- - Saturday, April 1, 2023

Nothing encapsulates President Biden’s approach to national security and foreign policy as well as the debacle he created in withdrawing suddenly from Afghanistan in August 2021.

We should remember that Mr. Biden’s action was poorly planned and incompetently executed, and that it is still yielding dividends to our enemies. Those dividends can be seen in the recent admission by Secretary of State Antony Blinken that — after 19 months — some Americans are still being held captive by the Taliban. They are also seen in the intelligence community’s squabbling about how soon — not if — terrorists will again attack us from Afghanistan.

U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan began with President Donald Trump’s poorly conceived February 2020 agreement with the Taliban. It placed many obligations on us, such as beginning to withdraw our forces within 135 days, and very few on the Taliban. The only significant obligation it placed on the Taliban was not to allow terrorists to use Afghanistan as a base for attacks on the United States. But there was no mechanism to enforce that obligation, which made it laughable.

In April 2021, Mr. Biden announced — without first consulting our allies who also had troops in Afghanistan — that he’d withdraw all our forces before the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. There were no conditions in Afghanistan compelling that retreat, so the deadline was entirely arbitrary.

On July 8, 2021, Mr. Biden proclaimed that we had accomplished what we came to Afghanistan to do, including “degrad[ing] the terrorist threat to keep Afghanistan from becoming a base from which attacks could be continued against the United States.”

Mr. Biden’s plan called for the withdrawal first, of our troops, second, of some military equipment and — last — of U.S. civilians and our Afghani allies. That is precisely the reverse order in which those events should have taken place.

As the Biden plan unfolded over several days, it became obvious that the plan was failing dangerously. In the chaos that resulted from the flood of people — U.S. citizens and thousands of our Afghan allies who wanted to get out — 13 U.S. troops were killed by terrorists and hundreds of U.S. citizens were abandoned to the mercies of the Taliban.

While Mr. Biden’s plan was obviously failing, none of the Joint Chiefs of Staff went to the president to insist that it be changed or that they would resign. Every one of them should have done so, including the chairman, Gen. Mark Milley.

As our troops left Afghanistan, hundreds of Americans were left behind. We also abandoned to the Taliban about $7 billion in aircraft, vehicles, guns and ammunition. Some of those weapons have reportedly turned up in the hands of Islamic radicals in Kashmir, the region contested by Pakistan and India.

On March 24, 2023, Mr. Blinken acknowledged that about 175 Americans were still in Afghanistan, and some of them were being held by the Taliban. He said we were working to secure their freedom. That is little solace to their families.

There was, as this column advocated, a better idea than a complete evacuation of U.S. forces — namely, leaving enough troops, weapon systems and intelligence assets behind in Afghanistan to forcibly prevent it from becoming what it was before 9/11: a haven for terrorists.

Even before the Taliban retook control of Afghanistan, it was obvious that they would, contrary to what Mr. Biden said, again make Afghanistan a haven for terrorists. Mr. Biden promised that his “over the horizon” strategy to apply military power would be sufficient to prevent that. It wasn’t, and it didn’t.

A March 24 Wall Street Journal report quoted Gen. Erik Kurilla, commander of U.S. Central Command, as saying that the terrorist group Islamic State — Khorasan, or ISIS-K, could attack U.S. or Western interests outside Afghanistan in under six months with little or no warning.

Gen. Kurilla’s assessment isn’t shared by some in the intelligence community. The Defense Intelligence Agency reportedly says there is no imminent threat, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence says that ISIS-K has its hands full fighting the Taliban. Still, it does intend to strike us at some point. Again, the question is not if, but when. And what of al Qaeda and the other terrorist networks that are harbored by the Taliban?

The Biden administration is focused on other things. As National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on March 21, LGBTQ+ rights are a core part of our foreign policy. Whatever the other “core parts” of Mr. Biden’s foreign policy may be, it is falling apart in the Middle East and around the world.

Last week, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told a Senate committee that Iran has attacked U.S. troops 83 times since Mr. Biden became president. That includes the March 23 attack that killed one U.S. contractor in Syria. Iran is not deterred by Mr. Biden’s policies. Neither are Russia, China and North Korea.

Russia is stationing tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, near Ukraine’s northern border. On about March 27, Russia fired missiles at targets in the Sea of Japan. North Korea frequently fires missiles over Japan. China’s ambition to take Taiwan by force is undeterred. 

Deterrence kept the peace because of America’s military strength and our promise to use it. Mr. Biden’s policies constitute the precise opposite of peace through strength.

• Jed Babbin is a national security and foreign affairs columnist for The Washington Times and contributing editor for The American Spectator.

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