Afghanistan: Biden's denial of responsibility

There will be blood!  That's the one thing that can be said with any certainty about the catastrophe in Afghanistan.  The ensuing question is, who is responsible for the inevitable bloodletting?

The Taliban, obviously.  Their record for savagery long precedes the current debacle.  But the cast of characters is much larger.  There are a series of corrupt Afghan governments that despite the deluge of American treasure and blood failed to create a meaningful military force.  There were the neo-cons whose delusion of regime change and nation-building appealed to American hubris but had no correspondence to political realities.

There was the American failure to acknowledge history.  Afghanistan has always been the graveyard of empires.  Ask the British and the Russians or Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great.

But most of all, there is the Biden administration that conducted an asymmetric negotiation in Doha for withdrawal without getting anything meaningful in return.  The agreed upon intra-Afghan negotiations will not take place.

Secretary of state Antony Blinken said this is not Vietnam.  But we must wonder if he has seen the chaos at Kabul's airport.  The last days of Saigon and Kabul are strikingly similar.

Foreign wars have never been a political winner for any candidate, and 2022 is an election year.  Most Americans could not find Afghanistan on a map, and the Taliban is less important to them than the price of gasoline or the employment rate.

Those who will applaud the decision to leave will point out that twenty years of blood and treasure have not defeated the Taliban, and another five years will not make a difference.  To them, Afghanistan was lost from inception, and once Osama bin Laden was out of the picture, we had no business there.

Even so, there are ways to withdraw from the battlefield that do not result in chaos or yield to the enemy billions of dollars of military hardware.

For twenty years, we changed Afghanistan, extricating it from the nightmare of fundamentalist Islam.  We provided hope and opportunity, especially for the women and minority faiths in Afghanistan.  We made important advances in health care, education — especially for women — and human rights.  Now we are abandoning the Afghan people to a ruthless fundamentalism that has shown a penchant for shedding innocent blood.  People with whom we worked will be murdered.  Single women will be coerced into sexual slavery for Taliban fighters.  This is our responsibility.

It is a responsibility the Biden administration is happy to ignore.  We will call on the international community to come to the aid of Afghanistan, but except for begging the Taliban to behave with civility, the international community will do nothing.

Yes, there will be an ensuing problem of hunger and economic upheaval, but authoritarian governments are conquerors in their own land.  The Taliban will be as sensitive to these concerns as the Iranian mullahs are to the sanctions.

America's credibility in the world of diplomacy will suffer its biggest decline since President Barack Obama failed to follow through on the line in the sand in Syria.  As then–vice president Joe Biden told him, great powers do not bluff.  But the words fell on a man who thought of himself as the smartest guy in every room.

Twice in recent memory, America has withdrawn from its commitments leaving behind chaos, human suffering, and in Syria an incomparable refugee problem.  America is not a dependable ally.

How will this affect the future of American diplomacy?  In Israel, the opinion leaders are already asking whether it is time for Israel to go it alone.  Certainly, it is a question being asked throughout the Middle East.  How it will play out remains to be seen, but America's ability to influence world affairs will certainly have been compromised, as will what's left of its credibility.

Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati.

Image: Sgt Rupert Frere RLC.

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