I am old enough to remember exactly where I was on the evening of March 31, 1968. I was in the commons room of the ZBT fraternity section of the Duke University dorms when President Lyndon Johnson during a broadcast address to the nation said that he would not seek another term in office. It was a surprise at the time and indicative of the ever-widening rift between the White House and the American people over the war in Vietnam. Despite his having steered major legislation through the Congress after the death of John Kennedy and his triumphs in civil rights, voting rights, and Medicare and Medicaid, Lyndon Johnson could not overcome the stigma of having been the first American president to oversee a loss on the battlefield. As Bill Murray said in Stripes, “we are 10 and one.”
On September 11, 2001 the United States voluntarily entered into another foreign war. This one was in Afghanistan a place known for defeating the armies of outside invaders, most recently prior to 2001, the army of the Soviet Union. Despite this history, George W. Bush rushed us into a war in Afghanistan and then another in Iraq. Many Democrats in the Congress backed these moves so it is not at all unilaterally errors of one party. President Obama could have gotten us out once he had killed Osama bin Laden, the whole reason we were in Afghanistan in the first place. But he didn’t. He tried to get us out of Iraq which was a venture that managed to create ISIS. Nice going W and Cheney. Nice follow-up Barack.
Afghanistan and Iraq were wars of choice, but once we were in, we had to win even if no one really described what winning looked like. But winning in Afghanistan was starting to look like a real government in Kabul and some freedom from oppression for women. Americans had not died in battle for over a year and there were under 5000 American troops in-country. The Taliban, like Saddam Hussein before them, were in a box until the Americans let them out. That winning needed those American troops on the ground to be sustained if the Afghani troops we trained were to actually defend the country. Instead, Mr. Trump mistakenly thought he could make a deal with the Taliban. (Trump thinks he can make a deal with anyone, but he’s wrong. He may get another chance to make one with the U.S. and State attorneys in New York.) Trump wanted us out of Afghanistan by May 1. Biden, having taken office on January 20, 2021, decided on his own to make that September 11, the 20th anniversary of the attacks on New York and DC. This was foolish as just waiting until the winter would have promoted a slowing of the Taliban’s advance in the country, but Biden had made up his mind on September 11. For doubling down on Trump’s deal and foolishly adhering to some made up calendar, Biden owns the mess that is the Afghani withdrawal. He didn’t even make it until September. Thousands of locals will be jailed or killed because they helped us during our occupation of their country. If we are lucky (I am writing this on August 16 and it is not at all obvious that all Americans will get out safely), no Americans will be held hostage Iran-style by the Taliban. But the scenes at the airport of regular Afghanis chasing American planes and what will undoubtedly be slaughter in the streets of Kabul and the renewed oppression of women, will all be on President Biden’s watch. His term of success—the increase in covid vaccinations, the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the uptick in the economy–will be the breadth of his legacy. Now, like Lyndon Johnson, he will be seen as presiding over a major American defeat. He’s 77 now. He’ll be 80 if he runs again. You heard it here first. He won’t. He’s done. He owns this Afghanistan loss. If George H. W. Bush could win one in 1991 in the Gulf and still lose to Bill Clinton a year later, there is no way for Mr. Biden to come back from this. Watch the battle in the Republican Party for the presidential nomination which has already begun between Donald Trump, Ron DeSanctis, Greg Abbott, Ben Sasse, Jeff Flake and others for the winner of the GOP primary will likely be the next president. You don’t lose a war and win the White House. Nor should you.
American troops had to stay in Afghanistan indefinitely (like in Germany, Japan and South Korea) if the threat to freedom was to be held at bay. Biden wasn’t interested. He will pay the price of his failure.