Facing the first foreign policy fiasco of his administration so far, President Joe Biden addressed the nation and the world today on the situation in Afghanistan and the return of the horrific Taliban to power.
“I’m President of the United States of America, the buck stops with me,” the defiant President echoed Harry S Truman’s famed motto from the White House Monday as events in Afghanistan turned more chaotic by the minute.
“I’m deeply saddened by the facts we face, but I do not regret my decision to end America’s fighting in Afghanistan and maintain a laser focus on our counter-terrorism mission there and other parts of the world,” Biden stridently added of what he markedly referred to as “another country’s civil war.”
“This is not in our national security interests,” Biden stated in what was a overall slam of the last Afghan government for what’s going down in the country now. “It is not what the American people want. It is not what our troops, who have sacrificed so much over the past two decades deserve.”
“I know my decision will be criticized,” he said with understatement of the “hard and messy” withdrawal process and the “gut-wrenching” Taliban throng the past week. “But I would rather take all that criticism than pass this decision on another President of the United States, yet another one,” Biden said, making an aside about the failures of the Vietnam War he witnessed as a young man and Senator in the early 1970s.
Covered live on all the networks and cabler news channels, Biden’s hastily arranged speech today came a day after the Afghan capital of Kabul fell as now former President Ashraf Ghani fled the long war torn South Asian country. Pillared over the last week by the media, the GOP, veterans groups and Pentagon leaks as the long waiting Taliban rapidly advanced to take vast regions of the country, Biden also faced the backdrop of fears over the fate of women and girls in Afghanistan under the of the Taliban.
Despite the wall-to-wall coverage, handwringing and fault-finding with what is a clear implosion by the Biden administration, polls still show the vast majority of the American people support efforts to leave the conflict.
Even with declamations by some and calls of incompetence by others that a Taliban-rued Afghanistan will once again become a base for terror attacks against the U.S. and others, foreign policy has traditionally been a low priority for Americans. Biden’s team is banking on domestic concerns about the economy and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic being front and center, even as the nation’s mournful commemoration of the 20-year anniversary of the fatal attacks of September 11, 2001 loom.
“The events we’re seeing now are sadly proof that no amount of military force will ever deliver a stable, untied, secure Afghanistan,” Biden asserted in his speech today taking little responsibility of the Afghans still in the country and the shambolic nature of the U.S. exit. “What’s happening now could have just as easily happened five years ago or 15 years in the future, you have to be honest.”
“As we carry out this departure, we have made it clear to the Taliban if they attack our personnel or disrupt our operation, the U.S. presence will be swift and the response will be swift and forceful,” Biden threatened. “We will defend our people with devastating force.”
Additionally, in the immediate aftermath of the incompetently executed American withdrawal and the collapse of the Afghan military and deeply corrupt government, there’s the damning footage of Afghan citizens steaming into Kabul airport and trying to grab on the wheels and wings of departing U.S. transport aircraft personifying the humanitarian chaos. Subsequent footage shown on CNN and others seems to show bodies falling from the planes as they take off.
As neighboring Pakistan stays quiet, realpolitik is taking shape too as China and Russia try to quickly fill the void in the region. Even before Donald Trump started stilted peace talks with the Taliban in 2020, both countries indicted that they saw no problem with a Taliban rulership. Russia and China, who are imprisoning millions of Uyghurs and other Muslims in their own country, are expected to recognize the new Islamic government soon.
Combined with the war in Iraq, the Afghan War cost U.S. taxpayer over $2 trillion, with almost the same amount being spent for medical coverage and more for veterans of the conflicts. The real cost of the war cannot be measured in dollar and cents. Around 2,448 members of the American military were killed over the 20 years of the war, with the death of almost 4,000 U.S. contractors too. More than 20,000 U.S. troops were injured over the 20-year war. Around 100,00 Afghan security forces and citizens have died in the war, with 1,200 NATO troops losing their lives.
Never a fan of the involvement in Afghanistan beyond capturing or killing Al Qaeda forces, Biden has long declared that he “inherited a deal cut by my predecessor” after the Trump administration last year pulled out most of the U.S. forces and resources that have been in the country in some form or another since the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
“I was the fourth President to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan—two Republicans, two Democrats. I would not, and will not, pass this war onto a fifth,” the 46th POTUS said last month and reiterated in a statement issued by the White House on August 14. Biden usually part of the statement again today.
There were approximently 3,000 active U.S. troops in Afghanistan as of the beginning of this year, a small contingent by any measure.
In a sideshow war of words between Trump and Biden and their aides, the current administration blamed the former Celebrity Apprentice host for the time table they had for the withdrawal timeline they established. As Trump blasted Biden over the weekend for the obvious failure in the Afghanistan retreat, going so far as calling on his successor to resign. The Biden team have sought to taint Trump in giving the Taliban legitimacy in wanting to invite them to Camp David for peace conference last year on the anniversary of 9/11.
The conflict between Trump and Biden and their respective minion played out on cable news and online the last few days, much of it ignoring the stance the previous administration took on its watch.
Tuning into MSNBC or Fox News Channel and the Taliban takeover is a tale of two different Commander-in-Chiefs. In fact, as now targeted Afghan nationals who worked with U.S. forces have been left high and dry, the only consistent in the partisan coverage has been one talking head after another exclaiming their shock at the speed by which the Taliban took over Afghanistan.
U.S. Intelligence estimated that it would be at least a couple of months before the harsh Islamic fundamentalist group muscled in fully, time to create a transitional regime. The reality is the well-rehearsed Taliban cracked the weak Afghan forces in less than a week to set the clock back before the U.S. and allies invasion of 2001 and more like the 15th century.
Previously having assured the American people and the world recently that the 300,000 strong American trained Afghan security forces would be able to hold off the less than 100,000 identified Taliban fighters, a few weeks ago Biden also declared, likely now to his growing regrets, “there is going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy of the United States from Afghanistan.”
The reference to the American exit from Saigon and the Vietnam War in 1975 has becoming a symbol of U.S. policy failure in previous overseas wars and a specter over involvement in Afghanistan, which has been American’s longest ever war. As Biden spoke from the White House today, diplomats and others scrambled to get out of Afghanistan, Taliban control tightened and thousands of U.S. troops were being re-deployed to the region to coordinate what remains of the flaying exit strategy.
As the state of affairs on the ground in Afghanistan, Taliban officials tell the cameras that they will reintroduce Islamic law gradually. With the hijab already in effect for woman and girls and tales of door-to-door searches and forced marriages away from the international media glare, what “gradually” really means will be truly seen in the next few weeks or days.
What we do know is that as Biden headed back to Camp David today after his White House remarks, the Pentagon rolled out members of the military brass in front of the cameras to back up his assertions – just like the 43rd, 44th and 45th POTUS used to do when things went badly in Afghanistan during their terms.