Proclamations made by President Joe Biden on his plans to withdraw troops from troubled Afghanistan, once lauded by politicos and pundits, have returned to cast the belabored president as either a Neville Chamberlain-style figure or a leader lacking foresight. The recent announcement that U.S. Embassy personnel in Kabul are being ordered to destroy sensitive material ahead of a suspected siege paints a grim picture for Biden’s withdrawal policy.
On July 8, the president was asked if he saw any parallels between the current predicament in Afghanistan and the ill-fated Vietnam war. He responded:
“None whatsoever. Zero. What you had is — you had entire brigades breaking through the gates of our embassy — six, if I’m not mistaken.
The Taliban is not the south — the North Vietnamese army. They’re not — they’re not remotely comparable in terms of capability. There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy in the — of the United States from Afghanistan. It is not at all comparable.”
Yet with staff in the process of burning and shredding documents in case delicate information is “misused in propaganda efforts” when seized by the Taliban, one wonders how soon before the choppers start whirling their blades.
Confidence Without Conditions
The president’s confidence in July has come back to mock him in August. Reports suggest that a nearby airport is being secured and that more troops are being sent to protect people and resources. With Biden keen to avoid the humiliation of the chaotic Saigon retreat in 1975 and, of course, the tragedy that befell the Benghazi consulate in 2012, the question of conditions must be asked.
When President Donald Trump announced that he would begin withdrawing troops from the 20-year engagement, it was an easy popularity win. Yet, the then-president tempered the move by insisting upon conditions and helped broker a peace treaty between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Such a deal would have enabled the Taliban to regain some international legitimacy as a political organization which was lost when they harbored Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda associates. With no conditions placed on the withdrawal by President Biden, it seems the Taliban is seizing the forceful route to power instead.
One of the few remaining forms of pressure and enticement that the present administration could apply is that of financial rewards and punishments. However, this boat may too have already sailed.
Last month, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi released a series of photographs showing him shoulder to shoulder with a delegation representing the Taliban. Since then, there has been a subtle shift in state media reporting with an emphasis on creating fiscal partnerships in the region. After the meeting, the Taliban representatives said they hoped China would play a more significant economic role in Afghanistan’s future. Zhang Li, a professor of South Asian studies at Sichuan University, said that “This shows that China might have dangled promises of economic aid and investment to a post-war Afghanistan as a carrot to encourage both sides to stop fighting and reach a political settlement.” Again, this raises the question of what plans for either stability or cordiality President Biden had in mind when he moved ahead with the withdrawal sans conditions.
The U.S. is on the verge of being chased from its embassy in Kabul, Taliban soldiers are riding around in American military equipment, and the Taliban leadership has just made a friend in the East that is willing to spend big with the resurgent group. All avenues are now closed to even regaining a foothold. Now the administration must deal with the fallout.
Six Of One…
In January 2013, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was summoned to testify regarding the disaster in Benghazi. When asked which of the possible motivations for the attack was most likely, she responded, “What difference, at this point, does it make?” If the current situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate, and the Kabul embassy does, indeed, fall into Taliban hands, perhaps President by Biden may find himself in a similar predicament; being asked what the root cause of the military and political disaster really was … but by that point, what difference would it really make?
Read more from Mark Angelides.