Biden error leaves dangerous vacuum waiting to be filled
WASN’T Joe Biden supposed to be the great internationalist who would engage with the rest of the world after four years of the isolationist Donald Trump? Wasn’t he supposed to be the statesman who would restore dignity and competence to the office of President of the United States?
How forlorn those hopes look now after America has suffered one of its greatest humiliations in its modern history. At least no one fell off the last helicopter out of Saigon when US forces withdrew from Vietnam in 1975. The enduring image of the panicked US withdrawal after 20 years of trying to rebuild Afghanistan will be the desperate figures trying to cling to a plane as it taxied at Kabul airport – and the sight of at least two of them plunging to their deaths after it took off.
But it isn’t just the manner of the US withdrawal that has left the world open-mouthed, it is the bizarre reaction of Biden himself. Asked on ABC News whether he regretted the chaos and if anything could have been done to prevent it, he shot back: “The idea that somehow there’s a way of having gotten out without chaos ensuing, I just don’t see how that happens.”
This was the same US President who was promising the world just last month that there would be a “safe and orderly drawdown from Afghanistan”, who said that it was “highly unlikely” that the Taliban would take over.
IN the event it took just days for this rabble of warlords to seize the capital, Kabul.Was this remarkable misjudgment by the US an intelligence failure, or was Biden so fixated on leaving Afghanistan before the 20th anniversary of 9/11 that he ignored the intelligence presented to him?
When asked what he made of the scenes of chaos at Kabul airport Biden reacted with a strange aggressiveness. “That was four days ago, five days ago,” he retorted, outraged that a reporter should question him about something that wasn’t happening of the moment.
Actually, reporters did try to ask him while it was happening – at a press briefing held to justify the sudden withdrawal. But he just walked off, having read his speech from an autocue with all the passion of a man reading the chart at his optician’s. America has swapped a narcissistic president for one who simply isn’t up to the job. Whether Biden would have made a better president in his mid-60s, when he was Barack Obama’s vicepresident, no one will ever know, but he certainly isn’t capable now. Rather he has the air of a once-important man who is now deep into retirement, with a failing grip on his past achievements.
“Our mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to be nation-building,” he tells us. That will come as news to the many Americans, Britons and other nationalities who served in military or civilian roles trying to rebuild the country afresh after years of Soviet occupation and Taliban repression.
The West tried to put together a viable democracy, backed by human rights. We put together school curriculums, established police forces, poured in billions in aid – and, of course, built up the Afghan armed forces, which failed so spectacularly when US leadership was removed.
If that wasn’t nation-building, what is? And yet it is dismissed by Biden as if it never happened.
There is a respectable argument for saying that trying to create a democratic state from scratch in a country that has never seen a sustained period of democracy was a waste of time.
But to cut and run when so much has been invested, and when so many service people have lost their lives, is an astonishing failure of statecraft.
There is no reason why the arrangements of the past four years – in which Afghan government forces did all the fighting with US and other Western forces in a support role – could not have been sustained.
AFTER all, the US military has never fully left Europe since the Second World War – its planes occasionally rumble over my house from the US base at Lakenheath, Suffolk. As for Biden’s claim that US lives could not continue to be sacrificed, no US troops had been killed in Afghanistan in 18 months.
In his panicked withdrawal, Biden hasn’t just failed at nation-building – he has failed at America’s aim: to prevent it becoming a haven for terrorists. Terror groups can now count on being safe there: there is no way that Biden is going to send his forces back in.
The US could have remained a force for good in Afghanistan. Instead, its humiliation has left behind a vacuum. No one knows quite what will fill it, but we can be pretty sure it won’t be pleasant.
‘America swapped a narcissistic president for one not up to the job’