Watching coverage of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan has been painful, and the thought of women, girls, secular individuals, and LGBTQ folk left to the mercies of the Taliban is upsetting. That being said, the war in Afghanistan has been going on for twenty years, with no real progress in sight.
To his credit, President Biden is taking full responsibility for the pullout, even though this tragic moment is the culmination of decades of stupid foreign policy in the region:
I stand squarely behind my decision. After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces.
That’s why we were still there. We were clear-eyed about the risks. We planned for every contingency.
But I always promised the American people that I will be straight with you. The truth is: This did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated.
President Biden inherited an unwinnable mess from his four immediate predecessors, a Catch-46 situation. The Afghan War, originally meant as a police action to capture or kill Osama Bin Laden and uproot Al Qaeda, suffered from unforgivable mission creep, until the US military was bogged down in a morass of ethnic conflicts, all the while trying to establish a central authority. Well that central authority disintegrated, with the Afghan army, poorly paid and suffering abysmal morale, disbanded, and there are reports that deposed president Ghani absconded with a shitton of cash. The real problem is that corrupt, venal American officials engaged with corrupt, venal Afghan officials in order to pilfer from the American treasury for two decades.
I would argue that our adventure in Afghanistan was doomed from the start, as the Bush Maladministration took their attention off of the conflict and concentrated on attacking Iraq, all the while letting our diplomatic corps languish. To take it back even further, our adventure in Afghanistan was doomed by the fact that Al Qaeda and the Taliban were monsters of our own creation, as we armed the mujahideen who fought against the Soviet invasion. Fun fact- that whole 'Black Hawk Down' incident was made possible by the fact that American military advisors taught the fighters in Afghanistan how to take down Soviet helicopters with RPGs.
In the short term, Biden was stymied by the Trump administration's peace deal with the Taliban, which involved the release of 5,000 Taliban members from prison, including Abdul Ghani Baradar, who is likely the next leader of Afghanistan. Additionally, when Trump reduced the forces in Afghanistan to 2,500 personnel, he put his successor in a bind- withdraw with insufficient forces to ensure order, or engage in an unpopular escalation. To compound matters, Trump's Pentagon blocked Biden's transition team from access to intelligence. Again, Biden was in a Catch-46 situation, which Trump flat-out admitted he saddled Biden with:
The effect of the withdrawal on Biden's long-term standing remains to be seen- while he is being lambasted by political opponents who are busy scrubbing their social media feeds of posts in support of Trump's withdrawal plan, the war was largely forgotten by those whose families were untouched by it, and support for a continual drain on our coffers is unpopular. The coverage of the situation in Afghanistan is painful but in six months, few people will even remember it. Biden isn't concerned with his poll numbers here, and I'm not even sure he's looking to run for re-election. He made a painful decision, he refused to let the situation fester for a successor to grapple with. He was in a Catch-46 situation, which nobody could have handled in optimal fashion, but he had to guts to make a decision, for good or ill.
“I started the process, all the troops are coming home, they (Biden) couldn’t stop the process. 21 years is enough. They (Biden) couldn’t stop the process, they (Biden) wanted to but couldn’t stop the process.”
- Trump, 1 month ago pic.twitter.com/9UPPbseyT