Column: Biden knows Afghanistan will get uglier. No wonder he’d rather not talk about it



Final week, when reporters requested President Biden whether or not he fearful that Afghanistan’s authorities would possibly collapse within the face of Taliban army advances, he responded with ill-concealed annoyance.

“I wish to discuss glad issues,” he mentioned.

The president went on to reply — he mentioned the regime may survive, however provided that its members cease squabbling — however then referred to as a halt.

“I’m not going to reply any extra fast questions on Afghanistan,” he mentioned.

It’s no thriller why: Topics like job-creation experiences or the U.S. restoration from the pandemic let Biden discuss successes. Afghanistan provides solely a selection of failures.

The information is dire. The Taliban has seized a lot of the nation’s territory; the Afghan authorities’s armed forces, which the USA spent greater than $88 billion constructing, seem like disintegrating. Within the areas they conquer, the Taliban is reimposing Islamic fundamentalist rule, together with oppressive therapy of girls. If the federal government survives, the nation may rapidly descend into civil struggle.

“The devastation and the killings … President Biden goes to personal these ugly photographs,” Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) warned this week.

That was a partisan jab however nonetheless true, and Biden is aware of it: Presidents get blamed for disasters that happen on their watch, whether or not they brought on them or not.

Biden has seen that. He was vice chairman when President Obama withdrew U.S. forces from Iraq to normal acclaim in 2011, solely to return beneath hearth when Islamic State rampaged throughout the nation in 2014.

So even when Biden would quite discuss “glad issues,” he’ll have to stay engaged in Afghanistan — for political causes in addition to for nationwide safety and humanitarian ones.

Which means he’ll have to push for negotiations between the Taliban and the Kabul authorities in hopes of reaching a peace settlement, or not less than stopping a massacre, which diplomats take into account extra achievable.

It means warning that the U.S. will use pressure in opposition to terrorists in areas beneath Taliban management, simply because it does in different international locations.

It means mounting an brisk effort to assist greater than 18,000 Afghans who labored for the U.S. army get in another country with their households.

And it means updating contingency plans to evacuate the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, which nonetheless has about 4,000 workers, together with 1,800 Individuals, guarded by some 650 U.S. troops.

No marvel Biden is tetchy when requested in regards to the topic. He’s holding a bag left to him by three earlier presidents: George W. Bush, who launched the 2001 invasion however then centered on Iraq; Obama, who tried to stabilize the nation with a short lived surge of troops; and Donald Trump, who promised to drag out however by no means fairly delivered.

Irrespective of their approaches, Afghanistan’s authorities remained corrupt, factionalized and largely incapable of defending itself.


Biden, who supported the invasion as chair of the Senate International Relations Committee, was a skeptic by 2009, when, as vice chairman, he argued not very privately in opposition to Obama’s surge. Twelve years later, when he turned president himself, solely unhealthy choices remained.

Trump promised the Taliban that the remaining 3,500 U.S. troops would go away the nation by Could 1, 2021; in change, the Taliban made two guarantees: to not assault Individuals and to have interaction in severe peace talks. They saved the primary — no American has died in fight in 17 months — however broke the second.

Biden’s decisions had been to both keep the U.S. troop presence, which might nearly certainly immediate Taliban assaults, or to finish the withdrawal.

He selected to lance the boil and get out.

Up to now, the political value has been negligible, largely as a result of most Individuals have lengthy since accepted that the army effort had failed. (A majority reached that conclusion by 2014, in accordance with a Pew Analysis Middle ballot.)

Republicans are divided over the difficulty — a legacy from Trump, who broke from his occasion’s conventional hawkish stance. When Biden introduced his choice to withdraw the final troops, Senate Minority Chief Mitch McConnell of Kentucky referred to as it “a grave mistake,” however Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas mentioned he was “glad the troops are coming residence.”

Many polls counsel that Individuals have merely misplaced curiosity within the faraway battle, particularly when no U.S. troops are getting killed.

Nonetheless, Biden will rightly be judged by the end result; particularly by whether or not a Taliban victory turns Afghanistan right into a base for Al Qaeda or different terrorist teams — the explanation American forces invaded within the first place.

If there’s excellent news in a dismal scenario, it’s this: The administration seems to be engaged on all of the gadgets on the departure guidelines.

The final 20 years have been painful for American international coverage, however not less than they’ve taught some helpful classes.

Afghanistan isn’t the primary struggle the U.S. has misplaced. We’re a extra skilled nation now — sadder, however possibly wiser too.


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