Media outlets and pundits are reacting to President Joe Biden’s announcement of a September 11, 2021 date for the complete withdrawal of U. S. forces from Afghanistan.
U.S. officials offer various rationalizations for abandoning the elected government of Ashraf Ghani to what will be, at best, a bloody fight for survival. Mr. Ghani also has resisted U.S. peace proposals, and his rule has been feckless. A strategy of leaving troops in the country in an effort to force the Taliban to compromise could extend the U.S. commitment for years without achieving a durable peace. Perhaps, too, some officials say hopefully, the Taliban will moderate its denial of women’s rights and other repressive policies to preserve international aid, without which Afghanistan’s economy would implode.
If that assessment proves wrong, Mr. Biden’s decision to remove U.S. forces by the symbolic date of Sept. 11, 2021, may simply result in the restoration of the 2001 status quo, including terrorist bases that could force a renewed U.S. intervention. At a minimum, it will mean an abandonment of those Afghans who believed in building a democracy that guaranteed basic human rights — and the nullification of the sacrifices of the American servicemen who were killed or wounded in that mission. Mr. Biden has chosen the easy way out of Afghanistan, but the consequences are likely to be ugly.
Wall Street Journal
The tragedy is that there is a reasonable alternative to withdrawal. The bipartisan Afghanistan Study Group said this year that 4,500 American troops would be enough “for training, advising, and assisting Afghan defense forces; supporting allied forces; conducting counterterrorism operations; and securing our embassy.” That’s not a commitment that prevents the U.S. from dealing with other adversaries.
In the short term, many Americans will welcome Mr. Biden’s retreat as the end of a “forever war.” But the President’s exit means he will have to take responsibility for what happens next. We hope it doesn’t betray the great sacrifices so many have made.
The military, for all its worries about withdrawal, has hated the meat grinder of Afghanistan. Most of today’s Army and Marine commanders have fought there, and many of their sons and daughters have, too. They share Biden’s desire to get the hell out. But that’s checked by a feeling that the only thing that’s worse than remaining in what seems an unwinnable stalemate is pulling out troops — and then having to go back in.
That’s what happened in Iraq after the withdrawal of U.S. forces in 2011. They were back five years later, dealing with the slaughterhouse that was the Islamic State. And if Biden was right about Afghanistan 10 years ago, he was dead wrong about getting out of Iraq, which he also strongly advocated.
That’s the awful danger of this decision. Sometimes cutting the knot and removing U.S. troops opens the way for peace; more often, in recent years, it has been a prelude to greater bloodshed.
The downside is easy to imagine: a spiral of violence in which provincial capitals fall, one by one, leading to a deadly battle for Kabul — a fight in which the people who believed most in the United States’ intervention will be at greatest risk, and pleading for help. Closing our eyes and ears to that catastrophic situation — turning away from the desperate appeals, especially from the women of Afghanistan, who fear new oppression — will require cold hearts and strong stomachs.
Charles P. Pierce
So, essentially, we made the rubble bounce for two decades and ended up right where the Russians, the British, the Persians, the Mongols, and Alexander the Great ended up. Brave men and women were tossed into a country that has resisted the brave men and women who came to fight there for millennia, and we’re leaving having killed the mastermind of the attacks that sent us there. The truth of the matter is that nobody really wants Afghanistan except the people who live there, and they want to run the place their own way. They keep trying to demonstrate this to the wider world, and the wider world never gets the message.
In addition to major domestic challenges, “the reality is that the United States has big strategic interests in the world,” the person familiar with the deliberations said, “like nonproliferation, like an increasingly aggressive and assertive Russia, like North Korea and Iran, whose nuclear programs pose a threat to the United States,” as well as China. “The main threats to the American homeland are actually from other places: from Africa, from parts of the Middle East — Syria and Yemen.”
“Afghanistan just does not rise to the level of those other threats at this point,” the person said. “That does not mean we’re turning away from Afghanistan. We are going to remain committed to the government, remain committed diplomatically. But in terms of where we will be investing force posture, our blood and treasure, we believe that other priorities merit that investment.”
And that, I guess, will be that.
There’s little doubt in my mind that those who worked for the Americans, especially our military, will be targeted once we’re gone. The moral equation is rather a difficult one. We owe it to these people to allow them to start over in the States if they choose, bringing their immediate family with them. But pulling out schoolteachers, bureaucrats, and those we’ve given technical training makes it even less likely that Afghanistan transitions to anything like a modern society.
When I first began this round-up I saw a NYT editorial reacting favorably to the announcement but it seems to have vanished. I will add additional reactions as I encounter them. Note that the WaPo view and, particularly that of David Ignatius, undoubtedly represents the prevailing wisdom in Washington, DC.
I guess there’s more than one way to view this announcement. Once is that, since President Trump announced a May 2020 withdrawal date, Mr. Biden is kicking the can down the road once again. I’ll take him at his word.
My view of our involvement in Afghanistan remains what it was 20 years ago. I opposed our invasion. Although from a political and maybe even from a strategic standpoint some forceful response in Afghanistan was required, there were many alternatives other than invading and occupying the country. Once we had “boots on the ground” and ousting Afghanistan’s previous Taliban government, we became the “occupying power” with certain obligations under treaties to which we are party. There were many unworkable strategies but just two workable ones:
- We could colonize Afghanistan and settle a population there as Alexander did which was politically impossible.
- We could maintain a small, lethal force in Afghanistan with a mission of counter-terrorism, expressly committed to maintaining it in the country until there was no longer a terrorist threat which was politically unpleasant.
We, of course, chose one of the unworkable strategies which brought us to where we are today. We might have withdrawn in 2005, 2009, 2013, 2017 or any date in between those and saved the lives of a couple of thousand Americans. Now maybe we’ll actually leave.