Josh Marshall: Biden's decisive move to abandon Afghanistan was clearly the right one

AP Photo/Zabi Karimi

In the midst of an embarrassing US collapse so bad that even close US allies are publicly shaking their heads in disbelief, you really have to dig pretty deep in the partisan barrel to find someone willing to argue that this disaster wasn’t just inevitable but right. Enter Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo. President Biden decided to go tap-dancing on ice skates with the whole world watching and Josh Marshall is giving him a standing ovation. Yesterday TPM published a piece headlined “After Sunday It’s Even More Clear Biden Was Right.”


To really appreciate how hacktackular this piece is, you first need to appreciate just how bad things are on the ground because of how the Biden administration has handled this. And Josh Marshall is clearly aware of that because he links to several stories about it including this one at the Atlantic. Author George Packer writes about the fate of translators who worked on behalf of the US for years and now face being executed because the US bureaucracy spent months doing their paperwork.

In recent days Kabul became the last point of escape for Afghans who fear for their lives under the return of the Taliban. Every provincial capital has fallen to the insurgent offensive; regional airports have closed; roads to Kabul and the borders are being controlled by Taliban checkpoints; government-security forces are in a state of collapse across the country. The U.S. has sent several thousand Marines to assist with the evacuation of embassy personnel, even as those officials deal with the flood of visa applications and entreaties from interpreters and others with American connections. Today, the U.S. government is more focused on saving our own than on saving the Afghans who counted on us. For many of them, time is running out. For some, it already has.

All of this was foreseeable—all of it was foreseen. For months, members of Congress and advocates in refugee, veteran, and human-rights organizations have been urging the Biden administration to evacuate America’s Afghan allies on an emergency basis. For months, dire warnings have appeared in the press. The administration’s answers were never adequate: We’re waiting for Congress to streamline the application process. Half the interpreters we’ve given visas don’t want to leave. We don’t want to panic the Afghan people and cause the government in Kabul to collapse. Evacuation to a U.S. territory like Guam could lead to legal problems, so we’re looking for third-country hosts in the region. Most of the interpreters are in Kabul, and Kabul won’t fall for at least six months.

Some of these answers might have been sincere. All of them were irrelevant, self-deceiving, or flat-out false. While some officials in the State Department, the Pentagon, and the White House itself pushed quietly for more urgent measures that might have averted catastrophe, Biden resisted—as if he wouldn’t allow Afghanistan to interfere with his priorities, as if he were done with Afghanistan the minute he announced the withdrawal of all remaining U.S. forces.


A retired officers tells Packer that maybe if Beau Biden were still alive, he’d be able to speak to the president about why leaving these people to the Taliban’s tender mercies is wrong. “I don’t know who else would be able to do that,” he said.

Packer writes about one particular translator named Khan, whose wife is 34 weeks pregnant. Khan was able to use that to his advantage, hiring an ambulance to get his family through Taliban checkpoints to Kabul where he hoped to evacuate. His wife kept the evidence of his service for the US under her burka, knowing if it was discovered he would be killed. Khan managed to beat the odds. He made it to Kabul and thanks to intervention by a lawyer and some people pushing for him here in the US, he got seats to leave on a flight scheduled for this Tuesday:

With the U.S. visas and tickets in hand, Khan told me that Saturday, August 14, 2021, was the happiest day of his life. He sent me a video of his 3-year-old son in their rented room, dancing an Afghan dance of celebration.

Today, Sunday, the Taliban are in Kabul.

And that’s how it ends. Khan and many, many others, including some Americans, are trapped in a country whose new leaders will murder them in the street if they are discovered. Here’s Josh Marshall’s considered response to all of this: [emphasis added]


And it seems to be quicker than the White House figured. But by a month? Three months? Does that matter? I don’t see why. If anything, given the outcome, quicker is better – since a protracted fall is necessarily a bloodier fall. But what the reaction has demonstrated to me is the sheer depth of denial. The inability to accept the reality of the situation. And thus the excuse making. Sen. Maggie Hassan’s press release below is a painfully good example of that. So is this article by in The Atlantic by George Packer. Virtually everything Richard Engel has been writing on Twitter for the last 24 hours. All so much the cant of empire…

Someone had to make the decision that Bush, Obama and Trump did not and apparently could not. Biden did.

It’s hard to imagine a more callous and amoral response to the current situation. Marshall doesn’t seem to spare a thought for the possibility that the actual people left behind are actual people or that there were other ways to approach this that would not have necessitated sending 5,000 troops in days after pulling 2,500 troops out, not to mention the Saigon-redux optics of it.

I’m not talking about whether we should have left Afghanistan or not. Trump wanted to leave, Biden wanted to leave. Most Americans seem ready for us to leave. But the idea that it doesn’t matter how we leave, whether in an orderly way or simply skipping town, is a terrifically dumb idea. It obviously matters to those we left behind, since many of them could wind up dead as a result. There are already videos on Twitter showing bodies in the streets. There are reports of Taliban checkpoints where men with clean shaven faces are suspect. Adding their bodies to the rubble wasn’t a necessity on our part, it was a choice.


Ultimately, it’s our credibility that’s at stake. We have other allies in the world who are watching this drama play out. And we have other enemies besides the Taliban who are also watching with great interest. It doesn’t take much imagination to conclude there are people in Beijing and Moscow and Pyongyang who are feeling pretty good about this right now. Weakness and failure invite a challenge. So the assumption that this bumble-fingered withdrawal couldn’t possibly come back to bite us later is really some next level blinkered partisanship.

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