Biden working on recovering from Afghanistan debacle

Jules Witcover, syndicated columnist

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw all American military forces from Afghanistan has created the first serious political setback in his presidency. It has required him to double down on his reasoning that American troops no longer should be asked to defend a country its own people have “lost the will to fight” for.

While polls indicated a majority of Americans agreed it was time to end the longest war in our history, the humiliating manner in which it concluded resurrected memories of the fall of Saigon in 1975.

The president was obliged to fall back on what he called “the extraordinary success of this mission” to get more than 120,000 Americans and out of the country.

At stake was Biden’s word that he would not leave behind any Americans, and that U.S. forces would aid the exit of Afghans who assisted the American mission as interpreters, translators and the like. He said more than 5,500 Americans and many more thousands of Afghans were brought out.

The White House reported that 98 percent of American citizens who wanted to leave Afghanistan did so. Of the Americans left in Afghanistan, Biden said, “Most … are dual citizens, longtime residents who had earlier decided to stay because of family roots in Afghanistan.” He added that for them “there is no deadline. We remain committed to get them out if they want to come out.”

But that has not satisfied the president’s Republican critics. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy stated: “Never in my lifetime would I ever believe America would have an administration knowingly make a decision to leave Americans behind, whereas just two weeks ago, the president promised this nation that he would not leave until every single American was out.”

Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska said of Biden: “His callous indifference to the Americans he abandoned behind enemy lines shameful. He promised the Taliban that our troops would leave by his arbitrary August 31 deadline and he promised the American people that our troops would stay until every American was out. He kept his promise to the Taliban and lied to the American people.”

The war’s end has been tied to Biden in a personal way because a terrorist suicide attack killed 13 American troops at Kabul’s airport as locals tried to flee the country.

The president and his wife, Jill, stood silently at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware as the remains of the 13 were returned home in a solemn ceremony. They also met with family members of the deceased, offering their condolences, although one family member was said to have declined the meeting.

The president pointedly took issue with Republican critics in Congress who chastised him on the timing of it. “Some say we could have started mass evacuations sooner, and couldn’t this have been done in a more orderly manner?” he said. “I respectfully disagree. … The bottom line is, there is no evacuation that you can run without the kinds of complexities, challenges and threats we faced.”

It remains to be seen whether the original favorable public response to ending our longest war after 20 years will hold up in the long run. The success rest of the Biden presidency could well depend on it doing so.

Editor’s note: Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at juleswitcovercomcast.net.


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