Vietnam Redux

“So it goes.”

– Kurt Vonnegut, “Slaughterhouse-Five,” 1969

Game over for America in Afghanistan.

There may be no helicopters on the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul as there were Hueys on an apartment house roof in Saigon in April 1975 evacuating diplomats and endangered Vietnamese. But we’re cutting and running again. Another defeat for an American war.

The U.S. withdrawal from Kabul is hurried, helter-skelter, far from orderly and dignified as American officials make their way in a frenzy from their embassy to the airport, where U.S. military protect them from the advancing Taliban. The insurgents reportedly entered through Kabul’s four main gates Sunday.

The government collapsed when Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled to Uzbekistan in Central Asia, perhaps mindful of when the Taliban tortured Afghan President Mohammad Najibullah to death when it seized Kabul in 1996. There likely will be oppression again and possible revenge killings.

And now the Afghan door will be open again as a haven for Islamist terrorists, a possible return of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida that launched the attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon Sept. 11, 2001.

The hasty retreat means trouble for Joe Biden. There are withdrawals and there are routs. The fire drill U.S. departure definitely was a rout.

It’s clear the president failed his first big foreign policy test despite majority American support for getting out of Afghanistan after 20 years, 2,312 U.S. military personnel killed, $1 trillion spent and 300,000 Afghan troops trained to fight. Many of those soldiers didn’t defend their country as the Taliban blitzed their way through, seizing major cities in mere days, many without a fight.

It’s as if the Americans who fought and died in Afghanistan made their ultimate sacrifice in vain. America’s longest war ended in disgrace.

Biden defended his decision in a lengthy statement Saturday from Camp David.

“One more year, or five more years, of U.S. military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country,” he said in a statement from Camp David Saturday. “And an endless American presence in the middle of another country’s civil war was not acceptable to me.”

The stunning weekslong Taliban advance forced Biden to send 6,000 Marines and soldiers back to Afghanistan to evacuate Americans and Afghans who worked with them who are still there, asking the insurgents to spare the embassy and setting up a diplomatic outpost at the airport.

Despite his ballyhooed experience with foreign affairs during 36 years in the Senate and as vice president for eight years, Biden acted too precipitously and with surprising naivete in announcing in April the withdrawal of all U.S. troops.
Trusting the Taliban to live up to an agreement is like trusting Trump to tell the truth. Any rational individual would realize the Taliban just were waiting for an American departure to try to take over the country.

The short of it is America again has been humiliated in defeat of yet another war. We never seem to learn from our mistakes. The invasion of Iraq in 2003, based on the lie by Republican President George W. Bush that Sadam Hussein was building weapons of mass destruction, was a major one.

The Republicans will make a big deal out of America’s disgraceful exit from Kabul, blaming Biden for withdrawing too many U.S. forces too soon despite advice to slow the pullout to prevent a rapid Taliban takeover of the country. The Taliban waited in neighboring Pakistan to make their move once the Americans started leaving, like mice emerging from the woodwork once the cat is gone.

But whatever the Republicans will say will mark another show of their hypocrisy because they will have conveniently forgotten that it was Trump who decided to quit Afghanistan in a hurried peace deal to get out by May 1. His party backed him, of course.

The Republicans can be expected to severely criticize the Democrats for the botched withdrawal, making it seem as if they abandoned the Afghans after supporting them for 20 years even though a majority of the American public approves of the pullout.

“. . . I inherited a deal cut by my predecessor – which he invited the Taliban to discuss at Camp David on the eve of 9/11 of 2019 – that left the Taliban in the strongest position militarily since 2001 and imposed a May 1, 2021 deadline on U.S. forces,” Biden said in his statement. “Shortly before he left office, he also drew U.S. forces down to a bare minimum of 2,500.

“. . . I faced a choice – follow through on the deal, with a brief extension to get our forces and our allies’ forces out safely, or ramp up our presence and send more American troops to fight once again in another country’s civil conflict.”

Biden did extend the withdrawal deadline from May 1 to Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary on the worst terrorist attack ever unleashed on America.

“I was the fourth president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan – two Republicans, two Democrats,” he said. “I would not, and will not, pass this war onto a fifth.”

So be it. But it’s not as if Biden were letting another normal political party take control of Afghanistan. The Taliban are terrorist killers, known slayers of their opponents, including civilians. Life will not be easy for the men, women and children under the Taliban yoke.

Richard C. Gross, who covered war and peace in the Middle East and was foreign editor of United Press International, served as the opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun.