Analysis: US war in Afghanistan is over, but the battle for Biden’s legacy has only just begun
But any sense that the United States is exempt from the consequences of a war in which it has bled for 20 years is belied by the history of a country that demands a fierce price from its former occupants. And the trauma of the two weeks since the fall of Kabul has already left an indelible mark on Joe Biden’s presidency, Washington’s bitter policies and America’s reputation among its disappointed allies.
Biden can claim to have the courage to finally end a war long lost but which has survived the presidencies of three predecessors. This may resonate more widely in the future among voters than Beltway’s criticism of his withdrawal might imagine. And the crushing of other national challenges, including a worsening pandemic, may soon redirect the scarce spotlight of what was until a few months ago often referred to as the “forgotten war.”
The president attempted to make his own favorable account of the end of the war in a speech to the nation on Tuesday afternoon. Biden touted the evacuation effort, pointing to the 120,000 evacuees from Afghanistan, saying: “No nation has ever done anything like this in all of history.”
“The extraordinary success of this mission is due to the incredible skill, bravery and selfless courage of the US military and our diplomats and intelligence professionals,” said Biden.
The upcoming showdown in Washington over the war
The GOP’s accusation that Biden left Americans behind could be inflammatory, given that their chances of leaving safely and freely appear remote under the Taliban. And the risks inherent in the ‘on the horizon’ counterterrorism strategy promised by Biden were highlighted by the death of a young Afghan family this weekend in a US strike against what the US military has claimed. be a vehicle bomb bound for Kabul airport.
Yet recent weeks have also highlighted the hypocrisy of the Republican Party, which ignored its complicity in ex-President Donald Trump’s deal with the Taliban, a withdrawal that paved the way for the current debacle. The usual torrent of disinformation spread by the conservative media – as US troops were stationed on a dangerous foreign battlefield – has shown that the threat to the truth posed by the previous presidency is far from over, and is the latest a sign that Biden’s pleas for unity will not be realized.
GOP lawmakers who have apologized and allowed the former president’s historic attack on democracy have demanded Biden’s impeachment or resignation. And Trump’s own staggering inconsistency about the war he bragged about forcing Biden to end shone on Monday in a statement in which he appeared to suggest the United States should re-invade to retrieve material already destroyed by the army.
The heroism of the fallen troops
But the retreat also highlighted American might.
This latest departing American jet followed dozens of previous flights that brought out more than 123,000 Americans, Afghans and citizens of allied nations from Afghanistan, in an extraordinary operation that seemed impossible just 10 days after the collapse of the Afghan government.
The 13 American soldiers who died in an ISIS-K attack perished while giving Afghans and their descendants a chance at life in the United States and beyond that will be played out over generations.
Biden’s legacy, however, is now at risk of being damaged by events beyond his control. Notably the fact that when it marks the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks next month, the Taliban – hosts of Al Qaeda in 2001 – will celebrate their renewed control of a failed state once again plagued by terrorists.
There is an argument that Biden was simply reducing American casualties and preventing more bloodshed, heartache and agony by finally ending the war.
In the East Room of the White House on July 8, Biden reported to the country that the US withdrawal “is proceeding in a safe and orderly manner” and noted that due to the way the withdrawal was handled “no one – no one , US forces or any other force have… been lost. ”
The reputation of a leader who has run on compassion and always at the level of Americans will take some repairs.
Biden’s defenders have also argued that many of the pundits who criticized the president were former generals and officials whose own strategic failures led to the war earning the epithet “forever.” But accusations that all critics of the withdrawal effort were war hawks have proven that media disinformation is not the exclusive sin of the right.
Waiting for the judgment of history
Among the key questions that remain unanswered:
- Why did the president and his administration not so spectacularly appreciate the fragility of the Afghan government and army? The error in judgment laid the groundwork for the chaos of an evacuation that began with the deaths of several desperate Afghans after clinging to the exterior of U.S. planes.
- Why were troops insufficient to cover the long planned retreat? The abandonment of Bagram Air Base to concentrate evacuations out of the US Embassy and Kabul International Airport is one of the biggest criticisms from critics of Biden’s GOP.
- How did the United States get to the point where its forces found themselves stranded on the small island of Hamid Karzai International Airport, which was highly unsuitable for the installation of one of the largest airlifts in the world? history of humanity?
- And why did US troops depend on airport security provided by their enemy, the Taliban?
- Why hasn’t the administration moved faster to process special immigrant visa applications given the urgency expressed by veterans groups and multiple lawmakers on Capitol Hill? What effect has Trump’s gutting out of the US refugee claim system had on this?
Biden is lucky in the short term that both houses of Congress are currently controlled by Democrats. While Republicans pledge to hold him to account, their ability to do so in the minority is severely limited. And given the cascade of events that will unfold between now and the midterm elections, it’s not even clear that a Republican-controlled House or Senate can provide punitive traction for events that will have. took place 16 months ago.
Over time, a president’s legacy is defined by a few key highlights, which create a kind of symbolism that illustrates how he is remembered. For Jimmy Carter, it was the disastrous hostage crisis in Iran. For Ronald Reagan, it was his call for the Soviet Union to tear down the Berlin Wall.
The role of Biden’s Afghan episode in shaping his own place in history will depend on what happens in the years to come, and whether the newly revealed shortcomings of his own leadership are limited to the disorderly retreat after the longest war of the United States or are reflected in other crisis.