“There was never a good time to withdraw US forces, that’s why we were still there,” says the head of the White House
As in 9/11 when George W. Bush was unaccounted for, the United States needed to see its commander-in-chief this Monday to comfort them with the heartbreaking images they were seeing on television. Joe Biden had been held at the Camp David vacation home while the Taliban were occupying Afghanistan at lightning speed. For some analysts, this was not only the chaotic end of the longest war in the United States, but that of the American empire, doomed to fail miserably in every attempt to take its democracy to distant lands.
“I fully reaffirm my decision,” he intoned defiantly. And if anything, the events of the last week reinforce it. Biden says he has learned in these twenty years of war that “there was never a good time to withdraw our forces, that’s why we were still there.” The thousands of veterans who have left their skin and even their legs in Afghanistan listened with special attention. It was worth it? That is the question that tortures everyone, because if there is one thing Americans hate, it is losers.
The first president in 40 years to have a child in war spared no words of moral support. His decision, he explained, was based precisely on his conviction that children cannot be sent to die for a country that the Afghans themselves were not willing to defend. Or in the words of John Kerry during the mythical testimony before the Senate in 1971 that exposed the immorality of Vietnam, “How can you send a man to be the last to die by a mistake?”
Biden, who as a senator voted in 2001 to give Bush a blank check for his “war on terror,” does not believe the invasion was a mistake, only to stay after he had achieved the goal: “We went to Afghanistan to seize to those who attacked us on 9/11 2001 and to make sure al-Qaeda does not use it as a base to attack us again. ”
The president said he accepted full responsibility for the decision, but did not apologize for the historic debacle. If the whole world compared the images of Afghans perched in despair on the wing of a C-17 with that of helicopters in Saigon in 1975, former CIA chief and former defense secretary Leon Panetta thought of the Bay of Pigs and John F. Kennedy. “President Kennedy accepted his responsibility for what happened and I would strongly recommend that President Biden accept his and admit that mistakes have been made,” the 83-year-old Democratic politician recalled yesterday.
The responsibility should be shared among the four presidents who have served over these two decades, as well as the many generals and senior Pentagon and intelligence officers who have been determined to paint a victorious image of an unwinnable war. For the White House, “the president had only bad options ahead of him and he chose the best one he could,” defended his National Security adviser, Jake Sullivan. His head is one of the first claimed by critics, but in this war the only ones to behead are the Taliban, who on the eve of the 20th anniversary of 9/11 celebrate the American stampede.
Taliban victory or US defeat
Most analysts agree that what is happening today in Afghanistan is as much a Taliban victory as it is a defeat for the United States, and this is what worries them the most. While Democrats blame Donald Trump for making a bad deal with them, nothing forced Biden to respect him. After 12 years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the new 78-year-old president was supposed to have enough experience to know how to interpret the situation, but instead what he was nailing was the failure of his advice to Obama when he was vice president, and the death of his own son. “This is deeply personal,” he admitted Monday.
In 2009 the military and the toughest wing of the cabinet – including Panetta and then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – won the battle by convincing the president to redouble his efforts by sending 17,000 troops. Today there is no voice stronger than yours. Nor greater responsibility.
In the implementation of that decision that has ruminated for twelve years there were also errors of calculation and intelligence. Why weren’t the US personnel and the 22,000 Afghans who worked for the US evacuated sooner? The Ashraf Ghani government convinced him that if he organized a mass exodus it would create a crisis of confidence that would trigger his collapse. And while the Pentagon had publicly warned that the country would fall into chaos if the United States and NATO withdrew too quickly, no one anticipated the breakneck speed at which it was carried out.
Proof of this is that last Monday the US embassy in Kabul celebrated with the label “Peace Monday” (#PeaceMonday) the possibility of an agreement at the Doha negotiating table and asked its followers on Twitter what they would like to say to the parties. By Thursday, when it announced the dispatch of 3,000 troops to cover the evacuation – which it never wanted to call an evacuation – the Ghani government only controlled three cities. With an additional 2,000 troops to secure the chaotic airport where an estimated seven to ten people have died hanging from the wing of the C-17 planes, there will be 5,000 US troops in Afghanistan tonight. Double what there were when Biden announced the withdrawal on April 14. The authorized figure reaches up to 6,000, which does not seem enough to defend the five kilometers of road that separate Kabul from Hamid Karzai airport, full of Taliban checkpoints.
Analysts point to the abandonment of the Bagram base on July 4 as one of the great tactical errors that makes this evacuation even worse than that of Saigon. “In 1975 they removed 130,000 people in a week and here they have only removed 2,500 in a month, just a few hundred in the last few days,” explained former CIA analyst Matt Zeller, who describes the so-called “Great Withdrawal”, in ironic opposition to the European “Great Rescue” of the Nazis, as “a disaster of epic proportions.”
Biden believes that this is not his war, like 90% of Americans, but he has just written his name in history with the epitaph of a new American disaster.