After remaining AWOL for several days into the Afghanistan withdrawal crisis, Joe Biden emerged from Camp David Sunday afternoon to address the country about the situation. The president opened his remarks by telling Americans he wanted to speak “to the unfolding situation in Afghanistan” and “the developments that have taken place in the last week.”
However, after reminding his audience, “I always promised the American people that I will be straight with you,” Biden did neither.
The president utterly ignored his administration’s atrocious execution of the United States’ exit from Afghanistan: He failed to address the Taliban’s commandeering of likely $1 billion dollars in American weapons of war or its overthrowing of the Afghanistan government in a matter of days, which forced a precipitous closing of the American embassy and frantic efforts to destroy sensitive information.
The president left unanswered why his administration had closed the military airport in Afghanistan, which forced the military to establish a perimeter around the Kabul Airport and limited efforts to undertake air evacuations. No mention was made of the untold number of Americans and Afghan allies sheltering-in-place or flocking to the Kabul Airport. The chaos at the airport—further hindering evacuations—and the two teenage boys who fell to their deaths while trying to escape on one military flight also received no attention.
Instead, the commander in chief provided a 20-minute exposition on why, after 20 years of fighting, the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan was the right decision. The choice, he told the American public, was either to “withdraw our forces” or “send thousands more American troops back into combat in Afghanistan, lurching into the third decade of conflict.” “American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war, and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves,” Biden continued.
Biden then proclaimed, “I stand squarely behind my decision,” before resorting to various rhetorical devices: “So I’m left again to ask of those who argue that we should stay, how many more generations of America’s daughters and sons would you have me send to fight Afghanistan’s civil war when Afghan troops will not? How many more lives, American lives, is it worth? How many endless rows of headstones in Arlington National Cemetery?”
While some Americans, including some in Congress, objected to Biden’s—and before him President Trump’s—decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, the news that so overwhelmed the White House that it forced the president out of hiding concerned not the decision to withdraw, but the administration’s incompetent execution of the exit.
But there is no explaining away what Americans and the world witnessed. So, the president instead reframed the debate as over his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. Biden then asserted it was that choice his detractors were condemning.
“I know my decision will be criticized, but I would rather take all that criticism then pass this decision onto another president of the United States, yet another one, a fifth one,” Biden closed his speech, before turning tail and exiting to a cacophony of questions, with “Mr. President, what do you make of the Afghans clinging to the aircraft?” the only decipherable one.
Biden and his team cannot duck questions forever. And the questions will only get more difficult with the passing days. The chaos seen at the Kabul Airport is likely to continue, even if the military succeeds in clearing the runways. Further, the longer it takes to evacuate Americans and our allies, the more time desperate Afghans have to reach this potential safe haven, creating more panic scenes and disruption.
Then there are the Americans the Biden administration directed to shelter-in-place. Assuming they remain safe at their homes or lodgings, they must still eventually reach the airport or be evacuated there by the military. The risk to the Afghans who served side-by-side with Americans over the years is even greater.
Moreover, so long as there is a military presence in Afghanistan, Biden will be seen as responsible for any atrocities committed by the Taliban within U.S. troops’ reach. Given that the president just ordered 6,000 more troops to Afghanistan, there will be boots on the ground who could prevent such barbarities for a few more weeks at a minimum.
But even a perfect execution by those additional troops, with no casualties, will not answer for the Biden administration’s incompetence: It will just remind Americans that Biden failed to place the soldiers there, at the ready, to prevent this mess in the first place.