The following editorial published on Aug. 16 in the Minneapolis Star Tribune:
The incompetent method with which the Biden administration administered the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is a military and moral fiasco.
On Sunday, a panicked evacuation of U.S. personnel took place amid the abandonment of many of the thousands of Afghans who helped Americans during the war, all while the Taliban raised a flag over the presidential palace in Kabul, reconquering the country nearly 20 years after the U.S. and NATO nations had ousted the extremists following the 9/11 attacks.
The impact on everyday Afghans will be incalculably bad, particularly for women and girls and those who aided Western efforts over the last two decades.
The impact on America will be lasting, too, especially if the Taliban once again allows a training haven for terrorist groups. At minimum the searing, Saigon-like images of helicopters ferrying U.S. envoys to Kabul’s airport while Afghans scrambled on the tarmac, with some desperate enough to cling to departing military planes, will have a profound effect on U.S. foreign policy. At a time when Biden wants to pivot to the threats from a rising China and a revanchist Russia, both adversaries and allies will question America’s resolve.
Biden had chosen Sept. 11, 2021, as the withdrawal deadline, seemingly tying the date to the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the U.S. that triggered the U.S. and NATO invasion. That arbitrary, politically driven deadline was already too early even before Biden accelerated it. And in the end, the withdrawal of about 2,500 troops was undone by the thousands more now deployed to protect departing Americans.
It’s indefensible that at minimum the U.S. did not secure passage for Afghan translators, journalists, leaders of key governmental and nongovernmental organizations, and others, let alone have an effective plan to back up Afghan forces to hold the capital, if not the country.
These failures are Biden’s, and history will not be kind. But Biden is not alone in this lost war. In fact, he’s one of four presidents — two Republicans and two Democrats — who made multiple mistakes.
Former President George W. Bush took his and America’s focus off Afghanistan for another fiasco, the war of choice with Iraq. Former President Barack Obama oversaw a troop surge in Afghanistan, but also dramatically de-escalated the U.S. presence. Former President Donald Trump signed a deal with the Taliban that called for an even earlier withdrawal deadline.
But political parties don’t go to war. Nations do. And this is a failure for America, on top of the failures in Vietnam and the war in Iraq, among other military misadventures.
Avoiding a repeat of these serial losses must go beyond introspection and toward a formal independent inquiry by experts who put country over party. Among the many issues that need to be investigated are the multiple political, intelligence and military failures, and how billions of dollars, years of U.S. training and far superior material failed to produce Afghan troops who were willing and able to fight for their country.
What isn’t in question are the sacrifices of U.S. troops and their families who supported them during deployments. They answered their country’s call, even if the trumpet became uncertain. Those who lost their lives should be honored. Those whose lives were shattered deserve support and care. Americans should be grateful to those who gave so much to their country — and to Afghans.
But we should not ask yet another generation of Americans to fight without a finite mission. That’s an essential message for those who have irresponsibly advocated a military strike against Iran.
While the war in Afghanistan is lost, America should not surrender the fight to still extricate as many Afghans as possible, and it should not hesitate to give them refuge in the U.S. While this won’t wash away the stain of America’s abandonment of its allies, it is the right thing to do.