“You keep changing the subject,” he says to Blinken at one point in the clip below, with visible annoyance, and he’s right. Blinken wants to talk about the fact that the May 1 deadline for withdrawal negotiated by Trump with the Taliban left Biden in a jam. He could either commit to that withdrawal and preserve a truce with the enemy while U.S. troops exited safely or he could reverse the withdrawal decision, reigniting the conflict and likely requiring a fresh influx of thousands more U.S. troops. A Taliban takeover or a raging war on the 20th anniversary of our presence there: Those were his choices. Blinken is keen to remind the public of it.
But he’s changing the subject. Whether withdrawal was the correct decision is a strategic question. The pressing tactical question that Tapper keeps asking is why was it done so incompetently? Why did we withdraw all troops weeks ago, knowing the risk that would create of a lightning Taliban advance, only to have to reinsert 5,000 this weekend to get American diplomats out safely before they were massacred by advancing jihadis?
And just as importantly, why didn’t we start evacuating Afghans who had aided U.S. forces months ago? Biden should have made up his mind on Afghanistan by the time he took office on January 20. If he was committed to withdrawal, the order could have been given that day to begin evacuating Afghan interpreters and other allied agents. Instead, by leaving in a rush before they could be extricated, he’s left them to the mercy of jbarbarians.
It’s a fiasco. Watch, then read on.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken defends the Biden administration's decision to pull US forces out of Afghanistan: "The idea that the status quo could have been maintained by keeping our forces there, I think, is simply wrong." #CNNSOTU https://t.co/5uk1k2vMbY pic.twitter.com/qlX6LU7BTB
— State of the Union (@CNNSotu) August 15, 2021
It’s such a fiasco, in fact, that the safety of all *Americans* left in Afghanistan can’t be assured at the moment, let alone the safety of American-allied Afghans:
Latest security alert from US Embassy in Kabul: "We are instructing U.S. citizens to shelter in place. The U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan has suspended consular operations effective immediately. Do not come to the Embassy or airport at this time." pic.twitter.com/U81fjEsXNx
— Dion Nissenbaum (@DionNissenbaum) August 15, 2021
A good point:
The Washington Post’s Phil Rucker on Afghanistan: “What’s amazing is President Biden ran for office as the foreign policy expert…and yet look at how poorly planned this seems to be right now. It is a calamity playing out” pic.twitter.com/qsOuojLMpM
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) August 15, 2021
“The puzzle for me is the absence of contingency planning: If everyone knew we were headed for the exits, why did we not have a plan over the past two years for making this work?” said retired general Douglas Lute to the NYT. Never mind two years; we could have hatched that plan at any time over the past 20. “As the bulk of American troops departed,” a former McCain advisor marveled to Axios, “there was no plan for securing regional base access, for the contractors that maintain the Afghan military, for training that military after the U.S. departure, for evacuating interpreters and helpers.”
This is the result, with American diplomats still on the ground in Kabul:
— Lotfullah Najafizada (@LNajafizada) August 15, 2021
Women in #Herat, now under Taliban control are telling me when they tried to enter the grounds of their University today they were told to go home. Women working in offices also turned away. Schools have been shut down. 60 percent of University students in Herat were women. https://t.co/Cr0SLPJUED
— Yalda Hakim (@BBCYaldaHakim) August 14, 2021
Two months ago, Blinken was asked during a House hearing what the plan was to get people out rapidly if need be. It won’t come to that, he assured his audience. The country’s not going to fall in a weekend. Which was technically true: It took more like a week.
Incredible. Secretary of State Blinken tells @RepMcCaul that there’s nothing to worry about regarding Afghan interpreters and Special Immigrant Visas because they’ll have time to process them even after withdrawal and everything is gonna be fine. pic.twitter.com/dbKyqDJzW6
— CasualtiesOfTheDay (@Ayei_Eloheichem) June 17, 2021
Two months later, desperate Afghans with American contacts are frantically pulling every string they can to get safe passage out before they’re put to the sword:
In a flurry of texts, phone calls and emails to members of Congress, Pentagon and State Department colleagues — and anyone in their network who may have contacts who can help — military and diplomatic veterans are pulling out all the stops to try to save Afghan friends and colleagues either awaiting evacuation by the State Department or whose applications for a special immigrant visa remain in bureaucratic limbo.
“The situation is extremely desperate,” said Mariah Smith, a retired U.S. Army officer who did three tours in Afghanistan. “I am heartbroken over the ones we can’t help.”
Smith is rushing to buy up seats on the few commercial airlines still flying out of Kabul International Airport on behalf of No One Left Behind, a nonprofit dedicated to assisting Afghan and Iraqi interpreters…
“Everything’s in overdrive, it’s nonstop,” said Kim Staffieri, executive director of the Association of Wartime Allies, one of the organizations that received the request. “It’s utter chaos and we should’ve started three months ago.”
Why didn’t it start six months ago? Americans can tolerate withdrawal from Afghanistan happily. They can even tolerate seeing the Taliban back in power. But they won’t tolerate the needless humiliation of having our diplomats chased out in a panic or the needless horror of seeing Afghans who trusted us to guarantee their safety betrayed.
I mean, I hope they won’t tolerate it. But I don’t know. American voters have gotten used to national disgrace. What’s one more episode, however spectacular? “Nobody under 30 (35?) can even remember a U.S. foreign policy engagement that could be described as positive besides one off assassinations,” Tim Miller wrote this morning. “This is going to have cultural implications as we further retrench and decline.” Indeed, although in the short- and middle-term the country will be consumed with recriminations. Biden gets blamed for a withdrawal debacle. Trump gets blamed for committing the U.S. to withdrawal in the first place. Obama gets blamed for eight years of aimless occupation. Bush gets blamed for taking his eye off the ball by focusing on Iraq.
The Afghans get blamed too for letting themselves be bought off by the Taliban instead of fighting for their freedom — although it wasn’t purely a willingness to fight that doomed them, it was lack of ability:
— Shadi Hamid (@shadihamid) August 15, 2021
The most blame will be reserved for the various military and intelligence officials who misled the public repeatedly over the last 20 years about the chances of anything resembling a “good outcome” in Afghanistan. That’ll be the focus for reporters too in covering the unfolding catastrophe in Kabul: Did U.S. intelligence not foresee the speed of the Taliban advance or did they see it but offer “happy talk” instead to Biden and Blinken knowing that their superiors wanted out?
Or did they tell Biden and Blinken the truth and were ignored?
The "intelligence failure" drumbeat is starting. People should be careful about the charge if they have not actually seen/read the intelligence; I have not. I suspect we will learn someday that intell rejected rosy estimates and warned about growing Taliban strength for years.
— john mclaughlin (@jmclaughlinSAIS) August 15, 2021
I’ll leave you with a little more from Tapper. “Shocking” doesn’t begin to describe it.
Jake Tapper: We are “watching a tragic foreign policy disaster unfold before our eyes…The rapid crumbling of [Afghanistan] has caught the Biden White House flat footed.”
“It seems shocking that President Biden could’ve been so wrong” pic.twitter.com/Vw3Vr6VkNq
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) August 15, 2021