When Joe Biden announced a few months ago that all US troops would be out of Afghanistan by September 11th, I denounced it as the worst example of gesture politics. September 11 2021 is the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks which provoked President Bush persuading NATO and the UN that invading Afghanistan was the right thing to do. Biden, with one eye on his legacy, wants to be remembered as the president who “brought our boys home”. Well, he’s certainly achieved that, but in the worst possible way.
What has happened over the last days and weeks is the total humiliation of America and the West at the hands of the Taliban. It has shown up, yet again, massive failures in US intelligence and a total lack of judgement on the part of the White House. It may be that the UK government argued behind the scenes that pulling out of Afghanistan was a wrong-headed decision and destined to have unfortunate long term consequences, but if it did, the arguments fell on deaf ears. I suspect the argument wasn’t even made. In reality, the Americans were in the driving seat and there was no way that Britain or any other country was in a position to go it alone.
If you are a member of one of the families of one of the 456 British servicepeople who have been killed in the conflict, or you’re one of the many thousands who have been severely injured, you can be forgiven for wondering what it has all been for. And I wouldn’t blame you.
Since combat missions stopped US and UK forces have remained, training the Afghan forces to be able to withstand any attacks by the Taliban. Well that has worked out well, hasn’t it? The Afghan army splintered at the first sign of gunfire. Surely the state of readiness of the Afghan forces must have been reported back to the Pentagon or the Ministry of Defence. Surely the White House must have known that the worst time to withdraw troops would be the Afghan summer, when the Taliban would find it easy to move around the country, rather than do it in the winter, when they would face more challenging circumstances? Were these arguments even had? Or did everything have to play second fiddle to President Biden’s wish to mark the 20th anniversary of 9/11 by being able to stand in the Rose Garden and declare that all US troops are safely home? What an utter disgrace of a man.
America has faced many foreign policy challenges in recent decades, and has emerged from most of them with its reputation traduced. It will take a long time for the US to recover from this. It is reminiscent of the weakness shown by Jimmy Carter over the Iran hostages. But it’s worse than that. Russia and China will be laughing at the weakness displayed, not just by America, but by the West more widely. The British response has been shambolic. According to reports, the British Foreign Secretary has not engaged with the crisis. Both he and the Prime Minister have been on holiday at the same time. Both have now returned to London, and while I am the last one to complain about politicians having holidays, the lack of engagement on the part of our government has been shaming.
Have we heard a peep from the French? From the Germans? From anyone? Does anyone actually care? The European Union has also been silent. It’s almost as if the West is sticking a collective finger in its ears and is refusing to even acknowledge what is happening.
It will soon become apparent what that is. The Taliban is just the same as it always was. Leopards do not change their spots. Yes, it has acquired some smooth spin doctors who utter platitudes about the rights of women, and then are immediately contradicted by the ones really in charge.
And where are all the #MeToo supporters and the feminists who spend every living moment promoting the rights of women? Nowhere. That’s where. Their leftist pacifism blinds them to the consequences for Afghan women of western troops leaving them to the whims of the Taliban. The inevitable abuse, sexual assaults, rapes and murders are ignored. They too are sticking their collective fingers in their ears. They’re more concerned about personal pronouns than protecting Afghan women. They disgust me.
Donald Trump has predictably called for Joe Biden’s resignation. It is certainly true that Trump scored some foreign policy successes, but does anyone think that Trump would have done anything meaningfully different? Well, I suppose he may not have gone for the September 11th date to withdraw all US troops, but it would have happened sooner or later. Indeed, after his agreement with the Taliban, Trump had pencilled in a May 1 departure from Afghanistan. I doubt very much he would have stuck to that, but we shall never know. This is not to absolve Trump from blame for what is happening now. His deal with the Taliban totally undermined the Afghan goverment and security forces. Desertions started almost immediately and undermined confidence in their ability to oppose any Taliban incursions. Local Afghan governors also saw the writing on the wall and started to deal with the Taliban again. They could see what was about to come, even if US intelligence agencies could not. So Trump cannot absolve himself from responsibility for what is happening, but even Trump would not have been so crass as to use the September 11th date as a deadline.
I’m on holiday in Norfolk and have been for the last 12 days. I haven’t tweeted in that time. I’ve barely watched the news, though that has changed over the last 48 hours.
One piece of work I have had to do, though, is to spend a lot of time proof reading the manuscript of my new book THE PRESIDENTS. Reading through the biographical essays of America’s 45 pre-Biden presidents I find it difficult to believe that a single one of them would have taken the decision Joe Biden did. It’s a decision that will define his presidency.
UPDATE: Alex Wickham has just tweeted this excerpt from the Politico Playbook.