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Joe Biden Has Abandoned Afghanistan. No Summit Can Change That.

Abandon Afghanistan
Image Credit: U.S. Army.

On Friday, President Joe Biden will meet with Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, head the High Council for National Reconciliation, at the White House. White House Spokesperson Jen Psaki said the summit “will highlight the enduring partnership between the United States and Afghanistan as the military drawdown continues.”  She reiterated U.S. commitment to support “to support the Afghan people, including Afghan women, girls and minorities” and “to ensure the country never again becomes a safe haven for terrorist groups who pose a threat to the U.S. homeland.”

Biden’s team may seek to project an image of order and optimism to America’s forthcoming withdrawal from Afghanistan, but it will not work.

President Donald Trump often shot from the hip in his efforts to craft foreign policy strategies. His aides then scrambled retroactively to apply logic or a doctrine to his efforts. Biden entered office as the anti-Trump, promising to return professionalism and process to American foreign policy.

He lied.

While Biden promised a review of U.S. Afghanistan strategy, he then ordered a unilateral withdrawal before his team concluded their review. Essentially, he became Trump and his aides followed the path set by their own predecessors as they sought to imbue with logic a choice they understood bore none. That none of the Afghanistan, terrorism or Al Qaeda specialists in his inner-circle stood up to his decision to make 9/11 the deadline to withdrawal reflect both fear of National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken and a lack of awareness of the importance of symbolism. Biden and Blinken’s decision to keep Zalmay Khalilzad in his role as special envoy, meanwhile, was less an endorsement of Khalilzad’s diplomatic prowess and more a cynical move to tie blame for Taliban and Al Qaeda resurgence to his predecessor. Simply put, many in the White House, Pentagon, State Department, and Central Intelligence Agency understand that unilateral withdrawal now is a strategic disaster, but they prioritize perks and privileges over truth and responsibility.

The Taliban resurgence is in process. Every day, more districts fall to the group. Blinken may wag his finger and warn the group mistreatment of women, minorities, and city-dwellers will make them pariah, but the Taliban care little: They are the 21st century equivalent of the Khmer Rouge. Nor does Psaki’s statement offer Afghans reassurance when she implicitly suggests terrorists would be welcome in Afghanistan so long as they do not attack the United States at home. That this provides wiggle room for Biden to do nothing should the Taliban or groups they host kill Americans abroad should be the subject of broad debate.

A decade ago, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the woman whose coattails as a political aide Sullivan used to catapult himself into his current position, declared, “You don’t make peace with your friends. You have to be willing to engage with your enemies if you expect to create a situation that ends an insurgency.” It did not work, and it will not now.

Rather than a summit for peace, Biden’s meeting with Ashraf and Ghani should be seen in another context: On April 6, 1988, Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev flew to Tashkent for a last-minute summit with Najibullah, the ruler of Afghanistan. Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Petrovsky told reporters the two leaders were in agreement, even as Soviet troops prepared to leave. “I can say in this connection that our position has been fully discussed and is in full accord with that of the Afghan government,” he stated. Soviet reporters no more challenged him than the White House Press Corps challenges Biden.

In reality, Najibullah was furious at his abandonment and, despite assurances that his alliance with Moscow would continue, he was soon fell from power as Afghanistan erupted into civil war. The Taliban would erupt onto the scene in 1994, and Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence agency would quickly co-opt them. As the Taliban rolled through the country, the Clinton White House also relied on international talks to seek coalition government. No side was sincere. For the White House and United Nations, negotiations were a means to save face and shirk responsibility; for the Taliban, they were an opportunity to regroup and prepare a final assault on Kabul. Biden and Ghani may seek the mantle of statesmanship but on Friday, they simply reprise the role of Gorbachev and Najibullah, enjoying one last waltz on the world stage.

Michael Rubin is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a 19FortyFive Contributing Editor. 

Written By

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, where he specializes in Iran, Turkey, and the broader Middle East. He also regularly teaches classes at sea about Middle East conflicts, culture, terrorism, and the Horn of Africa to deployed US Navy and Marine units.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Ernest A.

    June 23, 2021 at 10:01 am

    Another AEI neo-con talking head for endless wars. Republicans started this war. Republicans want us to continue this war. No thanks. It’s up to the Afghans to solve their war. If some rag-tag dudes with AKs and flip flops can defeat an Afghan army and police equipped with $22 billion in U.S. military equipment, then this country isn’t worth saving. And yes, I’ve got 32 years enlisted and officer Army experience with combat tours to Iraq and Afghanistan and 11 years BPC in Central and South Asia.

  2. Joe Comment

    June 23, 2021 at 10:24 am

    Suppose it’s true and he’s abandoning Afghanistan. Is there a better policy, and if so, what is it? There are a lot of places in the world with terrible rulers in power. In which of those is it important for the US to intervene militarily?

  3. Slack

    June 23, 2021 at 9:07 pm

    Afghanistan, in the first place, was never Biden’s right to either own it or abandon it. Biden inherited an unwanted baby from his predecessors and old joe must leave this baby ASAP in the care of all its closest neighbors in the arid region of south Asia.

  4. Jimmy John Doe

    June 24, 2021 at 1:16 am

    Biden doesn’t have to worry about afghanistan a place nearly 7,000 miles from conus.

    Biden needs to worry about people like john mcafee and mmany others WHO are restrained or under detention for undue lengths of time before possibly proving their innocence in court.

    Biden also has to pay attention to the migrant child detention centers in Texas where conditions are very DEPLORABLE and inhumane.

    Sexual abuse, bad food, lice, dirty clothes, mental depression, emotional trauma, viral infections, strep bacteria, medicines, lack of potable water and poor supervision of private contractors that run the camps abound in the southern US.

  5. Harry_the_Horrible

    June 24, 2021 at 12:38 pm

    Well, that means Biden will do One Good Thing before he’s booted out and Harris takes over.
    He could bump it up to Two if he brings the ‘terps with the troops.
    There is nothing in Afghanistan worth a single American life or a single taxpayer dollar.

  6. AlohaBrooke

    June 25, 2021 at 1:19 pm

    The author neglected to mention that President Trump was the one who signed the agreement with Afghanistan to withdraw our troops.

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