August 04, 2021

O’Day: Biden repeats Obama’s mistake, in a different country

Joe Biden has been on the wrong side of every major foreign policy of the past half century. In keeping with tradition, Biden recently announced that the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan will draw to a close on Aug. 31.

As Michael Brendan Dougherty of National Review said leading up to the 2020 election, “Biden has almost infallibly opposed American escalation when it would lead to peace and supported war when it would lead to chaos and disgrace.”

As a young Senator 48 years ago, Biden opposed aid to South Vietnam. He opposed Reagan’s defense initiatives at every turn. He got hawkish on Saddam in the late 90s and early 2000s, and voted to authorize the invasion of Iraq. Biden lied by claiming Bush tricked him into voting for it, even though he was on record saying Saddam had to be deposed. Biden opposed Obama’s surge in Afghanistan, and even his decision to raid the bin Laden compound in Pakistan.

After the surge in Iraq succeeded, Biden was Obama’s point-man on the disastrous 2011 withdrawal that enabled the rise of ISIS and Iranian militias in Iraq. More than 11,000 Kurdish fighters and 99 American soldiers died fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Over 5,000 Yazidis were slaughtered by ISIS directly, many more were raped and sold as sex slaves. Hundreds of Americans and Europeans died in ISIS inspired attacks. It’s depressing to imagine what atrocities may come as a result of this capricious withdrawal.

Trump often embraced and Biden has adopted the Rand Paul Doctrine – which requires that American troops be withdrawn from any Middle Eastern country where they might be spending less than 95% of their time sitting on their hands. I like Rand Paul on domestic politics, but his knee-jerk inclination to retreat from the world stage is dangerous to our national security.

The Taliban has never abided by Trump’s peace deal, and it never intended to. The Afghan government is too corrupt and inept to fend off the Taliban on its own. Earlier this week CNN released a video of Taliban fighters executing 22 Afghan special forces soldiers who had surrendered after they ran out of ammunition.

Tucker Carlson’s newfound trope about ending the “forever wars” is petulant and misleading. Carlson was a fierce advocate for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the early 2000s when they were popular. In recent years he has completely transformed his worldview to better reflect the fleeting whims of the Republican base.

There has not been an American casualty in Afghanistan since February 2020, and there’s been 64 American casualties there since 2015. Obama’s surge worked. It became more of an ongoing skirmish than a war.

The prospects of sending young Afghan girls to school and freeing Afghan women from the tyranny of Taliban enforced Sharia Law are nice side projects, but they never should have been primary American objectives. You can’t sprout corn in the desert, and you can’t grow democracy in perpetually violent societies that reject Western values and the Enlightenment. President Bush’s biggest blunder was naively believing that building a nation is as easy as building a deck. Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney and other group-thinking interventionists in his cabinet provided the confirmation bias he sought on Iraq.

That said, nothing annoyed me more in the Bush years than leftwing anti-war zealots who would demand to know “why Bush and Cheney ain’t sendin’ their kids over there.” Foreign policy has to be based on thoughtful consideration of what’s best for our national security interests and the interests of allies who help us maintain our hegemony, not bumper sticker resentments.

Bush committed to a “light footprint” in Afghanistan because nation building in a disparate tribal mountain country was too hard and instead focused his nation building efforts on Iraq, ultimately with meager success.

Biden says he wants to shift focus from the Middle East toward threats from China and Russia, which isn’t entirely unreasonable. So it makes no sense to surrender control of our air base at Bagram Airfield, which enhances our surveillance and striking capabilities against both of those countries and Iran.

There was never going to be a V-Day/mission accomplished moment in Afghanistan. The history of Soviet and British occupations show us Afghanistan cannot be conquered, but it can be managed to a certain degree.

The American goals always should have been to crush al Qaeda and keep the Taliban relegated to a gang of rural thugs who controlled pockets of the countryside while supporting Afghan government forces. Those goals had effectively been accomplished but they required a long term commitment of relatively low cost maintenance, which Presidents Trump and Biden were unwilling to provide.

Within the next year or two it’s likely the Taliban will regain control of most of the country, including Kabul. It will once again be a largely undisturbed safe haven for terrorists, just like it was in the lead up to 9/11.