columnMiddle East

Joe Biden’s catastrophic judgment

As the president rejects all criticism of his personal failure in Afghanistan, there is effectively zero chance he will reconsider his policy of 42 years on Iran.

U.S. President Joe Biden in the Treaty Room of the White House, Feb. 18, 2021. Credit: Official White House photo by Adam Schultz.
U.S. President Joe Biden in the Treaty Room of the White House, Feb. 18, 2021. Credit: Official White House photo by Adam Schultz.
Caroline B. Glick
Caroline B. Glick is the senior contributing editor of Jewish News Syndicate and host of the “Caroline Glick Show” on JNS. She is also the diplomatic commentator for Israel’s Channel 14, as well as a columnist for Newsweek. Glick is the senior fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs at the Center for Security Policy in Washington and a lecturer at Israel’s College of Statesmanship.

The Taliban’s seizure of control over Afghanistan will loom large over Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s visit with U.S. President Joe Biden this Thursday, and its implications are dire.

As Taliban forces seized control of one Afghan province after another, and everyone who was paying attention recognized that the capital would soon follow, Biden went on a two-week vacation.

The footage of the Taliban takeover of Kabul stunned the American public. The scenes of dozens of Afghans hanging off a U.S. military C-17 already wheeling down the runway at the Kabul airport, hoping desperately to be let inside, or of people being taken out of their homes and shot by Taliban gunmen, provoked a bipartisan outcry against Biden and his withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan. So Monday, Biden took a break from his vacation.

He flew to the White House. He gave a speech. And he flew back to his vacation.

Biden spoke with undisguised irritation. He blamed his predecessor, Donald Trump, for signing a deal with the Taliban to remove the residual U.S. forces from the country. He blamed the Afghan military and government, which collapsed after the U.S. retreat. And he blamed U.S. intelligence agencies, which he said had not anticipated the Taliban’s swift takeover.

And he praised himself for having the gumption to remove U.S. forces from the country.

Biden bragged, “I’ve argued for many years that our mission [in Afghanistan] should be narrowly focused on counter terrorism, not counterinsurgency or nation building. That’s why I opposed the surge when it was proposed in 2009 when I was vice-president. And that’s why as president I’m adamant we focus on the threats we face today in 2021, not yesterday’s threats.”

Cursory fact checks expose Biden’s disingenuousness. The parties he blamed were not responsible for the catastrophic blow the events in Afghanistan dealt to US credibility. And his decision to remove U.S. forces from the country did not make the United States safer or better placed to “focus on the threats we face today in 2021.”

Biden’s accusation that the Trump administration was responsible for the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan is wrong on several counts. As former President Trump and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, explained last Sunday and Monday, the agreement Trump reached with the Taliban was conditions-based. Since the Taliban breached the conditions, there is little reason to believe that Trump would have implemented the troop pullout.

Moreover, Trump intended to evacuate civilians—both U.S. citizens and Afghan nationals who worked with the Americans along with their families—before pulling out U.S. military forces.

In the last two years of the Trump administration, Trump reduced the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan from 15,000 to 2,500, without inducing panic or emboldening the Taliban. He quietly evacuated U.S. civilians—again, without inducing panic or demoralization.

Biden, in contrast, removed the military forces without giving the Afghan government or military a heads-up, demoralizing them. He and his advisers repeatedly said that there was no reason to fear a Taliban takeover, so at-risk civilians had little sense of the urgency of the situation or the need to leave the country as quickly as possible.

In a conversation with Israel Hayom, a former senior Trump administration official noted as well that unlike Biden, Trump was willing to listen to argument and change his positions to align them with the situation on the ground when necessary.

“After Trump ordered the removal of all U.S. forces from Syria in 2018, several people from both inside and outside the administration warned him that a full withdrawal would be dangerous. So he changed his plans. He withdrew most of the U.S. forces but left a few hundred in key locations and gave them the wherewithal to secure U.S. goals in the country,” the official said.

By the same token, the official argued, Trump would likely have kept a residual force in Afghanistan.

Indeed, that was the only force that remained in Afghanistan. And just as a skeletal U.S. footprint in Syria suffices to secure U.S. interests in the country, so the 2,500 non-combatant U.S. forces Biden removed from the country were able to work with Afghan and NATO forces to keep Afghanistan stable and keep the Taliban at bay.

Perhaps the oddest aspect of Biden’s indictment of Trump is that he treated Trump’s deal with the Taliban as immutable. Yet, as Pompeo noted, just as Trump abandoned Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, so Biden was free to walk away from Trump’s deal with the Taliban. Biden’s protestations regarding the deal are particularly ridiculous given that in his seven months in office, he has taken a cleaver to nearly all of Trump’s domestic and foreign policies. Biden didn’t remove U.S. forces from Afghanistan because he had to keep Trump’s deal. He removed them because he wanted to.

This brings us to Biden’s devastating critique of the Afghan military, which he claimed was unwilling to defend the country. Over the past 20 years, 2,448 U.S. servicemen and women were killed in Afghanistan. Over the same period, 69,000 Afghan forces died defending their country from the Taliban. Biden’s statement amounted to malicious slander.

One of the main functions of the U.S. forces and contractors Biden removed was to serve as military air traffic controllers for Afghan forces. Their departure meant the Afghan military lost its close air support. And since the U.S. built the Afghan military as its “mini-me,” like the U.S. forces, Afghan forces were dependent on close air support to conduct land operations.

In other words, Biden is more responsible than anyone else for the Afghans’ post-American collapse. If he expected them to fight, he shouldn’t have left them dependent on U.S. traffic controllers which he withdrew without coordination or warning of any kind.

It is entirely reasonable for Americans to demand the return of their forces from Afghanistan. But on Monday, Biden presented the American people with a choice between fighting a major war against the Taliban which would see untold numbers of servicemen killed, or bringing the boys home in total defeat, as he opted to do.

Biden’s presentation was a gross distortion of the facts. The U.S. suffered no losses over the past 18 months. The choice was between more of that, and squandering everything U.S. forces in Afghanistan accomplished over the past 2o years.

This brings us to the intelligence community. Since April, Biden, his advisers and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley have been insisting, presumably based on intelligence reports, that there was little reason to be concerned that a U.S. pullout would precipitate a Taliban takeover of the country. As one provincial capital after another fell to the Taliban, Biden and his advisers insisted it would take a long time for the Taliban to arrive in Kabul. And on Monday, after the Taliban had taken Kabul and the Afghan president and the U.S. ambassador had fled the city, Biden claimed that the Taliban’s takeover “did unfold more quickly than we had expected.”

But here too, Biden did not tell the truth. ABC News reported last Monday that U.S. intelligence officials are insisting they provided Biden with clear and detailed reports over the past several months which made clear that if he withdrew U.S. forces as he intended, the Afghan army and government would collapse and the Taliban would quickly retake control of the country. The regional military commanders similarly warned this would happen.

Taken as a whole then, the most notable aspect of the fiasco in Afghanistan is that to a large degree, Biden is its sole author. He was warned of the consequences. He chose to disregard the warnings. His party didn’t demand the pullout. The Washington establishment opposed it. Biden took his own counsel. This was his policy.

If Biden had been right, he would rightly be the toast of the town right now. But reality is a harsh judge. The facts were never on his side. Reason was never on his side. His judgement was never reasoned or fact-based. And as was eminently predictable, Biden was catastrophically wrong.

While dooming tens of thousands of Afghans to death and millions more to utter misery, Biden’s misjudgment is quickly multiplying the threats the U.S. faces. The Taliban have seized U.S. aircraft abandoned at Bagram air base. Milley acknowledged that the terror threat to the U.S. has grown since the pullout. And thanks to Biden, the United States’ southern border remains open to all. Forces of jihad worldwide have received an unprecedented tailwind from the U.S. defeat. Hamas, Iran and others hurried to embrace the Taliban.

Biden’s policy also emboldened U.S. superpower rivals China and Russia. They responded to America’s humiliation by bringing Iran into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

U.S. allies are furious and alarmed as they see the collapse of U.S. credibility and strategic rationality.

And this brings us to Bennett’s meeting with Biden on Thursday.

Biden’s decision to stick to his guns on Afghanistan shows that once he has made up his mind about something, he is unwilling to listen to counterargument. And the only other major position that Biden has held consistently over the years is his position on Iran.

Whereas for 15 years Biden was an outspoken critic of the war in Afghanistan and demanded a swift U.S. withdrawal, since the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, he has been among the regime’s most stalwart supporters in Washington. Biden’s policy towards the ayatollahs in Tehran has been appeasement for the past 42 years, even when he stood alone on the issue.

For instance, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee in 2001, Biden responded to the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States by calling for the Bush administration to give Iran $100 million in foreign aid.

Last week it was reported that ahead of Bennett’s visit with Biden on Thursday, government officials are hoping to convince him that given the failure of the nuclear talks in Vienna, the time has come for the United States and Israel to jointly attack Iran’s nuclear installations. If Biden weren’t impermeable to reason, Israel’s argument might have had a shot. After all, in 1983, Ronald Reagan responded to the Hezbollah bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut by invading Grenada.

But as Biden showed on Monday, and in an interview with ABC‘s George Stephanopoulos Wednesday, he will not rethink his choices or positions, even after they have failed. As Biden rejects all criticism of his personal failure in Afghanistan, there is effectively zero chance he will reconsider his policy of 42 years on Iran. Moreover, unlike his policy on Afghanistan, his Iran policy is now shared by the U.S. intelligence community and military, the Washington establishment and the Democrat Party.

Whether Bennett would be better off postponing the trip until the smoke begins to settle remains to be seen. But what is clear enough is that with Iran sprinting towards the nuclear finish line and U.S. credibility in a state of unprecedented collapse, if Israel wants to prevent Iran from acquiring military nuclear capabilities, Biden is not the man to see.

Caroline Glick is an award-winning columnist and author of “The Israeli Solution: A One-State Plan for Peace in the Middle East.”

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

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