1 September 2021   Leave a comment

US President Biden gave a speech yesterday announcing the end of the US role in the war in Afghanistan. It was probably an unnecessary speech since the news reports and videos since 14 August have thoroughly documented the exodus of Americans, Afghans, and allied citizens from the country. The politics of the end of an unsuccessful war are complicated and subject to the strong desire to forget the war as soon as possible. When Saigon fell in April 1975, then President Ford did not give a speech but rather issued a statement that was incredibly brief given the passions surrounding the war:

“During the past week, I had ordered the reduction of American personnel in
the United States mission in Saigon to levels that could be quickly evacuated
during an emergency, while enabling that mission to continue to fulfill its duties.

“During the day on Monday, Washington time. the airport at Saigon came under
persistent rocket as well as artillery fire and was effectively closed. The
military situation in the area deteriorated rapidly.”

“I, therefore. ordered the evacuation of all American personnel remaining in
South Viet Nam.

“The evacuation has been completed. I commend the personnel of the Armed
Forces who accomplished it, as well as Ambassador Graham Martin and the
staff of his mission who served so well under difficult conditions.

“This action closes a chapter in the American experience. I ask all Americans
to close ranks, to avoid recrimination about the past. to look ahead to the
many goals we share and to work together on the great tasks that remain to
be accomplished.”

President Biden’s speech today was an aggressive attempt to defend his decision to withdraw US troops by 31 August. The tone of the speech was admittedly defensive. His critics have made some serious charges about the decision to withdraw: that he abandoned Afghan allies and Afghan women and girls, placed US troops in jeopardy, blindsided NATO allies with the abruptness of the withdrawal, dishonored the sacrifice of the soldiers who were killed or wounded in the war, provided the Taliban with state of the art weaponry, and destroyed the credibility of US commitments in the future.

There was no reason for President Biden to be defensive. Losing a war is a difficult passage for any state, but the war in Afghanistan was lost many years ago and Biden made few decisions that were consequential in the conduct of the war. Given that his predecessor had already agreed to withdraw US troops in exchange for a promise by the Taliban not to attack US soldiers, there was very little Biden could do except break Trump’s agreement and renew combat with the Taliban. Dexter Filkins was interviewed by Terry Gross on National Public Radio in March 2021 and made these comments:

“FILKINS: The deal itself is simple, but it kind of sets off this cascade of other things which are not so simple. But the deal basically says the Taliban won’t kill any Americans, and we won’t attack the Taliban. And if all goes well and the Taliban agree not to support any kind of terrorism against the United States or not to allow terrorists in the country or any kind of bases, the United States will leave and go to zero and take out all of its forces by May 1…..

“And so the whole thing was kind of unconventional, but there’s an agreement. It was signed in February of last year, February 2020. And it says that the United States will pull out all of its forces by May 1. And what’s remarkable about it is that since February 2020, no American soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan. So the Taliban have, in fact, held to their word.”

Trump enjoyed the cessation of hostilities but made no preparations to avoid any of the negative consequences experienced by Biden in the last two weeks. Thus, when critics of the Biden decision make the point that continuing the US presence in Afghanistan was relatively costless. they are ignoring the special circumstances of that armistice. It is true that Biden could have ripped up the Trump agreement, but that would have meant the return of hostilities and the commensurate risks to American troops.

President Biden made the correct decision to withdraw before the Taliban resumed hostilities. And he should be applauded for getting 5,000 Americans and 124,000 Afghans out under horrific conditions. Ending the war was unquestionably in the US national interest and, given the total collapse of the Afghan government, in the Afghan national interest. Afghanistan was never destined to become a liberal state under a military occupation and it was, and is, foolish to pretend otherwise.

Posted September 1, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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