St. Louis Post-Dispatch
President Joe Biden was nowhere to be seen in the first 48 hours after his administration’s record was tainted by the catastrophic intelligence failure that handed victory to the Taliban in Afghanistan. His decision to break away from his Camp David vacation and finally speak to the nation Monday afternoon was a disappointing attempt at damage repair for a withdrawal debacle that has bruised the national ego and shredded America’s image abroad.
Biden will have trouble living down the embarrassment of having confidently declared barely six weeks ago that the U.S. withdrawal wouldn’t produce another Saigon.
Well, he couldn’t have been more wrong, and he deserves to be reminded of it again and again by his Republican critics. Biden’s credibility was shot long before he finally addressed the nation on Monday. He tried to blame others, even to the point of outright misstating the facts when it came to peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban.
On Biden’s watch, what should have been an honorable and organized transition of military control to an elected Afghan government instead turned into a wholesale, humiliating retreat. After 20 years of war, 2,354 U.S. military deaths and more than $1 trillion in U.S. taxpayer expenditures, Biden has handed control of Afghanistan to a ragtag Taliban army.
The scenes of chaos at the Kabul airport were worse than Saigon. Thousands of desperate Afghans stormed the tarmac, clinging desperately to the landing gear of a mammoth military cargo plane and trying to ride atop the wheel wells as the plane taxied. Left stranded in the chaos were tens of thousands of Afghans — translators, clerical workers and other employees — who risked their lives to support the U.S. mission. Biden asserted that many stayed of their own accord, choosing not to give up on their country. That is pure balderdash. They are now in hiding because they know they’re being hunted by the Taliban.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier made feeble attempts to defend Biden by pointing the finger of blame at others and deflecting attention from the Saigon comparison.
The hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops who fought in Afghanistan now have little or nothing to show for their sacrifices. Biden’s argument that the continued U.S. military operation was too dangerous is disingenuous at best. U.S. military fatalities in Afghanistan from 2015 through 2020 averaged 16.5 per year. Far more troops have died in car accidents than on deployment in Afghanistan since 2015. Yet it was the continued U.S. military presence that fended off the Taliban during that entire time.
And despite Biden’s claims to the contrary, Afghan troops did, in fact, stand up and fight as long as they knew U.S. troops and air support had their backs. Their performance was far from stellar, but it was improving markedly.
Just because Biden inherited the badly flawed Trump peace deal didn’t mean he had to honor it, especially by imposing an unrealistic and artificial timetable of completing the withdrawal by the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. It didn’t have to end this way, but Biden stubbornly insisted on it. Which is why he now owns this humiliating defeat.