America Is Not Suffering Humiliation in Afghanistan Because It Retreated Too Quickly, but Because It Stayed Too Long
Taliban rule the country even before the US withdrawal deadline
Couldn’t have come up with a more humiliating US exit from Afghanistan if you commissioned the vengeful ghost of Saddam Hussein to write it, but there you go. The US is withdrawing in circumstances even the biggest cynics could not have predicted and even the most implacable enemies could not have hoped for.
But as the very warmongers who godfathered this humiliation seize upon the withdrawal to argue that the US should have stayed another twenty years, or maybe forever, it is important to remember the present humiliation is not the result of the US leaving too quickly, but of having stayed for too long.
There are numerous ways in which the scenario where the Taliban take over the country before the Americans are even out could have been avoided. Here are just a few of them:
1. — If Biden just stuck to the Taliban-Trump deal and withdrew by May 1. Instead, he tinkered with the withdrawal plan just so the Democrats differentiate themselves from Trump. He broke America’s word to the Taliban, yet his meek 9-11 withdrawal deadline just reinforced the point to the Taliban and the Kabul forces alike that the US had no gas in the political will tank left and was a paper tiger.
2. — If Trump had just withdrawn when he gained power, instead of dragging out the process with a 2-year negotiation which served no purpose other than to act as a long-running advertisement for the Taliban where every Afghan warlord, tribal chief, and police commander was put on notice that the Taliban rebels had gained a seat across the table from a superpower, while the Kabul government wasn’t even being consulted as its fate was being decided.
It would have been far less damaging for the Kabul forces if the Americans simply picked up and left, but the talks served a purpose for the Americans, namely the White House. They conjured up the appearance of a withdrawal process that Trump had promised but was too cowardly to actually order. Just as in Biden’s case the US had found a way to stay a little longer, but only at the price of boosting the Taliban and undermining its underlings.
3. — If Obama had withdrawn after the surge. Obama campaigned on getting out of Iraq and surging in Afghanistan. But the full Obama Afghanistan strategy as laid out in private wasn’t to surge and then to stay forever, but to surge and then get out, and get out no matter the outcome of the surge at that. He would give the generals one last chance to win, after which he was pulling the plug whether that happened or not.
4. — If Obama had withdrawn before ever surging as Biden — who never liked the surge — advised him at the time.
5. — If Bush had withdrawn after putting Al-Qaeda on the run. Preferably after having sent the Special Forces at Tora Bora the reinforcements that they asked for and needed to cut AQs escape to Pakistan and bag bin Laden right there. (Would have been rather more difficult to have a GWOT with a dead bin Laden, however.)
6. — If the US had accepted the Taliban offer to hand over bin Laden to Saudi Arabia, and then twisted Riyadh’s arm to extradite him to the US. (But that would have made it rather difficult to explain to the American people why Iraq needed to be invaded when even for 9-11 and Afghanistan peace had worked just fine.)
7. — If the US wasn’t so comfortable with (often useful) Islamic terrorists that it didn’t treat AQ or bin Laden seriously even after the 1998 US Embassy bombings.