As the last of our troops leave Afghanistan despite U.S. citizens behind on the ground, bluecheck Twitter is feverishly disseminating an Atlantic essay explaining, per its headline, why “Biden Deserves Credit, Not Blame, for Afghanistan.” Foreign policy tests establishment loyalties these days, as the chattering class supports both President Biden and endless conflict. David Rothkopf’s argument in The Atlantic mercifully gives the Jen Rubins among us cause to celebrate President Biden amid this disaster.
The argument, however, is predicated on a false dichotomy, one that is consuming debate over our departure from Afghanistan and needlessly undercutting the movement against nation-building.
Consider these two back-to-back sentences from Rothkopf’s article: “The White House was indeed surprised by how quickly the Taliban took control, and those early days could have been handled better. But the critics argued that more planning both would have been able to stop the Taliban victory and might have made America’s departure somehow tidier, more like a win or perhaps even a draw.”
a must read: https://t.co/AAYebRlse8
— Jennifer 'pro-voting' Rubin (@JRubinBlogger) August 30, 2021
In the first sentence is a concession that “those early days could have been handled better.” But the second sentence chastises critics who argued the departure could have been “somehow tidier.” These two points amount to a fatal contradiction in the broader argument of the anti-war left (which, to be fair, has been vindicated on this issue) and the Biden administration.
Even Rothkopf concedes the administration could have handled the departure “better.” The debate, then, is a matter of scale. It’s true our departure was doomed to tragedy. It’s also true the Biden administration made that worse. Rothkopf and Rubin want to argue Biden made it better while simultaneously conceding the administration made mistakes that worsened the situation.
Biden’s defenders’ strongest argument is probably that he either made the inevitable tragedy no worse or even better than it would have been. That’s, of course, different than the argument in Rothkopf’s headline, but even so, it’s a very difficult argument to make given Biden’s botched and harmful predictions, his initial absence from the public and its effect on our response, the high number of stranded civilians, the admittedly unanticipated rate of collapse, and more.
You don’t have to choose Team Biden or Team War. Rothkopf is correct that it’s laughable to watch the foreign policy establishment try to backseat drive through a crisis of their own making, steering down the same roads that got us to this point.
It’s also true that Biden was in a deeply unenviable position, especially with the foreign policy establishment prepared to exploit the tragedy to argue for more interventionism. The visa bureaucracy is not only his fault. Also, all things considered, Rothkopf is right that our troops have accomplished remarkable evacuations and feats of heroism under enormously difficult conditions.
None of this exonerates Biden. None of it means he deserves more “credit” than “blame.” The foreign policy establishment largely values endless war more than partisan loyalties, and is absolutely exploiting and overstating some of Biden’s errors. But Biden’s errors have been costly, and downplaying them to undercut the establishment only helps the blob create isolationist straw men to attack in feverish MSNBC segments and on fancy op-ed pages.