A Defense of Biden’s Withdrawal from Afghanistan

The Biden Administration’s withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan during the latter half of August is far from a horrific disaster of bureaucratic ineptitude as the 24-hour news cycle has portrayed it to be. In fact, this very foreign policy maneuver may very well be regarded as the most courageous and principled of any presidential administration in the twenty-first century.

In the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, the George W. Bush Administration advocated for an invasion of Afghanistan with the initial goal of locating, capturing and killing the founder of al-Qaeda Osama bin Laden. Once announced to the public that bin Laden had fled the country, the goal became one of rooting out and destroying all al-Qaeda forces within Afghanistan. As if this was not enough, the objective evolved into one of nation-building, an excuse to permanently re-occupy and re-colonize a country artificially drawn into existence by Western powers in the former half of the twentieth century.

Similar to the American invasion of Vietnam in the 1960s, the military deployment to Afghanistan has featured ever-escalating numbers of soldiers, weapons, contractors, and supplies. It has exercised a staggering amount of American taxpayer investment, an estimated $2 trillion as of 2021, to create and equip a national Afghan army that has never shown any personal resolve. Other estimates, once interest on the national debt has been accounted for, arrive at an estimation of $7 trillion American dollars spent on Afghanistan by 2050. The human cost has claimed the lives of over two hundred thousand innocent Afghan civilians and over two-thousand Americans, from servicepeople to diplomatic forces. And like Vietnam, the war in Afghanistan has outlasted three successive presidential administrations, kicked from one commander-in-chief to the next with no resolution. Campaign promises from Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump of a “gradual drawdown” have yielded no substantive alterations whatsoever.

Most of the world has witnessed the American withdrawal as a scene of nightmarish humanitarian chaos, featuring thousands of civilians trapped on an airport tarmac in Kabul at the mercy of the new Taliban regime. Liberal-leaning commentators on CNN and MSNBC, and conservative-leaning commentators on FOX have spent much of their time blaming American intelligence for failing to anticipate the speed at which the pro-Western Kabul government would collapse once an American withdrawal became imminent. Politicians on both sides of the aisle have suddenly found themselves speaking in unity, with a declaration to the effect of,“American troops should eventually be withdrawn, but not the way that Biden is doing it.”

The complaints stop there. Not one plausible alternative approach to withdrawal has ever been offered to the national conversation. Therein lies the first point in Biden’s favor: his critics have only ever provided criticism; they have never proposed alternative solutions or procedures to reach what is, in theory, a commonly-held objective: the complete and utter withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan. As of this moment, Biden is the only actor who has pursued a solution, regardless of how good or bad that solution has turned out to be.

Moreover, Biden’s critics deny that a collapse of the American-backed regime in Kabul could ever have occurred. In twenty years of pouring untold American human, financial, and material resources into a failed nation-building project, the resulting regime was so unprepared and unwilling to govern that it collapsed at astounding speed within a matter of days. Plausibly, the same outcome would have occurred had American forces withdrawn under Bush in 2004, under Obama in 2011, under Trump in 2017, or under a future president in 2040. In other words, Biden’s critics are inadvertently propping up an insinuation that the United States, once installed within a failed state, should remain in that country indefinitely. That is one argument that will surely fail to hold any widespread popularity among the American public.

From his initial campaign promises to the final helicopter departure from Afghan airspace, Biden has remained steadfast and principled on this critically important matter of American foreign policy. In this regard, he has distinguished himself from his immediate three predecessors and refused to buckle in the face of unrelenting criticism from all media outlets and prominent members of his own congressional majorities. President Gerald Ford found himself with plummeting poll numbers during his short tenure, thanks to a storm of criticism from media commentators, but the American people now remember him as the president who ended the Vietnam War. Future history books will treat President Joe Biden with the same kindness in regard to the War in Afghanistan.