With the Taliban racing through Afghanistan unchecked and apparently unstoppable, a lot of armchair military historians are trying to find similarities with the fall of Saigon in 1975 and the iconic pictures of people hanging off the last helicopter to leave the U.S. embassy.
In truth, the retreat from Afghanistan will be chaotic and perhaps degenerate into bloodshed. But Kabul is not Saigon, and the Taliban certainly aren’t the North Vietnamese.
Indeed, Joe Biden made a point of dismissing the similarities in a July 8 press conference.
“The Taliban is not the North Vietnamese Army, they’re not,” Biden said on July 8. “They’re not remotely comparable in terms of capability. There’s going to be no circumstance for you to see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy of the United States from Afghanistan. It is not at all comparable.”
The president is right. No people hanging from helicopters — we hope. But that doesn’t mean the humiliation is any less, or that there is less loss of U.S. prestige.
Biden administration officials have blamed former President Donald Trump’s handling of talks with the Taliban for undercutting the Afghan government and empowering Taliban fighters. But while Biden played little role in the complexities driving the violence — Afghanistan was a quagmire for his three presidential predecessors as well — he now faces the political consequences for making the move those presidents before him deferred to their successors.
“We basically gave up on the Afghan government, not just now but all the way back to the start of these talks,” Ryan Crocker, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan under the Obama administration, told MSNBC. “What President Biden did was to embrace it. He owns it.”
Biden blaming Trump won’t fool anyone — especially when his words over the last few months are examined closely. Joe Biden told the American people that the Afghan army could hold out until the political settlement was reached. That’s not going to happen. Neither were his assurances about the Afghan government having everything they needed to hold out. Instead, Biden is apparently ready to blame the Afghan government for not “fighting back.”
“Ultimately, the Afghan National Security Defense Forces have the equipment, numbers, and training to fight back. They have what they need,” press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday. “What they need to determine is if they have the political will to fight back, and if they have the ability to unite as a — as leaders to fight back. And that’s really where it stands at this point.”
The debate will now be over whether the U.S. withdrawal could have been handled any better. There should be no question that withdrawing our forces so precipitously directly led to the Taliban’s massive gains. It may be unfair to blame Biden for previous commitments made by Presidents Obama and Trump, but the withdrawal of the troops since he became president is completely within his purview and his responsibility. To that extent, Joe Biden owns the withdrawal and is responsible for any subsequent debacle.
The media and the left are scrambling to deflect any blame for what is happening in Afghanistan from Biden. It probably won’t work largely because the failure is so public and partisan.
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