WASHINGTON — President Biden on Tuesday strongly rejected his decision to end America’s 20-year war in Afghanistan. power to ‘remake other countries’.
Speaking to the nation less than a week after a terrorist bombing killed 13 servicemen at the Kabul airport in a chaotic rush to leave the country, Mr Biden said the cost to the United States would have been even higher if he nation to be stuck for years in a civil war that has dragged on for decades. He bluntly claimed that the only alternative to the departure he oversaw was another escalation of the war.
“When I hear that we could and should have continued the so-called low-grade effort in Afghanistan, at a low risk to our military, at a low cost,” Biden said in the 26-minute speech, “I don’t know. I don’t think enough people understand how much we asked of the 1 percent of this country who donned that uniform.’
“There is nothing low-grade or low-risk or low-cost about a war,” he continued. “It’s time to end the war in Afghanistan.”
The president made his remarks just 20 years after the United States ousted the Taliban from power in the wake of the September 11 attacks, and just a day after the last US troops and diplomats left the country, which is once again under the Taliban. . rule.
Mr Biden stated that he believed with “all my heart” that he had made a wise decision. But he seemed defiant as he tried to withstand a torrent of criticism from Democrats and Republicans — and from some families of the military personnel killed in Kabul last week — for his handling of the withdrawal.
The president declined to offer any form of mea culpa on Tuesday, even as the Taliban celebrated their “independence” from America with gunfire on the streets of Kabul.
Instead, the president tried to justify his approach to the final weeks of the war by saying that the U.S. military and its diplomats deserved credit for expelling more than 120,000 Americans and Afghan allies in the face of Taliban attacks. takeover and terrorist threats from ISIS-K, an affiliate of the Islamic State.
Mr Biden expressed deep regret over the loss of lives in the explosions at the airport last Thursday, including dozens of Afghans, but rejected the argument that his administration should have – or could have – carried out the final withdrawal in a “more orderly manner.” by evacuating people earlier, before the Taliban takeover of the country was complete.
“I respectfully disagree,” said Mr. Biden, at one point banging his finger on the lectern and feeling a sense of justified outrage at the second guess from critics on Capitol Hill and others outside of government.
At the heart of Mr Biden’s argument is a bet that Americans — the majority of whom say they support an end to the war — as well as historians will view his decision to withdraw troops as the only acceptable one given the situation on the ground. when he took office at the beginning of the year.
Withdrawing from Afghanistan has been a central campaign promise, and White House officials believe a majority of voters will reward the president for doing what he said he would do.
Mr. Biden portrayed himself as a leader who took the only path available to him through a tangle of bad choices, blaming the Afghan military and his presidential predecessor, Donald J. Trump, who reached an agreement last year with the Taliban, who were guilty of the United States, have completely withdrawn by last May. He said the United States had “no other vital interest in Afghanistan than to prevent an attack on America’s homeland” and that the war should have ended ten years earlier.
“That was the choice, the real choice between leaving or escalating,” said Mr. Biden, often raising his voice to a sort of internal shout. “I had no intention of prolonging this eternal war.”
With that argument, Mr. Biden offered a glimpse of a different US foreign policy in the post-9/11 world. He said he would shun ground wars with large troop deployments, preferring instead a strategy more guided by economic and cybersecurity competition with China and Russia and aimed at countering threats with military technology that would enable attacks on terrorists. without having large contingents of troops on the ground. in a place like Afghanistan.
Biden called it a “new era” of use of US power in which the United States would no longer try to reform its rivals as three previous presidents tried to do in Afghanistan and Iraq. He said that “the world is changing” and that US leadership needs to change with it.
“As we turn the page on the foreign policy that has guided our nation for the past two decades, we must learn from our mistakes,” he said.
He suggested two lessons: set missions with “clearly achievable goals” and stay focused on the United States’ fundamental national security interests.
But neither the president nor his aides admitted making mistakes in ending the war, other than putting their faith in an Afghan army that Biden said had not proved a “strong opponent” to the Taliban. Instead, Mr. Biden directly challenged the idea that the United States could have made a more orderly exit or started evacuations earlier.
“Imagine if we had started evacuating in June or July, brought in thousands of American troops and evacuated more than 120,000 people in the midst of a civil war, there would still have been a stampede to the airport, a collapse of confidence in the control of the government, and it would still have been a very difficult and dangerous mission,” he said.
Biden acknowledged that “about 100 to 200” Americans looking to leave Afghanistan were left behind when the last troops withdrew. But he said the United States would continue diplomatic efforts to help them leave in the coming days.
“The bottom line,” he insisted, “is that there is no evacuation at the end of a war that you can wage without the kinds of complexities, challenges and threats we faced. None.”
In his speech, the president said his new approach to dealing with the world would not lead to Mr Trump’s kind of America First isolationism.
Understand the Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan
Who are the Taliban? The Taliban emerged in 1994 amid the turmoil following the 1989 withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. They used brutal public punishment, including flogging, amputations and mass executions, to enforce their rules. Here’s more about their origin story and their track record as rulers.
“We will continue to speak out for the basic rights of the Afghan people, especially women and girls, as we speak out for women and girls around the world,” Mr Biden said.
And he downplayed the sloppiness of the US’s exit from Afghanistan, with claims critics say distort the truth.
He said officials had always assumed Afghan national security forces would be a strong opponent of the Taliban. In fact, numerous intelligence assessments within the government, as well as outside experts, had for years said that the Afghan armed forces proved weak and ineffective.
Biden also boasted that his administration had contacted Americans living in Afghanistan “19 times” and offered them “multiple warnings” to leave the country as the Taliban approached. But he did not mention the many times his government has rejected the advice of human rights groups, lawmakers and others to start evacuations earlier.
The president called the country’s final exit from Afghanistan a moral imperative and underlined his refusal to sacrifice the lives of more US servicemen in a war that had long since lost its original purpose. But the price of that moral clarity was high, even at the end: 13 more servicemen lost as the United States rushed to evacuate Americans and allies.
Biden said the country is deeply indebted to the troops killed during the evacuation mission.
“Thirteen heroes gave their lives,” he said. “We owe them and their families a gratitude that we can never repay, but must never, never, ever forget.”
For more than two weeks, the hasty exodus of troops from Afghanistan and the chaos and violence surrounding the airport have distracted the White House from the president’s domestic agenda.
Mr Biden’s speech comes as White House officials hope to wrap up a rough patch for his presidency and turn his attention to domestic crises — including the Delta variant wave of the coronavirus pandemic and the aftermath of the devastating away from Hurricane Ida through the Gulf Coast.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday that Mr. Biden would soon press Congress to approve key provisions of his multi-trillion-dollar economic agenda, including major spending on infrastructure and social services. , along with addressing the pandemic directly and the concerns of parents of children returning to school.
“There are a number of things he would like to communicate with,” Ms. Psaki said.