Biden’s filibuster, Part One

Joe Biden’s Friday press conference included a 17 minute Q&A component. But it would be inaccurate to say that Biden responded to questions for 17 minutes, because much of that time was spent addressing questions that weren’t asked. The “A’s” were not responsive to the “Q’s.”

All sets of questions (four of them in total, I think) were about the execution of Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. But Biden wanted to talk about the decision to withdraw, a different matter.

It was natural for Biden to turn the discussion to the withdrawal decision, rather than its execution. Nearly everyone agrees the withdrawal was botched. A great many Americans — a plurality and maybe a majority – favored the pullout. So Biden was on friendlier ground talking about the latter topic.

It was also natural for Biden to want to eat up reporters’ time. In effect, he filibustered.

When Biden veered from the questions asked to the withdrawal decision, he looked at papers that, presumably, had been prepared for him. His talking points ranged from the misleading to the absurd.

In this post, I’ll address Biden’s most absurd talking point in defense of his decision to withdraw, and the one of which he seemed most proud. It went like this:

If the 9/11 attack had emanated from Yemen no one would suggest that we should fight the Taliban in Afghanistan. But al Qaeda is present in Yemen and many other countries. Therefore, Biden’s argument must have been, there’s no more reason to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan than to fight in Yemen or in any other similarly situated country.

QED, if you were absent the day they taught logic in school. If you were present, or if you’re intelligent, you will understand that one can’t conclude that a particular course of action (here withdrawal from Afghanistan) is sound under existing facts by arguing that this would be the right course under a contrary set of facts.

The problem with Biden’s argument is that if the 9/11 attack had its source in Yemen, then the Taliban wouldn’t have been the government that harbored and collaborated with those directly responsible for the attack. Nor would there be strong reason to fear that the Taliban would do so again.

But the Taliban did harbor and collaborate with those directly responsible for 9/11. Thus, we had reason to topple the Taliban and to punish it by keeping it from regaining full control of Afghanistan.
And, because the Taliban is allied with al Qaeda in the fight to take over Afghanistan, we have good reason to fear that the Taliban will again harbor and collaborate with al Qaeda in the future.

Moreover, because 9/11 was planned in Afghanistan, we have good reason to want to maintain the ability to gather intelligence regarding what’s happening there. Arguably, this requires some presence. At a minimum, a presence improves our intelligence-gathering capability.

Furthermore, if the 9/11 attack had its origin in Yemen, we wouldn’t have worked with many thousands of Afghans in combatting the Taliban. Their lives would not be in jeopardy from the Taliban due to their collaboration with us. But as it is, they are.

Finally, if the 9/11 attack had stemmed from Yemen, our refusal to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan would not involve taking a military defeat at its hands. Having never fought in Afghanistan, there could be no defeat there. But we did fight there, and our withdrawal constitutes a defeat.

In Joe Biden’s hypothetical, none of these arguments in favor of fighting the Taliban apply. But Biden’s hypothetical is counter-factual, and under the real facts, all of the arguments do apply. One may or may not find them persuasive, but they can’t be dismissed by imagining that the 9/11 attack stemmed from Yemen, not Afghanistan.

Thus, Biden’s hypothetical tells us nothing about what our policy should be given the fact that the 9/11 attack did stem from Afghanistan and we did intervene there as a result. Joe Biden isn’t very smart, but it still surprises me that he would present an argument as ridiculous as this one.

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