Published October 18, 2022

Our Afghan Withdrawal Debacle


Our chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 remains an open wound for veterans and, in many cases, the wound is getting worse.  We watched repugnant sights and images that Americans had not endured since the fall of Saigon.  It was abhorrent to veterans who had served in Afghanistan or Iraq.  And, it evoked particularly repulsive memories for Viet Nam veterans.  Possibly the worst part was that we veterans know the threat of Islamic extremism and cannot shake the foreboding sense that our Afghan withdrawal merely set the stage for the next war.

     Americans want and expect to win – and they hate to lose.  Last year in Afghanistan, we saw President Biden order a humiliating, unnecessary U.S. surrender.  We watched scenes of U.S. troops at Kabul airport be beholding to victorious Taliban fighters to allow U.S. citizens to pass through their lines to U.S. control – and unable to protect their fellow countrymen from abuse.  We saw Taliban extremists capture $7 billion of U.S. weapons and munitions.  We watched them mock U.S. soldiers as President Biden handed the Taliban the ultimate affirmation of an Islamic extremist group: defeating the U.S.

     Americans are a compassionate people.  As a result, we were offended as we watched the horrifying images of desperate Afghans, terrified by victorious Taliban zealots, chase our C-17’s down the runway, desperately clinging to the landing gear – and falling to their deaths.  We saw 20 years of freedom for 39 million Afghans vaporize in days.  We saw our President make a farce of women’s rights as 20 million Afghan women and girls were kicked back to a medieval status as chattel.  We watched our President fail to show a modicum of compassion for ordinary Afghans, knowing that our departure would allow the Taliban to drive their country back into starvation and depression.

     Just as upsetting for veterans was President Biden’s refusal to accept any responsibility for his obviously grotesque miscalculation in Afghanistan.  The issue wasn’t the drift in U.S. war policy over the past 20 years or the decision to wind down the U.S. role in Afghanistan.  Rather, it was the incompetent, bungling manner in which our withdrawal was handled – then how he tried to duck any responsibility for his decision. 

     American Presidents used to accept blame for their mistakes; witness JFK and the Bay of Pigs or Harry Truman’s “the buck stops here” plaque.  In this case, Joe Biden did everything but.  He blamed Donald Trump for this self-inflicted catastrophe.  Biden claimed that the Afghan’s wouldn’t fight for their country.  Yet, he knew that over 70,000 Afghan soldiers have already died fighting the Taliban.  He claimed that Afghans refused to embrace democracy.  However, he knew that they had held six national elections under wartime conditions since 9/11.  He claimed that American troops in Afghanistan served no purpose.  But, he knew that they had already defeated al-Qa’ida and were suppressing and disrupting threats to the U.S. homeland.  Biden completely ducked telling the American people that he had made the decision to withdraw U.S. troops in the manner in which he did.  Yet, all veterans knew that only Biden could have given the order.

     As the new President, Biden had the opportunity to re-set the entire Afghan program and correct mistakes made by his predecessors.  Instead, he chose to pull out of Afghanistan regardless of the impact.  Once the magnitude of the debacle became clear, Biden did not try to stabilize the unfolding disaster.  Rather, he acted only to deflect the blame.

     The cost of our Afghan engagement was falling in 2021.  The costs of ending it the way we did were high and are growing because Biden handed advantages to adversaries that he pledged to confront.  China likely has a renewed sense of American weakness, so is more likely to be confrontational over Taiwan.  We will be dealing with a nascent resurgence of Islamic extremists now using Afghanistan as a new safe haven.  Biden said that Afghanistan could not be saved, but, in a decade, we’ll be back. 

     It may be too late to save Afghanistan, but it is not too late to start to deal with the problems and threats caused by our chaotic Afghan withdrawal.  Congress needs to demand that President Biden tell Congress (and, by implication, the American people) officially how we will help Taiwan defend itself. Congress should also demand that Biden explain to the American people where we are going with the Ukraine war.  Finally, Congress needs to demand that Biden produce a realistic plan to contend with the threat from Islamic extremists that is festering inside the new Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.  We cannot undo the damage – however distasteful – from our Afghan withdrawal, but we can and must deal with the consequences to protect the U.S from further damage.

AVV POC: Michael H. Schoelwer;