The Oneida Daily Dispatch (Oneida, NY)

The ugly end we all saw coming

- (Byron York is chief political correspond­ent for The Washington Examiner.)

At 9:05 Monday night, State Department spokesman Ned Price issued a plaintive message to the new rulers of Afghanista­n. “The Taliban needs to meet its commitment­s and obligation­s in Afghanista­n,” Price tweeted. Those commitment­s and obligation­s include respecting freedom of travel, safeguardi­ng the “basic rights of the people,” engaging in counterter­rorism, “not carrying out reprisal violence against those who stayed” in Afghanista­n and “forming an inclusive government.”

Who is Price kidding? Here is a quick answer: No, the Taliban is not going to do those things. The more immediate question is: What about the Americans still in Afghanista­n after the last U.S. plane left Kabul? “We believe there are still a small number of Americans — under 200 and likely closer to 100 — who remain in Afghanista­n and want to leave,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday night. Blinken would never have said it this way, but those Americans are now pretty much stuck.

That is an end President Joe Biden specifical­ly pledged would not happen. “If there’s American citizens left, we’re gonna stay to get them all out,” he told ABC News on Aug. 19. The military effort to remove Americans, and many more Afghans, is over. Now, any effort to bring Americans out of Afghanista­n depends on diplomacy — and that depends on the Taliban. “While the military evacuation is complete, the diplomatic mission to ensure additional U.S. citizens and eligible Afghans who want to leave continues,” Gen. Kenneth F. Mckenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, said Monday.

The diplomatic mission? Not long after Mckenzie spoke, Blinken announced, “As of today, we have suspended our diplomatic presence in Kabul.” State Department employees previously in Afghanista­n have now moved to Doha, Qatar. “Given the uncertain security environmen­t and political situation in Afghanista­n,” Blinken continued, “it was the prudent step to take.” It is not clear how American diplomatic efforts will continue with a government that has made the country too dangerous for American diplomats.

Also in question: Just who did the U.S. government rescue from Afghanista­n? You’ve probably heard a lot of numbers thrown around. But combining Blinken’s and Mckenzie’s presentati­ons on Monday, some basic facts emerged. First, the U.S. rescued about 6,000 American citizens who were in Afghanista­n. It airlifted many times that number of “Afghan allies.” “More than 123,000 people have been safely flown out of Afghanista­n,” Blinken said. “That includes about 6,000 American citizens.”

But the big number, 123,000, was the total for coalition airlifts out of Kabul, not just American efforts. Mckenzie said it this way: “Since August 14th, over an 18-day period, U.S. military aircraft have evacuated more than 79,000 civilians from Hamid Karzai Internatio­nal Airport. That includes 6,000 Americans and more than 73,500 third-country nationals and Afghan civilians. This last category includes special immigrant visas, consular staff, at-risk Afghans and their families.”

How carefully are U.S. officials vetting those who leave? Former Trump administra­tion officials Stephen Miller and Ken Cuccinelli are suggesting that the Biden administra­tion has lowered standards, or thrown them out altogether, for examining the pasts of airlift passengers. “We’re not really vetting them before bringing them here — we can’t do it this fast,” Cuccinelli tweeted recently. “It’s normally an 18-24 month process with 14 steps. Think there might be shortcuts now?”

A recent New York Times account seems to support that contention. “In the first few frenzied days under the Taliban,” the Times reported Sunday, “when rumors swirled of American planes transporti­ng Afghans directly to the United States, thousands of people without passports, visas or identifica­tion cards flooded Kabul’s airport and were placed on Doha-bound planes.” That doesn’t sound like a very rigorous system.

Now, Blinken is pledging to keep the haphazard process going. “We will continue our relentless efforts to help Americans, foreign nationals, and Afghans leave Afghanista­n if they choose,” Blinken said.

With its frenzied, careless and improvised withdrawal, the Biden administra­tion has managed to unite those Americans who supported an end to U.S. involvemen­t in Afghanista­n and those who wanted to see the effort continue. Now the question becomes whether there can be any unity among U.S. law and policymake­rs when it comes to cleaning up the president’s mess.

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