Biden’s muddled thinking on Afghanistan

The New York Times reports on Joe Biden’s decision making regarding Afghanistan. The article is accessible here.

The whole report is worth reading, but I want to highlight this passage:

In late March, [Lloyd] Austin and [Mark] Milley made a last-ditch effort with the president by forecasting dire outcomes in which the Afghan military folded in an aggressive advance by the Taliban. They drew comparisons to how the Iraqi military was overrun by the Islamic State in 2014 after U.S. combat troops left Iraq, prompting Obama to send U.S. forces back.

“We’ve seen this movie before,” Austin told Biden, according to officials with knowledge of the meetings.

But the president was unmoved. If the Afghan government could not hold off the Taliban now, aides said he asked, when would they be able to? None of the Pentagon officials could answer the question.

I think the honest answer to Biden’s question is that the Afghan government can hold off the Taliban on its own when the South Koreans can hold off North Korea without the U.S. presence, or when the West Germans could have held off Warsaw Pact forces without us.

In other words, not in the foreseeable future. Maybe not ever.

But that doesn’t mean the Afghans couldn’t have held off the enemy with the help of a relatively small U.S. force. In fact, they were doing so. Nor does it mean we should have abandoned them.

That’s not what great nations — or good, honorable ones — do.

It’s interesting, too, that Austin and Milley reminded Biden of what happened when we pulled out of Iraq. The reminder was pointed, or should have been, because Biden was an architect and perhaps the prime mover of the disastrous decision to withdraw from that country.

That Biden withdrawal led to ISIS capturing much of Iraq, establishing a caliphate, and terrorizing the West, including America. Obama had to bring our troops back to Iraq. (I don’t recall anyone objecting that if, after all the training and equipment we provided the Iraqis, they couldn’t defend themselves, too bad for them.)

We won’t be sending troops back to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban again. And maybe this time around, the Taliban won’t allow Afghanistan to become a launching pad for worldwide terrorism.

But there was no need to take this risk, to suffer a massive national humiliation, and to allow the Taliban to have its bloody way with the Afghans who supported us or who simply want to enjoy basic human rights and freedoms.

Biden’s rationale for doing so apparently was nothing more than the fact that the generals couldn’t tell him that our limited troop commitment would not be open ended. This, then, was the case of an unintelligent president basing a crucial policy decision on an answer to the wrong question.

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