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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

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).