When the Biden administration’s feckless management of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan produced all too predictable chaos, the legacy media uncharacteristically reported on the debacle with remarkable candor. This was unsettling to a White House inured to obsequious coverage, and various administration officials have expressed frustration concerning the Fourth Estate’s unfavorable approach to the story. Inevitably, certain “journalists” echoed the complaint. New York Magazine’s Eric Levitz, for example, querulously insisted, “America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan has yet to cost our nation a single casualty.” The day after this was published, 13 Americans were murdered by Islamic State terrorists.
In a New York Times column published on the day of this attack, renowned foreign policy expert Ezra Klein wrote, “Focusing on the execution of the withdrawal is giving virtually everyone who insisted we could remake Afghanistan the opportunity to obscure their failures by pretending to believe in the possibility of a graceful departure.” As usual, Klein’s analysis is hopelessly shallow. A “graceful departure” is what one strives for after a West Village soirée. Withdrawing tens of thousands of military and civilian personnel from Afghanistan isn’t about appearances. A failure to properly plan the execution of such an operation gets people killed. That very failure epitomized this disaster, as the Times itself pointed out:
Interviews with key participants in the last days of the war show a series of misjudgments and the failure of Mr. Biden’s calculation that pulling out American troops — prioritizing their safety before evacuating American citizens and Afghan allies — would result in an orderly withdrawal. Biden administration officials consistently believed they had the luxury of time. Military commanders overestimated the will of the Afghan forces to fight for their own country and underestimated how much the American withdrawal would destroy their confidence.
This last sentence suggests that the fiasco was the result of poor judgment on the part of the generals, but it is abundantly clear that Biden studiously ignored advice from his military and national security advisors in order to adhere to his self-imposed withdrawal date of August 31. As Daniel Drezner put it in the Washington Post, “Biden’s decision to withdraw was clearly made over the objections of his military advisers.” Our refractory commander-in-chief didn’t find himself in a crisis, as Calvin Woodward absurdly claims in a nauseating Associated Press paean to him. Biden created the crisis by ignoring the warnings of his own advisers and he alone is responsible for the resultant carnage at Hamid Karzai International Airport.
This should be clear to the meanest intelligence, yet many in the media clearly yearn to absolve Biden of responsibility for his incompetent and deadly withdrawal. Many insist that the real culprit is the man he replaced seven months ago. Even as the bodies were being counted in Kabul, NBC News published an opinion column by Sébastien Roblin titled, “The Afghanistan airport explosion happened under Biden but traces back to Trump.” This work of fiction blames the carnage on the conditional withdrawal agreement Trump made with the Taliban in February of 2020. Roblin admits that Biden has pushed for a pullout from Afghanistan since he was vice president, yet indicts his predecessor for this bungled withdrawal.
Biden blamed Trump for the chaotic withdrawal. He was right.… We need only rewind to February 2020, when the Trump administration signed the Doha agreement with the Taliban, in which the U.S. pledged to withdraw all U.S. and NATO forces by May 1, 2021, in exchange for the Taliban’s ceasing attacks on U.S. forces, forsaking ties to groups like Al Qaeda and agreeing to hold peace negotiations with the Afghan government, which then still controlled most of the country even though it was increasingly losing ground to the Taliban.
Roblin’s assertion that Biden was somehow locked into Trump’s general plan for U.S. withdrawal is sheer nonsense. The Trump administration negotiated a conditional withdrawal agreement whose terms the Taliban had violated so frequently by the time Biden took office that he was free to ignore the arrangement altogether. Even the left-of center Brookings Institution points out that the Taliban never honored its pledge to break ties with al-Qaeda or engage seriously in peace talks with the Ghani government to create a plan for power-sharing. The tragic reality is that Biden was doggedly determined to go forward with his precipitous pullout, regardless of the strategic, material, or human cost.
And those costs have been high indeed. Despite continued references to “America’s longest war,” there had been no combat deaths in Afghanistan for 18 months before last Thursday, when our forces endured the highest single-day death toll in a decade. The ultimate cost in abandoned military hardware will be counted in the tens of billions. Predictably, the Biden administration doesn’t have “a complete picture” of how much equipment was left behind. Even worse, the purpose of this grotesquely inept and deadly exercise hasn’t been fulfilled. The Taliban, and the terrorist groups to whom they will once again provide a home, are not going call off their jihad against the U.S. simply because our president cut and ran.
The point of our continued presence in Afghanistan was to prevent groups like ISIS-K from using it as a base from which to attack Americans. It was working until Biden’s hasty pullout devolved into chaos and death. Yet the media scrutiny to which he has been briefly subjected is already ebbing and they will try to whitewash the whole grisly episode. Soon we’ll be back to fearmongering about COVID, fictitious accounts of the January “insurrection,” conspiracy theories about white supremacists, and false accusations of GOP voter suppression. But one thing will be hard to shove down the memory hole. The Afghanistan fiasco caused many voters to critically assess Biden for the first time — and what they saw was alarming.