It’s starting to look as though President Joe Biden really does want to leave Afghanistan. In his speech today, Biden didn’t concede that he has blundered in ordering a pullout. On the contrary, he doubled down. The result was the most forceful, impassioned and persuasive speech of his young presidency.
In essence Biden embraced the original Rumsfeld doctrine — conduct limited counter-terrorism strikes but don’t get stuck nation-building. Adopting a different course was the original sin of the George W. Bush administration, which became bogged down in Afghanistan as it prepared for war in Iraq.
Now Biden is finally issuing a course correction. Any notion that Biden is senescent, a puppet of his advisers, or just plain loopy should be dispelled by his steely performance. Biden embraced his inner realist.
Nation building is out. Defining American national interests is in. Biden acknowledged that the scenes from Afghanistan are ‘gut wrenching’. It’s ‘hard and messy,’ he said. Rather than conveying weakness, Biden projected resolve, warning that both Russia and China would like nothing better than for America to remain mired in the quicksand of illusions about fashioning a democracy out of Afghanistan.
The neocon hawks are caterwauling that only a little more resolve would turn around Afghanistan or, like Ret. Gen. Jack Keane, are proclaiming that a protracted stalemate was fine and dandy. Biden was having none of it. The Afghans, he pointed out, aren’t willing to fight. How could he ask American soldiers to do what they would not?
A war that existed on a farrago of illusions has finally encountered a president who is unwilling to continue nourishing them. He acknowledged that Afghanistan had collapsed more rapidly than he anticipated. But this development only fortified his conviction that it was time to depart. Biden said, ‘The Afghan military collapsed, some…without trying to fight. If anything, the developments of the past week reinforced that ending US military involvement in Afghanistan now was the right decision.’
For Biden leaving Afghanistan does not amount to parting with such sweet sorrow. He did not support the 2009 surge that Barack Obama spirited (though he did support a surge in 2008). He is determined to remove the incubus on American foreign policy. There won’t be a decent interval, only the indecent return of the Taliban who are reveling in their triumph. Unlike Washington elites, however, Biden doesn’t accept that there’s no exit. Quite the contrary.