Press: Afghanistan was wrong from start to finish
If anything, we Americans are fickle. Take Afghanistan. For 20 years, we complained about the war in Afghanistan. George W. Bush promised we’d leave as soon as al Qaeda terrorists were driven out of the country. We didn’t. Barack Obama promised he’d end America’s “bad” war as soon as he got to the Oval Office. He didn’t. Donald Trump also promised to stop “wasting our money” in Afghanistan and bring troops home on Day One. He didn’t, either.
Then along comes Joe Biden. He acts where three other presidents failed to act. He declares an end to the war in Afghanistan and orders troops home. And what’s the reaction? Does he any get credit for actually delivering where others did not? Of course not! In true, fickle-American fashion, Biden gets slammed for doing the right thing.
Which is not to say this is Biden’s finest hour. He’s rightly criticized for misjudging both the strength of Taliban and the fecklessness the Afghan military. He was woefully naïve in trusting the corrupt Afghan government to hold on long enough to wring any concessions out of the Taliban. He made a mistake in believing our generals assessment that they had months to carry out a smooth transition and exodus of key personnel. In the end, the Taliban caught Biden by surprise: not even waiting until his Aug. 31 deadline before simply rolling into Kabul and taking over the country — with not even token opposition.
But that doesn’t change this central fact: Biden made the right decision. Staying another month, or five months, or five years wouldn’t have made any difference. We’d been in Afghanistan too long. We’d poured in too much money and sacrificed too many American lives. No matter how much longer we stayed, reality on the ground would never change. It was way past time to get out. Somebody had to to it. Biden did.
That said, Biden was dealt two bad hands: one by Donald Trump; the other, by U.S. intelligence agencies. It was Trump who empowered the Taliban by signing a deal with them in February 2020, without involving the Afghan government. Under terms of that agreement, Trump promised to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by a date certain: May 1, 2021. It was “time for someone else to do that work,” Trump declared, “and it will be the Taliban.”
Once agreement with the Taliban was made by Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Afghan tribal leaders knew U.S. forces would soon be gone, and they started making deals with the Taliban. As part of the deal, Trump also pressured the Afghan government to release 5,000 prisoners — many of whom rejoined the Taliban on the battlefield: A gross miscalculation by Trump that Biden was stuck with when he became president.
Second, Biden was badly misled by U.S. intelligence agencies and the Pentagon. They assured him the Afghan military was ready and willing to take over. In fact, they were neither. At the first sight of Taliban forces, they didn’t fight for their country. They threw down their guns and fled. There’s no way the United States could stay in Afghanistan any longer, trying to defend a country that won’t even defend itself.
Forget all the Monday-morning quarterback commentary. There are only two sentences to sum up the disaster in Afghanistan. One: The war in Afghanistan is over — and the United States lost it. Two: We never should have occupied Afghanistan for so long. Period. That’s it. Messy or not, we should have been out of there long ago.
Press is host of “The Bill Press Pod.” He is author of “From the Left: A Life in the Crossfire.”