Afghanistan: Does The Buck Stop With Joe Biden?

When speaking on the war in Afghanistan, American Journalist Maureen Dowd said that “Afghanistan is more than the graveyard of empires, it is the mother of vicious cycles.” Perhaps an oversimplification of Afghanistan’s history, this quote does speak to the way Afghanistan fits into the grand scheme of U.S foreign policy. That is, as another proxy, another business venture, sold to defense contractors, military leaders and the American people. 

Yet, Americans have been losing interest in the war for quite some time now. Knowing this, we can assume that withdrawal from Afghanistan, if it had been done properly, with no casualties and expedited visa processing for foreign government personnel, would not have elicited immense political gains for the Biden administration. Biden has opposed the war, for mostly moral reasons, for years. He is cited in former President Obama’s most recent book, A Promised Land, as being the only person in the situation room to call for a winding down of American troops in 2009. Thus, he has not gone back on his word, and this is to be applauded.

Where we find evidence of malpractice is in the withdrawal of U.S/Afghan translators and military personnel. The Biden administration set the arbitrary date of September 11th, to mark 20 years since 9/11, for “full” withdrawal. By rushing for the exit door, Biden has allowed the Taliban to drop the pretence for negotiation. This helped the Taliban to refocus their attention on taking the capital by force. 

Despite moving hastily to exit the country, Biden didn’t bother to secure safe passage for American personnel. In 2020, former President Trump negotiated a withdrawal deal with the Taliban where he could have made withdrawal contingent on the safe passage of personnel out of the country. He did not. Biden too could have renegotiated the deal to allow for safe passage. He did not. In this sense we can not lay all of the blame on Trump’s dismal diplomatic skills and electoral inclinations. We must also call Biden out for not addressing the problem.

At this point in what has been a mostly summative article, I find it important to point out the broken supposition that Biden has used to excuse his actions, and justify the withdrawal. Biden has shifted the blame from his office to the Afghan people. In spectacularly paradoxical fashion, Biden is calling the withdrawal emblematic of U.S might, and simultaneously degrading Afghan officials and military personnel that have done our geopolitical bidding for two decades. 

This paradox is further exacerbated by the slow pace that the Biden administration took in processing Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) for Afghans that worked for the U.S government. Exit from Afghanistan continues to be contingent on having said visa, yet many Afghans that applied years ago – in a process that is supposed to take 9 months – do not have the proper visa. This logistical hurdle could have been avoided by granting said migrants humanitarian parole. There is even a historical precedent for this maneuver, which was used by former President Gerald Ford in an attempt to aid emigrating Vietnamese. 

All of this came after Biden pledged that “There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy of the United States in Afghanistan.” Subsequently, there were.

I do not take issue with the move to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. Nation building by foreign entities in Afghanistan will never fuel self determination, hence why Afghanistan fell to the Taliban more rapidly than anyone had predicted. We ought to rebuff a foreign policy founded purely in strategy, and one that does not account for the volatility of geopolitics. Furthermore, we ought to hold our government accountable for not following through on their pledge to empower women in government. Statistically speaking women help to build and hold countries together, and if we are to leave Afghanistan in the hands of the Taliban, I should hope work is done elsewhere to, if possible, make up for our mistakes. And while we knew the campaign in Afghanistan was fraught some time ago, we continued to sell the mission to contractors, and most gravely, the American people. 

While Biden’s withdrawal date of September 11th is an attempt to garner political support, it also speaks volumes to how a country moves forward after a crisis. Yet, we haven’t. The war on terror will not end so long as we continue to frame the world in an “us against them” narrative. We ought to relish the opportunity to change that.