Joe Biden Ending Forever War In Afghanistan
Yesterday, President Joe Biden announced that the USA's longest war will finally end, with all US troops being withdrawn from Afghanistan by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the attacks that led to US "involvement" there in the first place. Biden said that after two decades of death and misery, it's time to end this:
"We cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan hoping to create the ideal conditions for our withdrawal, expecting a different result," said Biden, who delivered his address from the White House Treaty Room, the same location where President George W. Bush announced the start of the war. "I am now the fourth United States president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan. Two Republicans. Two Democrats. I will not pass this responsibility to a fifth."
Here's video of Biden's announcement:
Pentagon officials had argued that the US should at least leave behind some kind of residual force, or that a withdrawal happen only when certain conditions were met — like maybe the flourishing of a robust democratic government with a broad popular mandate, something that the US seems to have difficulty managing at home. But Biden decided, as one administration official told reporters, that agreeing to a conditions- based withdrawal would amount to "a recipe for staying in Afghanistan forever."
And so the approximately 2,500 US troops still in the country will leave by September, with the drawdown starting in May. Donald Trump had, between attempts to foment the overthrow the US government, set May as the deadline for pulling US troops out.
Politico has an interesting behind-the-scenes look at how the decision came about, which can best be summed up as plain old civilian control over the military, as the country was designed to work: The generals had input, but ultimately, Biden said it was time to end this, and now the military will do all it can to carry out that policy.
Biden also said that while it's "time to end America's longest war," the US won't "conduct a hasty rush to the exit," and promised that the US would continue to provide diplomatic and economic support for Afghanistan. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken flew to Afghanistan Thursday to meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Blinken said he "wanted to demonstrate, with my visit, the ongoing commitment of the United States to the Islamic Republic and the people of Afghanistan." He also met with other Afghan government leaders, and with "members of Afghan civil society, mostly women, at the US Embassy," according to pool reporters.
Following the stop in Kabul, Blinken flew on to Brussels to discuss plans for military withdrawal with NATO leaders; NATO will also withdraw the roughly 7,000 troops it has in Afghanistan at the same time the US does. While there, Blinken said the USA would
continue support for the rights of Afghan women and girls, minorities advocating for their meaningful participation in the ongoing negotiations and their equal representation throughout society, and we'll maintain significant humanitarian assistance to those in need.
It's debatable how realistic a prospect that is, particularly since most military experts believe the Taliban, which already controls much of Afghanistan, is likely to win back power within a year or two, after of course plenty of bloody fighting to retake the capital. At The Atlantic, George Packer says expecting the worst may be the most realistic option:
We should assume that Afghan cities could fall within months or weeks and that Kabul will soon become a bloody battleground, as it was in the early 1990s, during the civil war that followed the departure of Soviet troops. We should also assume that the Taliban will be no more merciful toward women, girls, religious minorities, civil-society activists, political opponents, and perceived infidels and spies than during its years in power before September 11, 2001.
David Ignatius is somewhat more optimistic, or at least less pessimistic:
Those who suspect that the country will quickly tumble back into the Middle Ages and a primitive version of Islam are wrong, I suspect. The years of war have modernized Afghanistan. It's now a richer, more urban country, connected by modern communications. People who gained their freedom in the two decades under a U.S. umbrella won't give it up easily.
Both agree, however, that as the US prepares to leave another war it probably never could have won (particularly not after George W. Bush decided an unwinnable war in Iraq would be more fun), we need to avoid the mistakes we made nearly 50 years ago as the government of South Vietnam fell to troops from North Vietnam. We shouldn't abandon to the tender mercies of the Taliban the thousands of Afghans (and their families) who worked with the US and our military over the past 20 years. Back in 1975, Packer notes, Joe Biden opposed helping the Vietnamese whom the US had promised to save if the North invaded, claiming in a Senate speech, "The United States has no obligation to evacuate one, or 100,001, South Vietnamese." Says Packer,
Biden failed to see a moral obligation in 1975. Today he can learn from the mistake and redeem it. Seventeen thousand Afghans who have worked for America in Afghanistan, along with tens of thousands of their family members, are waiting for the excruciatingly slow bureaucratic wheels of the U.S. government to process their visa applications. At the normal pace, they will still be waiting years after the last American troops leave their country. While they wait, trying to hide, many of them will be hunted down by the Taliban. We will be gone, and Afghans who believed our promises will be killed. Our war will be over—Americans might not even hear the news of their deaths.
Packer suggests that as the US prepares to leave Afghanistan, we should evacuate those Afghans who are at risk, using what's been called the "Guam option," similar to how the US evacuated thousands of Iraqi Kurds to the US military base on Guam following the first Gulf War. Then we can do the visa screenings needed to let them come to America.
If you haven't seen the brilliant 2014 PBS documentary Last Days In Vietnam, I urge you to look for it (you can rent it on the major streaming sites). It's a sobering look at the human costs of imperial hubris and wishful thinking. We shouldn't have made war in Vietnam in the first place, but we also shouldn't have abandoned our allies as shamefully as we did.
For 20 years, the absolute hell question about Afghanistan has been what happens to the people there when we leave. To avoid finding out, president after president has kept the US in a conflict that since 2001 has eaten up two generations of our military (2,200 dead, 20,000 wounded) and killed roughly 111,000 Afghans, over 31,000 of them civilians. The Pentagon, as Ignatius notes, is sick of the war too, but the military's desire to get the hell out has long been "checked by a feeling that the only thing that's worse than remaining in what seems an unwinnable stalemate is pulling out troops — and then having to go back in."
But with no prospects of ever reaching a point where Afghanistan will become stable enough to leave without any negative consequences, Joe Biden is betting that leaving now, instead of in another decade or two, is the least terrible of all the terrible options.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.