by John Podhoretz Commentary, 16.08.21
All Joe Biden had to do was nothing. Had Joe Biden done nothing, Afghanistan would not have fallen to the Taliban today. Had he just let the status quo continue, the status quo would have continued. Afghanistan would have plodded along and we would have kept the Taliban from power with a small force of American military personnel among whose ranks there had not been a single fatality since March 2020—17 months without a death. Keep that in mind as you listen to and watch people try to analyze away the horror that has befallen the Afghan people. The idea being retailed by the increasingly defeatist left and the increasingly isolationist right is that what has happened was inevitable. It was the opposite of inevitable. It wouldn’t have happened if Biden hadn’t acted.
In so acting, Biden has cast the future of American foreign policy into the worst state of disrepair since the last helicopter-carries-people-to-the-airport-to-flee-the-country scene 46 years ago. I am not saying we haven’t been in parlous condition during that time. Obviously the meltdown in Iraq in 2005-2006 was a disastrous period; the revelation that weapons of mass destruction we believed had been made by Iraq in the years between the end of the first war there and the beginning of the second likely didn’t exist was a body blow.
But here we have an American president announcing in April that we were pulling out of a country to end a war in which we haven’t been engaging in conventional old-time combat for years because, apparently, we just had to. Biden wanted to be the one to end the war, and he did so with tough love: The Afghan army was going to have to stand on its own. The time had come for the teenager to leave home, get his own apartment, get a job, and start paying rent.
Smart talk. But Biden also assured Americans in July that they would not see a second Saigon 1975. Asked on July 7 about a possible parallel to the moment when U.S. helicopters evacuated embassy personnel on April 30, 1975, the president said, “None whatsoever. Zero….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’re going to see people being lifted off the roof of our embassy.”
Thirty-six days after he said it, we saw it. And the really awful part is, this was entirely predictable—because everybody I know predicted it. We didn’t know when exactly. But we knew it was coming. If we knew it, they knew it. If they didn’t know it, it’s because they chose not to know it. Or decided to let the chips fall where they may. Now the chips have fallen with one of the most evil political forces the world has ever seen back in charge of the government from which we rousted them 20 years ago.
We stand exposed today not as a country that finally exited a war we could no longer even imagine a victory in, as had been the case in 1975. Rather, we are revealed as a country led by a feckless president who chose to refuse to grapple with the obvious potential consequences of a decision he wanted to make so he could be declared a war-ender and a peace-maker. History will declare him something else, something worse, something darker. The real horror for Afghanis is that history will begin to make its declaration about Joe Biden this week, as the Taliban begin working their depravity on the them and the nation from which we once rightly took great national pride in having liberated.
As for the United States and its foreign policy, we are in uncharted territory. No country has ever really done what we did here. No country has ever deliberately chosen and charted a course into its own humiliation when there was no national demand for withdrawal above all things. After all, nobody much seemed to care about Afghanistan either way any longer—save for the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have ennobled us through their sacrifices and the heroics they have performed over the past 20 years. It was they who stuffed the genie of Islamist terrorism back in its rancid bottle and spared us untold tragedies, disasters, and nightmares. God bless them. Now we may find ourselves, in the 2020s, living through the very nightmares they saved us from.