Biden-haters are, understandably enough, making much of America’s blundering withdrawal from Afghanistan; a humiliation on a scale not seen since Vietnam – and equally a symbol of a decline in American power, a defeat in asymmetric warfare, and the substance and symbol of global over-reach.
In due course, American power and prestige eventually recovered after the scramble out of Saigon, and may do so again after the fall of Kabul. A more immediate question is whether Donald Trump would have done a better job, because Biden’s failures have been weaponised by the Maga movement.
It is difficult to see how, or why, America’s capitulation would have been any more humane or elegant under Trump than it was under Biden.
It was Trump, after all, who signed the disastrous peace treaty with the Taliban last February – effectively an instrument of surrender – post-dating the withdrawal so that he could present it, before the November election, as peace with honour.
It was, for those who like to hear historical echoes, not so different from the 1973 Paris peace accords that “ended” the Vietnam war and allowed the south Vietnamese and President Thieu to struggle on for a few more months (longer than President Ghani).
It was Trump who specified, in an international treaty that betrayed the Kabul government and America’s own interests, the withdrawal date of 31 August. This was a defeat and a disaster designed in the Trump White House.
It was “imbecilic”, as Tony Blair called it. All Biden did was follow the blueprint. Maybe he should have reneged on the agreement, or tried to renegotiate it, or just ignored it. He might have planned the withdrawal better, no doubt. But the fundamentals were all laid down by Donald J Trump. It was, in fact, the worst deal in history.
It is difficult to believe that if Trump were in power now, he would have much idea of what he was dealing with. He seems to think Isis-K is “Isis-X”; and, more concerningly for the once-leader of the free world, that Isis are “members of the Taliban” – which is really about as far from the truth as you can get.
According to Trump, he singlehandedly defeated the Isis caliphate, which would be news to the Russians and Syrians; and if he did crush Isis, why have they sprung up again in Afghanistan? He cannot cope with the fact that he had four years to deliver peace with honour in the region, failed – and left a time bomb for Biden to try to defuse.
Trump also seems to think the hardware left behind is more important than the lives of the Afghans. This is what the former president (who lost the November election) told Fox News the other day: “[The Taliban] are good fighters. But now they can be much better because they have the best equipment in the world, and so much of it, they don’t know what to do. They will be selling it on the open market. But we gave that to these people, and Isis-X, as you know, I knocked out 100 per cent of the Isis caliphate.”
“I knocked it out in Syria, Iraq, we knocked it out, so now they have a new Isis called Isis-X, and that’s members of the Taliban that are far more vicious because they don’t like the way the Taliban is behaving because they’re not vicious enough.”
Put bluntly, Trump has never been noted for his humanitarian instincts and there’s no reason to believe that the man who once wanted a “complete and total ban” on Muslims entering America would in reality be very sympathetic to the desperate masses outside the airport.
Indeed, he would probably have sent in more troops to rescue the Humvees and helicopters, and ordered his forces to build a wall to keep the Afghans out of the airport.
Defeat and a chaotic exit from Afghanistan were preordained long before Biden came to power, and Donald Trump – along with George W Bush and Barack Obama – need to take their share of the blame, and the responsibility.
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