As the Taliban take over the Afghan government, images of civilians desperately attempting to leave the country strike horror into the hearts of millions across the world. With the situation evolving as badly as it is, many are simply led to ask: Could have an American withdrawal been executed better?
It is only fair to begin by saying that this is a significant failure of the Biden administration — and likely his biggest one so far (yes, even more than the minimum wage mistake I wrote about a few months back). Biden’s approval rating is at its lowest since his inauguration and his own party is having trouble endorsing his actions, which he has decided to firmly defend in his recent speech.
Having read plenty of Chomsky (famous leftist anti-war figure) before heading into politics, I have naturally developed an inclination to be critical of United States foreign policy. However, I believe it is not controversial to say that the United States-led war in Afghanistan has not only destabilized the entire region but has also ruined the lives of millions of people.
United States involvement in Afghanistan began decades before the war in 2001. Most notably, the United States funded the Mujahideen, an Islamic guerilla force loosely made up of various factions which greatly differed in ideology, culture, and ethnicity, months before the Soviet invasion.
Tensions within the Mujahideen were extremely high and deadly conflicts were common. Every faction had a very different idea of how a liberated Afghanistan should be governed. Even Osama Bin Laden played a role in assisting the Mujahideen. Of course, these violent inner conflicts were of no concern to the United States, as they immediately cut off funding to the Mujahideen once the Soviets left.
Unsurprisingly, civil war quickly broke out in Afghanistan between the (once) Mujahideen factions. And after years of brutal war, an armed coalition named the Taliban, meaning “students” in Pashto, in reference to the religious schools where they were taught a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, was formed with the backing of Pakistan.
I could also go on and on about how United States ally Saudia Arabia was financially supporting radical Islamist terrorist networks as well, but this is not the topic of this post. It is merely context to how the United States is, at the very least, partially responsible for the violent destabilization in Afghanistan and the middle east. And this is important because it ties into what we should do (or better put, should have done) in Afghanistan.
Fast forward to 2021, after 20 years of war, the United States has a planned withdrawal from Afghanistan for May 1 that was organized by the previous Trump administration and advanced by the Biden administration. Biden made a few changes, such as giving the Afghan army more time to prepare for an imminent Taliban offensive by delaying the withdrawal date, however, this would later prove to be useless.
According to our own intelligence reports, it was expected that the Afghan government would collapse around 6 months after NATO withdrawal. The collapse ended up being much quicker, as Afghan security forces were extremely corrupt, had little to no fighting morale, and lacked any capacity to defend themselves.
Biden made some good points in his speech following the chaos that followed the NATO withdrawal that I would have never expected from a sitting United States president. A withdrawal was necessary and certainly popular, but where Biden starts to lose many is when he starts to play the blame game and make excuses that just don’t add up.
Firstly, Biden mentioned Trump by name, which was unusual for him. Politically, this was a wrong move as it gave Trump and Republicans a valuable chance to respond. Regardless, the reality is that whatever the Trump administration may have done, the responsibility ultimately fell onto Biden’s hands — and given the facts of the situation, many can reasonably conclude that something different could have been done to prevent such a catastrophic exit.
Most obviously, why weren’t there more refugees taken earlier? If we were going to leave Afghanistan and expect (again, according to our very own intelligence reports) a swift Taliban takeover, we are absolutely responsible for evacuating thousands of our allies and other Afghans who would have been brutally oppressed under their rule. This also could have been performed much more efficiently in less desperate circumstances, allowing us to save more lives.
Biden addresses this point and claims that a mass evacuation would have triggered a “crisis of confidence.” I am pretty sure this vague term made little sense to anyone watching. If we knew the Afghan security forces were going to crumble under an inevitable Taliban offensive, there was no confidence to begin with. To me, this sounds more like Biden not wanting to accept (or even handle) migrants, who are historically politically unpopular across the entire western world. This would also be consistent with his disappointingly harsh immigration policy that he largely inherited from Trump (as with the tariffs on China).
But the bright light of unity has begun to beam through the dark clouds of xenophobia. Over the years, American public opinion on immigration has been increasingly positive — even more so during Trump’s presidency.
This keeps me optimistic about the future of immigration, but the reality is that the situation in Europe is far worse. Across the world, there is genuine sympathy for the people of Afghanistan, which provides a golden opportunity for the United States to finally change the (western) world’s perspective on immigrants.
Although Biden has been playing it safe throughout his presidency by passing overwhelmingly popular legislation, there arrive moments where you must bite the bullet. If we can transform the political discourse surrounding welfare within just a matter of years, we should confidently fight back against xenophobic tropes against immigration.
By submitting to the right on any issue, as Clinton and other Democrats did with crime in the 90s, we end up providing half measures that only weaken ourselves politically while enabling a terrible ideological outlook that ruins the lives of millions.
Here is the reality — immigrants are what our country was founded upon, immigrants don’t harm the economy, immigrants provide valuable cultural and racial integration, and in most circumstances, we absolutely owe it to the people trying to immigrate to the United States.
We have the facts. Now, it is a matter of selling them to the public. I understand the midterm campaigns are firing up, and engaging in risky (but important) political discourse now can cause more damage later in the form of a Republican midterm sweep.
However, Biden said in his own speech that he did not want to pass the challenging responsibility of leaving Afghanistan to another President. He clearly has the power and, more importantly, the will to be remembered as a transformative president. Now is not the time to delay the issue of immigration or pass it onto another president, but to use the bully pulpit and tear the immigration narrative out of the hands of xenophobic politicians who have abused it to advance their crooked agendas for far, far too long.
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