Donald Biden or Joe Churchill?

Donald Biden or Joe Churchill?
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With the debacle in Afghanistan threatening to worsen amid the unfolding humanitarian disaster in Kabul, President BidenJoe BidenHouse passes 8B defense policy bill House approves bill to ease passage of debt limit hike Senate rejects attempt to block Biden's Saudi arms sale MORE has a stark choice. He can follow the same path started by the last president and continue to deny reality in terms of the havoc caused by his decision to withdraw all forces from Afghanistan by Aug. 31.

Or he can invoke the Churchillian image that produced not only the miracle of Dunkirk but the leadership and courage that ultimately defeated Nazi Germany. Already, the New York Post has signaled its conclusion with its Aug. 21 headline “Dumkirk!” And that devastating reference may stick.

The question that will prove impossible to answer satisfactorily is not why Biden made this fateful choice, which former NATO secretary general George Robertson called “reckless.” Rather, it’s why did the contingency planning and thinking disregard, downplay or ignore what would transpire? One area where the Defense Department excels is in providing these sorts of scenarios and options to address each. That clearly did not happen.

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The seeds for this calamity were planted almost from the deployment of the first special forces in the fall of 2001 and made almost inevitable with the Bonn Conference in early 2002, followed by the writing and imposition of a Western-style constitution on a society that was tribal, hardly literate and very much dominated by a culture of “pashtunwala” that was not subject to a tightly organized central government. The Trump Doha agreement of Feb. 2020 that promised a U.S. (and NATO-coalition) withdrawal within 14 months cemented this tragedy. 

Why former officials of the last administration are distancing themselves from this flawed document is understandable and inexcusable. But that former Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoTo advance democracy, defend Taiwan and Ukraine Haley has 'positive' meeting with Trump No time for the timid: The dual threats of progressives and Trump MORE chose not to sign the agreement and directed chief negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad to do so instead suggests that the nation’s top diplomat harbored fundamental concerns about the deal. But that agreement sealed Afghanistan’s fate and provided the Taliban with the keys to the kingdom. 

The interesting link between Churchill and Dunkirk then and Biden and the withdrawal today is the compliance of Hitler and the Taliban, so far. On May 10, 1940, when the German offensive against France began, technically, neither Britain nor France had prime ministers in place. Neville Chamberlain had resigned, and Churchill had not yet been asked by the king to form a government. 

French Prime Minister Paul Reynard had also resigned. But he withdrew that resignation. Six weeks later, the German blitzkrieg had forced the remains of the British and French armies to retreat to Dunkirk. German generals urged Hitler to continue the attack on the 300,000 soldiers trapped on the beach. Hitler refused, believing this gesture would encourage or force Churchill to negotiate. It did not.

The siege of the Kabul airport likewise is predicated on Taliban permissiveness allowing the evacuation to proceed without interruption. Elsewhere, I have raised the specter of Dien Bien  Phu in 1954, when a French force was cut off, surrounded and forced to surrender to the Viet Minh in what was then northwest French Indo-China, ending the eight-year war and collapsing the Mendes-France government in Paris. 

It is in the power of the Taliban to repeat that outcome. Or the Taliban can allow the evacuation to continue, which would seem a more rational choice if indeed this is Taliban 3.0.  

So far, President Biden is acting more like Donald TrumpDonald TrumpSenate rejects attempt to block Biden's Saudi arms sale Crenshaw slams House Freedom Caucus members as 'grifters,' 'performance artists' Senate confirms Biden's nominee to lead Customs and Border Protection MORE than Sir Winston. Biden’s remarks to the nation, aside from lacking that  Churchillian brilliant rhetoric, are uncompelling and defensive. There is no “we will fight them on the beaches” or “never surrender” language. 

But what Biden can do is use another historical case: the Berlin Airlift of 1948-49. At the end of World War II, Germany was divided, with the allies occupying the west and the Soviet Union the east. Berlin, well inside East Germany, was likewise divided. In June 1948, Soviet premier Joseph Stalin cut off access to West Berlin.

President Truman’s response was to mount a massive airlift to supply the city, which lasted until Sept. 1949. Stalin, seeing he was losing, reopened ground access. The crisis ended.

If Biden can turn this evacuation into an equivalent of the Berlin Airlift, he can reverse much of the damage. Whether he can accomplish that feat will determine if he is a Donald Biden or Joe Churchill.

Harlan Ullman, Ph.D, is United Press International’s Arnaud deBorchgrave Distinguished Columnist. His latest book, due out this year, is “The Fifth Horseman and the New MAD: The Tragic History of How Massive Attacks of Disruption Endangered, Infected, Engulfed and Disunited a 51% Nation and the Rest of the World.”