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Monday, August 15, 2022

OPINION:

One year ago today, President Biden initiated one of the most calamitous actions by a U.S. administration in recent memory: his handling of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Its effect and the scope of the damage it wrought are in full sight one year later.

To be clear, this author agrees — then and now — with the overall need for America to have left Afghanistan. At issue, as I have argued, is how Mr. Biden did this, not only by abandoning a negotiated plan by the previous administration for an orderly and conditions-based handover of power but, most importantly, abandoning Americans and allies in the country.


One year later, not only do Americans remain in Afghanistan, but the American public does not have an exact accounting of how many still remain. Moreover, while thousands of Afghans who received Special Immigrant Visas — vetted and legally permitted to leave — remain stranded in Afghanistan and at risk because they helped Americans, tens of thousands of Afghans who were not vetted and ineligible were allowed into the United States and given work permits. The U.S. airlifted planes full of unvetted people on a first-come, first-served basis. The now-famous photo of one of these aircraft shows that this was a far cry from “women and children first.” No one knows where these men went when the cargo plane landed in the U.S., nor has any information about how they are or have been vetted.

As harrowing as all of this is, what has happened over the last year puts into stark relief how truly disastrous the manner of America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan last August was. It was an abdication of Mr. Biden’s responsibility to make decisions on behalf of the American people and to bear any accountability for those decisions.

Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to have observed this attribute and determined that this administration would do nothing to stop him from invading Ukraine. Mr. Putin also likely recognized that the Obama-Biden administration shared this trait. Indeed, Mr. Putin tried invading neighboring territory during the Obama-Biden administration as well. Mr. Putin’s instincts proved correct; Russia is in its sixth month of a barbaric pummeling of cities across Ukraine. Despite international sanctions and tens of billions of dollars of assistance to Ukraine, no one appears to have a clue of when or how this war will end. However the war concludes, the Biden administration has not instilled confidence that they will muster the strength and strategic acumen to do it well.

The Biden administration has also failed to demonstrate American leadership regarding Taiwan. At several moments, Mr. Biden emphasized, and then backtracked on, America’s commitment to support Taiwan in the event of an invasion by communist China. During a critical moment when the speaker of the House was deliberating about embarking on an important visit to Taiwan, which she ultimately did — a move that rightfully garnered bipartisan praise and served as an important demonstration of America’s solidarity with its friends — Mr. Biden appeared to waffle on the decision and could not firmly and unequivocally praise Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s move.

For an entire year, Congress has held few oversight hearings on any of these strategic failures and offered little in the way of explanations to the American people about how America’s president could have left Americans in Afghanistan.

The behavior of this administration and this Congress make it seem as though they believe the American people are not owed accountability for America’s foreign policy, believing instead that an American president can simply hold calls with foreign leaders or commit American lives and treasure without an explanation of an end state. But there are important questions that need answering. How much money is enough money to help Ukraine win against Russia? What is our plan to deter Communist China from invading Taiwan? What is our plan to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon? How many Americans are still left in Afghanistan?

Reflecting on the withdrawal from Afghanistan one year later, the relief Americans should have felt had it been done orderly is instead one of concern and apprehension. There is no clarity on what America’s goals are in the world under this administration or how this president will deter adversaries and deescalate wars that began on his watch.

The images of Afghan children thrown over fences to the safety of U.S. Marines and paratroopers, as well as individuals falling off planes getting ready for takeoff one year ago, are hard to forget. But today, those images can be considered symbolic of the inadequate strategic planning of this administration.

Indeed, this may be the most important lesson of the Biden administration’s failed Afghanistan withdrawal: It is imperative to have a plan and that the American people know it and hold their leaders accountable for it. Sadly, this is far from our reality today.

When it comes to any crisis, presidential decision-making counts. One year ago, Mr. Biden and his team failed.

• Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Keith Kellogg is a retired three-star Army general who most recently served as acting national security adviser to former President Donald Trump and national security adviser to former Vice President Mike Pence. He currently serves as co-chair of the Center for American Security at the America First Policy Institute.


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