On July 8, President Joe Biden appeared in the White House East Room to emphasize that the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan was on track, and he stated that a Taliban takeover of the country was not inevitable.
Five weeks later, the Taliban are in command, photos of mayhem at Kabul airport from the departure of Americans and US-aligned Afghan people have captivated the world, and Biden is scrambling to defend himself from a series of miscalculations that have harmed US credibility.
While asserting that “the buck rests with me,” Biden has deflected criticism for America’s humiliating end to a 20-year war in Afghanistan that contained errors by four administrations – two Republican and two Democratic.
He has chastised the Afghan troops for refusing to fight, attacked the now-deposed Afghan government, and stated that he inherited a terrible departure deal from his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump.
“When I ran for President, I pledged to the American people that I would stop America’s military involvement in Afghanistan. And, while it’s been difficult and messy – and far from flawless – I’ve kept my word “In a speech on Monday, Biden added.
Following Trump’s four turbulent years in power, Biden campaigned as an international statesman with a calm hand on the helm.
He immediately re-entered multilateral agreements that Trump had abandoned, and he moved to re-establish historic ties that Trump had rejected.
But his first big international challenge is generating an intense political backlash as Democrats and Republicans alike raise questions about his strategy.
The US intelligence projection that the Taliban could be held off for three months after the US exit proved to be incorrect. Military leaders in the United States who advocated for a more deliberate withdrawal were fired.
On Tuesday, Biden’s national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, spoke from the White House platform to defend Biden’s conduct. He claimed that expressing support for the Afghan government was a “considered judgment,” but that it was not enough to preserve the country.
“When you conclude 20 years of military action in a civil war in another country, with the impacts of 20 years of decisions that have piled up, you have to make a lot of hard calls. None with clean outcomes,” Sullivan said.
CALLS FOR INVESTIGATIONS
Members of the U.S. Congress, increasingly frustrated with events in Afghanistan, want to investigate what went wrong.
Senator Mark Warner, the Democratic Intelligence Committee chairman, had said on Monday he intended to work with other committees “to ask tough but necessary questions” about why the United States was not better prepared for the collapse of the Afghan government.
Republicans continued their harsh criticism of Biden’s policies.
“The security and humanitarian crisis now unfolding in Afghanistan could have been avoided if you had done any planning,” Republicans on the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee said in a letter to the White House on Tuesday.
The crisis appears to have taken a toll. Biden’s approval rating dropped by 7 percentage points and hit its lowest level – 46% – since he took office in January, a Reuters-Ipsos poll conducted on Monday found.
Biden, managing the crisis from the presidential retreat of Camp David in Maryland’s Catoctin mountains, went several days without talking to any foreign leaders about Afghanistan. He spoke to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday.
“The prime minister stressed the importance of not losing the gains made in Afghanistan over the last 20 years, or protecting ourselves against any emerging threat from terrorism and of continuing to support the people of Afghanistan,” said a Downing Street spokesman.
Former President George W. Bush, who began the “war on terror” in Afghanistan in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and started a second war in Iraq in 2003, sounded a note of regret in a statement issued late on Monday with his wife, Laura Bush.
“Our hearts are heavy for both the Afghan people who have suffered so much and for the Americans and NATO allies who have sacrificed so much,” they said. “The Afghans now at greatest risk are the same ones who have been on the forefront of progress inside their nation.”
Sullivan, however, argued on Tuesday that while the images from the airport were “heartbreaking” Biden “had to think about the human costs of the alternative path as well, which was to stay in the middle of a civil conflict in Afghanistan.”