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Don’t Call Biden’s Kabul Evacuation a ‘Berlin Airlift’ or ‘Dunkirk’

Afghanistan Withdrawal
Second Lt. Neil Doogan, a student at The Basic School, watches for the enemy during a field exercise at the Military Operations on Urban Terrain Town at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., Sept. 25, 2013. The Basic School company spent a week practicing urban combat.

President Joe Biden and his team like to compare air operations to evacuate Americans and Afghans from Kabul’s international airport to the Berlin AirliftMany commentators and politicians fell into line and adopted the talking point, and White House Chief-of-Staff Ron Klain rewarded some with retweets.

To compare the two, however, is nonsense. Put aside the difference in scale. As my colleague Kori Schake notes, “In 1948-49, the Berlin airlift landed a 10 ton C-54 plane every 45 seconds, supplying 5,000 tons per day of food and fuel to 2,500,000 people.”

The real difference is that President Harry S. Truman ordered the Berlin Airlift to stop an enemy bent on denying freedom to the citizens of West Berlin. The crisis in Berlin originated in Moscow.  Truman sought to protect people by holding firm. The crisis in Kabul is one solely of President Joe Biden’s own making. Had he not ordered a unilateral withdrawal, the Taliban would not now be in any Afghan provincial capital let alone in Kabul. More importantly, the Berlin Airlift affirmed that the United States would not give ground.

Biden’s withdrawal signals the opposite: it is all about giving ground. Rather than signal that the United States was willing to hold firm in the face of an ideological enemy bent on denying freedom to American allies, Biden’s Afghanistan surrender is the opposite: It is about ending a fight against terrorists without any real care about what happens next.

Perhaps there can be some analogy to the fall of Saigon. The refugee crisis and human suffering caused by the White House decision to cut loose American allies, however flawed they might have been, was immense. While the Nixon and Ford administrations left too many American allies behind, Americans could hope that they would emerge alive from the re-education camps Communist authorities ran. The Taliban does not re-educate, however; it stones, shoots, executes, and beheads. Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and his deputy Jon Finer are knowingly and cravenly condemning Afghan allies to death. That Blinken now seeks to deflect blame is sociopathic. Acting Ambassador Ross Wilson interrupted visa interviews for 18 months because he lacked innovation. While the State Department moved to Zoom- or Microsoft Team-like online platforms for meetings and conferences, Blinken and Wilson refused to authorize similar online interviews to process visas. That backlog should be on their conscience. It was the worst example of the State Department aiming for the bare minimum and failing at that.

What about Dunkirk? Then, the British evacuated more than 300,000 British troops and other allied personnel from Dunkirk, in northern France, where German troops had surrounded them. Kabul not only pales in scale, but the British did not leave Dunkirk in order to surrender, but rather in order to fight another day; there is no indication that Biden has any intention—his most recent speech notwithstanding—to do anything to prevent the empowerment of radical forces which his policies have unleashed.

Jimmy Carter’s first major foreign policy address after declaring his candidacy in 1974 promised to withdraw American forces from the Korean Peninsula. His aides soon counseled the president about what that could mean for all Koreans and Carter wisely backtracked. Either Carter was open-minded and less stubborn than Biden, or his aides more intellectually honest and less sycophantic.  Lloyd Austin is no Harold Brown; Antony Blinken is no Cyrus Vance, and Jake Sullivan is no Zbigniew Brzezinski.


Soldiers from the British Expeditionary Force fire at low flying German aircraft during the Dunkirk evacuation.

History is awash in valiant rescues. Biden’s team does not deserve to compare themselves to any. At best, they show themselves afflicted by the national security equivalent of Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy, seeking praise from an ailment for which they themselves are responsible.

Michael Rubin is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a 1945 Contributing Editor. 

Written By

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).



  1. Slack

    August 27, 2021 at 6:52 am

    The current rush to exit Afghanistan (after 20 years of genocidal war) is similar to Saigon evacuation of 1975 but in 1975 only one or two servicemen were killed.

    This time, 13 servicemen were killed and 15 others wounded or mangled. It is embarassing and pathetic.

  2. Slack

    August 27, 2021 at 7:04 am

    The embarassing U.S. exit from Afghanistan with soldiers killed and mangled during the last or dying days shows U.S. and Nato vassals are impotent and easily chased out by any determined people. Vietnam showed the way, and Aghanistan comes as a 2nd reminder of this rule.

  3. VOnCT

    August 27, 2021 at 8:13 am

    Amen! Great thought piece!

  4. John Diehl

    August 27, 2021 at 10:49 am

    March 2020;
    After more than eighteen years of war in Afghanistan, the United States and the Taliban reached an agreement in what were both sides’ most intensive efforts yet to end the war. Central to the deal is a significant drawdown of U.S. troops and guarantees from the Taliban that the country will not become a safe haven for terrorists.

    Trump sidlined the existing Afgan government and made a deal with the Talaban which has directly led to the current evacuation out of Kabul. This whole disaster is Trumps baby.
    Further it was Trumps state department that buried our Afgan allies in red tape that prevented their orderly departure from Afganistan. Joe Biden just inherited this mess from Trump.


    August 27, 2021 at 6:52 pm

    Dunkirk saw the British successfully evacuate 330,000 troops in 8 days while being actively attacked by German forces from the land and air.

    Joe Biden has successfully evacuated less than 100,000 people over 6 months while not being attacked at all after announcing his withdrawal plan in February.

    See the difference?

  6. Slack

    August 27, 2021 at 7:19 pm

    East or west, TALIBAN is the best.
    The Taliban says it’s ready to take over Kabul airport as early as this weekend (August 28 / 29) once Americans, shocked terribly by the bomb attacks, leave.

    Taliban needs to turn Kabul airport into a model housing project for its people and thereby prevent future invaders from using it.

  7. Slack

    August 27, 2021 at 7:30 pm

    This Kabul exit is no Dunkirk. Afghanistan has now eliminated the foreign squatters or invaders once and for all with the ignominous U.S. and Nato/non-Nato total withdrawal.

    Dunkirk was altogether a different story. Hitler was then still hoping for agreement with London with his intention to rope in Britain for his upcoming battle with the Bolshevik forces and Asiatic hordes hiding in the USSR and thus he allowed the brits to escape mostly unmolested.

    This little truth has often been left out by most historians.

  8. Slack

    August 27, 2021 at 9:39 pm

    Taliban’s 2021 VICTORY over the world’s mightiest gloriest war machine is the GREATEST human battlefield victory since Vietnam 1975.

    Yet many nations and many world leaders still mention ‘Taliban’ and ‘terrorism’ in the same breath or sentence. HOW STUPID and ignorant.

    Nobody bothers to ponder the fact that IS is the direct creation of America’s war efforts in the mid-East. Thus America and terrorism should be mentioned together.

    Gulf nations like QATAR are known for crass violations of womem’s rights but nobody dares to mention them. In Qatar, a rape victim can be arrested and charged for “having sex outside marriage” but nobody dares to bring this up. Instead, world leaders point fingers at Taliban, clearly unwilling to see beyond their noses.

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