the Taliban as a drag on the need to deal with bigger threats like China, climate change, the coronavirus pandemic — and even a terrorism menace that has mutated significantly in the two decades since the attacks that launched the Afghan war to begin with. He is also focused on threats from Russia and the decline of U.S. influence abroad.
Biden will lay out plans Wednesday to withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the al-Qaeda attacks on the United States that were planned from Afghan soil. The announcement makes good on Biden’s campaign promise to close down the nation’s longest war and is in keeping with his view that wars become self-perpetuating if the generals call the shots.
“The president has been consistent in his view that there’s not a military solution to Afghanistan, that we have been there for far too long,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday, adding that “he also believes we need to focus our resources on fighting the threats we face today, 20 years — almost 20 years — after the war began.”
There are, of course, dissenters. Max Boot took to the Washington Post to decry a set date ending to US involvement in Afghanistan:
Biden’s decision to withdraw in less than five months, no matter the conditions on the ground, makes a Taliban takeover or at least a massive civil war much more likely. The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that it would take only two to three years after a U.S. pullout for the Taliban to conquer much of the country. The congressionally chartered Afghan Study Group, co-chaired by retired Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned that “a precipitous withdrawal could lead to a reconstitution of the terrorist threat to the U.S. homeland within eighteen months to three years.” (Think of the rise of the Islamic State after the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in 2011.)
To avert such a dire contingency, Biden would not have to wage a “forever war.” He would merely have to keep a relatively small number of U.S. forces to advise and assist the Afghans who already undertake almost all of the fighting.
Beyond the strategic risk to the United States of a precipitous withdrawal, there is the undoubted risk to all of the Afghans who have risked life and limb to build a new country since 2001. Think of all the girls going to school, all the women in the workforce, all the brave soldiers and police officers fighting the Taliban despite heavy casualties, all the young entrepreneurs starting businesses, all the government officials trying to build a fragile democracy. Yes, there are many abusive and crooked officials on the government side — and their depredations have done much damage to the government’s cause.
But there are also many millions of ordinary Afghans who simply want a decent life and don’t want to be ruled by the Taliban. If Biden pulls out as planned in September absent a binding peace settlement, he will be consigning them to the same fate as our abandoned South Vietnamese allies. The fall of Kabul could be as ugly as the fall of Saigon.
Everything Boot says about the situation the Afghans will find themselves in when the Americans leave is true. We already know from history what the Taliban will do as soon as they have consolidated power, and the atrocious things that means for the country, especially the women, dissenters, and anyone who helped the Americans.
The thing is, America has long since decided that it isn’t worth it to continue the 20-year-old experiment in trying to make Afghanistan a self-sufficient place.
The American people simply do not care enough to want their own blood and treasure re-upped for another few years of pointless negotiations with some of the evilest people on the planet in the Taliban. Even a small number of US forces left will still be seen as not keeping the promise to leave Afghanistan that was made by Obama, Trump, and now Biden. The President’s people are right about conditions; the decision to surrender the country to the Taliban has been made, so the conditions don’t matter since that goalpost has been in motion for over a decade now. The Taliban has waited 20 years to reclaim power, they can wait another 6 months, a year, multiple years if necessary, to get what they want.
Twenty years seems like a long time. I was 21 the first time I was in Afghanistan on a down-and-back trip out of Germany. If the timeline President Biden is announcing holds up, I’ll be 41 when American’s involvement in Afghanistan ends. Twenty years. But it doesn’t seem like it was that long ago. Time is funny like that. “Time will explain,” wrote Jane Austen, and honest folks are not going to like what America’s twenty years in Afghanistan is explaining to us. It’s far more complicated than the breezy, shallow “forever wars” buzzword that is waved like a magical incantation by politicians and social media commenters to ward off all the bad in the world. Far more serious than the jokes about a war that was almost old enough to drink, far more lives affected in real life than will be payed attention to once the news cycle moves on to something else. Young adults in Afghanistan who grew up only hearing about the before times will find out first hand. The VA here at home will be caring for the physical and mental care of America’s Afghanistan veterans for the rest of their natural lives, half a century or more from now for some of them. 2300 families have an unfillable hole of a loved one who did not come home, one of the open wounds no amount of passed time ever truly heals.
Hard to blame Americans who look at all that and say, “No more”. There are no stats, or policy, or theory of foreign policy that a war tired citizenry is going to hear out opposite of them. No chart showing the burden of this war has been relatively light on paper compared to history, since on paper isn’t how decisions of life and death and war are made. Americans on the whole have decided it isn’t worth it years ago, and are far past done with excuses why it hasn’t ended.
If President Biden’s timeline holds up, on the anniversary on 9/11 America will leave Afghanistan with 2,372 dead, 20K wounded, trillions of dollars spent in the process, only to watch the Taliban retake the country and put everything right back where we all started twenty years ago. Picking that date for the symbolism of it is not accidental, and is yet another layer of show and posturing over America’s longest war. Sure we could leave troops there in some form. We’ve had forces in Germany and Japan for over 70 years, Korea for over 60, the Middle East for almost 30, Africa in different ways and places for nearly 40. We can do whatever we want to do, but what we apparently want to do is wash our hands of it. To point, both Donald Trump and Joe Biden ran on promises of bringing the troops home from Afghanistan, a rare point of agreement by two politicians who couldn’t be more different. There is no good way to surrender. No good way to abandon a country that never moved past being spoon fed their current government and security by outside support. No good way to leave allies and partners hanging because we’ve had enough.
But the crux of it: Everybody loses in regard to Afghanistan. The situation is worse than when we started, and we as a country have nothing but the black eye of a failed campaign and the loss and scars of the service members who bore the brunt of this two-decade exercise in futility to show for it. The humanitarian disaster and bloodbath that will be a united Taliban Afghanistan will be a menace to the people there and the world again soon enough, and probably be scarcely noticed by the wider world. History will judge it, and many folks will eternally wonder what was the point of it all. Hopefully, there was at least some small moments of good in the overarching, two decade mess the latest Afghanistan war was, that some small better something can come from. But that’s a fool’s hope that is going under the wheels of the Taliban in short order, and for the foreseeable future.
Hopefully, the generation that has come up since we went into Afghanistan will do better next time, will commit military forces with more purpose, focus, and resilience. That they do so while also keeping the money skim to a more acceptable level and the politics better in hand. Hopefully, the long suffering people of Afghanistan get a better future against all the odds that they won’t.
Twenty years and all we can do is hope. What a sad epitaph. And perhaps worst of all, judging from how it’s ending for America but once again restarting for Afghanistan, we didn’t learn a damn thing from any of it.
Originally published at https://ordinary-times.com on April 14, 2021.