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Tag: biden afghanistan

In Afghanistan Biden Did What Was Right, Not What Was Easy

If Joe Biden were a typical politician, his choice on Afghanistan would have been easy. Political wisdom says you should never accept consequences today that you can postpone until after the next election, if not longer. Deceptive gimmicks and clever evasions are always preferable to painful solutions that pay off only in the long run.

Biden could have persisted in prolonging the stalemate. He could have quietly expanded our troop presence to hold the Taliban at bay. He could have blithely accepted the deaths of more American troops — and more Afghan civilians — to maintain the status quo.

Most Americans wouldn't have noticed or cared about the cost of continuing the war. His own party's progressives would have groused, but their priorities lie mainly in domestic policy, where Biden has been fairly accommodating. Republicans would not have made much of the issue.

But the president whose political skills earned him 36 years in the Senate and eight in the vice presidency chose to act with statesmanlike foresight. When it came to our longest military conflict, he could not countenance the option embraced by his three immediate predecessors.

George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump failed to win the war and refused to end it. Instead, they dragged it out, each leaving the problem to the next occupant of the White House. They wimped out to avoid being accused of wimpiness. They put their political interests ahead of the lives and limbs of American service members.

Biden refused to avoid the inevitable any longer — in the full knowledge that the consequences would most likely be ugly and highly visible. He was the first president to act as though the buck really did stop with him.

His Tuesday address to the nation was a model of realism. He found two important lessons from our ill-starred effort. "First, we must set missions with clear achievable goals, not ones we'll never reach," he declared. "And second, we must stay clearly focused on the fundamental national security interests of the United States of America." Neither principle could justify staying in Afghanistan.

Critics accuse him of weakness, but there was nothing weak about his resolve to put a stop to a hopeless war. In the face of furious denunciations by people whose terrible judgment helped lead us into the deadly quagmires that have bogged us down for so long, he was bracingly immovable.

Biden understands better than his critics what the options were: Get out and accept the defeat of the Kabul regime or expand our military role to push back against an enemy that had been steadily gaining ground.

As he noted in his Tuesday address, the Trump administration had signed an agreement committing us to leave by May 1, in exchange for the Taliban's agreement not to attack our forces. Biden extended the deadline by four months, and the Taliban chose not to renege on its obligation. But any further postponement — or renunciation of the deal — would have meant a renewed and wider war.

It is understandable that critics would find fault with the chaotic, deadly, and heartbreaking endgame. But the possibility that Biden might have managed our departure better doesn't mean the departure was a mistake.

The shockingly rapid collapse of the government only proved how completely we failed in Afghanistan. You might say that the structure we created turned out to be a Potemkin village, but that would be too generous. A Potemkin village doesn't disintegrate overnight.

The Afghan military got vast amounts of money, training and equipment from the U.S., not for one year or five years but for 20. It could call on American bombers, helicopter gunships and drones to incinerate its foes. It enjoyed an embarrassment of riches. In resources, the Taliban were grossly outmatched.

But they had the most vital asset any fighting force can have: motivation. It was something our Afghan partners lacked. In the end, they didn't really lose to the Taliban; they forfeited.

The late William Safire once recalled that as a speechwriter for President Richard Nixon, one of his tasks was to say, "Mr. President — Do the popular thing! Take the easy way!" Nixon could then tell the public, "Some of my aides have suggested that I do the popular thing, that I should take the easy way. But I have rejected such counsel."

For a long time, we've had politicians who happily accepted such counsel. Biden is a different kind of leader.

Follow Steve Chapman on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com

Why Biden May Stay In Afghanistan After All

The U.S. mission in Afghanistan is nearly old enough to buy a beer, having gone on since 2001. Two presidents, Barack Obama and Donald Trump, promised it would come to an end, but the war outlasted them both.

Trump's administration negotiated a deal with the Taliban that committed us to leave by May. That obligation was conveniently scheduled for after the 2020 presidential election, making it Joe Biden's problem. Biden said at his news conference last week, "It's going to be hard to meet the May 1 deadline." But when asked if our troops would still be there next year, he said, "I can't picture that being the case."

Really? He served as vice president under Obama, who campaigned on a promise to get out within 16 months. Running for reelection in 2012, Obama promised to end our involvement by 2014. Trump made similar promises, which were equally empty.

If Biden can't picture our forces staying into next year and beyond, his imagination is failing him. There are powerful reasons to think they'll be in Afghanistan in 2022. Also in 2023. And 2024. And ...

The first reason is that there are far bigger political risks in leaving than staying. Our departure could lead to an expanded war between the Kabul regime and the Taliban, the defeat of the Afghan army and the return of the Taliban to power.

No president wants to have to answer for what could be the grim aftermath of our departure. Biden can remember the 1975 debacle following our withdrawal from Vietnam, when U.S. embassy staff in Saigon evacuated in helicopters as desperate Vietnamese took to the sea in rickety boats to escape. For the time being, the easiest way to avoid an embarrassing outcome is to stay.

This will be particularly true next year, with Democrats facing midterm elections that could give Republicans control of Congress. Critics of our endless presence in Afghanistan — a group that includes me — may take hope from polls indicating that most Americans would like to get out sooner or later. But that sentiment carries little weight.

The great majority of people rarely give any thought to Afghanistan. There are no protests against it or citizen lobbying campaigns to end the war. It gets minimal attention from the news media. Our troop levels are low — 3,500 — and no American has been killed in combat in more than a year.

None of these facts justifies a mission that has no prospect of success regardless of how long we stay or what we do. But Biden is shrewd enough to see that maintaining the status quo won't cost him votes, while pulling out could.

Another reason he is likely to go along with an extension is that his administration is staffed by creatures of the "Blob" — the network of establishment foreign policy experts who favor an expansive U.S. role in the world and resist every effort to pull back even from failed interventions.

His Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, supported the Iraq War as well as Obama's intervention in Libya. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan was an aide to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and chief foreign policy adviser for her presidential campaign. She favored both wars.

Biden's Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is a retired four-star Army general. In his presidential memoir, Obama recalled the resistance of the Pentagon brass to pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan. These officers were, he wrote, products of "a U.S. military that prided itself on accomplishing a mission once started, without regard to cost, duration, or whether the mission was the right one to begin with." Austin didn't get where he is by being a bold nonconformist.

Biden will probably keep slogging away in Afghanistan as long as the basic status quo holds. Assuming the Kabul government and its military can stave off defeat, delaying our departure makes political sense.

But it won't enhance our chances of success. If you don't know the answers on an exam, getting an extra hour or day to finish it won't help. It only postpones the moment when you have to confront the truth.

Bush left that moment to Obama, who bequeathed it to Trump, who passed it on to his successor. Biden is likely to conclude that 1) whoever leaves Afghanistan will bear the blame for the outcome, and 2) it won't be him.

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com