‘After al-Qaeda and the Taliban fall… when we “drain the swamp”, as the President says, the medium-term goal is to roll up all al-Qaeda cells around the world. Then, with the help of other nations and possibly the ultimate sanction of the United Nations our hope is that we will see a relatively stable government in Afghanistan, one that does not harbour terrorists, is acceptable to the major players in the region, represents the ethnic make up of the country and provides the foundation for future reconstruction of that country.’
So said Senator Joe Biden, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, on October 22 2001, as America invaded Afghanistan.
‘The likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.’
So said President Joe Biden, on July 8 2021, as he defended his withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan.
He was wrong then and he is wrong now. Like a weathervane of political failure, Joe Biden’s public pronouncements on Afghanistan neatly signal the folly of American leadership in the last two decades; the direction of pure wind escaping the mouths of a catastrophically incompetent elite.
As US staff are evacuated by helicopter from the embassy in Kabul, America’s humiliation is almost complete. The Taliban are victorious; women will suffer and die.
No fair mind can blame the Biden Administration for the collapse of the Potemkin state that America created at a cost of trillions over twenty years in Afghanistan. From George W. Bush to Obama to Trump, successive administrations failed to solved the foreign-policy nightmare that was Afghanistan. Bush deserves more criticism than the others.
But it is possible to apportion some responsibility on the Joe Biden of 2001 — so much younger, breezier and more competent-sounding than the doddery President we see today. But even when his mind was sharper, he was maddeningly inconsistent in his attitudes to international affairs.
As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he exemplified the way America’s political class overreacted to 9/11. In its response to a horrendous terrorist attack, America’s government launched a strangely existential war on the concept of terror. The hubristic folly expanded over the years and dragged America into other costly and disastrous wars in Iraq, Libya and Syria.
Biden has not been a predictable hawk: he claims to have argued strongly against the war in Libya as Vice President in the Obama White House. He argued for more troops and investment in Afghanistan from the Senate in 2008, only to change his mind from the Obama administration in 2009. His views seem directed by political expediency more than anything, albeit dressed in the usual cant about what America stands for.
For now, he seems to have understood that public opinion is strongly against America’s forever wars.
Last year, CBS’s Margaret Brennan asked Biden if he would feel any responsibility for the ensuing chaos when America left Afghanistan to be taken over by the Taliban.
Biden was adamant. He replied: ‘Do I bear responsibility? Zero responsibility. The responsibility I have is to protect America’s national self-interest and not put our women and men in harm’s way to try to solve every single problem in the world by use of force. That’s my responsibility as president. And that’s what I’ll do as president.’ That’s a perfectly defensible moral position.
It’s just a shame he didn’t take it in 2001.
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