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President Biden is facing criticism from an unexpected quarter on his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan: his own party. Not one, not two, not three, but four different Democrat-controlled congressional committees have announced so far that they will open investigations into the withdrawal — three in the Senate, and one in the House.
It seems imperialist chauvinism runs so deep in the Democratic Party that they are going to do a Benghazi-style smear job on their own president for making a tough but necessary foreign policy decision. It’s appalling, not to mention political suicide.
Now, in principle I am not opposed to some kind of effort to investigate why the war in Afghanistan was such a bloody fiasco. In particular, I would like to see close attention paid to the rushed decision to invade, Donald Rumsfeld’s decision to refuse to accept a Taliban surrender in December 2001, the awesome corruption and incompetence that characterized every single aspect of the reconstruction program (as shown in the recent extensive SIGAR report), and how the military manipulated two presidents to prolong the occupation because they didn’t want to admit defeat. I also wouldn’t mind seeing an opportunity cost analysis of what else the $2.3 trillion in occupation costs (that’s about $6,900 for every single American) might have bought.
As far as the withdrawal specifically, Biden can certainly be criticized for not doing more for refugees. I thought months ago and continue to think that Biden should do more to bring Afghans who are in danger of Taliban retaliation to America. Instead it seems he has deliberately dragged his feet on refugee admission — even trying to talk other countries into taking them instead — for fear of political backlash from the far right.
If done well, a congressional investigation could help the American people as a polity come to terms with a monumentally terrible series of decisions, and learn from them so they do not happen again.
Unfortunately, there is no sign that these committees are going to do anything like this. So far, indications are that they will focus entirely on the embarrassing scenes at the Kabul airport and how the U.S.-backed Afghan government melted away in a matter of days.
“I am disappointed that the Biden administration clearly did not accurately assess the implications of a rapid U.S. withdrawal,” complains Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the chairman of the Senator Foreign Relations Committee. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) promises to “ask tough but necessary questions about why we weren’t better prepared for a worst-case scenario involving such a swift and total collapse of the Afghan government and security forces.” Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) says he will investigate the “failures of intelligence, diplomacy, and a lack of imagination as we transitioned military forces from the country.” Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, says “it is imperative that the administration provide the American people and Congress transparency about its Afghanistan strategy.”
Hey fellas, I can answer your main question easily and save you all a lot of time. The reason the withdrawal did not go well is that the entire occupation was — to borrow a military term — FUBAR. “Worst-case scenario” is what we have been doing over there for the last 20 years.
The tough but undeniable truth is that there was no good way to get out of Afghanistan, and no good way to stay either. The Afghan state and army was a fiction — something that could not survive even a slight push from the Taliban. If Biden had accelerated the removal of American civilians and Afghan workers, then that would have likely caused a collapse in morale in the Afghan army and an even quicker victory of the Taliban, and thus the same exact chaotic withdrawal. If Biden had reneged on America’s promise to withdraw, the Taliban most certainly would have attacked anyway, requiring him to add more troops and get even more people killed in a conflict that was obviously lost 15 years ago.
The core foreign policy assumption of imperial chauvinists, like nearly all congressional Democrats, is that America is an exceptional nation, a shining city on a hill that can always get what it wants. If something awful happens — especially something embarrassing that is broadcast on television — then that means someone must not have lived up to American potential. Empire can never fail, it can only be failed.
This blinkered attitude is a major reason why the Afghanistan occupation was such an endless nightmare in the first place. Presidents Trump and Obama didn’t withdraw in part because they were frightened of political backlash from the foreign policy Blob and reflexively hawkish media. As shown by the shrieking tantrum happening across all parts of the mainstream press, they weren’t wrong about what would happen. It took real political courage for Biden to stick to his guns and refuse to re-start the war for the sole purpose of making the legions of soft, comfortable think-tankers, talking heads, and members of Congress feel better about themselves.
It all makes an especially jarring contrast with congressional Democrats’ behavior towards Trump’s world-historical corruption and lawbreaking. They barely even pretended to try to hold investigations on his violations of the emoluments clause, or to get hold of his tax returns, or to explore his business empire, or to look into a hundred other things — despite the fact that when the shoe was on the other foot, Republicans spent over a year “investigating” Hillary Clinton over delusional conspiracy theories about Benghazi. (Republicans also did not investigate the actually-objectionable part of that story, which was the Libyan intervention itself.)
At bottom, the Democratic Party is ruled by cowardice. The party’s leaders in Congress are too scared to stand up to Republicans when it might mean a pitched political battle, and too morally weak to look the reality of the Afghanistan occupation in the face. But they’ll pick on their own president, no doubt with the gleeful backing of Republicans, if they can strut and posture about how much they love The Troops without fear of backlash. It’s pathetic.