President Biden made the right strategic decision on Afghanistan: to end the war and bring American troops home. And he ended it for the right reasons: after 20 years, thousands of soldiers killed and wounded and over a trillion dollars in costs, the objective of removing Afghanistan as a terrorist threat to the homeland and US allies had been long achieved, and the nation-building efforts could go no further. And when the moment of truth for the Afghan government and armies arrived, with the Taliban sweeping the county, the Afghan president fled and their forces dispersed.
But the tactical execution of the decision has fallen terribly short, as the world has witnessed over the past several days. What we saw in Afghanistan just two weeks ago was a real-world intelligence failure playing out in real-time. Biden would not have told the American people in July that the exit from Afghanistan would not repeat what was experienced in Saigon in 1975 – he would not have said that unless he was assured by US intelligence that there would be no repeat of that agonizing crisis.
But this is why Biden and US allies across the world and those who served the cause in Afghanistan are facing this crisis today.
The only solution – Biden’s imperative – is to bring this humanitarian ordeal to a successful conclusion by firmly getting a grip on security on the ground in Kabul for those who need to be evacuated, and to minimize any further loss of life. A nightmare catastrophic scenario of a failed debacle would be if the Taliban or ISIS or others carried out killings or took mass hostages from those seeking freedom with the West. Such a terrorist threat is real.
In his remarks to the country this morning, Biden restated his firm conviction about the war in Afghanistan. “I think history will record this was the right decision to make.” He outlined a series of measures underway to get those who need to leave to the airport and out of the country and to have them thoroughly and safely processed in third countries. Biden acknowledged there was still a long way to go.
In raw political terms, Biden has taken a hit from this crisis. While not a surprise in the wake of days of headlines of the chaos in Kabul, Biden’s approval has slid to at or under 50 per cent in most polls. While his decision to exit Afghanistan is popular (more than 60 per cent), Biden’s handling of the crisis is far lower. This crisis has severely tested his foreign policy team and America’s relationship with its allies. There has been strong dismay, and some anger, across Europe especially from how this crisis erupted.
There is no good time for a crisis. This one is unfolding as Congress begins to return from its summer break to take decisive votes on Biden’s enormous domestic political agenda. Biden’s fate rests on completing the exit from Afghanistan successfully and winning votes in Congress on his agenda.
As could be seen today, this president is not short of confidence in adversity. He will need every ounce of it he has.