Biden's mistakes in Afghanistan were not "dereliction of duty"

In his latest Washington Post op-ed, Marc Thiessen makes strong statements about how and why the Taliban came to take control of Kabul. There have been big mistakes in executing this exit. But "dereliction of duty?" Not in our view. Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst explain why in this edition of The Red Pen.


Today we're taking our Red Pen to a recent op-ed from the Washington Post written by Marc Thiessen, a Post columnist, American Enterprise Institute fellow, and former speechwriter for President George W. Bush. It's titled, "Greenlighting the Taliban's takeover of Kabul is a national disgrace," and makes some strong statements about how and why the Taliban came to take control of Afghanistan's capital city. I want to unpack some of his arguments for you and explain why we disagree. So, let's get out the Red Pen.

First, Thiessen argues that "all the horrors the world witnessed over the past two weeks…might have been prevented" had the United States opted to take over Kabul, rather than letting the Taliban do so.

Let's remember: "The enemy gets a vote." Thiessen is comparing the real world, with all of its unpredictability, to a counterfactual one where everything goes according to (his) plan. Even if the horrors he cited had been averted, wouldn't others have unfolded? Putting thousands of Americans back on Kabul's streets would have meant putting them in the crosshairs of terrorist groups like ISIS-K. Do we believe these groups wouldn't have targeted Americans in Kabul with suicide bombings, like the recent airport attack, or even engage them in firefights? Biden had to decide between two unpalatable options. He chose the one he believed would put the fewest Americans in harm's way.

"This means that all the horrors the world witnessed over the past two weeks...might have been prevented."

Next, Thiessen cites a former American senior general officer to argue that the "US military could definitely have secured the capital"––at least the green zone where Western embassies are located, plus access to the airport.

For starters, Thiessen bases his argument on the views of one "former senior general officer" whose identity we don't know. How widely shared are those views among current military officials? If the 20-year war has taught us anything, it should be some caution before arguing the United States could secure a city of over six million people indefinitely with a few thousand troops. Before leaving office, the Trump administration brought US troop numbers in Afghanistan to just 2,500, a 19-year low. By the end of July 2021, only 650 remained. Taking over Kabul would've required something politically incredibly challenging: a substantial troop surge that would've put more Americans in danger. Thiessen doesn't explicitly call for a surge, but the upshot of his critique is clear enough. There's an argument for a surge (even if politically very unpopular), he should tell us how many additional troops we would have to send in and for how long to hold onto a city the United States had already lost.

"One former senior general officer told me the U.S. military could definitely have secured the capital."

Thiessen also calls the Biden administration's decision to "cede" Kabul to the Taliban "a dereliction of duty unlike any we have seen in modern times."

Keep in mind it was Trump, not Biden, who went over the Afghan government's head back in February 2020 to negotiate with the Taliban and agree to remove all US troops from the country. There were US political considerations for doing so, I get it. But from that point, the Taliban's takeover of Kabul had, at that point, become a foregone conclusion

"That is a dereliction of duty unlike any we have seen in modern times."

Next point: Thiessen writes that the administration's withdrawal "put the safety of American civilians, service members and Afghan allies in the hands of terrorists" — referring to the Taliban — "rather than the U.S. armed forces" and "led directly to the deaths of 13 Americans in an Islamic State attack on the Kabul airport."

Earlier, though, he almost presents the Taliban as an organization whose word General McKenzie should've trusted: "[T]he Taliban offered to allow the US military to take responsibility for security in Kabul — but we declined." What makes him believe a terrorist organization intent on retaking power would honor a pledge to allow US forces to secure the capital city? Which Taliban is it?


"Our leaders made a conscious choice to put the safety of American civilians...in the hands of terrorists" - He takes them at their word at one point, then describes them as untrustworthy later.


Finally, Thiessen concludes by arguing that Biden's decision to let the Taliban take over Kabul "led directly to the deaths of 13 Americans in an Islamic State attack on the Kabul airport."

Harrowing as the images coming out of Afghanistan are, Biden had decided to not risk even more US lives in the war's twilight. Staying at the airport and trying to hold onto Kabul for a few more weeks would have helped the United States evacuate more Afghan partners, but it would also have risked the lives of thousands of US soldiers.

The decision to cede Kabul to the Taliban "led directly to the deaths of 13 Americans in an Islamic State attack on the Kabul airport last Thursday at the hands of a suicide bomber."

One thing I think many of us agree on — this has been a sad and embarrassing ending to the 20-year war in Afghanistan. We've left countless Afghan allies behind, despite promising them safe passage. August's events will no doubt cast an added shadow of grief over the coming anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The Biden team certainly made mistakes in executing this exit. But "dereliction of duty?" No, not in my view.

Walmart aspires to become a regenerative company – helping to renew people and planet through our business. We are committed to working towards zero emissions across our global operations by 2040. So far, more than 36% of our global electricity is powered through renewable sources. And through Project Gigaton, we have partnered with suppliers to avoid over 416 million metric tons of CO2e since 2017. Read more about our commitment to the planet in our 2021 ESG report.

The German people have spoken. For the first time in over 70 years, the country's next government is all but assured to be a three-way coalition.

That coalition will probably be led by the center-left SPD, the most voted party, with the Greens and the pro-business FDP as junior partners. Less likely but still possible is a similar combination headed by the conservative CDU/CSU, which got its worst result ever. A grand coalition of the SPD and the CDU/CSU — the two parties that have dominated German federal politics since World War II — is only a fallback option if talks fail badly.

Both the Greens and especially the FDP have been in coalition governments before. But this time it's different because together they have the upper hand in negotiations with the big parties wooing them.

The problem is that the two smaller parties agree on little beyond legalizing weed, and even when they do, diverge on how to reach common goals. So, where does each stand on what separates them?

More Show less

Joe Biden has already cancelled more US student than any other president. But progressive Democrats want him to write off a lot more to reduce the racial wealth gap and help people recover better from COVID's economic ruin. Republicans are against all this because it would be unfair to current and future borrowers and to taxpayers footing the bill, not to mention subsidizing the rich.

Watch the episode: How the COVID-damaged economy surprised Adam Tooze

China and Canada's hostage diplomacy: In 2018, Canada arrested Huawei top executive Meng Wanzhou because US authorities wanted to prosecute her for violating Iran sanctions. China responded by arresting two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, in what looked like a tit-for-tat. Over the weekend, Meng and the "Two Michaels" were all freed to return to their home countries as part of a deal evidently brokered by Washington. The exchange removes a major sore spot in US-China and Canada-China relations, though we're wondering if establishing the precedent of "hostage diplomacy" with China, especially in such a prominent case, is a good one for anyone involved.

More Show less

40: Samyukta Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body representing 40 Indian farmer groups, took to the streets Monday to mark a year since the start of mass protests against new farming laws that they say help big agro-businesses at the expense of small farmers. The group has called for an industry-wide strike until the laws are withdrawn.

More Show less

Germany's conservative CDU/ CSU party and the center-left SPD have dominated German politics since the 1950s. For decades, they have vied for dominance and often served in a coalition together, and have been known as the "people's parties" – a reference to their perceived middle-of-the-road pragmatism and combined broad appeal to the majority of Germans. But that's all changing, as evidenced by the fact that both performed poorly in this week's election, shedding votes to the minority Greens and pro-business Free Democrats. We take a look at the CDU/CSU and SPD's respective electoral performance over the past 60 years.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Happy week to all of you and thought I'd talk a little bit about Germany and Europe. Because of course, we just had elections in Germany, 16 years of Angela Merkel's rule coming to an end - by far the strongest leader that Germany has seen post-war, Europe has seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union. And indeed in many ways, the world has seen in the 21st century. Xi Jinping, of course, runs a much bigger country and has consolidated much more power, but in terms of the free world, it's been Angela Merkel.

More Show less

Germany's historic moment of choice is finally here, and voters will stream to the polls on Sunday for the country's first post-World War II vote without a national leader seeking re-election. They will elect new members of the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament. The leader of the party that wins the most seats will then try to secure a majority of seats by drawing other parties into a governing partnership. He or she will then replace Angela Merkel as Germany's chancellor.

If the latest opinion polls are right, the center-left Social Democrats will finish first. In coming weeks, they look likely to form a (potentially unwieldy) governing coalition with the Green Party and the pro-business Free Democrats, which would be Germany's first-ever governing alliance of more than two parties.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

Should the US cancel student loan debt?

GZERO World Clips

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal