U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan “an abhorrent decision”

U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan “an abhorrent decision”

Jordan Wasserberger, Contributing Writer

When Joe Biden announced his presidential run in 2019, he did so under the slogan of “Build Back Better.” According to Biden, his presidency would be a unifying moment for America, a chance for our country to heal after four years of utter chaos, not only returning to a state of normalcy but also becoming a better version of itself. What Biden failed to mention is that his idea of America is a country that abandons its allies, sends hundreds of thousands of innocent people to their deaths, helps establish one of the most oppressive regimes in the world, and allows for one of the worst human rights crises in history, because continuing the fight would have been inconvenient.

It’s important to note that, as with all things foreign policy-related, there are no absolutes. One cannot say that the only good option was to treat the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan as an immovable constant, just as one cannot say that any American involvement was a tragic mistake. Both ends of the spectrum have missed the point entirely. The United States’ entry into the country was almost inevitable in the wake of 9/11. Only one member of Congress voted against the move in 2001, and the vast majority of America was thrilled that the U.S. was going to fight the people who harbored the terrorists that killed 3,000 innocent Americans. The overarching goal, according to then-president George. W. Bush, was to not only “bring justice to our enemies,” but also ensure that nothing like the September 11 attacks could happen again. That kind of commitment requires time, resources, and a dedication to nation-building the U.S. has rarely shown.

The last time America tried to artificially construct an ally on that scale was with Vietnam, a conflict which ended much the same way as the Afghanistan War. The difference is that where Vietnam was an unmitigated disaster, America’s success in Afghanistan was more debatable. The Taliban and al-Qaeda were reduced to shells of their former selves, and, within a few years, NATO and the United States had established a shaky democratic government with a constitution, president, and a national army committed to the defense of the newly democratic Afghanistan. While a far from perfect system (plagued with corruption even in its infancy) the Afghanistan government was important; it represented the start of a movement that over time, with proper support, could become a true independent democracy. As the years went on, the pro-democracy coalition slowly took ground, and in 2018 the Afghani people elected the first female mayor in the city of Maidan Shahr. This wasn’t just a unilateral American venture, as some have claimed. Almost 60 countries, including some of America’s closest allies, were involved in the war in Afghanistan. The idea that Afghanistan was an act of American imperialism is frankly ludicrous, given the conflict was a global effort to establish democracy in a region which had historically harbored hostility to the ideas therein — namely freedom and equality. While the multinational group involved certainly had ulterior motives —military aims, economic benefit— imperialism by definition involves one power exercising control over another. It’s hard to argue that America had sole and definitive control over the Afghan government, given America was but one of 60 nations involved in the region, and in 2013 NATO formally handed over full control of Afghanistan to former President Hamid Karzai. The Afghanistan operation was an international mission to create a free, allied democracy in the Middle East. That effort was largely successful, until President Biden burned it to ash. 

Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, then, was an abhorrent decision on two fronts. First, for our allies, and by proxy, us. 

Because Afghanistan was such a multilateral operation, an impactful move by any of the major players (the U.S., Britain, France, and Germany) would have destabilized the coalition and disturbed much of the ongoing efforts. As we have learned since the summer, Biden’s decision was uniquely unilateral. The President did not consult with world leaders and actually dodged calls from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson for 36 hours, according to The Daily Telegraph. Biden’s actions were so blindsiding to our allies that the British Parliament held the President in contempt on August 18, condemning his “dishonor.” The EU also convened in the wake of Biden’s decision, with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel suggesting the EU completely break away from the U.S. with regards to military operations, and the European Council President Charles Michel espousing his fears and lamentations, albeit without any concrete proposal of what to do next. Rightfully so, however, the spectrum merely ranges from furious to ballistic. President Biden has succeeded in unifying Europe’s foreign policy; it just happens to now be directly against him.

The second sphere of calamity resides in Afghanistan itself. In the months since America’s departure, here’s a bit of what’s happened: during heroic protests led mainly by Afghan women and minorities, the Taliban killed four protestors and injured dozens; the Taliban has conducted door-to-door manhunts, threatening journalists and executing anyone they deem an ally of the free world; a Taliban suicide bomber killed 13 U.S. servicemen and injured 18 more at an airport in Kabul.

There are too many stories like the above to count, and as the weeks go on the violence and oppression will only get more severe. At best, Biden failed to see this coming (despite warnings from America’s highest-ranking military officers) and should be recognized as inept in the foreign policy space. At worst, Biden knew this would happen but chose to push for it, and should be held responsible, by the American people or the international community. The plight of the Afghan people is Biden’s fault, plain and simple. Yet, is the man who claimed to be an “ally of the lightness” holding himself accountable? No! Biden has blamed the Afghan military for the entire catastrophe, making the outrageous claim that they were “unwilling” to fight the Taliban. Unwilling is a fascinating word for Biden to use, considering the Afghan army has lost 67,500 soldiers in this fight, whereas the United States lost 2,448. Still, it was the United States who pulled out without warning.

While I agree with Biden that America should never be singularly responsible for the defense of another power, that is not what happened in Afghanistan. It’s especially hard to blame the Afghan military for this debacle, given that we trained them to fight with American support, and then took the support away from them but still expected victory.

Within this sphere of calamity lies an extra level of shame and tragedy. Not only did the act of withdrawal allow for the creation of a brutally oppressive regime with no regard for human life, but the administration handled it with the utmost level of carelessness, to the point where USA Today estimates that tens of millions of dollars worth of military equipment, ranging from armored vehicles to advanced aircraft and artillery mechanisms, has been left in the hands of the Taliban. It is bad enough that the United States stabbed its ally in the back and let this takeover happen, but the absolute lack of care taken in the evacuation is nothing short of disgraceful.

All told, the Afghanistan debacle should be remembered as one of the lowest — if not the lowest — moments of America’s foreign policy history. Never before has this nation so blatantly betrayed its allies, broken its promises, and committed acts so diametrically opposed to everything we are supposed to stand for. While foreign policy issues are often overlooked in favor of domestic crises, especially at a place like Horace Mann, I do hope that at least some discussion will be encouraged over the coming weeks and months, especially as the long term impacts of Biden’s catastrophe take shape. This fiasco will impact our lives for years, if not decades, to come. The credibility of the United States of America on the world stage has been shattered by the very man whose job it is to protect it. We can only pray he doesn’t make things worse.