With less than four months on the job, President Biden, realizing that there was public sentiment for him to remove U.S. troops out of Afghanistan after a 20-year bivouac, announced that he had set a date for withdrawal: September 11 of this year. The date, of course, is symbolic since 9/11 will forever mark a day when 3,000 Americans were killed in an Islamist terrorist attack. His predecessor, former President Trump, had set an earlier deadline of May 1.
As Mark Angelides, managing editor of Liberty Nation, points out, it was the Trump administration that established talks with the Taliban, which led to setting May 1 this year for pulling U.S. troops out of Afghanistan. Angelides commented in a colorful way on the mainstream media’s memory when he said:
“But wait? Readers with a memory longer than that of a somewhat forgetful goldfish may remember that President Trump had orchestrated a deal whereby the troops would leave Afghanistan no later than May 1. This seems to be something that the Biden-backing Fourth Estate is content to bury in the name of helping its top pick build a better legacy.”
The fact is that 20 years is far too long to have U.S. combat forces engaged in a foreign land where the objective seems illusive. Pundits and politicians alike are choosing sides between basically two alternatives. The first is to establish a date certain when U.S. troops will be out of Afghanistan. Or second, the U.S. should establish some objective that defines when the U.S. should pull out. The debate is academic.
President Biden made the announcement in a televised address on April 14 that he planned to start the pullout of 2,500 remaining troops in Afghanistan on May 1 and have them all out by September 11. So, Biden opted for the first alternative, sort of. The president reminded us that the purpose for the United States going to Afghanistan back in 2001 was to decimate Al Qaeda and ensure that Afghanistan could not be a safe haven for terrorists to strike America. For the moment, those tasks are complete.
Biden explained that his administration had inherited a commitment by his predecessor to be out of Afghanistan by May 1. It was an agreement made by the U.S. government, and his administration will honor that agreement, sort of.
What President Biden did not say was that he and the Obama administration argued that “America needed to focus on the ‘right war’ in Afghanistan,” according to the London School of Economics report, “Obama nation?: U.S. foreign policy one year on: the right war?: Obama’s Afghanistan strategy.” That meant sending more troops. So, the Obama-Biden administration left the Afghanistan problem for its successor, former President Trump.
Biden told the television audience that the U.S. will now focus on diplomacy to solve continuing issues between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
Biden said that many would criticize the decision claiming diplomacy will not succeed without combat troops on the ground. But Biden said that to this point, having troops on that basis has not produced peace, and that line of thinking will lead to keeping troops in Afghanistan indefinitely.
Among those pushing to retain U.S. armed forces in Afghanistan to support the Afghan security forces is the highly respected General Jack Keane, retired, chairman of the Institute for the Study of War. In an interview with Fox News Primetime, General Keane said emphatically,
“… we have stalemate and negotiations … the Taliban has increased the level of violence in the country itself. So, the Taliban sees that there’s political weakness here in the United States in terms of a resolve to stay, and they’ve been obviously taking advantage of that situation. I think this decision is misguided because it’s reckless, and it’s also shameful …”
Whether the Taliban will accept the timeline that Biden has laid out with all troops not being out of Afghanistan until September 11 is an open question. According to The Washington Times, “The Taliban on Wednesday [April 14] issued a stark warning to the President, vowing that U.S. troops still in Afghanistan past May 1 will be ‘held liable’ and will face a fresh wave of attacks.” It’s one of those pesky aspects of war; the enemy has a vote on what the U.S. president decides.
If there has been a lesson to be learned over these past 20 years, it would be to remember the first three rules of former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger’s succinct framework for sending U.S. troops to fight abroad. In a 1984 speech at the National Press Club, Weinberger said:
- “First, the United States should not commit forces to combat overseas unless the particular engagement or occasion is deemed vital to our national interest or that of our allies;
- Second, if we decide it is necessary to put combat troops into a given situation, we should do so wholeheartedly and with the clear intention of winning;
- Third, if we do decide to commit forces to combat overseas, we should have clearly defined political and military objectives.”
Right or wrong, Biden’s decision gives the U.S. Armed Forces a respite from 20 years of continuous armed combat in one of the world’s most hostile conflict environments. Weinberger offered some excellent counsel. Our political and military leadership should take it to heart.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
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