We’re going to pay for ‘exit at any cost’ for years to come
This past week our nation lost the bravest amongst us: United States Marines, Navy and Army warriors dedicated to providing safety and security for Americans and Afghan allies as they scrambled to depart. This is an awful price to pay for what could have been a far better outcome in implementing Biden’s political rhetoric, far too often wrapped in hubris and arrogance, of “ending the forever war.” And just when it could not seem to get worse, this president committed the sin of leaving citizens behind to fend for themselves.
While Biden and his team managed to sidestep every question by focusing on ending the “forever war,” they clumsily failed to address the real question of how could they have been so incredibly clueless in accomplishing a withdrawal without putting every single American in Afghanistan fully in harm’s way?
Former President Trump is not without blame. Even a casual observer understood that a negotiation between the United States and the Taliban on the future of Afghanistan was fatally flawed because the Afghan government was not invited to the table. As the old saying goes, “if you are not at the table, you are on the menu.” Talk about a gut punch to those who really were committed to a better future in Afghanistan.
I was on one of the first flights out of Andrews almost immediately after Sept. 11, 2001, to negotiate access, basing and overflight for the war in Afghanistan. I was then directed to establish the original coalition of the willing for Afghanistan, recruiting and bringing in allies and friends to join the United States. In addition, I worked closely with U.S. and NATO military commanders to implement command structures and rules of engagement, and later assisted in standing up the NATO training mission for Afghanistan.
The lessons of history were apparently lost on the Trump and Biden administrations. Both got it terribly wrong. They ventured down a path of cutting deals with terrorists — assuming that somehow, this time, they will suddenly be true to their word. They seem to live in a fantasy world where they wave their hand over a problem, utter some meaningless incantation and declare “the war is over,” again, not the first time the U.S. has made such a mistake.
While there will be plenty of time to debate the withdrawal itself, there should be no argument that the political decision to be out by Sept. 11 — and the resultant rushed process (calling this planning would be too kind) to meet that date — led to an unconscionable dependence on the Taliban to provide security for Americans and their allies. The further assumption that the Taliban’s so-called leadership could not only speak on behalf of, but also had control over the terrorists who have adopted the Taliban moniker as well as their equally blood thirsty cousins, was — and is — mind-boggling.
The callous disregard for our NATO and Afghan allies will have significant consequences for American foreign and economic policy in the days ahead.
When Biden rejected the entreaties of America’s closest allies to take a different approach, to extend deadlines to avoid further bloodshed, and instead took his cues from the Taliban, all hope was lost. Think about this for a moment: The opinions of countries that have fought alongside the United States in multiple wars for decades, who went to war in Afghanistan because the homeland of a member of the NATO Alliance had been attacked, mattered far less to President Biden than the views of terrorists who days earlier were still taking target practice on the U.S. and its allies.
There is a strong desire on the part of the new isolationists in this country, the progressive left and the retrenchment right — there is little daylight between them — to hunker down in their domestic enclaves and pretend that what goes on elsewhere does not matter.
They are joined by the very well-to-do industrialists who want to ply their trade globally, rule of law be damned, enriching the coffers of authoritarian regimes and genocidal maniacs who offer their populations only misery, imprisonment and often death.
Pandering to these people rarely works because nothing will ever be enough. Hiding your collective heads in the sand while China, Russia and Iran divvy up the world, it not an answer — How soon we forget what it led to in the last century.
None of it bodes well for America’s future.
The Biden administration can try to portray this as a new era of peace, but our enemies know that this is yet another American retreat from a strategic part of the globe nestled between China, Russia and Iran. It conveys a message that the United States is a shell of its former self, a country willing to be bullied and cajoled into staying within some sharply proscribed borders articulated not by us, but by them.
We should be smarter than this.
Unfortunately, the biggest mistake made by this administration — and we will have to live with the consequences — is not understanding that the enemy also gets a vote, and they never vote the way you want.
Debra Cagan is the Distinguished Energy Fellow at the Transatlantic Leadership Network and worked as a career State Department diplomat and Defense Department official from the Reagan to Trump administrations, including serving as deputy assistant secretary of defense for coalition, peacekeeping, humanitarian and disaster relief where she headed coalition operations for Iraq and Afghanistan; senior director of European, Russian and Eurasian security issues; special adviser for strategic and nuclear policy for Europe; and senior adviser to U.S. and NATO military officials.