A White House review of the administration’s decision-making and execution of the deadly withdrawal from Afghanistan is, at best, self-serving and, at worst, political deception on the level of Russia’s explanation of why it invaded Ukraine. As the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) does a real investigation into what happened during Biden’s operation to withdraw US forces, civilians, and Afghan partners from Kabul, the White House doubtless felt the heat and needed to do damage control by publishing what is arguably a fictional account of the pullout.
Biden’s national security team had to do something. Testimony from veterans of the ill-fated withdrawal and leaders of Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) attempting to rescue Americans and Afghans left behind by the State Department and military leadership was a riveting indictment of the current president’s administration. Nevertheless, Biden’s staff, in its review of the planning and management of the withdrawal, blamed former President Donald Trump. “President Biden’s choices for how to execute a withdrawal from Afghanistan were severely constrained by conditions created by his predecessor,” the review claims. What the report doesn’t explain is why the crackerjack national security team didn’t change those conditions if they were so disagreeable. Joe Biden is the president, not Donald Trump.
Trump Left Us No Afghanistan Plan
To cast the then-President in the worst possible light, “In September 2019, President Trump embolded [“embolded” it is not a word] the Taliban by publicly considering inviting them to Camp David on the anniversary of 9/11,” Biden’s staff wrote as if to accuse the former president of desecrating the solemn memory of that date. “The President received and accepted the unanimous advice of his top national security officials to end the evacuation on August 31, given the high potential for escalating attacks on US troops should they stay any longer,” the authors explain, without mentioning that President Biden had initially selected Sept. 11 as the get-out-of-dodge date. As Liberty Nation reported at the time, referring to a Politico article, “Talking point number four was entirely predictable: ‘This is all Trump’s fault.’ However, the (Politico) authors point out accurately, ‘Biden is the one who decided to pull out US forces by the upcoming 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. That was his call, not Trump’s.'” Donald Trump didn’t invite the Taliban to Camp David, but Biden did pull out of Afghanistan in a way that proved disastrous.
One particularly absurd section of the review attempts to build a case for how well the White House and its team performed. The review discusses the State Department’s model for the Afghanistan noncombatant evacuation operation (NEO). “We now prioritize earlier evacuations when faced with a degrading security situation. We did so in both Ethiopia and Ukraine,” the review explains. To the Department of State, foreign policy experts, and geopolitical mavens, the Ethiopia and Ukraine situations were analogous to Afghanistan. But the US had not been in combat in Ukraine or Ethiopia for 20 years. The US had not withdrawn seasoned combat troops from Ethiopia and Ukraine, which could have protected the evacuation as it pulled those forces out of Afghanistan. The US did not cease close air support for friendly Ethiopian and Ukrainian security forces as it did in Afghanistan. And when the Ethiopian and Ukrainian embassies’ staffs left, they didn’t leave thousands of Americans and indigenous partners behind, as they did in Afghanistan. To paraphrase James Thurber, “The withdrawal from Afghanistan looked as much like the NEO of embassy staffs in Ethiopia and Ukraine, as the Metro Goldwin Mayer lion resembles Calvin Coolidge.”
What does the White House review say about the hastily put-together US drone strike that killed an innocent NGO aid worker and nine members of his family? Very little. It doesn’t discuss how the strike was authorized without completing the “pattern of life” process for validating a target the US intends to kill. But rest assured that, in the two sentences devoted to that atrocity, the Secretary of Defense ordered a 90-day review of the incident. Unsurprisingly, that review held no one accountable.
Afghanistan Embassy Worked Really, Really Hard
What should put every American’s mind at rest, confident that Biden’s national security team has the defense of the nation well in hand, is the knowledge that “From August 14 through August 31,” the review boasts, “the [State] Department reached out directly to every American known to the US Government, repeatedly and through multiple channels – making 55,000 phone calls and sending 33,000 e-mails during those 17 days alone.” There is no mention of people coming to Kabul airport and being told the evacuation was canceled and to go away. “Nearly 1,000 American citizens were left behind and later evacuated. Thousands of Afghan allies remain in the country,” Fox News reported. The thousands left behind didn’t get a phone call or e-mail. Making phone calls and sending e-mails are not accomplishments. They are activities.
The mess that was the Afghanistan withdrawal made the US look weak and inept. You would not know that by reading this review. “Our alliances are stronger than ever. Finland has been admitted into NATO, and Sweden will soon be admitted as well,” the White House review crows. Perhaps someone should explain to the White House the definition of a non-sequitur. Participate in a shamefully botched retreat, and formerly neutral nations will be accepted into your alliances. What a concept.
Since the ignominious retreat from Kabul, there have been congressional hearings and studies of the debacle by the Army and congressional committees. These inquiries soundly repudiate all or most of what the White House asserts. So, let’s call this fiction what it is, a talking paper for Biden to use in the next presidential campaign. He can waive the twelve pages at an adversary when challenged on the failed Afghanistan withdrawal and claim, “That’s not what this government report says.” He’ll be right.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
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