“Maybe we should be a little more level headed” about abandoning Americans behind Taliban lines, CNN’s Don Lemon mused last night. Lemon lectured people about “beating up on the administration so much” over the debacle in Afghanistan, praising Joe Biden for “hav[ing] the guts to get us out of Afghanistan.”
This led to some surprising pushback from Chris Cuomo, who reminded Lemon that Biden and his administration had promised to get all of those Americans and Afghan allies out before leaving. This clip from MRC/Newsbusters is an appetizer for the full discussion:
"You can't get them all out in five minutes," Lemon huffed at the people outraged that Biden abandoned Americans. Attacking those people further, he suggested they were being hysterical and added: "We don't know if we left them behind yet." pic.twitter.com/43LPKaYGHB
— Nicholas Fondacaro (@NickFondacaro) September 2, 2021
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: This is awful. We’ve been through worse with vigor losses of life, but this is one that we’re in now. So, I think that we’ll get through it. The sad part for me, obviously, the folks who are still there. A Herculean task, though, getting all those people out, 120,000 people in a week, look, I think that part is a success. But the loss of life from the American service members, I think that is the saddest part for everyone, no doubt and their families.
CUOMO: Absolutely. But I think that the continuing concern, you left the majority of people you promised to help who helped you behind, and you know that it was a real promise, Don, because these veterans, all these allies, this hash tag digital Dunkirk. These organizations that we’re having on the show, they don’t have to do this.
If the loyalty weren’t so deep, I mean, you know, this Sara that we’re following, you know, she’s a metaphor for so many. She’s an American and she decided to stay there to help others who deserve to leave. And she got left behind. Now they’re trying to get her out, and the question is, is the United States government going to step up and help them, or are they actually going to make it harder for these veterans to get people out?
LEMON: Well, listen, I understand the emotion around it. But let’s just — let’s be a little bit unemotional here, if we can. Wars are terrible. This is our longest war. I think in any situation, whether you agree with the exit or not, you’re not going to get all of the people out that you want in the time period. I think that is — I think that is asking for something that’s not — that is — you can’t accomplish that. It’s just not going to happen in any situation.
Now, I think you’re right. It’s getting the people out to see how many more people they can get out, Yes. Americans should step up. These organizations should be stepping up. They don’t have to, but that’s what we do as Americans.
I think that, you know, we should be a little bit more level headed about this. We got out of a war. Many people didn’t agree with the way that it ended. OK. So how do we move forward from here? I think you have to also look at the number, again, the number of people they got out, and I think obviously the administration, the Trump administration for brokering these deals with the Taliban, and the Biden administration for however you feel about how they got out, but I think you have to give them some credit for what, number one, getting out, and number two, getting as many people out as possible.
And we do have to remember there are people who went there, and we’re told they needed to leave, and they didn’t leave. We should still help them get out, continue to help them get out, but, you know, I think people should stop beating up on the administration so much because no matter how it ended, everyone wasn’t going to be happy with the way it ended.
So, if there’s any silver lining in this, it’s going to be what happens going forward. You can’t change the past. You can’t bring those lives back, as awful as that is, and so, you know, I just think that sometimes, I think the administration is getting beaten up on this a little bit too much. Because there’s a lot of blame to go around from four different presidents and who actually didn’t have the guts to get us out of Afghanistan because they were afraid of this moment and what an exit might look like.
Was the hesitancy to pull out of Afghanistan strictly about optics? That seems ridiculously glib, especially given the optics that Biden ended up choosing: America negotiating safe passage for our exit with the Taliban. Cuomo objects to that characterization as well, pointing out that the purpose of remaining in place was to keep the Afghan army from collapsing and allowing the terrorists to take over. And the reason for that is …
CUOMO: Well, they also knew that we needed to be there. Twenty years without another 9/11.
LEMON: Did we need to be there?
CUOMO: Twenty years without another 9/11.
LEMON: But did we need to be there?
CUOMO: Do you think that being in Afghanistan and in that region the way we are had nothing to do with why there wasn’t another attack?
LEMON: I don’t know — I don’t know that, but I don’t know if we needed to be there for 20 years —
CUOMO: Why do you think the military was saying that we needed to stay?
LEMON: Well, Chris, we were there for 20 years, and the government —
CUOMO: Yes. And we didn’t have another 9/11 for 20 years.
Good point, and Cuomo sticks to his guns with it. But even if one accepts Biden’s claim that he can achieve the same result with “over the horizon” counter-terror operations, that still leaves the manner in which we got out of Afghanistan unanswered. Lemon tries the same sleight-of-hand here that Biden has attempted in every public statement Biden has made in the withdrawal — conflating the decision to exit with the manner in which that exit was planned and executed. That’s what Lemon shrugs off as simple emotion, rather than criticism of a series of decisions that had the predictable outcome of collapse, especially the withdrawal of American troops before the evacuation of American citizens, legal permanent residents, and Afghan allies.
The other three presidents didn’t put that plan in place. Joe Biden and his leadership team put that plan in place, and they had a lot more time than “five minutes” to get Americans and allies out of Afghanistan as well. Biden stuck to that plan despite warnings of what it could produce, warnings that the Taliban were violating the terms of the agreement to which Biden insisted on sticking, and finally weeks worth of warnings that our abrupt removal of support for the Afghan army had it melting away in the face of Taliban aggression. At any point along that track, Biden could have and should have initiated the evacuation of remaining civilians working for or with the US in its missions in Afghanistan. Instead, Biden pulled out the military until it was too late to secure any egress out except the airport in Kabul, and then told the civilians that they were on their own to get to the airport for evacuation.
That’s not “guts.” That’s cowardice, and as the Washington Post editorial board declared this week, a “moral disaster” that belongs entirely to Biden.