The unfolding disaster in Afghanistan is a bipartisan, trans-administrational failure. It is a humiliation. The fact is that after 20 years, after thousands of lives were lost and hundreds of billions of dollars were spent on the military, police, training, infrastructure and education, the country fell in days.
Whatever your position is on the presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, however, it is incumbent on President Joe Biden, and no one else, to competently conduct a military withdrawal of his choosing — and, at the very least, avoid humiliation. On this front, Biden catastrophically failed. Then again, the president has never shown a morsel of wisdom or proficiency on foreign policy. As one former Obama Pentagon official put it not long ago, Biden isn’t really a student of history; he is driven by “gut instincts.”
Indeed. The problem is that his instincts are complete garbage.
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates wasn’t kidding when he noted that Biden has “been wrong on nearly every major foreign-policy and national-security issue over the past four decades.” As a senator, he voted against the Persian Gulf War in 1991. More than a decade later, he didn’t merely support the Iraq invasion in 2003, but he championed it.
Biden warned President George W. Bush, for example, that it was “unrealistic, if not downright foolish,” to claim victory against terrorism until Saddam Hussein was toppled from power in Iraq. It was only after the campaign’s popularity began fading that he purported to have been hoodwinked by Bush. Biden was for a surge in Afghanistan before he wasn’t, and against the surge in Iraq, even though it was perhaps the most successful post-Saddam operation in that nation. And it was Biden who was charged with implementing Obama’s tragically incompetent withdrawal from Iraq, which was partially responsible for the rise of ISIS — or the “JV team,” as his boss called them.
Then there is the Libya debacle. Trying to untangle Biden’s ever-shifting positions on Authorization for Use of Military Force would take thousands of additional words. Put it this way: On numerous occasions, Biden praised Obama’s entry into the Libya conflict — calling it the “prescription for how to deal with the world as we go forward than it has in the past” in 2011. When the full extent of the failure was clear, Biden claimed to have “argued strongly” within the White House against getting involved.
In more recent times, Biden was a proponent of the failed Iran deal and a harsh critic of the successful Abraham Accords. As with the elimination of Osama bin Laden, Biden opposed taking out the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps terrorist leader Gen. Qasem Soleimani, accusing then-President Donald Trump of putting us on the precipice of an “endless war in the Middle East.”
And, for the past 20 years, Biden has been on every side of nearly every position on Afghanistan — usually the wrong one at the wrong time. It’s surreal that a person so uncannily incompetent, so tenaciously wrong on foreign policy, could rise to the presidency, but here we are.
Early in the Afghanistan campaign, Biden would often hit the Bush administration for its failure to send more troops and increase nation-building efforts. In 2002, after Bush had proposed handing off more policing operations to allies, Biden excoriated the administration for not sending more troops. “Whatever it takes, we should do it,” Biden said at the time. “History will judge us harshly if we allow the hope of a liberated Afghanistan to evaporate because we failed to stay the course.”
In 2004, Biden called a tour of a new school in Kabul “a catalytic event” that defined his philosophy forevermore. We needed to export liberal democracy and embrace a “Prevention Doctrine,” Biden argued. And both were contingent on expansive American commitments abroad.
Many people will, no doubt, argue that Biden’s positions change to comport with the facts on the ground. Even if that were the case, Biden helped get into the war and then championed the nation-building and troop buildups.
In truth, the only “catalytic events” that really propel Biden are changes in public polling. By October 2009, when sentiment had shifted against nation-building, Biden had become a leading voice to get out of the Middle East. Despite Biden’s alleged skepticism on the matter, Obama had escalated American involvement soon after taking office, sending 30,000 additional military personnel there — a nearly 50% jump. Biden claimed to be leading voice in the administration. And yet, troops only peaked in 2010. In 2012, there were still 68,000 troops in Afghanistan. Obama and Biden claimed we could leave because there were hundreds of thousands of highly trained Afghan troops and policemen ready to defend the nation.
They weren’t. They still aren’t.
David Harsanyi is a senior writer at National Review and the author of the book “First Freedom: A Ride Through America’s Enduring History With the Gun.”