Review of Afghanistan Pullout Hides Truth
Last week, the Administration released a statement regarding “the key decisions and challenges surrounding the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.” Few were willing to defend it (and those few do not include yours truly). One of the defenders was John Kirby, though as National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications, defending the Administration comes with the job.
Kirby managed to make things worse with this jaw-dropper:
And so, for all this talk of chaos, I just didn’t see it, not from my perch.
At one point during the evacuation, there was an aircraft taking off full of people, Americans and Afghans alike, every 48 minutes. And not one single mission was missed. So, I’m sorry, I just won’t buy the whole argument of chaos.
Suffice to say, that didn’t go over well. British aide Emma Salisbury put it best in The Atlantic: “If you didn’t see chaos during the Kabul evacuation, where the hell were you looking?”
My own member of Congress (Jen Kiggans) also weighed in on “the decision-making process” and “the challenges” around the withdrawal. On those narrow points, I am in rare agreement with Kiggans.
However, the arguments I am seeing between the Administration and some of its critics seem overly focused on how the Administration conducted the withdrawal, leaving out an important fact: that it never should have happened at all.
Kiggans herself doesn’t directly address Biden’s decision to leave Afghanistan; it is possible we are in rare agreement here, too. The editors of the Washington Post, however, were more succinct (emphasis added).
Mr. Biden is right that the timing was never going to be ideal and that the subsequent mess in Kabul resulted inescapably from that. However, what created that tactical dilemma in the first place was Mr. Biden’s strategic decision to pursue, with only a few adjustments, the total withdrawal Mr. Trump set in motion.
The editors then went further in explaining why we could – and should – have stayed in Afghanistan (emphasis added).
Undoubtedly, U.S. engagement had cost much. The United States had spent more than $2 trillion in Afghanistan, and more than 2,400 U.S. service members died there. Equally valid is the document’s assertion that U.S. strategic goals — especially decimating al-Qaeda and denying it an Afghan haven — were mostly accomplished. Nevertheless, it is far from clear that the U.S. commitment had grown into an unsustainable drain on this country’s resources. The days of heavy combat and heavy casualties for U.S. troops lay more than half a decade in the past and need not have resumed if a residual U.S. force had stayed to stiffen the Afghan army’s resolve.
It says something that the Post‘s editors are more willing to speak out against the decision to withdraw while most (but not all) politicians seem fixated on the method. Republicans don’t want to admit that Donald Trump (their likely nominee next year) shared Biden’s desire to pull out; it was Trump, after all, who made the 2020 agreement to leave. Democrats, naturally, are loathe to criticize the president (who is also their likely nominee next year).
That doesn’t change the fact that leaving Afghanistan was a mistake.