While the Biden administration has already attempted to shift blame to Donald Trump for the scenes coming out of Afghanistan, Biden owns both the decision to leave and the catastrophic withdrawal he oversaw as commander-in-chief.
“When I came to office, 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 a statement released Saturday.
“Therefore, when I became President, 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,” President Biden maintained in the written statement.
Bunk. President Biden was no more bound by former President Trump’s agreement with the Taliban than Trump was required to abide by former President Barack Obama’s Iran deal, known formerly as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Neither agreement bound future presidents because neither deal was presented to the Senate for ratification.
As the current commander-in-chief, Biden holds power to decide every aspect of the withdrawal decision. Biden already extended Trump’s May 1, 2021 deadline to September, and if he believed the Taliban too strong, the Afghanistan government too weak, or the withdrawal decision entirely misplaced, the current president could have changed course.
He didn’t because he didn’t want to.
In contrast, Biden held no bones about executing a sharp course reversal when Trump’s policy positions conflicted with his administration’s.
On his first day in office, for example, Biden officially rejoined the Paris climate accord, from which former President Trump had withdrawn. The Biden administration later waived sanctions on Iran in an attempt to restart the Iran nuclear deal. President Biden reversed Trump’s ban on transgender people in the military and tossed the Mexico City policy to restart funding of international organizations that promote or provide abortions.
The Biden administration also reversed several extremely effective policies Trump adopted to address the border crisis, including Trump’s decision to use Title 42 authority to expel aliens to Mexico or their country of origin, given the public health crisis presented by COVID-19. Biden also ditched the former president’s “remain in Mexico” policy that prevented illegal aliens from absconding within the United States while awaiting immigration hearings. These reversals quickly led to the now record-setting crisis on the Southern border.
If Biden believed it in America’s best interest to remain in Afghanistan for the long-term, for another year, or even for another month, as commander-in-chief he could have made that call.
Further, even if leaving now is in our country’s best interests, Biden bears full responsibility for his failed execution of the withdrawal. Under Biden’s command, the Taliban reportedly seized hundreds of U.S. Humvees, Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, and several million-dollar U.S. drones.
No one but Biden is to blame for the administration being “clearly caught off guard by the Taliban’s rapid advances in recent days as the militant Islamic group took over a slew of provincial capitals across the country and encircled Kabul,” forcing Biden to rush thousands more troops to Afghanistan just to safely evacuate American and embassy personnel two full weeks before the August 31 deadline Biden had announced for withdrawing all U.S. forces from Afghanistan.
There is much to debate about the United States’ involvement in a 20-year war in Afghanistan, but it should be clear to all that Biden botched the withdrawal. The only question remaining is exactly how badly.
Margot Cleveland is a senior contributor to The Federalist. Cleveland served nearly 25 years as a permanent law clerk to a federal appellate judge and is a former full-time faculty member and adjunct instructor at the college of business at the University of Notre Dame.
The views expressed here are those of Cleveland in her private capacity.