As we watch Afghanistan again devolve dangerously into a terrorist magnet ruled by the Taliban, we witness once again the timeless and immutable principle of history and nations that strength deters bad actors while weakness begets war.
Yes, Afghanistan has been a 20-year war beginning after 9-11 and yes, the American people no doubt wish to conclude America’s engagement there and our troops, finally, return home. However, the American people also remember why they were deployed to Afghanistan in 2001 and recognize strong and effective leadership as well as politically driven tactical and strategic incompetence when they see it. They shudder when they realize their weak and inept national leadership has fallen far below America’s high standard of competence, courage, and commitment to our strategic interests, our values, and the security of our country, and that the trust our international allies have placed in us has been seriously damaged.
U.S. troops have regained control of the Kabul airport and its single runway but that’s the only strategic asset allied forces control. The rapidly developing problem is that thousands of American civilians, and those of our allies who were also shocked by our precipitous withdrawal, are still trapped behind enemy lines and unable to make it through a gauntlet of Taliban checkpoints to safety and safe passage out of this quagmire. Now, the Taliban, who provided Al Qaeda with the staging ground to plan and carry out the attack on America on September 11, 2001, rapidly fills the vacuum created by our quickly departing troops and security infrastructure.
In fact, the U.S. Embassy warned this week that “the U.S. government cannot ensure safe passage to the Hamid Karzai International Airport.” Further, Sec. of Defense, Lloyd Austin, when asked last week whether the U.S. would be able to rescue Americans who can’t make it to the airport, replied “I don’t have the capability to go out and extend operations currently into Kabul.”
What we are witnessing in real time is darkly reminiscent of the foreign policy disaster of President Jimmy Carter in Iran in 1979 when Islamic students overwhelmed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took 53 American hostages. The similarly incompetent rescue mission President Carter ordered in 1980 to free the hostages was ultimately aborted—but not before five airmen and three Marines were killed—with the smoking wreckage of U.S. aircraft serving as a searing reminder of the high price to be paid for America’s presidential weakness. What we’ve seen these last few days in Afghanistan also brings to mind the fall of Saigon in 1975 with the rushed evacuation to safety of U.S. Embassy personnel by helicopter from the Embassy roof.
Those who mean us harm are watching closely from Tehran, Beijing, and Moscow and must be happily shocked to see heavily armed Taliban fighters relaxing in the Afghan presidential palace and helicopters hovering over the American Embassy in Kabul to assist fleeing Americans. At the same time, our frightened and desperate Afghan allies—men, women, and children—desperately seek to escape the re-imposition of a cruel Medieval legal and social structure where no life is sacred or safe, and women and children suffer most from the fanatical religious despotism brutally imposed by the Taliban—whose fatal flaw was that they trusted the U.S. to protect them from this very predictable scenario.
Now, many more will be violently extricated from their homes to be summarily executed by the Taliban for their support of our twenty-year mission to bring more freedom, stability, economic prosperity and women’s’ rights to their nation—and to prevent their country from once again becoming a staging ground for lethal global attacks, including against Americans and America.
The most regrettable thing may be the fact that order in that country could have been maintained with comparatively little effort or expense by the U.S. or its allies to insure we didn’t allow extremist groups like ISIS or the Taliban to regroup and begin to grow and surge again. How must our American soldiers, Marines, Airmen, Sailors, and their families, who bravely fought in-country over the 20-year war, feel in seeing the enormous sacrifice of blood, sweat and tears—and lives—being lost through the imbecility of their national leadership literally over 3-4 days’ time.
However, despite the criminal incompetence of their Commander in Chief, their sacrifice, and that of their families, was not in vain. Recall that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the military and intelligence establishment believed we would be attacked again in days or weeks. I remember being in DC for 9/11 and seeing in the days following this national tragedy the Army installing anti-aircraft artillery placements on the Capital Mall in order to defend the White House, the Capitol and other government buildings from what was thought to be a certain second wave of attacks. The sacrifice of our Soldiers, Airmen, Marines, Sailors and Coast Guard purchased, at a very high price, a blessed 20-year peace from attacks on our homeland for which all Americans are grateful.
The second most regrettable thing is that Pres. Biden, after promising to be a “leader the world respects” has done the opposite—and has damaged the U.S.’s relationship and credibility with our allies. This arbitrary and capricious withdrawal from Afghanistan has stunned and angered many of our allies. Remember, our allies over the last 20 years have also made enormous investments—blood and resources—in the stabilization and peaceful coexistence of that country to prevent the very thing from happening that is happening now—Afghanistan transitioning back to being a terrorist haven which threatens the entire civilized world, as well as the mass exodus of fleeing Afghans seeking emergency naturalization and settlement in the countries of our allies.
Biden’s effort to blame President Trump for his own bad judgement is deeply dishonest. To suggest that Biden followed Trump’s policies in any area, especially in an area of foreign policy so important to our national strategic interests and the safety of our citizens, would be hysterical if not so tragic and dangerous. Rather, according to analysis by the Heritage Foundation, “Trump, in fact, handed Biden a problem mostly solved. All Biden had to do was negotiate a lasting settlement from a position of strength or maintain an economy of force presence in Afghanistan if the Taliban failed to deliver. Instead, Biden just decided to call it a day and call the troops home regardless of what the Taliban did on the ground.” (Heritage.org).
This tragic error in judgment by the president recalls the statement of former Sec. of Defense, Robert Gates, who served both Republican and Democrat presidents, that “I think he’s [Biden] been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”
Biden, in another dazed and confused press event, made the comment Friday that “we are in constant contact with the Taliban” who he believes are allowing Americans with passports to pass through checkpoints without violence. If it weren’t so dangerous a situation this would be laughable. The most powerful nation on the earth is relying for the safety of its citizens on the word of the most vicious terrorists in the world—who have spent years killing Americans. Humiliating. And the fact that this foreign policy, defense, and intelligence disaster occurred roughly one month before the 20th anniversary of the attacks of 9/11 only rubs acid in our Nation’s wound.
This epic disaster underscores the essential lesson of history that the only way to ensure peace is through strength. As President Reagan said, “we know only too well that war comes not when the forces of freedom are strong, but when they are weak. It is then that tyrants are tempted.”
The “tender mercies” of the Taliban are not going to endure for long and this Administration would be wise to address this disaster before then.
Royal Alexander is a Shreveport attorney.